El Alma Del Salto (Part I)
By Trango athlete Karly Rager
Air ribbons floss car windows on the road to La Cienéga de González. Their cool poignancy is amplified by the fact that I’ve been in airports for the last 16 hours to get this far.
Bargaining with the road, Mario’s car makes progress. My lids slip closed for a quiet moment – until I hear a car part attempt its escape from pesky screws… the contrast of sensory experiences in El Salto is something I’ve always noticed.
Every time my stomach makes it up that road (with varying degrees of self-containment), I’m reminded of the roots El Salto has grown in my heart.
Once settled in for the night, I sleep. It’s below freezing. Waking a few hours later, I keep my eyes closed. In the penultimate hour of the night, roosters start to debate who can be loudest until reaching their morning treaty. Everyone hates those fucking roosters.
Caws give way to coos of toddlers and power tools that signify the ever-changing nature of El Salto – the number of cabins up here increases every year – word on the street is that some of them are even on Airbnb these days.
Sun lifts frost off tents and fog off trees. We stir our swishy, sleeping-bag symphony to find it is much later than we would have guessed. Draped in our greasy puffies, we start coffee, hug, and argue over who lost whose lighter last night.
We didn’t plan to meet up again in this kitchen, but we all knew.
I want to tell you the story of El Salto. But not through my eyes – through the eyes of the locals, climbers, and developers that have made the pilgrimage here over and over again.
Climbing is the heart of El Salto. But the slightly-scragglier-than-usual crowd that makes dinner together and talks shit around Ramon’s fire – that is the soul.
Looking into the canyon from the approach to Las Ánimas
Photo by Karly Rager
There is an unbelievably large amount of limestone sport climbing in El Salto – a lifetime’s worth. But the amount of established climbing is dwarfed by the potential for new routes.
Most climbers don’t get much past Las Ánimas – a sweep of tufa-dripped limestone with a grade range of 5.11c to 5.14a – but the canyon stretches for miles and each turn greets you with another rip of orange and blue limestone. Walls tower more than 1,000 ft. from the riverbed and dramatic caves cut backward into hillsides.
Three main crags garner the most attention: La Boca, Las Ánimas, and Tecolote Cave. Each with their own style and grades that typically range from 5.12 to 5.14. There are other areas as well, but I wanted to highlight the classics!
La Boca is the closest crag to town – anywhere you stand in town… you are about a 10-minute walk from La Boca. This crag drops most jaws when it is first witnessed – 200 ft. – 300 ft. swathes of blue and tan streaks unroll their hues to the canyon floor.
All slightly overhanging routes, the style tends to be a bit more bouldery than its Las Ánimas counterpart (see next section). Tufas, ramps, and deadpoint moves define many routes here. Classics on this wall include:
El Tecalotito (5.11d) – Starts with a big step over a gap from a detached block and continues up a headwall.
Hijo de Puta / “HIjo de Perra”(5.12b/c) – Deadpoints are weaved into a garden of tufas on this route. The movement is unbelievably good. Feels like you are dancing the entire time.
Ayotzinapa 43 (5.13b) – A 5.12 crimp start gives way to a drip of tufas that evoke organ pipe imagery. Gaining a no-hands rest at a large ledge, you are up for the boulder problem crux. When you find yourself above it, you’ll be fighting all the way to the chains in a dihedral and more tufas.
Karly Rager sending Ayotzinapa 43,
5.13b, La Boca, El Salto
Photo by Frank Byrne
Val Shao stepping across the gap on
Tecolotito, 5.11d, La Boca, El Salto
Dany Dalpé belays and (colloquially
named) Mister Legs stands by
Photo by Karly Rager
Las Ánimas boasts the most tufas of any crag in El Salto. The routes on this wall tend to be much longer than at La Boca, the lighter portions of rock are more orange than the tan at La Boca, and the pump is real! Classics on this wall include:
Alien Tufa (5.11c) – Climb through a tricky section to gain a split rest between two tufas, keep swapping your hips and managing the pump to the chains.
[Route Name Redacted]* (5.12a) – Climbs between two sets of tufas that honestly do look like, well… butts. Don’t be shy! You’re gonna love them both! There are some crack-climbing-esque moves in the crux of this route and you’ll need to solve a puzzle while managing pump at the airy run out before the chains. DO THIS ROUTE!
Camino del Chino (5.13a) and its extension (5.13b) – Crimp hard for the opening sequence to gain continuous, slightly run-out (compared to other routes at Las Ánimas) climbing. Many weight transfers on flakes will allow you to gain the tufa at the top that yields two kneebar rests. Punch it on the extension for a few more bolts and fight to keep your heart rate down. Long, classic route.
Infierno del Dante (5.13c) – Camino’s older sister. It’s not over ’til it’s over! Another classic line. The whips are big!
Karly Rager taking advantage of the no-hands
kneebar rest on the top of El Camino del Chino,
5.13a, Las Ánimas, El Salto
Photo by Frank Byrne
A 20-min walk past Las Ánimas, Tecolote Cave is the classic cave climbing of El Salto. Double kneebars, bat-hangs, dynos to tufas – this place is worth the walk. Classics on this wall include…
Tu Felicidad (5.11d) – The money route at a moderate grade. A great route on its own and a great warm up for the harder cave + tufa lines.
Nosferatus (5.12c) – THE classic. Climb a 50 degree overhanging using huge tufas to kneebar every 3 or 4 moves. A double knee bar at the top of the steep section, then gain a headwall and fight to the chains.
El Techo del Tecolote (5.13a) – Like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Navigate huecos with kneebars (one will make you turn a 360-degree spiral) and continue up through almost horizontal tufa climbing to the anchors.
Karly Rager resting on Tu Felicidad, 5.11d, La Cueva del Tecolote, El Salto
Photo by Sevve Elliot
Karly Rager and Val Shao working Kika Shredder, 5.13b, La Cueva del Tecolote, El Salto
Photo by Dany Dalpé
To learn more about the history of this place, I asked a few of my friends here to make dinner together so I could ask them all the questions I had. Unsurprisingly, it turned into a massive potluck. A trove of hungry climbers gathered in Ramon’s kitchen to learn what they had to share. I will share more of what I learned about El Salto’s history in Part II – but for now I just wanted to highlight the rad locals that keep the magic of this place alive + thriving.
Climber, Co-founder of Escalada Libre A.C., Owner of Doctor Gatas, and Guidebook Author
If you have been to El Salto, you’ve met Ramon. It is likely you’ve also eaten his pizza.
He is also the owner of Doctor Gatas – the only place you can get your shoes resoled in Northern Mexico. If you are one of the many climbers who come down here for two weeks, extend your trip to four weeks, and blow out your shoes – he has got you covered. He has also published local climbing guidebook for La Huasteca – The climbing area where rock climbing started in Monterrey.
To me, Ramon’s style makes me feel at home. He’s the first to talk some shit about my funky beta + the first to invite me over to dinner.
I can still hear his voice yelling “Venga Cabrona!” as I try hard at La Boca.
Ramon Narvaez enjoying the morning before
resoling shoes & talkin’ shit at La Boca (I assume)
Ramon Narvaez pulling the crux on Hijo de Puta
“Hijo de Perra”, 5.12c, La Boca, El Salto
Photo by Frank Byrne
Mariana (Mango) Ordoñez
Climber, Owner of Hanuman Café
Mango’s house was the first place I stayed in El Salto. The yard is complete with a trampoline and some good shade for your afternoon siesta.
As of this year, Hanuman Café is now open thanks to all of Mango’s hard work. It is the most climber-friendly place to gather, read, play chess, and just relax.
One rainy day this year, we all decided to play a chess tournament at Hanuman to raise money for Escalada Libre (Local Climbing Organization (LCO) in northern Mexico). It’s unlikely that you can go into her place and not feel a bit at home.
Hanuman Café is as new to El Salto as it is important.
Oh, and I did I mention Mango rages at all of the crags?
Mariana “Mango” Ordoñez serving up
the goods at her café
Mariana “Mango” Ordoñez trying hard at La Boca!
Carlos Ramos enjoying a bat hang at Tecolote Cave
Climber, Owner of Rockcamp
When I say climber, what I mean is silent crusher. Carlos climbs like a butterfly… you won’t even hear him slip into the crag and warm up on your proj’.
He is also the owner of Rockcamp – where I spent my second winter in El Salto. Rockcamp’s communal kitchen is the place of many shared dinners, work calls, and dance parties for the climbers here.
I can say I’ve met more friends in that kitchen than anywhere I have climbed before, ever.
If you are lucky, you’ll also get to hop on the back of his truck and cut your approach time to Tecolote Cave in half.
Rodrigo is looking to fiercely and lovingly develop some of the more remote and amazing limestone around Mexico – a passion for bringing climbing closer to everyone fuels him. You might find him in El Salto, but you’d be just as likely to find him in any cave with good stone near Mexico City and beyond.
Getting to know the locals is a major part of why this place is special to me. Big thanks to y’all for always making me feel right where I’m supposed to be.
Rodrigo Reskala on Doomsday, 5.14a, Jilotepec, Mexico
Photo by Amado Ugarte
Before you go
Thinking about planning a trip to El Salto? Do it! Here are my top five tips to get you prepped for a journey to this limestone haven!
1. Bring your puffy. The big one! Yes, it is Mexico, but El Salto sits at a high elevation and routinely gets down to freezing at night. Which matters… because no homes or campgrounds (that I’ve found) have heat or insulation in El Salto. I did not bring the big puffy during my first year here and making dinner each night was pretty chilly! Lesson learned.
2. Stop and get groceries before making your way up to El Salto. There are two shops in the town that have basic dry goods and sometimes fresh food. There is also a veggie truck that comes by once per week. But, in general, tons of fresh food options aren’t super available in El Salto.
3. Know some basic Spanish. Yes, the local climbers largely speak English and are amazingly friendly and kind, but I was very thankful to know some Spanish on multiple occasions down there. Just made things easier and shows that you know you are in their country.
4. You will want to extend this trip! Just be ready… The running joke in town is that no one can stay for less than 2 weeks. There is so much great climbing in the 5.12a-5.13d range that you’ll want the time to really experience as many of the climbs as possible!
5. You (K)NEED a kneepad. Just bite the bullet on this one and factor it into your trip budget. RIP any knees that make the voyage without proper padding.
Most climbers come to El Salto looking to push themselves on the hard sport climbs – but leave with much more. It’s with a lot of love that I share this place with y’all – capturing the words to convey how special it is was no easy task!
Stay tuned for more on the history and development of this crag – through the eyes of the locals – in Part II.
Big THANK YOU to Trango for supporting this story and spreading the love of trying hard everywhere!
*Note from Trango on Route Names:
In an effort to ensure climbing is an inclusive and welcoming sport for all, we are following Climb United/The AAC’s Principles for Publishing Climbing Route Names. Any route names containing offensive or inappropriate language will be displayed on our blog as “[Route Name Redacted]”.