January 2023, just like every January, the climbing withdrawals set in and I start going crazy. It’s like clockwork. They say the horrible grey and wetness it’s perfect for skiing, but I feel like climbing. So there I am in Smith, frozen numb fingers, gripped out on some random route, trying to warm my hands in a chalk bag stuffed with hand warmers.
“I’m not having fun anymore…”, I muttered to Jess.
We needed to migrate south. We had a few options- Ecuador, my ol’ faithful winter mountaineering location, where I had a few lingering interesting objectives in mind. Patagonia, a striking location with out-of-this world objectives, but maybe a little more epic than we wanted to jump into. And then, El Potrero Chico.
Big wall, sport climbing, and vacation grading are not a combination of terms I’ve heard too much, but I’m not going to lie, it sounded pretty appealing. Jess and I had been pushing ourselves in the crag quite a bit more than usual for the past year and change, and we felt pretty good about being able to get on some quite a few of the area classics. February’s weather looked good, so we booked a 3 week stay which we thought would be plenty (which we quickly extended to 4 weeks after our first couple days of climbing).
Vamos a México!
Preparations for going to EPC were far far less involved than we had been used to. Counting out our draws and choosing which of our smallest backpacks to bring felt more like going for a long weekend than going on a month long trip. We ended up packing more regular clothes than climbing gear.
- Quick/alpine draws, all of our draws, 26x
- Carabiners, slings, belay devices, just the typical assortment along with 2x lightweight pre-rigged quads for multipitches
- 70m rope, 60m apparently won’t quite make it for a number of routes here
- Harnesses, chalk bags, bulk chalk is easy to buy in the area
- Helmets, we got the advice, “put your helmet on when you arrive to the park, and only take it off when you leave”, that proved to be reasonable
- Rock shoes, 2x pairs each, they will get sweaty!
- Headlamps, some of the routes are pretty pretty long, on our first multi we got caught descending with only 1 headlamp and it was a major pain
- Radios, between dozens of climbers yelling commands, off-road bikes in the valley, music echoing up from simultaneous parties, wind, and so much more, we appreciated the radios
- Nail and skin care products, the sharp rock definitely wreaks havoc on the skin!
- Gear repair tape and rope marker, the abrasive rock will rip fabrics and remove a rope’s center markers far faster than expected
- EPC Climbing by Frank Madden, physical and/or digital guidebook
This is not a travel blog; however, we found that a lot of what we read on the internet, even on the EPC site, was not reality that we experienced. Much of the information online makes climbing in EPC sound like one must be ready to live in a remote lawless region, where cash rules above all else. Our reality was nearly identical to living at home. These are our experiences, YMMV.
We opted to stay in San Pedro Garza García rather than the typical climber’s choice of staying in EPC itself. As we were staying there for a month and working remotely, we wanted the same niceties, conveniences, and internet speed of home. We chose to stay in an AirBnB in the very walkable Arboleda neighborhood, which felt a lot like home, if not nicer and safer. The only tradeoff would be having to rent a car for the duration of the trip, which ended up being convenient anyways.
I think my expectations were skewed by reading so many climbers’ experiences in EPC, rather than logically thinking of Monterrey as an economically robust North American metropolitan hub of 5.3 million people. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been shocked to see a plethora of Teslas zipping around the roads, a constantly bustling Shake Shack steps away from our apartment, families riding around app based rental bikes on the massive human-made river front, and Dave’s Killer Bread, Bob’s Red Mill organic grains, and La Croix on the grocery store shelves.
Driving & Safety
Before arriving, we had received a lot of nebulous warnings about driving, specifically at night. However, these seemed to be more about driving in Nevada Lorado, rather than driving between Monterrey and EPC. After many many drives between Monterrey and EPC after dark, the busy main roads felt very safe and were heavily patrolled by militarized law enforcement, who never hassled us.
Driving is definitely “different” and more “engaging” than driving at home- missing road lines, erratically placed exits, and optional stoplights.
A note about car rentals, be sure to check the differences between legally required and optional insurances for rental cars in Mexico. (You aren’t getting a car from $8/day like many companies, essentially falsely, advertise.) Sixt seemed to be the most transparent about Mexican rental insurance laws, and ultimately is who we rented from because of that.
We read that we absolutely would need cash to get around, but that we should not convert cash in the airport for safety purposes. It turned out, it was challenging to convert cash outside of the airport. We ended up converting $100USD at the EPC office to pay the park entry fee, and another $50USD at a grocery store ATM close to the end of our trip. Cash mostly went towards tips and a handful of very small restaurants. Nearly all places took cards; Apple Pay and American Express seem to be more widely accepted in Monterrey than at home.
(Note that we stayed in San Pedro, and if one only stays within EPC/Hidalgo, this may be different. YMMV.)
Food in the greater Monterrey area seemed to be generally clean. Unlike visiting some corners of the world, we didn’t avoid anything specific and even ate at some fairly questionable spots. I did end up getting a mild upset stomach at the end of our trip, but I also started drinking tap water at that point…maybe don’t do that. If one manages get out of EPC and try some restaurants in Monterrey or San Pedro, there are infinite amazing options of all calibers.
I have to mention one restaurant- El Crux, Tacos and Mezcal Bar. In our option, it has the best food, drinks, and hospitality in EPC, hands down. In fact, even after eating at some of Monterrey’s best, it was still some of the best food and drinks we had. The owner is an artisan, sourcing ingredients from all around Mexico, only from his most trusted chefs, famers, and butchers. Do not miss this place!!
Mini Trip Reports
We made it a point to attempt to climb 2-3 days a week, which ended up being a great balance between working remotely, recovery time, and climbing time. We did have a few single pitch days and unexpected weather days (either too hot or too cold) as well. The following “mini trip reports” are a collection of the multipitches we climbed during this trip.
5am Breakfast (5.10b, 6p)
Breakfast Club Peak
Saturday, February 4, 2023
We woke up tired, we had landed 36 hours earlier, and already had a full day of climbing on the Mota Wall. We wanted something good for a Saturday, and the guide book mentioned that this was a “hidden gem” of a climb. It also lays on a stunning spire feature, looking like a massive fang rising from the earth.
The approach was far more confusing than we originally anticipated, and we endind up spending an extra hour or so scrambling around the total wrong area. We finally found the first bolts, and fired up. Our goal was to climb this route, along with Blackstar (5.10d, 3p) to get the very top of the spire. It was 1pm though, and the sun was not going to be up much longer.
Jess ripped through the pitches, leading most of it including the sick AF 5.10b offwidth. By the time we reached the top of the route, it was 5pm, and we only had 1 headlamp. Blackstar would have to wait for another day. We descended lower half of the route in the dark, with 1 headlamp and 2 iPhone flashlights. Music from the Saturday night fiestas echoed up to us, along with the full moon and clear sky, kept us smiling all the way down.
Overall, 5am Breakfast was a super cool route that would have felt at home anywhere in the PNW. Alpine line, but closer to the road.
A little beta
- In the 3rd edition of the digital guidebook (as of the publication date), there is an unlabeled red trace in the Tarahumara Pass area, use that to navigate to the base of the climb.
- If you do not have the digital guidebook, when there is a crossroads of trails on Tarahumara Pass, take the lefthand trail that goes up a scree gully. If you end up at dead end trail with a 4m-ish vertical wall in your face, even though that may be considered 4th class in the PNW, that is not the 4th class approach.
Gettin’ Wood (5.10d, 2p)
Sunday, February 5, 2023
After a long past few days with very very little sleep, we figured a few nice short classic multis would be the way to go. Then we could let our bodies rest during the work week. The Las Agujas spires seemed like a really cool spot for this sort of thing, with the two classics- Crack Test Dummies(5.9, 2p) and Aguja Celo Rey (5.10c, 2p).
Aguja Celo Rey turned out to be the junkshow it’s known to be. A large group of people (from the USA) crowded at the base told us they would be on the route for “many many hours” (their words). They had just set up a massive top rope to literally haul folks from the ground to the top of the spire. Yikes.
We randomly picked Gettin’ Wood a few meters to the left of our original intended route. It started off soft, but ended up being pretty burley and run out. We were already tried, and this route sucked the remaining energy from us. We rapped down the pointy summit and headed home.
Interstellar Overdrive (Super Nova + Lucy Goosey, 5.11a, 16p)
Friday, February 10, 2023
This would be our first bigger line attempted in the park. We originally were thinking about only climbing Super Nova (5.11a, 8p), mostly to just make sure we were dusting off the rust on our efficiency before getting on some of the the other 10+ pitch routes we had in mind.
The night before we planned to get on the route, we happened across the epic looking linkup of Super Nova with Lucy Goosey, dubbed Insterstellar Overdrive. It was a new route developed in 2020, connecting the Super Nova to the top of its spire. No time to dust off the rust, I guess!
The particular day we chose wasn’t great, it was cold and windier than we’d like. Super Nova proved to be a stiff start, with all negative feet and holds down low. I can only imagine that years of tiny debris and water flowing through the gulley grinding down and polishing the limestone. As we progressed up, the holds became more and more positive and cruiser.
Connecting to Lucy Goosey was easy, but the pitches definitely an uptick in challenge compared to all but the 1st pitch. As always, Jessica rope-gunned the tougher pitches. We stopped at the hike before the tippy top because it was 5:30pm and the wind had us getting really really cold. We eventually fired on our headlamps while rapping in the dark back to the road.
100% legit climb, this is one not to miss.
Dope Ninja (5.10b, 6p)
Sunday, February 12, 2023
The previous day, the day after climbing Interstellar Overdrive, we had planned to climb something shorter and moderate. We had scoped out TNT. But arriving to EPC, our lack of energy became apparent. We took a rest day and drove to the Crescent Moon Buttress to hike around and scope out the start. Waking up the next day (today), we still felt a little tired and figured we’d shoot for something a little more moderate, Dope Ninja.
Dope Ninja sits on the imposing spire by the side of the rode on the Mota Wall. It didn’t have the most stellar rating, but it seemed to be mostly because of a long traverse half way up, committing climbers to rapping down the other side of the wall after topping out. But, Jess and I have spent enough time in the alpine to not be off-put by that sort of thing!
Finding the start was easier than expected, but the climbing was stouter than expected. I guess whoever graded this route originally thought more-than-vertical terrain is easy. It made for a less chill day than expected, but the bolting was never run out enough to feel like things were getting downright dangerous. The views of the area were spectacular the whole way up, especially of the absolutely massive Jungle Wall.
We topped out later than we expected, located an anchor we were 90% certain was that of Snot Girlz. Nobody really told us what to look for, just to not use the highline anchors. I couldn’t imagine the anchors in front of me being useful for highlining, so down we went with no continuous bolt line blow us in sight. I breathed a sign of relief when I found more bolts around the corner.
A little beta
- Hike in with your rock shoes and don’t stash anything at the base. The hike in and out are so short it isn’t worth combing back afterwards.
- The Snot Girlz anchor is the anchor just a 4 or 5 feet away from the top-out, it is very obvious and easy to get to. It initially felt like we were going down an unfinished route being bolted from the top because initially there are only a couple visible bolts below the anchor. Snot Girlz is mostly around the corner to the climber’s left, so you fairly quickly move left around the corner on rap and it becomes more obvious.
- Don’t use the Dope Ninja anchors to rap down Snot Girlz, we watched another party try this. The rope didn’t reach the next anchor and it would likely be a serious pain to pull the rope from the other side of the ridge.
Rock Hard Weekend (5.10b, 5p)
Wednesday, February 15, 2023
Holy wow, it got hot in a matter of a couple days! The temps today would be clocking in at 90F, a far cry from us shivering in the cold and wind on Interstellar Overdrive just a few days ago! We scoured the guidebook’s shaded areas that had routes that we thought looked exciting.
Rock Hard Weekend on the shaded Zapatista wall had caught out eye. It was new (ie. less traffic), and fairly moderate. Some online comments said it was loose, but hey, we usually can deal with loose. The climbing was fairly soft, which was a welcome confidence booster after some fairly harsh grading (IMO) on Dope Ninja.
I did find myself blowing a foothold on the last pitch while chest level at my next bolt, sending me down on a cheesegrater whip over a slab of sharp rippled limestone. After collecting myself, now with a torn up shirt and bloody hands and knees, I got back to it. As Jessica came up, she noticed that I left a little trail of blood on the rest of the route. Glad I got that tetanus booster a few weeks ago.
The summit presented an amazing view, and we wished we brought up the camera to take some good photos. The rappel offered us a connection to Excalibur, which we chose to take not wanting to risk pulling down any crap on our heads. As we went down Excalibur, it was obvious that Excalibur was the route worthy of classic status.
Yankee Clipper (5.10b, 14p)
Saturday, February 19, 2023
Yankee Clipper is one of those classics that seems to catch the eye every climber that comes to EPC. Whether one is a 5.9 climber or a 5.12d climber, this route get’s put on the to-do list. The day before, we had actually come to climb Space Boyz, but found it too cold. We were apparently not the only ones thinking that, because the park was still empty at 10am, aside from us and a few intro climbing classes.
The next day with considerably nicer weather, we decided that the longer classic, Yankee Clipper, would be the perfect objective. I wasn’t feeling super hot that morning, so Jess fired up linking the first 2 pitches, and much quicker than expected bumping into the team above. She was feeling quick, and continued to lead up, linking pitch after pitch.
Half way up, we could hear Is This Love by Bob Marley distinctly echoing through the valley. I looked down and saw a fellow on the team a few pitches behind perched over the cliff looking onto the valley playing the flute. That made for the most classic EPC moment of the trip.
Jess ended up leading the entire 14 pitches, making me the official worst partner ever. (Or the best belayer ever..?) We topped out as the sun started to dip behind the massive peaks in front of us. We has already planned to rappel in the dark, so we kicked back for a bit, took off our shoes, drank the last of our water, and enjoyed the views.
Off the Couch (5.10d, 7p)
Wednesday, Feb 22, 2023
While we hadn’t been doing much couch sitting while in Mexico, this 4 star route had caught our eye. And with the temperatures were getting hotter by the day, we needed something in the shade. We joked that with this weather trend, by the end of our trip, we’d probably end up climbing all the sub-5.12 routes on the very shaded Ivory Tower/Zapatista Wall area.
The climbing started at the very popular base of Satori, sharing the first two pitches. It was obviously a well traveled classic, having me searching for alternative feet, with the most obvious being ultra polished. The climbing was fairly straightforward, minus the short 5.10d traverse. I ended up falling there, finding myself on a bank surface. I ingloriously hauled myself back up on the rope to get back to the draw, to be treated to more straightforward EPC face climbing.
Like the other summits on this wall, it was indeed spectacular, treating us to some awesome views of Interstellar Overdrive and Razorblade Ridge. Overall, the climbing felt fairly repetitive though, and we left scratching our heads how this managed to score a spot on the classics list alongside some truly amazing lines.
When You’re Lost in the Wild (5.11b/c, 11p) DNF
Wednesday, Mar 1, 2023
After our first week of climbing in EPC, we extended our trip from 3 weeks to 4 weeks, thinking that we probably would just never want to leave. The weather was cooler than we expected, and we couldn’t fathom March being the end of the season due to heat.
This day was the first day of March, and it was scorching hot. We were already sunburnt from the day we spent baking in the sun on the Outrage Wall the previous weekend. The forecast projected 99F for the day, so we figured the shaded and highly regarded WYLITW would be the optimal route. It would likely be our last bigger route of the trip too.
We packed 4.5L of water and began hiking in at 9am. The heat was brutal, and we yearned for the promise of shade on the wall. The hike took us just about an hour in the brutal brutal heat, and we found ourselves still standing in the sun at the bottom of the first pitch. We had already killed a liter of water.
The route itself proved to be a little trickier than expected. We could see evidence of lots of debris that seemed to have fallen down this aspect of the spire, seemingly knocking off what would be holds and feet. The crack systems were really interesting, and not typical of what we had seen in EPC to date, culminating in the 5.11b/c cracky crux pitch. With a bit of aiding we managed to pull through it, but found ourselves sweating more than our limited capacity of water could support.
We agreed we could climb until we had killed our 3.5L of remaining water, we would begin descending. At anchor 8, we squeezed our last drops of water from our soft bottles and set up for rappel. By the time we were leaving EPC for the night, the thermometer still read 90F.
Ramsey’s Shenanigans (5.10a, 3p)
Saturday, March 4, 2023
Originally assuming it would be another uber hot weekend, we planned to shoot for the classic shaded Pitch Black. Waking up at 7am though, we were tired; it has been a month of good climbing behind us. We got in the car and drove out to EPC, only to be surprised with pleasantly cool weather. We were unhappily surprised with Pitch Black being littered with climbers, and a large party starting up our backup route, Estrallita.
We figured that we really had only one big climb left in us at this point, and we would save it for the following day, starting earlier and hoping for less traffic. But we also felt some fomo knowing that we’d be going back to a very very cold PNW in just a couple days. Ramsey’s Shenanigans was a short and moderate classic on our list, with nearly zero approach, so we figured we’d give jaunt up.
The climbing was pleasant, and never too hard or run out. It was reminiscent of our lines up the Ivory Tower and Zapatista Wall, probably because they are all kind of just one big ridge. The top-out was fantastic and really made the route worth while. We were treated to an awesome view in all directions, giving us a great vantage point towards plenty of the really amazing climbs we had done so far.
Treasure of the Sierra Madre (5.10c, 7p) DNF
Sunday, March 4, 2023
The previous night, after our jaunt up Ramsey’s Shenanigans, I started to feel a little “funniness” in my stomach. I had gotten a little comfortable food wise, and started drinking water from the tap. While my stomach wasn’t killing me, it was not pleasant.
The next morning, I had to break the news to Jess that I probably couldn’t climb the semi-committing objective of Estrallita, because I didn’t know the state of my stomach. I popped an Imodium and we waited a couple hours. I seemed to be “good enough”, so I grabbed a few extra blue bags and we hopped in the car. I drove drive while Jess made her way through the guidebook to find an alternate objective- The Treasure or the Sierra Madre.
The classic climb started out a bit stiffer than expected. Maybe the first pitch was stiffened by folks top roping on it, or maybe we were just starting to get tired. It had been a solid month of climbing behind us, and we could feel it by now. But we continued up.
The climbing continued to be engaging, and definitely proved itself to earn its classic stays. However, come pitch 5, we were tired. Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the month of climbing behind us, maybe it was us both knowing I may get sick at any moment. We decided to call it a wrap.
That would be the last climb of our trip. And while we didn’t finish this one off, we felt we had a ton to be proud of, and a ton more to come back for.
Our stay was genuinely the most enjoyable trip either Jess or I had experienced, individually or together. The climbing in EPC lived up to its world class reputation, and San Pedro hosted us for a wonderful stay. I can’t think of any other place in the world where one can be eating at some of the world’s best restaurants one night, and climbing at one of the world’s best crags the next morning.
But the way we did it is not the only way, which is really really cool in my opinion; EPC really accommodates all. One can stay in a variety of small hotels and hostels just minutes away from the climbing walls. Vanlife climbers can rent parking that have plenty of van living accommodations. And budget oriented climbers have a plethora of fully supported campsites with kitchen and bathrooms for just a few dollars a day.
When doing research for this trip, safety seemed to be the primary concern that came up over and over again. While we would be cautious about driving from Loredo, TX to Monterrey, NL due to widely documented safety issues by Mexican authorities, while in the vicinity of Monterrey, things felt very very safe.
It’s very exciting to see the active route development in the area as well, with vast swaths of climbable terrain still untouched. We also really appreciated the down-to-earth and community driven bolting mentality. Routes are bolted, re-bolted, and graded to be climbed, not to flex egos and test machismo.
It was refreshing to see the lack of egos from all aspects. We met people all the way from folks who had just touched rock a few months earlier, to silent crushers, to legitimately renowned alpinists, all super psyched just to climb at their individual capacities and share in each others’ stoke.
Thank you, EPC.
Up next, Another Epic “Crag”
I had been wanting to come to the “Bugs” for years. That desire outlived the age of this blog, and in many ways, had evolved from a desire to a dream. I hadn’t found the right partner to turn that dream into a reality, and for year’s course those massive granite towers would just be…