Travel: Rock Climbing in Monterrey

It’s September, I’m sitting on a plane to Cape Town, and all I can think about is setting up my next climb in Monterrey. With the wanderlust nearly satiated (marathon season all booked), it’s strange that I can’t get climbing out of my head… I should be panicking about the next three months of “long-run (bitch+moan) Sundays”… but El Potrero Chico is really that good. In April earlier this year, I took an impromptu trip to Monterrey to get away from the dreary Chicago winter, and I’m feeling now it will have to become a tradition.

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I think that’s an appropriate response… It’s almost anticlimactic after the stories I remember hearing from other El Potrero climbers over caguamas (32 oz. beer bottles) in the local restaurant.

Most of the international people I met there (from Texas, California, Wales, London, and Australia) had visited once, and didn’t seem to be planning on leaving. One chap – a good guy called Rudy – was on his 2nd leg – after the 1st he flew home and moved his life into storage before promptly flying straight back. Another good climber, from Iowa this time – Matt – now teaches there, and literally has his back porch in the La Huasteca climbing area (30 minutes away from El Potrero). Karla, an expert climber+guide from Monterrey, literally lives inside El Potrero Chico. Frank visited once and now works in the restaurant between travels. These guys aren’t bums, they’re successful businessmen, teachers, physiotherapists, writers, and engineers (lol, I feel the draw too).

Let’s assume this piqued your climbing interest: You’re sitting at home/in your office, rubbing the pads of your fingers together, still raw from the climbing gym the night before. Your wanderlust is in full effect. You can almost taste the sweat-infused chalk…

Here are my recommendations based upon my original trip:

Where:

  • El Potrero Chico, Monterrey, Mexico
* Image from Google Maps

* Image from Google Maps

When:

  • Southern Hemisphere Climbing Season (October – April)
  • There is a lot of detail on Mountain Project, such as the climbing popularity above

Why:

  • Beautiful climbing (everything from entertaining 400ft 5.9’s ‘Will the Wolf Survive‘ to brutal, 2300ft multipitch, finger-stripping 5.12’s like ‘Timewave Zero
  • Almost no approach, you can walk into the climbing area from the camping area, quesadilla and horchata in hand, hurriedly scarfing it down as you plan your next route
  • Did I mention that a beer is around $2?
  • People are the friendliest I have ever met, climbers and non-climbers alike – one of the greatest sells in my opinion – if you can’t hang with ‘em, probably shouldn’t be climbing with ‘em
  • Local+International crowd, everyone from all sides of the world hitting this relatively unknown mecca to rockdom
  • If you get bored (which if impossible as far as I can tell), you can just jump into a car and head to a plethora of other mind-numbingly sexy rocks (e.g. La Huasteca – 30 minutes away)

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How:

  • Flight:
    • Monterrey is a hub for transport in and out of Mexico (similar to Mexico City (viva DF!) and Guadalajara), so plane tickets are quite cheap
    • Grab one on www.google.com/flights
    • Attempt to fly in the middle of the week for even better deals
  • Accommodation:
    • La Posada is a camping ground that is a 5 minute walk from El Potrero Chico
    • Bring camping gear, or stay in a chalet – it’s so cheap that either will work
    • There’s a good restaurant staffed by some of the travelers (speak to Frank if he’s around at the time – will get an earful of an awesome climbing story and great suggestions on food/areas to see)
  • Transport to destination:
    • Phone the guys at La Posada (they speak both English and Spanish), they will organize everything including a car to pick you up at the airport (highly recommended)
    • One tip – when the taxi asks whether you want to save time and use the highway, don’t bother with it – it’s 60 pesos and doesn’t really make much of a difference (think beer money)
  • Climbing guides:
    • Hypothetically, you could pack a chalkbag+harness+shoes and pitch up at El Potrero on your own – people are really that friendly, and you will be able to meet up with some people and climb
    • However, because it was multi-pitch, I was on my own, mi Espanol es terrible, and I’m a little shy (m’kay!), I organized a guide
    • If you do (recommended for newcomers and people who want to know the inside edge on more difficult routes) speak to Karla Moya. A veteran of Monterrey climbing (13+ years kicking rock butt), she had organized everything (she lives there) and runs the tightest climbing ship I know. I can’t compliment her enough for taking me from pudding-gym-climber to 1000ft multi-pitch comfortable in the span of two days

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Cost estimation:

  • Accommodation:
    • If you camp at La Posada it’s around $10 USD per night
    • If you stay in a chalet it’s around $30 USD
  • Guide:
    • Expect around $100 USD per day, which may sound expensive, but trust me, it’s worth it
    • Just call her via the number here, or look her up on Facebook
    • If you are going for a week or more, I would recommend getting a guide for at least the first two days, just to quickly get accustomed. A number of the better routes are difficult to find, and the orientation is worth it
  • Food:
    • Really cheap, $5 – $15 for a decent meal and a caguama

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Selling points:

  • Off the radar, forget El Capitan crowds – not touristy at all
  • Value for money – good food and good beer for min $’s
  • World-class and incredibly picturesque
  • Up to 2500ft (830m) of pure vertical bliss
  • Friendliest climbers outside of Cape Town (there’s nothing like a Capetonian climber, at least in my experience – happiest people alive and will be glad to give you their only chalkbag – must be something in the water)

What to expect:

  • A relatively unknown climbing mecca, imagine hitting Breckenridge for skiing before it became a tourist destination – climbing zealots and 1%ers in all shapes and forms, all talking about the next big climb. You’ll also run into other fascinating people that just wandered into the area because it looked interesting – like Brendan O’Toole on his cross-continent trip
  • Don’t go for a day or two, expect to spend at least a week getting used to the rock. I made the mistake of just going for a weekend, and I still regret it. 5 days would be my minimum recommendation
  • Expect to be friendly – don’t be the insular out-of-towners as you’ll miss out on half the experience. You’ll be trading stories in broken Spanish/English in the restrooms while brushing your teeth, over beers in the restaurant
  • With the world-class multipitch routes, expect to be challenged… and love it in the process!

– Sam

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