Spring Break: Beyond El Potrero Chico
Tired of winter? Shoveling got you down? You sit down at your computer and find it’s cold almost everywhere in the country. All the fun, long routes at Red Rocks are in the shade, so that’s a no-go. Even most of Joshua Tree’s classics face north and you still remember the pain of getting the freezing barfies on Figures on a Landscape.
But here’s a great option: Check out Monterrey, Mexico. Only two and a half hours across the border, it’s a very reasonable driving destination. Flying is also an option as flights have gotten very cheap recently, around $155 one-way from Denver to Monterrey on Volaris.
Most people are aware of El Potrero Chico as an international climbing destination, or have even been there. And El Potrero Chico is excellent for what it offers—lots of climbing in the 5.9-5.11 range including some fantastic long moderates. It comes in a one-stop-shop type of package where you can camp just a few minutes from the crag in a hostel-like environment and walk a reasonable distance to get groceries. I’ve spent lots of time at EPC and loved it. But the times I’ve gotten out to see more of the area have also been super rewarding, full of adventure and wonder. Here are a few other areas worth exploring.
The hot springs of Termas de San Joaquin are quite nice and can be combined with a visit to the caves of Grutas de Garcia. The drive from EPC to this area was just as captivating as the two destinations themselves. There’s an old sugar plantation (Hacienda del Muerte) that makes for excellent photo opportunities and has a sort of creepiness to it.
Canyon Huasteca is vast and has more limestone than you could ever imagine. It cuts its way perpendicular across the folded mountains of Cumbres de Monterrey creating a labyrinth of canyons. There’s a via faretta here that’s quite remarkable and lots of crags and long multi-pitch routes, plus mountain biking trails.
El Salto, aka Cienega de Gonzales, is essentially at the top end of Canyon Huasteca, but the road was washed out during a previous hurricane so there’s no vehicle access between the two towns. Instead, drive southeast of Monterrey and up a steep, winding road to get to the town. For those tired of standing on their feet at EPC, the tufa and stalactite climbing here is fantastic and a welcome relief. Once again, you’ll be awestruck by the amount of limestone in this vicinity. Cienega de Gonzales has a cool Mexican mountain town feel to it and the Spanish moss gives it a Jurassic feel.
The Cumbia Cave is near El Salto and gives a better full-body workout than a Cross-fit class! Steep 3D stalactite climbing will blow out your core faster than you think! Bring jeans and/or kneepads for wrapping your legs around the stalactites. Also, don’t forget bug spray, as ticks and insects swarm.
One of the crown adventure jewels of the Monterrey Area is Matacanes Canyon. It ends where you park for Cumbia Cave. It’s a day of swimming, rappelling and jumping into clear, blue-water pools in a limestone canyon. This is a good adventure for the warmer months.
What to Bring
Two 70-meter ropes
20 or so quickdraws
Helmet, climbing pack
Personal Anchor System
Tight and comfy climbing shoes
Mostly warm weather clothes, though temps can drop below freezing
Go light on cooking stuff as most lodging options provide stoves, and basic pots/pans
Your favorite coffee maker
Tent, sleeping bag, etc...
● Using Uber around Monterrey is cheap and way easier than driving.
● You can now get your car permits online, which will save headaches crossing the border. Don’t forget to turn them back in when you leave.
● The toll roads in Mexico are super nice and fast. Use them if budget allows.
● Driving at night is not recommended.
● Watch out for speed bumps (topes)! They come in all shapes and sizes and are usually not well marked.
A Note on Safety
Having spent two months this winter in various locations around Monterrey, I found it to be very safe and the locals to be very helpful and kind to strangers. That said, there’s certainly trouble out there if you’re looking for it and in some cases even if you’re not. Anything not bolted down is prone to theft—and even then, don’t underestimate the will of someone who doesn’t have much to lose. Mexico did a big house cleaning of the police departments in past years and many of the corrupt ones were put in jail or underground. If you’re looking for safety, perhaps consider an all-inclusive resort somewhere. These adventures mentioned are for those seeking adventure! Rocks may fall, snakes may bite, holds may break, but those bits of uncertainty are what keep you from getting bored and falling asleep.
Mountain Project’s Northern Mexico Page
Mark Grundon has some beta on his site and offers guiding - http://www.elpotrerochicoguides.com/
And finally, a climbing video to get you pumped!