The Folklore, Fire, and Future
By Trango athlete Karly Rager
*This blog and audio recording contain profanities*
The history of climbing locations is something that is oft passed through spoken stories – with accuracy falling short of what those playing telephone on playgrounds would deem acceptable. Chronological order is muddled, “he-said, she-said” reigns supreme, and some of the best (or most entertaining) parts of the story fall through the cracks of selective listening or selective sharing.
After my first season in El Salto, I recall hearing some names frequently dropped (Kika, Ulric…) and mariposas of hidden treasures, cartel activity, and legends of the place – both current and ancient – fluttered around conversations, leaving me curious.
During my trip in January 2022, some climbers and I were talking to Ramon and asked if he would host a dinner so we could learn a more complete composition of the origins of El Salto. He obliged and, unsurprisingly, all 15 or so of the American, Canadian, and European climbers that were at the crag that day joined the potluck.
All 20 of us gathered in Ramon’s kitchen for pizza and after we finished eating, we sat down to hear what Ramon, Carlos, and Rodrigo had to say about the history of El Salto.
So, it’s through their eyes that I hope to waft this story north of the border. I don’t propose that I am the “right” person to write this story down – but merely that it should be written down. And if I’m the vessel for the message, then so be it.
Interview with Ramon, Carlos, and Rodrigo
(feat. 20 additional hungry climbers slammed in Ramon’s kitchen)
As I quiet the hoard of cabrones down and turn on the recording on my phone, the first thing that was captured was Ramon’s words, “First of all, I’m not signing a damn thing…” and a collective peal of laughter. He then rolled his eyes when I said I wouldn’t do the interview in Spanish.
With all the particulars of our interview in order and Tecate in hands, I asked Ramon and Carlos when they each made their first trek to La Cienéga de González.
Ramon – “Para mi, 1999” – he winks at me. I’m undecided if he is going to take my request to do this in English seriously.
Carlos – “14 years ago, so roughly 2008.”
Karly – “What was your first impression of this place?”
Ramon – “Holy fucking shit!”
Karly – “What was it like… 22 years go?”
Ramon – “It was sooooo quiet. No cuatrimotos, no tourism besides a few climbers, but you could still buy elotes.”
Ramon’s voice reminds me of Giorgio from 2013 on The Daft Punk album. It was playing earlier that day at Mango’s coffee shop.
Ramon – “There was not fucking much. There was only one store: Kika’s. I met Kika in 2003. Kika became super famous around here because she had the only store, but she would also let climbers camp on the property. She was like all our mothers. It was our place to stay.”
Carlos – “Kika was the one who first suggested that I open an actual campground (today’s Rockcamp).”
Kika’s is still one of the few spots you can buy food in El Salto. Now run by her family, Doña Kika’s is painted on the roof in royal blue and white, ablaze in the intense sunlight that laps town each afternoon – even in January. On weekends, they sell tacos, elotes, and beer.
Kika’s name is one you will undoubtedly hear when you go to El Salto. It stretches through the creases of time and rock in this place. Then, now, and in the folds of route names. Doña Kika’s influence is held in reverence by those who have been here much longer than the crew that sits around the table the night of this interview.
Karly – “When was the first route bolted?”
Carlos – “1997. Las Animas was first. Quesadilla (5.12c) was the first route bolted there. La Boca was next. Hijo de Puta (5.12c), Honeybear (5.12b), Lounge Puppy (5.13a), Tecalotito (5.11d), and Trucutru love (5.12a) were the first routes put up there.”
Karly – “When did the gringos show up?”
Ramon – “About 5 years ago.”
Plates are being scraped in the background. The final vestiges of pizza crust are finding their stomach mates.
Karly – “What were the first routes put up by gringos?”
Karly – “Was that cool?”
Ramon – “Yeah, that was amazing. That was super cool.”
Carlos – “It’s always good to see people developing.”
Karly – “What makes you guys want to live here, in El Salto?”
Carlos – “The quality of the rock here is just so nice! There is such a huge amount of climbing in the 5.12 – 5.14 range. Nowhere else in Mexico has such a huge concentration of hard climbing.”
Ramon – “El Salto is the best crag in North America, including all the places I have been in the states and Mexico. But for me it is nice to work here at my own pace, getting fresh air every day.”
Karly – “When did you actually move here?”
Ramon – “August 2020. I had been coming here for 23 years, but Covid definitely pushed me to up here. Back then there was no fucking internet either. You had to go stand on top of Kika’s to try and talk to your girlfriends! Haha”
Karly – “Is having internet here a good thing?”
Carlos – “Yes, It changes everything here.”
Ramon – “It is a good thing, yes.”
Carlos – “If it was not for Wi-Fi, I couldn’t do my work here.”
Karly – “What context do we miss coming for a month or two at a time? Is there anything we miss as non-Latino climbers?”
Ramon – “Not really anything. We just have our local Mexican developer drama. That’s ubiquitous.”
The Fire of 2021
Karly – “Let’s talk about the fire last year… How much time did you have to evacuate town?”
Ramon – “We were climbing the whole afternoon in La Boca using face masks because of the smoke… Not because of Covid, fuck Covid. Then at night, we started feeling this breeze coming from the south and it was super warm…
“Then, all the sudden it was the temperature at night that we normally have a noon. Ash started blowing in the wind.
“Then Mango sent out a message to the group WhatsApp. Showing us the fire running along the ridgeline above Kika’s…
“We decided to leave at 11:30 PM and got out about 2 AM.”
Carlos – “I was in Mexico City. Ramon grabbed all his stuff and left all mine! Pincha quey!”
Carlos laughs and we all follow suit. My friend Val slides a massive loaf of banana bread on the table.
Carlos – “It was crazy because I came from Mexico City and the road was closed. It was impossible for me to get up there. The road was closed so we had to walk to Santiago to La Boca to town. We had to walk in our underwear… fuck it was hot. At the top of la boca, we could see the fire’s stretch. They had helicopters…”
Karly – “So there were active firefighters?”
Carlos – “Well, kinda. the government is all fucked up and corrupt. It was the locals who stopped the fire. The locals made a new fire to meet the first that was descending on the town. They made a first to contain the fire.
“The firefighters didn’t really want to do it, didn’t care. So the locals got together and made a plan.”
Karly – “Have there been other fires like that?”
Carlos – “Never like that. Never that close and never that big.”
Karly – “How many people live in El Salto permanently?”
Carlos – “About 25-30 people live here full time.”
Ramon – “We climb all year ‘round, the vibe is the same all year. Monday-Friday it is only locals. We like how quiet it is in the summer. The travelers come from December to February, but only for the last five years. Before, traveling climbers only went to Potrero [El Potrero Chico].”
Karly – “What do the non-climbers in town think of the change that has occurred in the last five years?”
Ramon – “They are more aware of us now that more climbers are coming. They are very grateful that they have more business.”
Karly – “Is there anything that has changed in the last five years that you don’t like?”
Carlos – “We don’t like the fucking razors and cuartrimotors [four-wheelers] and the loud music.”
Someone pours apple wine and tequila… clicking glasses… salud, salud, salud por El Salto.
Carlos – “There is money on the town, so everyone on Monday that lives in town has money on Monday. So that makes it more safe. We don’t have problems – nothing is stolen. All the money that the razors bring means that nothing is stolen here. A lot of money coming into this town is from non-climbing tourism too.”
Karly – “Did it feel less safe 15 years ago?”
Ramon – “I have never had any problem in this town with nobody.”
Karly – “How long do you need to live in El Salto to be a local?”
Ramon – “One full calendar year. Stay here that long and we will give you more shit… and maybe a passport.”
Karly – “Looking forward, thinking about El Salto in one year or five years, what is important to keep the same? or preserve?”
Ramon – “Smoking weed hahahaha… no it’s this *points at the room full of 15-20 people* This is more important than climbing from US, Canada, Europe, Mexico. Look at this. It’s this. It was going to be a little interview… and now we are all cooking dinner and it’s a big fucking party. The climbing is important but it’s this, it’s all of you here in my cabin that matters the most.”
Karly – “That’s why I’m here. I’d come to El Salto for the rest days haha.”
Ramon – “The climbing is amazing, but the community is the best.”
Carlos – “Also, we want to help people develop that area. We have this box of bolts sitting right here for anyone to use and rebolt and help us maintain the area. We want to take care of anyone who wants to come here and develop. We want the climbing to grow.”