Forums: Climbing Information: Trip Reports: Climbing Cerro Blanco in Durango, Mexico: Edit Log


Feb 18, 2009, 11:00 AM

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Climbing Cerro Blanco in Durango, Mexico
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Since our earlier trip to El Gigante, Mike Knarzer and I have talked up a trip to Cerro Blanco in the state of Durango, Mexico. It is 1,200’ at its tallest with several hard routes going up this huge south-facing crag. Our plan is to blast through the state of Chihuahua and move onto Durango in two days of hard driving on a mix of two lane highways and 4 lane toll roads. On February 7, 2009 we leave Tempe, Arizona, and head to Douglas, Arizona for the border.

Driving through the border is not difficult, getting the right paperwork done is no problem but I lost my papers from a previous trip and changed my windshield with the required hologram on it. Just a small road block, overcome with humility and a thousand pardons to the clerk behind the counter.
We arrive in the city of Chihuahua a little after sunset and drive to the end of town to position ourselves for the next morning. Around the corner from our hotel, we head for a cantina/ “ladies dance bar” full of colorful locals and of course, a beautiful bartender named Cynthia! Mike and I are at once befriended and slightly abused, not by the same people, for being from the USA. Mike, long blonde hair, was the main attraction that night. We cut it short and return to the hotel for a well deserved sleep.
As we drive deeper into the state of Chihuahua, we note the similarity between this landscape and the area just south of Tucson, Arizona. As we drive by mountains and valleys populated by cattle and cactus, the storm we are escaping produces significant wind; it constantly pushes our truck around.

On our way down, we have one untimely incident when we take an unplanned detour to Hidalgo Del Parral, a 2.5 hour mistake which caused us to arrive after dark. As a result, we pull into the small town of Penon Blanco hungry and unsure of our destination, the small village of Nuevo Covadonga at the base of Cerro Blanco. Carlos Ayala Garcia’s notes on his website ( ) recommends using the mayor and owner of the town’s mini-super (local store) to procure a guide. Instead, when we stop in at the first restaurant we see on arrival we meet Alvaro, the owner and a former resident of Chicago for many years. He immediately fed us and invited himself along as our guide and companion. He admitted to not knowing the trail but he did know the start. After a quiet night in a local hotel, we meet Alvaro and head to Nuevo Covadonga. The road is easily found by staying on the main road and turning right just past the plaza and police station in Penon Blanco. Shortly after leaving town, you can see the crag. Vaqueros preparing to move cattle as we head to Nuevo Covadonga and a great view of the area’s thorny brush.

Enjoying magnificent views of the dominant white rock we’ve come to climb, we enter the final stopping place and get our gear sorted. Our hike up is to be a slightly rising trail to a small pass leading to a plateau, a walk of one hour or so, based on topos I have copied from the internet.

As we reach the pass, Mike heads up and gets into thick thorny brush and advises us to go around and meet him on the other side. As we walk along, there is a maze of trails, probably javelina according to our guide. I end up following Alvaro along the wrong path until we get to the top of a huge buttress below the little Cerro Blanco. By the time we finally reach Mike, my pack has worn grooves in my bony shoulders and Alvaro throws out “Thank God we’re saved” when we see him way below us. The correct path found again and lost and found again, finally brings us to the Piedra Partida (split rock) where we make camp. A nice sandy open area and a climb next to us make it a climber’s perfect bivy.
The nights are cool but not cold, probably down to high 40’s or low 50’s and dry windy conditions. With plenty of wood, we have a great time telling stories by the fire. Alvaro recounts numerous hunts where he bagged mountain lions aplenty. Apparently foals and colts are their favorite food and the farmers are constantly fighting them for supremacy. I was hurting from the extra time and effort spent wandering off the trail. I slept soundly. Alvaro and I enjoy a gorgeous sunset and fun stories and wine!

Next morning is cool and windy in camp. We packed to climb a warm-up for tomorrow’s objective, the center of the 1,200’ face, Via Lactea, 5.12 mixed bolted face and cracks soaring up the center to a huge overhanging off-width dihedral to finish it all. But first, we were going to climb Mi Flaquita (my skinny girl) a 5.9 on the right shoulder of the wall, hopefully getting a peek at Via Lactea as we went. That was the plan.

Just getting to the base, following Oriol Anglada ’s instructions and topo, was not possible. Since he and his wife developed the route in November 2006, the path he drew no longer existed. That’s ok for men of the desert like Mike and me; we just found our own path. We bashed through hip tall grass and thorny brush interspersed with rocks just like hiking at home. We took about 30 minutes to reach the base of the wall from camp at a slow uphill pace. I didn’t have a topo for the route, just a line and brief description on a Mexican climbing website( ). As long as we can find a climb, we are confident that we can do it. We are here for adventure so I graciously give Mike the first pitch, a combination of a short and long pitch in one. During the whole climb we are blasted continuously by an increasing wind.

As we get higher on the slab, the wind reaches such a high velocity that my helmet pulls up hard on my chinstrap causing me some discomfort and dismay. I try to climb two pitches together up high but the runout and traversing nature of the pitch, combined with climbing on the edge of the massif, serves me a dose of severe wind flogging. I move up the steep slab slowly, trying to work with the wind and at the same time the rope drag pulls me down. For a time, I am literally pushed off the shoulder by the wind and pulled down by the rope drag. I end up at a steep 20’ to the next bolt where I bail after suffering from the intensity of the pitch; ok, I was scared. I lower to the intermediate anchor and Mike leads the way. He pulls off some difficult sketchy moves and we continue up the shoulder. As we move up, we have a bit more shelter but the wind is still blasting. Mike continues on the lead; I was finished leading, the wind totally sucked my motivation out. A couple more pitches and we arrive at the top of the climb, just shy of the actual summit.

Getting down proves to be a difficult endeavor; we rappel slowly, trying to keep the ropes from getting stuck. The wind seems to intensify and we move slower, coiling and keeping ropes under control requires constant vigilance. Down we come and then the thorny brushy hike doesn’t seem so bad, not after the treatment we endured on the crag. With the wind this burly, Mike and I begin having second thoughts about tackling a big climb. Not only that, but we were running out of water. Our amigo, Alvaro, hadn’t brought more than a canteen; Mike and I brought more but not enough to enjoy a third night and climb the next day. We weighed our decision to bail on our desired climb based on the lack of water and excessive wind. That night, we enjoyed the moonlight, had a fire with more of Alvaro’s stories about slaying furry mammals near his family’s ranch nearby. A great benefit to having a local is that he is able to find water for morning coffee. We had earlier found a muddy but dry “spring” and Alvaro dug mud out of it to allow it to fill with water. That morning he went back, filled a bottle with muddy spring water (no cattle can reach this plateau) and we boiled it for coffee. Since both Mike and I like dark coffee, it was perfect. Now we can say that we carried home a small part of Cerro Blanco with us. After coffee, Mike onsights the difficult arête in camp.

Our next stop, Pueblo Magico, a small dusty adobe village on the main road we left earlier,is known for its hot springs. After driving a short while down a back road, our way is blocked by a gated fence. We return to the main “highway” and drive easily to the town. The hot soak is really a bit too hot but we suffer through. I enjoy the view nearly as much as the soak, the crag we had been on is the dominant feature in the landscape. The people bathing were friendly and sharing. On the premises a hotel is available for those who want to make a full day of it. All too soon, we were on the road north after a meal at Alvaro’s restaurant.

Our next stop, after finding the right exit is Presa Francisco Zarco, a reservoir with climbing below the dam. We arrive well after dark and I can tell we are entering a big canyon. I see a sign “bajada al rio” (descent to the river) and drive down to the river bank. Mike and I toss our pads and bags and fall asleep while admiring the river flowing by. Sleeping in a strange area makes me a bit nervous. As I am waking, I hear a couple of cars drive by on the highway above and not much else until just before daylight. In the grey gloom, I suddenly hear heavy footsteps on the river rock surrounding us. I unzip my bag, jump up and see a mare and her foal come to get morning water. I sink back down and they leave after drinking.

After we arise, we drive to the dam to check out the reservoir. It is huge. Not only that, we can make out a large cliff way at the back. Next time we bring a boat. As we drive back the way we came, looking for routes, we pass lots of rock not far from the road. One feature, a large pinnacle, maybe 300’ tall, was boltless and it had a crack! Nice, next time too!

Finally we find the spot with routes easily reached from the road, in fact beginning next to it! Talk about contrast, from backpacking to a crag and drive up access, Mexico has it all. We only have time for a few routes so we stick to the easiest approach and climb two routes to get the feel of the place. The first route is on the edge of a huge buttress with a line of bolts heading up the left side of it. I lead it in one long pitch instead of two. I feel as if I am climbing at Potrero Chico, the limestone feels very similar. An easy slab start to a ledge then the business on steep holds and steeper rock felt like a solid 11ish rating.

Next, Mike got on a route on the sunny side of the giant fin, much easier and fun climbing on great rock. I lead it after him and he tied me off to run up and get a photo with the river in the background. Escaping the belay is an important ability, practice makes perfect. We left shortly after to avoid as much driving in the dark as we could.

We reach Chihuahua City just after dark by blasting up the cuota (toll) road. Gratefully we find a clean hotel and just sink into sleep immediately. Breakfast isn’t a real big thing in Mexico, not many Denny’s around. We manage to get to the university where we find plenty of restaurants with great coffee and desayuno (breakfast). Finally we are on the road for our last stretch, gratefully uneventful, except for the army checkpoints. All they do is examine our gear and ask questions about where we have been and what we are up to. No problems. To get home, all we need is to pass through the border; just a matter of time and a passport. Well, not quite home yet. We stop in on Sushi Fest at Cochise Stronghold. What could top our trip off better than raw fish and worn soles! Our friends are just gathering as we arrive earlier than expected.
Our final climb is on Sheepshead, a 1,000’ dome full of great climbing. Stampede (5.11, III) is a route up the right side of the formation known for supposedly scary runouts. Yeah, there are runouts but if you are ok with great exposure then you’ll enjoy the climb as much as we did. Mike belayed me on the first pitch with its crux moves two bolts off the ground. Mike follows easily on smooth slab.

A boulder problem then slab, what could be easier? Well, it turned out to be thin and thinner but well bolted. I fell near the top bolt working a mono (I know, on a slab???) and just ran backwards down the slab until Mike stopped me. He thought I was pulling slack and fed me rope as I ran down slope until I started whining for him to stop me. Mike torquing a finger in the mono!

The climb’s crux on the second pitch is very scenic and tricky so it is Mike’s turn again! Mike makes a move around a corner to gain a slab above us. Hard to see from the belay, still he makes short work of it.

The third pitch is great, definitely the most enjoyable pitch, we both agree. The last is the least enjoyable but it made a beeline for the top unlike the original finish which heads way left to the end of the giant ledge. We both had already done that finish, same as Too Tough to Die, so Mike topped out on it. Glad he did it, the crux section in the photo is weird because the rock is generally grainy, especially at the top but this portion had down sloping slick holds for hands and feet. Still, my good friend drags me up to the summit and a break before rapping the new 5.9 route on the same side of the buttress. We do this to avoid walking down the back of Sheepshead in our climbing shoes. That rappel begins as a single 60m followed by a second of double 60m to the gully and another long double 60m rappel. We run into fellow fish fans here from Santa Fe for the party. You can see just past Mike, Ed is working Sheep Thrills, 5.11c (mixed route).

During the next two days we enjoy a live band, great sushi (thanks Doug) and great company to welcome us home. Our trip took about 2,000 miles in a week. We crossed the entire state of Chihuahua from north to south, climbed our primary objective Cerro Blanco visited Presa Francisco Zarco and had a great Sushi Fest to top it off! I just have to rest a few days while I plan my next journey.

(This post was edited by sonso45 on Feb 18, 2009, 11:23 AM)

Edit Log:
Post edited by sonso45 () on Feb 18, 2009, 11:09 AM
Post edited by sonso45 () on Feb 18, 2009, 11:10 AM
Post edited by sonso45 () on Feb 18, 2009, 11:20 AM
Post edited by sonso45 () on Feb 18, 2009, 11:23 AM

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