El Salto, Mexico
Sombreros, tequila, tortillas, Chihuahuas, narcos, gringos, cactus - Mexico got all of those. But that you already knew? Maybe have you also heard of Potrero Chico? That is quite a famous climbing destination. Its valley walls are large limestone faces with over 500 bolted multi-pitch routes. Apparently great fun. However, close to this place, a few hours drive away up into the mountains around Monterrey, there is a small sport-climbing area, El Salto. El Salto is a small village surrounded by forest- and cactus-covered mountains with some pretty damn good climbing. I went there for a month this winter with Philip, and Sophia came down from Boulder for a week. We were not disappointed! The climbing was amazing, the Mexican climbers were wonderful, the Mexican sun was hotter that the Norwegian and, most importantly, I could eat all my meals in a tortilla. That must me the definition of happiness.
This post is written in english, so all my wonderful friends that I met and travelled with can read all the crap I write. Great meeting you and see you next winter!
In this travel report I will describe the main climbing sectors, mention a few good routes we more or less flailed at, show some photos and brag a little. In the end I will give some general travel advices that might be nice to know for those that get psyched to check this place out.
The canyons of El Salto towards Las Animas. Photo: Juan Pablo Cordero.
El Salto is a small climbing area, that is not as known among climbers as Potrero Chico is. Also, there are not as many routes here, so it would quickly become a bit too crowded. However, there are several cliffs with potential for further developing. There is a camping, shop, a couple of small restaurants and apartments for rent around the tiny village center.
There are three main sectors developed in El Salto: Las Animas, La Cueva del Tecolote and La Boca. They are all in walking distance from the village through the beautiful canyons at 25, 35 and 5 minutes respectively from the village. The sun hits all three crags from about noon to 2 o'clock in desember, making the climbing a bit too sweaty for my liking. But forced siesta is great! Great time for hammock action, beer, margaritas and most importantly the tortillas!
A guidebook for the area is under development and will likely be ready by next winter (?). Ulric Rosseau has climbed and developed a lot in this area in recent years and has collected route beta on his blog: http://ulricrousseau.blogspot.no/2013/10/el-salto-mexico-climbing.html
Phil got to fly Ulriks drone. Images of the village, Las Animas approach canyon and La Boca, before he sort of crash landed...
Las Animas is the largest of them with the best climbing, I think. The grades goes from 6c to 8c(++?) on vertical to slightly overhanging rock. Most of the climbing is between 7b and 8a. Almost every climb I got on was amazing and different from each other in this sector. Really sustained routes, interesting moves and solid rock with crimps, slopers, pockets, mushrooms, buttholes and quite a few tufas. Most of the pitches were 20 m or longer and many had extensions for those that like being high.
Phil way up there sending Dantes Inferno extension.
Philip made a proud send on Dantes Inferno to the second anchor (photos over and under). His first 8b+! This route is so long. He had not been at the very top before, making it even more exciting to watch. The route was sent four times in a row this day. That must be a record!
Phil on first part of Dantes Inferno. That boy can climb.
Unfortunately, as from last year a large part of the wall is closed off due to ancient rock art findings. This might sound like great news for the archeologists and the history entusiasts, and just too bad for selfish climbers like me. However, I am not sure how much climbing would affect the drawings. The archeologists have already been there and taken their photos and sampels. There are tourists driving by the cliff on 4-wheels all the time, but they seem a lot more interested in covering the cliff with their own modern graffiti-petroglyfs (examples as "Friends trip 2016" and "Johanne was here") rather than looking at the old ones. Dont get me wrong, conservation of historical finds like this is important. I just think it seems drastic to close off 30+ m for a couple of drawings. Hopefully a better solution will be found. Especially since climbers seem to bring in more income to this town than petroglyf-watchers. For the month I was there, there was more than enough climbing at my level outside that closed area, but the lines surely looked nice.
In contrast to Phil, who picked the longest route possible as a project, I found the shortest one at the crag. Opposites attract aye? Tufa King Short was a route I worked and managed to send the very last day in Mexico. It is bouldery with a sharp pocket and tufa-pinches in the beginning leading to a crimpy crux-section with tiny feet and a long move. However, it is not done before the last move! I found myself barely reaching the clipping hold on the first go of the last day and as I was bleeding from my finger tips, I clipped the chains of my hardest climb yet. Its funny how much better I felt leaving this place with the send rather than the horrifying other possible outcome... Is it not just a game..? Thanks for the cheering Phil and Ulrik, and of course the draws hanging Jacobo and Diana. The whole beta is described in another post, potentially with some artistic freedom...
Me on Tufa King Short, 8a. My man is more eager to jug the rope and take photos of me than the other way around... Thanks Phil! Also, thanks, Remy Franklin for a couple of them.
Sophia in style as always, on Bizarre Contact, 7b.
Me on Panocha Poderosa, 7c (means Powerfull Pussy in english. You learn so many useful Spanish words while rock-climbing, mum.)
Photo collection from Las Animas
Thanks to Juan Pablo Cordero, most of the people in these photos look their strongest, most beautiful and simply the best. Featuring strong mexican climbers (There are a lot of them, and they are extremely nice as well!) (and me):
Larissa is climbing on Dantes inferno, 8b. She sent this route to the first, later to the second anchor making her first 8b and 8b+. The hard work was rewarded. Fun and inspiring to see hard work and determination pay off!
Cordero himself is willingly posing with his swelling muscles after sending Camino del Chino, 8a!
Ruben is climbing strong on Tufa King Short, 8a.
Me on Tufa Luna, 7c+. Cool tufas on this route, although the feet are slick.
Arantxa on Scarface, 7a+.
Fernando is strong on Dantes Inferno.
Oscar on Tufa King Short. Sweet send!
Photos above by: Juan Pablo Cordero
Fun to watch David in dynamic moves up Tufa King. Photo: Sophia Di Biase.
La Boca is the closest crag to the village, making it possible to run back to camp for more tortillas when you run out. A small crag with high quality routes from vertical to slightly overhanging. Many of the routes have extensions as well, so there are plenty of options for both grade and length. There are some cool small tufas, plenty of crimps and slopers. I did not spend much time here, but definitely great climbing to be done.
I tried too few climbs to know which ones are the best, but all routes I did try were great. Some vertical techy routes with sweet moves. Honeybear, 7b, as recommended from Luis was great fun even with a jug broken off. Somebody ate too many tortillas? Phil had fun sending Ayotzinapan, 8a, further right as well.
Thanks to Phil for jugging and for making us look the best we can in 2D. And thanks to our mexican friend from Norway for showing us around, laughing at us and teaching us proper tacos.
Luis, Sophia and me on Honeybear, 7b, photo Phil. Ruben some hard extension, photo: Juan Pablo Cordero.
La cueva del Tecolote is a sweet cave. The approach is the longest; along the dry riverbed through more of the canyons and a uphill in the forest that makes you warm and ready to try hard. This riverbed fills up every now and then towards the spring if the rain pours down and swimming and cooling off in the river is apparently a great siesta activity, especially while wearing a sombrero and smoking pot in a rolled tortilla, I have heard.
We spent some beautiful mornings up in this cave enjoying the view of the valley and mountains around. The climbing is fun and makes the biceps sore (but also large).
The routes in the main cave are steep with lots of stalagtites and tufas. You can practice the pinch-strength and kneebars here for sure. Around the corner to the left there is a small cave with a short, bouldery fun climb; Felicidad, 7a. In the main cave Phil liked Huiratica, 8a, the most. Much better than La Violencia and Tecalote which both have very funky beta; either a huge dyno to a stalagtite or squeeze-heelhook roofclimbing. Nosferatus, 7b+, was a cool climb and felt hard even with ALL the kneebars. Phil also had a sweet send on the very well recommended, and freaking long route, Soul Power, 7c. Culo de Merlin (his butthole, yes), 6b+, is an adventure and a must-do as well.
Cave view. Can't complain. Photo: Sophia Di Biase
Photo collection Tecolote
Not much time for photos. Too much climbing to fail at and too many tortillas to eat.
Me on Nosferatus, Phil on Huiratica. Amazing views from the cave. Make sure your sunglasses are biodegradable.
The ultimate El Salto beta:
I flew in to Monterrey from Norway and Phil, who flew in from Colorado, was waiting in the airport for me. Pretty cool to not be alone in this large town. We had booked a shuttle with Joe Bert Guadarrama, a local climber that among climbing and doing other things drive climbers to/from the airport to/from Potrero and El Salto. Find him on FB, if you need transport. We only stopped for roadbeers, cash and food on the way and drove up into the mountains to El Salto, feeling the air get cool and fresh as we left the city smog behind.
We stayed the first week at the camping at Kika's. This place has all you need. In addition to the camping place, there are rooms and apartments for rent. There are bathrooms, shower (sometimes with hot water with a built in electro shocker if you try to turn the handle...sure does wake you up) and a kitchen with a stove and all you need. Wonderful Kika runs a small shop (there is one more in the village run by her sister) where you can buy most things you would need (Do you need anything but tortillas, chillies and refried beans?), however shopping in the larger supermarked an hour away is nice from time to time. There is an atm and a place to get icecream down there as well.
The rest of the stay, we rented a house (deal through Chuey, the restaurant owner) with mexican/canadian Eva and Ulric, that we met at Kikas. Nice, simple house with a large garden even closer to the crags. That is a pretty sweet solution when you are staying for a while and you are more people. Especially a sweet solution for us with Eva being the best ever at smiling, laughing and doing dishes and Ulric being just so sweet (at the very bottom) and having a drone for Phil to crash and a drill to put up some obscure chosspile of a link-up. We hope nobody gets seriously injured if they are silly enough to try this climb. Thanks for great times flatmates!
Also over Christmas, the village gets very noisy with tourists driving around and playing load music in the streets. Fun Christmas and new year parties. Watch out so your eye does not get hit by fireworks. The new year party in Potrero is also something to check out we heard. Lots of rowdy climbers I bet.
You can drink the tap water. It tastes fine. However, we did hear that the local doctor says all the locals have some issues with the kidneys. Whether this comes from the water source/trash in the water source or slightly stronger beverages is unknown to me. However, if you're only there for a holiday, I am sure its not the worst treatment your kidney has ever experienced. I am still alive, I think.
If you are still concerned, beer is a safe alternative.
Chuey restaurant serves tacos, burger, fish and shrimps. Pretty good when you are to lazy to cook. Kikas daughter, Mayela, cooks for you if you want to taste some really good mexican food. The stuffed peppers are delicious!
Rest there: (Do you need rest?)
For rest days, I would eat tortillas. Preferably in the form of quesadillas.
More active options are nice hikes/runs in the forest around the village. You could also rent a 4-weel and cruise around. We saw one tip over backwards on the way up a steep rocky road, so take care - it is for sure more dangerous than climbing is.
It is also nice to go down to the town for a restaurant. We went to have seafood tacos at The Black Marked in Monterrey for Evas birthday. Those tacos and tuna mini burgers were amazing! The local beer as well. Sierra Madre is another nice place.
I would also go to Potrero to check out both the sportclimbing and multipitches. Mike Burdon also runs a sweet coffee shop down there.
As mentioned above, a guidebook will soon be out for this amazing place, and there are new routes being put up. Hopefully the closed section will not remain closed. Until then, many routes are to be found in Ulriks blog.
Ulrik also made a video a few years back showing some awesome climbing: https://vimeo.com/90112616
Climb more of Mexico:
There are huge caves and lots of climbing, bouldering and big walls all over Mexico, see map. The huge caves, as Chonta, around Mexico city will be next on the list, Adiz and Erin.
Fall in love there: (Like I did)
There are plenty of street dogs running around in the streets and at Kika's. One of them started sleeping in our outer tent
and started following us. He was the dirtiest dog in camp, but after a thorough wash one restday, I found an adorable dog
under all the mud and leaves. After a few weeks, I felt like I had to take him home, but then he must have gotten
commitment issues or seen photos of all the snow and cold in Norway, because he disappeared. I miss you Charlie!
Thanks for great times in Mexico to both old and new friends. See you next winter for sure. Tickets are already booked across the atlantic!
Photo: Juan Pablo Cordero
Life is hard on a climbing trip when the boyfriend has a weird face. Photo: Remy Franklin
Thanks for the catches.
Phil, Caroline, Eva, Ulrik, Pete and Sophia.
Charlie used to be the dirtiest dog in camp.
Photo: Juan Pablo Cordero
Photo: Philip Lauffenburger.
It has rap anchor for those into rapping. Photo: Juan Pablo Cordero.
Photo: Juan Pablo Cordero.
Caroline, Phil, Eva Ramon and Charlie.