Letter from Mia Kvåle Løvmo:

Sombreros, tequila, tortillas, Chihuahuas, narcos, gringos, cactus – Mexico got all of those. However, that you already knew? Maybe have you also heard of Potrero Chico?

That is quite a famous climbing destination. The valley walls are large limestone faces with over 500 bolted multi-pitch routes. 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 than the Norwegian and, most importantly, I could eat all my meals in a tortilla. That is to me the definition of happiness.

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 advice that might be nice to know for those that get psyched to check this place out. The best thing about this climbing destination is that every route I got on was excellent.

Me on Tufa King Short, 8a, Las Animas. Not too short for me. Photo: Remy Franklin.

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 December, making the climbing a bit too sweaty for my liking. However, 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.

Las Animas

Las Animas is the largest of crags with the best climbing, I think. The grades go 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. 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.

Favourite routes: Muchos cornjuros, Body Groovin’, Panocha Poderosa, Tufa Luna and Tufa King Short. Camino del Chino was one I only tried, but maybe one of the best lines. 

Unfortunately, as from last year, a large part of the wall is closed off due to ancient rock art findings. It might sound like great news for the archeologists and the history enthusiast, 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 samples. Tourists are driving by the cliff on 4-wheels all the time, but they seem a lot more interested in covering the cliff with their modern graffiti-petroglyphs (examples as “Friends trip 2016” and “Johanne was here”) rather than looking at the old ones. Don’t get me wrong; conservation of historical finds like this is essential. I think it seems drastic to close off 30+ m for a couple of drawings. Hopefully, they will find a better solution, especially since climbers seem to bring in more income to this town than petroglyph-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.

Philip made a proud send on Dantes Inferno to the second anchor. 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, 8b, Las Animas.

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 at the beginning leading to a crimpy crux-section with tiny feet and a long move. However, the route is not finished before the last move! I found myself barely reaching the clipping hold on the first go of the previous day, and as I was bleeding from my fingertips, I clipped the chains of my hardest climb yet. It’s funny how much better I felt leaving this place with the send rather than the horrifying other possible outcomes… Is it not just a game? Thanks for the cheering Phil and Ulrik, and of course the quickdraws hanging, Jacobo and Diana.

Las Animas riverbed approach. Photo: Philip Lauffenburger.
Me on Tufa King Short. Sweet last day send. Photo: Philip Lauffenburger.
Sophia is climbing on Bizarre Contact, 7b, Las Animas.

La Boca

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. Did somebody eat 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. Moreover, thanks to our Mexican friend from Norway, Luis, for showing us around, laughing at us and teaching us how to eat tacos the right way.

Me on Honeybear, 7b, La Boca. Photo: Philip Lauffenburger.
Ruben on some bouldery 8a (+?) extension, La Boca. Photo: Juan Pablo Cordero.
Sophia on Honeybear, 7b, La Boca. Photo: Philip Lauffenburger.

La cueva del Tecolote

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.

The routes in the main cave are steep with lots of stalactites 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 massive dyno to a stalactite or squeeze-heel hook roof climbing. 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.

Me on Nosferatus, 7b+, La Cueva. This thing was hard – even with all possible kneebars. Photo: Philip Lauffenburger.
Phil on Huiratica, 8a, La Cueva. His favourite up there.

The ultimate El Salto beta:

Get there: 

I flew into 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 road beers, 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.

Live there:

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, chilies, and refried beans?), however shopping in the more giant supermarket an hour away is pleasant from time to time. There are an atm and a place to get ice cream 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 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 choss pile 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 loud 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.

Drink there:

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 it’s 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.

Eat there:

Chuey restaurant serves tacos, burgers, fish, and shrimps. Pretty good when you are too lazy to cook. Kikas daughter, Mayela, cooks for you if you want to taste some delicious 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 beautiful hikes/runs in the forest around the village. You could also rent a 4-weel and cruise around. We saw one tip over backward on the way up to a steep rocky road, so take care – it is for sure more dangerous than climbing is.

It is also lovely 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 fantastic! The local beer as well. Sierra Madre is another beautiful place.

I would also go to Potrero to check out both the sport climbing and multi-pitches. Mike Burdon also runs a sweet coffee shop down there.

Guidebook:

As mentioned above, a guidebook will soon be out for this amazing place, and new routes are 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 excellent 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 vast 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 rest day, 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!

(This article was first published at www.turtrusa.no/el-salto-mexico 03.04.2017)

// Mia for TurTrusa

More photos at www.turtrusa.no/el-salto-mexico (First published 03.04.2017).

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