Mexico City Cragging
by Manuel Rangel
Mexico City Venga!
According to some people, smog is the most uncomfortable issue, after personal security, while traveling in Mexico City. As I arrive I can barely see the tops of Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl, two volcanic summits over 17,000 ft. high. The smog remains in the Valley of Mexico (7,350 ft.) especially in winter and this is my first winter visit. On other occasions, it has been either blown away by the wind or was lighter than the present grey blanket. One of my earliest climbing road trips was a drive I took from El Paso, TX to climb Popocatepetl in 1978. I remember climbing to the small mountainside hut around 14,500 ft. and looking out over the immensely populated Valley of Mexico. Back then, I thought it looked big from our perch on Popoís flank. Now, it is more immense. I donít like feeling like I canít breathe and I donít have time to acclimate because I come from Arizona, a total of 1400' in elevation, and I've come for some high altitude cragging.
|Mexico City winter smog ascends near the top of the volcanos|
James and Abdiel know the hike to Corral de Piedra, a big bunch of crags with tons of potential. Since Iím there, in typical Manny fashion, we get off track. We wander through a lush green old forest for a while but only during the uphill portion. After a few minutes dodging vines and thorns we find the right path. I hadnít taken the approach into account while having a good ole time the night before and I was very tired and extremely winded. Iím told the base of the wall is located at over 10,500 ft. elevation above sea level. Iím feeling exhausted when we finally arrive. James assured me it is normally only a 30 minute approach. Only a few routes have been done. We scoped some cracks and decided to warm up on James' route, Rescubridores 5.10d and 37 meters long!
|Corral De Piedra from parking area|
The rock is a hard volcanic type, graniteĖlike but with unusual features: flakes, pinches and swaths of smooth holdless rock. Unfortunately the moss keeps coming back after the wet season (summer) and confuses the eye when looking for a solid hold. Abdiel attempted the line first, then I did and finally James ascends his route. It is long, 37m, and quite a bit harder than the warm-up we were looking for, more like stiff 5.11. We all finally arrive at the top of the first pitch. The next pitch is unknown territory, James says it may be runout and require gear. Then an unprotected slab above that makes me pause. I vote no (my pulse is still racing and a late start figure into it) and it is quickly agreed that we should bail. The altitude got me that time. Chicken soup and early to bed are on our minds as we drive to Toluca in the dark.
|Abdiel and James watching me rap|
Sunday morning James drives us to Magdalena Contreras, the town at the base of Parque de Los Dinamos. Located at the edge of Mexico City, the park was once a source of hydroelectricity provided by the steep river descending through a gorgeous green forested canyon. There are several walls in the park, named after the four dynamos which have since been removed. I only climbed once before at Primer Dinamo with Carlos Garcia and Myriam Taylor. Fun sport climbing for a short day. I had to come back for the trad lines on the skyline.
|The park entry at Magdalena Contreras plaza|
|Carlos "Mac" Garcia and Myriam Taylor at Primer Dinamo|
Rodolfo Villalon, Arcelia Garcia and Spencer Hoffman joined us at the plaza in Magdalena Contreras to show us around. Rodolfo and Arcelia are very active local climbers, having just returned from an extended trip to climb Yosemite and Utah. They graciously point out the classics and since again Iím sucking air they let me have the easy classic line, La Sirena 5.9, 3 pitches: sounds good to me.
|Rodolfo cruising a 5.9|
Unfortunately, the very start is troubling because what looks like a splitter crack is actually a rounded flake on the left and sharp corner on the right, necessitating the placement of a cam right on the edge of the rounded left flake with no room for error. Plus, it is polished from many, many hands sliding up and down. I nearly lose my hand jams as I fight to keep my body from forcing me into a barn door move. Finally I jam my feet in and desperately reach higher for a more secure placement. Excitement and adrenaline pump my already rapidly beating heart into the 100+ beats per minute mode. Nice ledge mid height gets lets me rejuvenate.
|Working my way up pitch 2; just below the traverse|
Pitch three has a small roof with great protection the whole way. The route had another short bolted pitch but we blew it off so I could photograph Arcelia and Spencer on the next 9ish route to the right. In the photo below, Arcelia is on their third pitch with Mexico City far below. The smog seems clearer up here but the initial photo shows smog to almost the tops of the volcanos. Maybe thatís another reason Iím still sucking air and feeling a bit weaker than usual.
|James exiting the roof on pitch 3|
|Arcelia with Mexico City way below her|
I also had to try a second route, highly recommended and touted as the classic at La Coco: Hormigas 5.10b, 3 pitches. Rodolfo gives me the rundown: with three different starts they all meet near the top at a combination finger and off-width (OW) finale. The combination of the first two pitches gives a 30 meter ride. I supplemented my rack with Rodolfoís gear. Going a bit heavier on finger pieces, I didnít want to be caught short at the top. The lower part is good fun; some stemming and straight forward climbing keep it cool. The final 40 ft. or so are an off width on the right and a shallow finger crack on the left. I stay on a ledge for another long rest below the OW and prepare mentally, easing my breathing and mind. I end up hand stacking, knuckle to knuckle and my right knee locked inside. Levitation of sorts allows me to stabilize and reach the protection afforded by the finger crack. Near the top the OW widens beyond hand stacking and I lean way left to place a final small cam. I try to return but feel myself slipping a bit. Regaining my composure, I remain cammed with one knee and lean back to the finger crack that is just ending. Rodolfo senses my discomfort and drops a hint: lieback! Right. Perfect. Thank you amigo; Iím already in position so I make the awkward transition and another onsight of sorts. It felt harder than rated but it could have been the altitude.
|Stemming my way up Hormigas 10b|
I finish the trip by playing tourist the next day, Monday. I wanted to see for myself how much has changed since my last visit to Mexico City 5 years ago. Rodolfo and Arcelia welcome me to stay with them and point out the subway stations for me to get around, alone. Walking the streets downtown, taking the metro subway and a couple of taxis later, I was satisfied that I was ok. Nobody threatened me or made me feel like a target. Although my height and clothing probably make me more noticeable, I know for a fact that when I open my mouth (gringo accent) the cat is out of the bag: foreigner with dollars! Still, everyone I asked for directions was polite and the amount of people moving around on foot was incredible. Everywhere you go in the center of town there are many many people all around you. Taking a cab was a special occasion and I wanted to hail one on the street as if I did in Manhattan. Same thing happened, most of them ignored me until I caught one waiting at a light. He took me to meet friends at La Condesa, a popular area with cool bars, restaurants, and sidewalk cafes: very euro like. I am grateful for my friends Jaime Velasco, Rodolfo Villalon and Arcelia Garcia for all they did to make me feel safe, secure and happy. It is the relationships we make as traveling climbers that reflects a shining light on our sport and community. It is their support and kindness that makes me feel like things will get better someday soon in Mexico. We all need to remember that our reasons for climbing are numerous but climbers are climbers wherever you meet them. Next time, Iím returning in spring time when the smog lets off and looking for La Coco once again!
5 Comments Add a Comment
|Great TR Manny!|
|very nice report!!|
Thanks. I'm hoping to return this spring.
|Manny, I haven't been on this site in months, and so it was great to come across this-cool TR!!!! -Catherine.|