The Monkey Tracker

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Mexican Gringo Disco

Day 18 – Day 33
After locating a crazy Mexican taxi at the Monterrey airport we decided it would be a genius idea to head north towards the USA border and the climbing paradise of El Potrero Chico. During our journey through Monterrey it became quite apparent to us that this city seemed to be in some sort of drug war. Heavily armoured vehicles patrolled the streets loaded with federal police carrying automatic weapons. Our cab driver skilfully negotiated the check points, these are traps you see, the police here are all corrupt and intertwined with the drug cartels.Eventually we reached the safe haven on Hidalgo, a small rural town in the middle of the scorching desert featuring a glorious limestone canyon.

 Just like that level in Bubsy (N64) there was cactus everywhere, standalone palm trees and tumbleweeds rolling along the sand. At our destination of La Posada we thought it was time to finally do some work....

Nah, work is for suckers and schmos in suits. Above our campsite the insane towering cliffs of El Potrero Chico loomed above. Intimidating but somehow inviting. These cactus ridden cliffs boast some of the longest sport routes in the world including the 23 pitch, 700m monster of Time Wave Zero (5.12a.) 

Beric on big cactus wall. By C.Glastonbury.

Steve on a big cactus wall. By C.Beric.

Nomad on a big cactus wall. By C.Beric.

The park is also a popular local hangout; we noticed a trend of Mexicans parking their cars in random places, usually blaring some kind of crazy carnival music. These people like to be heard. Nomad was highly disgusted with their choice of music, it’s far too predictable and childish and the Mexican lyrics made no sense.

The next day we did our first real climbing for the trip, getting used to the rock on some easy classics. We found the bolting to be less than ideal with long runouts on the easier low angle routes. There was a common theme of first bolts up to 8m above the ground, real leg breaking like. It also seems that these people haven’t discovered stainless steel yet, at least half the bolts were rusted, real confidence inspiring like. We really feel the need to come here with a few hundred stainless rings and some glue, show these people how we bolt in Australia.

Literally 90 % of the vegetation in Mexico was well equipped with angry teeth, perfect for slicing flesh and catching ropes. They make good homes for rattle snakes too. There’s also the reluctance to use pockets while climbing, some of them are covered in cobwebs and home to tarantulas. Some of the Jugs feature hidden cactus which are a nice surprise

On night two, Beric made a rookie error by ordering the pork special from the campsite Restaraunte. Something about food poisoning and worst night of my life.

Our round the world mentors Lee and Sam came the rescue with an online Skype consultation at 3am via the iphone. They recommended all sorts of useful drugs and procedures, all of which we had but were locked inside the camp office until it opened at 8am.

While Beric recovered during the day by sipping on electrolyte and chewing on Stemizine, Steve and Nomad went to climb the classic multipitch of Space Boyz. The climb featured mostly sub 5.9 pitches which we quickly ran up with three excellent 5.10’s in the middle forming the crux. As usual we carried way to much stuff in the daypack making the climbing much harder for the second than the leader.
Nomad befriended the waiter at restaraunte, who made ordering food seem like some highly dodgy drug transaction. “whatchu need man…” ahhhh, errrrr, just make it some cake and ice cream. “ok, I’ll bring it to you, where you gonnabe? I’ll take care of you.”

On our first rest day we ventured into the Hidalgo markets. It quickly became obvious that you’re nobody in Mexico unless you have a moustache, a hat and a belt buckle.

Stalker Mo photos. By C.Beric.

The markets featured all sorts of useless crap mixed in with fresh produce and bulk quantities of deep fried meat sitting in the desert sun. A KFC like substance was a common theme, after the pork experience we weren’t game to risk it. But they were keeping it warm in the sun so it probably would have been just fine.

Over the next few days we explored some of the classics of the Potrero with the highlights being a 4 hour ascent of Yankee Clipper (400m 5.10) and Nomad’s onsight of The Devils Tongue (5.12a)

Steve dominating the 'Gringo Disco'. y C.Beric

Steve riding the wave. By C.Beric.

In Mexico we brought the stinge-iness to a new level, camping out in tents for the first time. La Posada had rooms for rent, which would have cost us an extra $1.50 per night, but that’s not in the budget. So for the sixteens days of our time in Mexico we slept on the ground with the constant threat of scorpions, rattlesnakes and tarantulas. Our backs may have paid the price but over the sixteen days we saved some serious cash ($24.)  Beric collected a 44 gallon drum of leaves which did just nicely as mattress padding.

On the fourth day Nomad’s complacent attitude to tent security caught up with him and he removed a 4 inch black scorpion from his sleeping bag. Let that be a lesson, close the tent zip and strap the sleeping bag shut.

Finally our one night of super luxury for Mexico occurred when we made a trip to El Salto with a local amigo Ricardo. We stayed at Dona Kikas grand lodge behind her mini mart; the Hilton had nothing on this place.

5 Stars baby. By C.Beric.
Dona Kika and Cowboy guarding shop. By C.Beric.
She knows the score. By C.Beric.

Strange behavior. By C.Beric.

Our local Mexican rockclimbing friends cooked us up some crazy mexican food for breakfast to top things off. The food in Mexico is amazing.

El Salto turned out to be one of the highlights of Mexico, an amazing limestone gorge with crystal clear waterfalls, perfectly sculpted rock and steep tufa cave climbing.

Beric ventured up the classic climb Culo De Merlin (Translation: Merlin’s Ass.) He disappeared into the orifice and through a chimney type thing..

He finally emerged with a whole new perspective and insight, inside he found things you wouldn’t believe, unspeakable things. This route was a must do classic.  We then did another awesome steep route called Felicidad (5.11d) translation: Happiness. Beric was stoked to flash this 5.11d which is up there currently with his hardest flashes to date.

On the way back to El Potrero we ventured into Downtown Monterey, the scene of many drug related shootings. There was one in the paper the day before, where the Mayer got involved and shot a few drug commandos. The papers here seem to be highly graphic. 

We also discovered a far superior alternative to KFC. Pollo Loco. This chicken was well worth the risk of venturing into the centre of a drug war.

By the way, screw McDonalds, from now on we make our own hash browns using a cheese grater.

After this river mission our socks and clothes were getting rather manky. This wasn’t a bad thing but we finally cracked and succumb to the westernised event of washing your clothes. First time since we had left Townsville! Our Mothers would be impressed. We had proudly made it exactly one month without washing and it was a shame to wreck the streak. Note its only one month if you don’t count our undies getting washed in the amazon death rafting mission. I recall they did get a little wet that day, and possibly in multiple ways.

This washing event gave birth to the glorious clothes hanger tree. Never mind clothes lines. You gotta hang your clean wet clothes in the dusty, windy dessert on a confangled tree.

We don’t know why, but Nomad decided to use the camp ground clothes line. Strange behaviour if you ask us.

Speaking of Trees, we found a joyous tree to use as a bridge when hiking through the El Salto gorge. 

Anyway, the next day some French Canadian girls told us there was this new good route up the gully called Access Denied. We didn’t know anything at all about it, i.e. where it starts, how many pitches, what grade, what length rope was required or how many draws. The thing wasn’t in the guide book but the attractive French girls said it was good. How could we go wrong??

We found some bolts and started climbing. Turns out this thing was complete death. An extremely run out 4 pitch climb up a terrifying loose block system. Then the climb linked into the ridge line, a loose toppling mess of blocks. Some wackos had climbed this ridge line 11 years ago and named it the scariest ride in the park. It is that scary that out of the thousands of climbers that come to this area every year, no one has ever repeated it… and lived. We decided to cut our losses and abseiled out of there to eat some snickers bars instead.

Our Mexico trip was now coming closer to an end and we had yet to conquer Time Wave Zero. Being the longest sport route in North America we wanted to pick our day carefully, make sure we were all well rested and the weather would be safe. But we were running out of time fast. Things kicked into gear quickly over a dinner discussion. Nomad looked up from his plate and said “right, we’re doing it tomorrow”. Not much else was said, we all knew what had to be done. Some frantic packing followed and the alarms were set for 5:00 am.

We stumbled out of the tents in the darkness and cold and quickly downed some breakfast before starting the hike to the unknown start of the climb. After some negotiations with cactus and loose rock we eventually made it to the base. As the first light filtered through we started up the easy first pitch, quickly reaching the ledge below the first crux of the day, the 5.11a second pitch. We made it through that hurdle and the following moderate pitches started going down quickly.

We linked nearly everything, using up the full length of our 60m rope and simulclimbing on a few occasions. Mexico Beta: bring a 70m rope! Our strategy of having the third climbing self-belay proved highly effective and we managed to move up the climb at two person speed. The only problem was the heavily burdened second who had to deal with both the day pack full of water and the rope drag from the second rope.

The best climbing of the day came with the 19th and 20th pitches which featured steep climbing on pockets and jugs. A welcome relief from the abundant grey juggy slabs which were becoming a little monotonous. After these pitches we reached our first decent ledge and stopped for a brief lunch break. Now it was crunch time. Beric was the first to step up and have a crack at onsighting the stiff 5.12a 700m off the ground. It was a solid attempt but didn’t make it through the crux which was highly heinous, awkward and sharp. Nomad followed next and suffered the same fate firing off some classic nomad sounds: “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaarhghhhhhhhhhhhhhh, arrrghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, aererherherhehrhhhhhhhhhhhhhgggh” as he cranked on the sharp razor holds. Running short of time we cut our losses with working this heinous sequence and nomad dogged through so we could continue through to the summit. A sneaky well rested and beta absorbed Steve managed to pull through the pitch clean on second which was impressive.

One more pitch lead us to the summit ridge consisting of precariously balancing razor sharp death blocks and a trusty fixed rope featuring an impressive core shot.

The big birds were circling us at the summit, real vulturous like, waiting for us to fall so that could scavenge our meat. At the top we found the elusive Peyote cactus, which the locals use as some sort of hallucinogenic drug

After nine hours of climbing we had to abseil back down the entire length of the route before it got too dark and cold. It was all uneventful until pitch 16 when we pulled our rope down for the next abseil and it got stuck around a massive death block way above us. While Beric negotiated with his rope which was stuck above him in a Cactus, Nomad re-lead the pitch to free the rope resulting in hour of delay to our time pressed mission.  Beta: do single 30m raps to minimise the angry cactus and death block problem, don’t attempt to save time and link them with your two 60m ropes!

The cactus served for something useful and saved us in the end though. Beric’s now coiled rope hanging off a quick draw unclipped itself some 400m off the ground and went bouncing straight down the cliff face. “Watch it, waaaatch it, OHHHHHHHHHHHH, aarrrrrrr, WWWWWWWATCH IT, WHAT THE HELL, AHHHAHAHA JOYOUS, its caught on that cactus only 15m away”.  We weren’t that surprised given the excessive cactus ruling this level of the game.  We returned to camp in the dark pretty dehydrated from our day in the sun, cooked steak and potatoes and drank beer.

For our last day climbing we hiked up the canyon to outrage wall. This wall is highly outrageous, it’s like 200m high, covered in tufas and orange streaks, and its overhanging. Just how we like it. A quick access pitch got us to the Bronco Bowl, home to the classic 5.12 Celestial Omnibus. After playing on that for a few hours in the Mexican sun we retreated to the ground.

We decided to shower on our last evening before catching a plane to the USA; we didn’t want to attract the attention of the sniffer dogs with our Dank. But what about the DANK you??! Steve seems to have dirt stains on his hands that will not scrub off, guess he will have to wait for his skin to regenerate. Beric looked in the mirror and freaked out when he saw the nutcase with crazy hair stuck up on one side looking back at him.

We only got three hours sleep that night as it was payday for the locals. We got up at 4am to pack up the tents and gear for a 5am cab ride. Nomad and Beric emerged from their tents and Steve was already packed up. He frantically packed both Beric and Nomads tent in 5 minutes flat while they were still getting the sleep put of their eyes. Then like a nutcase ran off to the kitchen with great concern. He was seen 1 minute later stirring a saucepan of oats.
Never mind that. We are writing this driving on a windy mountain road in USA in some sort of snow storm. Should we keep that deer thing, this blog is getting out of control? Yeah, these people will read whatever we tell them to read, we’re a bunch of rambling idiots.


  1. Kinda lost it towards the end there! Long blogs are hard eh? Some nice pics btw.

  2. I must be getting old I definitely would prefer to play bridge than do the climbing here. It was good to talk to you today Chris and I am glad to hear that you have finally done some washing. There is an up side to you boys not washing, you won`t be attracting any girls over there and hence be torn about moving on!!!

  3. Yeah Lee I was highly deranged and discombobulated by the end of this blog, and before I even started it actually haha thanks, I've been taking heaps of photos and messing around with lightroom 3 editing, still saving some of the good photos from Mexico and South America for a movie we are making though ;) Rosemary he also had two showers today. Steve and I advised him that he should cut down on the showers.. dont want him to get used to them as we predict there will be no showers for a while once we leave this fancy ski resort on Thursday.. Beric