What Makes a Climbing Area Truly “World Class”?
This is a story of a beautiful little cheese town nestled next to a true gem (with many cracks).
So ask yourself….. What makes an area world class? If someone were to ask me what makes a [climb] world class I would say; difficulty at the given grade to start. Not sand bagged as this doesn’t make a climb better, just harder. [The ‘Yosemite Decimal System’ is a gauge of accuracy that with improper díctate by the FF ascensionist can actually take away from a climber’s experience.]
For me a ho-hum route is a one move wonder. Yada, yada, yada, hurrrrr, yada, yada, yada. Lots of movement, but predictable. On the flip side of this pebble pulling record is the vertical battle. The climbing route that once both hands touch the rock it’s game on! At whatever grade the climb is given, from the ground to the top, defying gravity is the name of the game. This to me is an everlasting memory ingrained on my brain of what makes a “must do” line.
So then what makes a World Class climbing area? A collection of climbs that dictate climbing technique? Sure, but there is so much more. A climber could have the technique of a Russian Ballerina but put those balled feet in an awkward stance with no wind directly in the glaring sun and all bets are off….
So let me let anyone reading these words in on a little secret called La Concepción on the outskirts of Aculco de Espinoza, Mexico.
This is not a sales pitch as this area needs none of that. What’s written below is a peek into the life of a rock climbing guide and where I choose to spend my time as the words written below are to me what makes an area not just good, but World Class.
Aculco de Espinoza is located three hours North of Ciudad de México and two hours South of Querétaro City in Central México.
At 8,000 feet above sea level and 1,300 miles North of the equator the weather hovers around 75 degrees every day of every month of every year. Aculco is México’s version of San Diego. Imagine yourself climbing in a peaceful river valley where the weather is perfect 365 days a year with enormous oak trees for abundant shade and song birds singing tweet, tweet, tweet! This is the reality of a land that time has forgotten.
This area is commonly known to the locals as La Concepción as the ‘birthplace’ of the river is a short distance upstream. Also farmers in the immediate vicinity refer to the area as La Cascada as the entrance to the climbing is forever guarded by a huge waterfall leading into a river valley. The climbing is Rhyolite traditional cracks with primarily “G” rated gear. There are a handful of mixed routes where gear isn’t available but this is the exception versus the rule being 99% of the routes have gear wherever one may choose to place it. Rhyolite; ever touched this very rare climbing stone? Basalt, sure. But Rhyolite? Both are related, both certainly in the volcanic family, but these are very distant relatives. Rhyolite crack climbing dictates core strength, body tension and technique. Where Basalt cracks are linearly uniform and can beat up the fingers and hands, Rhyolite is a mixed bag of tricks on stone that hands find quite pleasurable. From the moment a climber touches the rock to the final sequence of moves thirty meters later the rock wants to spit a climber off. La Concepción is not white collar, dip the fingers in the chalk, ten quick-draw sport climbing….. Get ready for the best single pitch, hands, fingers, ring-locks, lay back and stem climbing on the Northern Continent. This is a blue collar brawl for those who know how to fist-a-cuff. Do you love cracks? Like really love crack??? This would surely be a place to spend time.
Aculco de Espinoza (most likely one of the nicest towns in México) is located by vehicle about ten minutes East of the climbing area. There is no real necessity to have a vehicle while visiting as there are provincial taxis that escort townspeople and climbers alike back and forth from the climbing area to town for about $30 pesos.
What is a Magic Town? In 2001 the Mexican Government created the ‘Pueblos Mágicos’ program to recognize small towns across the country that imbue certain characteristics that make them unique, special, or historically significant by offering magical experiences to all its visitors. Aculco has the Magic Town status as it is a beautiful place and one trip to town and it will be obvious why such an assignment is so rightfully deserved. While in town, plan to visit the market for all food supplies. Comida Corrida, fruits, vegetables, and anything else needed is located there. When in the town, proper walk around and visit the Church (constructed in 1540) or any of the numerous homemade cheese shops. If a sit down meal is in order, check out any of the spectacular restaurants in and around the main square. Short on climbing chalk or need another #6 cam? Take a stroll over to La Deportiva (sports park) and visit SouthernXposure Climbing School and Guide Service. My house and office is directly across from the soccer fields and we have pretty much anything a climber could need in a pinch. Just ask for ‘El Gringo de Aculco’ and anyone in town will point you in the right direction.
Have you ever heard of a climbing area where climbers aren’t exactly embraced? The Red River Gorge in Kentucky was such a place for twenty years, Hueco Tanks another. The locals saw no benefit to climbers or any outsiders really and in different ways let their feelings be recognized. Luckily the locals close to The Red have come around and embrace strangers in past years. Unfortunately there are still areas where climbers get the cold shoulder but Aculco definitely isn’t one of them. Aculco is a tourist town filled with friendly people who (as all farmers do) like to get the skinny on why the area is so appealing to folks from so far away. Expect people to start conversations with the familiar four (why? where? what? and do you like the town?). Some towns folk may ask you to dinner (so be prepared) and all enjoy the ability to practice their English. Just remember while in town (and México) that life moves a little slower. Like a perfect glass of fresh squeezed orange juice; great experiences take time.