Escalada Mexico: El Salto

Love tufa-pinching? Empanadas filled with dulce de leche? Chickens in the back yard? Sunrises on massive, limestone canyon walls? Delicious street food fried up in front of you? Local veggie trucks? Seemingly unlimited rock climbing potential? Puppies???


We cruised the Millenium FalcVan across the continent for days until we arrived in the tiny mountain town of Cienega de Gonzalez, nestled in the mountains of Parque Nacional Cumbres de Monterrey. For five weeks we lived in the big grassy yard at Dona Kika’s, in a small van commune with Dan and Nicole, Kirsten and Yannick, Chris, and Jared, and climbed at the crags of El Salto.
Panorama of our commune. Photo credit: Emrys Prussin
The town had everything we needed while we were here. Once we parked our vehicles we didn’t move them throughout our stay, so there was never a need to fuel up. Kika’s store had all the essential groceries, many treats, and a hefty supply of beer and tequila. Several days a week a propane tank rolled into town, and every Saturday two different veggie trucks wove through the streets selling to locals. Every weekend we ate dinner at Chuy’s local restaurant, and plenty of places sold street food and elotes on Saturdays and Sundays too.
Dona Kika’s store
Saturday shopping at the veggie truck
Dona Kika herself Chris Schwartz
Serving up elotes (steamed corn on the cob with various toppings)
Kika’s cook shelter, bathrooms, shower and sink
Chuy’s restaurant – serving up the epic Hamburguesa Doble

It is pretty quiet during the week in Cienega de Gonzalez, but on the weekends the town comes to life. Locals from Santiago and Monterrey come up the mountain on Saturdays and Sundays and rent cuatrimotos to ride through the canyons. The people also love to stay up late and listen to music – it is not uncommon to see huge sound systems with flashing lights strapped to the front of quads, or come across several cars parked on the side of the street blasting their music with all the car doors open. If you’re planning to climb on Sunday or Monday mornings, earplugs are a good idea for the nights before.

Cobble streets in Cienega de Gonzalez
Rent cuatrimotos here


Prior to heading out on the trip, we did two months of strength and power training to prepare, and then took a week and a half off of climbing before arriving. Due to our very wet west coast fall this year, neither of us had climbed outside for several months, so we kept our expectations for El Salto fairly open.

Turns out we were feeling very good, and the climbing went very very well.

There are currently four main developed crags in El Salto, with several other smaller walls that are continuously seeing new routes go up: Las Animas (the souls), Cueva de Tecalote (gym roof cave), La Boca (the mouth), and Cumbia Cave. You can find online topos and some route information here and here, but new routes are constantly being developed.

Las Animas

Las Animas is a massive, breath-taking wall, steeper than vertical and boasting phenomenal lines ranging from 5.11+ to 5.14-. The wall is stunning to look at with huge vertical streaks of alternating blue and orange limestone littered with multiple tufa features. We learned that the wall earned its name because in bright moonlight the tufas cast ghostly shadows across the wall.

Hike to Las Animas
Jared climbing amidst the orange and grey-blue streaks

Ancient petroglyphs in the center of the wall have led to a few routes being closed to climbers, but all remaining lines are currently open.


A popular quadding trail runs alongside the wall, so weekend afternoons can be loud and unpleasant for climbing at Las Animas, but it is manageable. Perhaps more difficult is the long “siesta time” in the middle of the day. The wall begins to receive sun on the left side at 11am and by the end of February we weren’t climbing again until nearly 4pm. Apparently this season has been unusually hot, making it near impossible to climb in the sun.

Memorizing beta in siesta time
Mona and Shep a snoozin’
Jared and his new babe ❤

Graham climbed 32 of the 48 routes at Las Animas wall, including Dante’s Inferno Extension (5.14a; his first of the grade), Strict Machine (5.13d; second ascent), and Murder Weapon (5.14a; third ascent). Kim climbed Strict Machine as her first 5.13d, as well as Dante’s Inferno (5.13d).

Graham on his send of Dante’s Inferno Extension (5.14a)
Chris cranking in the first crux of Purgatory (5.13a/b)
Kim putting down Strict Machine (5.13d)
Kirsten on her send of Body Groovin’ (5.12b)
Dan starting up on Dante’s Inferno (5.13d)
Kim on her send of the full Camino de Chino (5.13b)

La Boca

La Boca crag is much more technical and closer to vertical, but it is not exempt from funky tufa features. There are more moderates available at La Boca, with route difficulties ranging from sub 5.10 to 5.14-. The wall is tall and orange, and many of the routes have beautiful, thin extensions through an otherwise nearly blank face. It is a great place to go on weekends to avoid the whir of the cuadrimotos and is often busy with psyched climbers. Plus, at only a 10 minute walk from Kika’s, it is easy to return to camp for the hours of siesta.

At La Boca, Kim climbed the classic routes Lounge Puppy (5.13a) and Hijo de Puta (5.12b/c) among several others, and Graham finished off Fantastic Voyage Extension (5.13c), Honey Bear Extension (5.13d/5.14a) and Sound of the Second Season (5.13c). He also completed his first First Ascent, of a mega techy route called Slabbergast (5.12d/5.13a).

Graham entering the crux on Fantastic Voyage Extension (5.13c). Photo credit: Dan Beland
Kim snagging a rest on Honey Bear (5.12a). Photo credit: Dan Beland
Dan climbing the stellar line Hijo de Puta (5.12c)

Cueva de Tecalote

The Tecalote Cave is about a 25 minute walk past Las Animas and the crag itself is made up of three small caves. In the furthest right cave is Culo de Merlin (5.10d), one of the coolest climbs either of us has ever done! Steep jug climbing leads to stemming off a huge hanging tufa that leads to climbing through a five foot long hole and then finishes with cave-like adventuring into the abyss of the cave.

Graham’s biggest wish list climb, H-Bomb (5.14a), is located at the Tecalote Cave. After a couple sessions to work on the boulder problem, he quickly dispatched the route during the fourth week of our stay.

Jared mid-crux on H-Bomb (5.14a)
Cave life


On top of all the incredible climbing we met loads of great, unforgettable people (and fur friends!) We spent a lot of time with Andres and Juan Pablo from Guadalajara who were great helps in teaching us Spanish and translating for us when we were stuck. Some of the climbing terms we learned include…

Que machina!                        What a machine!
Eso!                                      That’s it!
Que mamado(a)!                    So strong!
Buen pege!                            Nice try!
Venga!                                  Common!
Venga guey!                          Common dude!
Chido!                                  Cool!
Como te fue?                         How did it go?
A muerte!                             To the death!
Our patient teachers, Juan Pablo and Andres

Two of the free range Chihuahuas living at Kika’s, Donny and Milli, recently had a litter of four puppies, so we watched them grow over our stay. Rita, another young pup, had a litter of five just over a week before we left. And then of course there was Fleabag (the kitten we wished was ours!) and Mona (adopted by Jared).

Puppies of Donny and Milli
Rita and babes
Roscoe and Mona

And that’s about it! We would love to come back to Mexico to revisit El Salto and check out many of the other climbing destinations as well…. Potrero Chico, La Huesteca, Guadalcasar, Chanta, Hilo Tepec and more.

Some coverage of our stay, courtesy of Gripped and Squamish Climbing Mag:

Finally, many thanks to Scarpa for putting the shoes on our feet that carried us up all those climbs, and to Dometic for the cooling box that kept our beer and food chilled in the scorching heat. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s