One evening last summer I rode my bike over to Andrew's apartment in Chamonix. We ate eggs, cheese and avocados and drank his green beers and a bottle of Medoc. Then he told me about El Salto, a limestone crag in Mexico.
Five months later we double dated to El Salto.
El Salto is on the other side of Monterrey from El Portrero Chico, Mexico's most popular climbing area. While El Portrero is known for long sport routes of all abilities, El Salto is more short hard routes. We did all single pitch routes, up to 35 meters. Most were slightly overhanging with the occasional tufa rest. Really good climbing.
We stayed for three weeks at Kika's upstairs apartment in Cienega de Gonzalez. The town is quiet except for the Razr machines blasting mariachi on weekends. Our apartment was nice, but very cold. We wore all of our clothing, huddled around the fire and space heaters. The pipes even froze.
Sport climbing schedule: Margot and Cathy commuting to the crag at one in the afternoon. Earlier in the day it was too cold to move.
Las Animas was our favorite crag of the trip. Overhanging orange limestone studded with tufas.
Cathy climbing into Merlin's Culo (5.10d) in the Upper Tecolote Cave. "A must do for anyone not allergic to bats."
Margot and Andrew onsighted what Cathy and I mini projected. Two to three-day mini projects gave me the itch to mega project a route for 2-3 weeks. The type of route where I can't do all of the moves on the first try, but after working it for weeks, and dealing with the mental and physical struggles, I would hopefully send it with ease. In the flow state. The bit of flow I tasted on mini projects helps me understand the sport climber's addiction.
My struggle with sport climbing is shifting from an alpine mindset of you-fall-you-die, to a sport mindset where falling is progress. These contradictory mindsets are akin to balancing the boldness and hubris necessary to launch into big unknown mountains, yet maintaining the humility to stay alive in those mountains.
In Chamonix, Cathy took an afternoon clinic with Hazel Findlay, one of the modern mental beasts of the rock climbing world. Cathy's biggest takeaway from the clinic was to practice falling. As soon as you get nervous, look straight at the wall. Breath in, breath out. Breath in, breath out. Breath in, and push off as you breath out. Cathy practiced falling every day in El Salto, taking legit falls while going for thin holds above the bolt. She climbed better than ever.
Our bodies could only take so much pocket pulling and tufa tugging a day. We spent the majority of each day talking. Wearing all of our clothing, sitting around the fire and space heaters. Me grilling Andrew about heli ski guiding tactics. Cathy and I asking Margot about the intricacies of being Canadian. Cathy and Andrew talking books. Andrew and I congratulating ourselves at graduating from our years of slogging across the Alaskan wastelands to sport climbing vacations with our ladies.
Trip success is when the wiffy climbs one notch better than me.
Thanks for an incredible trip Cathy, Andrew and Margot! Maybe Sardinia next fall? Or Leonidio? or Siurana?