Wednesday, October 26, 2011

From El Portero Chico

In El Portero Chico, in the northeastern part of Mexico, it is sunny, warm and grand weather for climbing – as it is most days. It is also Wednesday, just about 10 days after our arrival from the increasingly wet and cold British Columbia. There are six of us West Kootenay residents here for varying periods of time – Steve and Dany from Rossland for two months, Eva and Will from Nelson for two weeks, and Doug and I, splitting the difference for a month.

We've climbed everyday but one since we arrived, and everyone besides me is out climbing today. I have had a cold for about a week, and woke up this morning, feverish and achy and without a voice (some people might be glad about that). I think I kept Doug awake with some fairly incessant coughing in the night. So, despite having plans for a 7 pitch climb today, I stayed in and sent Doug off to climb at Mini-Super wall with the others.

So, today, I'm taking it easy, reading my book in the sun – delightful – and hanging around hoping my health will improve for tomorrow.

But, no-one is interested in that, what about the climbing? Well, the climbing, in a word, is fantastic. We have yet to do a bad route, and many have been superlative. The rock is limestone and is full of wrinkles and pulls, jug holds and threads, big and small pockets, cracks and crimpers. Generally, the routes are all sport routes, although there is a smattering of trad routes around, most climbers don't bring trad racks, so these have either fallen into obscurity or been retro-bolted. But, bolt spacing is not exactly like modern crags. The first clips are high – really high – well out of the reach of a stick clip (which we carry hopefully around with us but have yet to use), and often require some serious moves to reach. And, bolt spacing tends to be generous. When you are faced with some difficult climbing, the next clip can really look a long way away.

There is a pretty good range of routes, though limited under 5.10. Above 5.10 and there are at least 600 recorded routes. Many are multi-pitch and the descent is almost always by rappel, usually down the route, but occasionally down a different route. Routes are well set for rappeling with extra bolts at the belay station and generally easy pulls. A 70 metre rope is very helpful (or you'll need two ropes on some routes) and descents can be made much quicker by simul-rappeling, which is an easily mastered skill.

It is pretty warm – gets up to the high 20's or even low 30's - so climbing in the shade is most comfortable. You can climb pretty much anything in the shade if you go either early or later in the day, and it seems to be relatively easy to find shady multi-pitch routes. I've found a technical shoe works better than a soft shoe as there are all kinds of small pockets that a toe will go into, while a softer shoe will smear off. But, it is handy to have a couple of pairs of shoes, particularly a looser pair for days when it is hot and your feet are swollen.

The Mexicans are a friendly nation of people and the nearby town of Hidalgo has everything you really need – do you really need Canadian junk-food? Market days are Tuesday and Friday, the fresh produce, meat, chicken and eggs are awesome. You can get by with a little Spanish and even none at all, but learning some Spanish is fun and the Mexicans are more than happy to teach you a little Spanish.

There is also lots to do on rest days, although I've only taken one. There are a few hikes to high points, including one that goes to the top of El Toro, the big mountain here, there are caves to explore, bouldering to do, Spanish to learn, markets to wander through, or you can just hang out in the Mexican sun.

I hope it will be a long while before I have a chance to post another blog entry, as I am keen to get back out there climbing!

Photos later.  It is too much trouble to post them from here.

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