Todd Swain: Climbing Near Mexico City

My wife, Donette, and I, decided to spend our 2014/15 Christmas vacation exploring some climbing areas in central Mexico. We flew into Mexico City and after taking in some of the fantastic culture the city had to offer (including lucha libre wrestling matches); we procured our rental car and drove a few hours to the mountain town of Mineral del Chico.

Mineral de Chico
Mineral de Chico

The village is in an oak forest above the large city of Pachuca and is very quaint, with cobblestone streets and rustic architecture. We made the best of two rainy days, driving all of the roads in the area and hiking around looking at rock formations. The land surrounding the small town of Mineral del Chico was Mexico’s first national park, established in 1898. The park is beautiful, with lots of rock pinnacles, huge oak trees and when the clouds lift, fantastic views!

Sadly realizing that nothing would dry anytime soon, we left Mineral del Chico prematurely and drove to a lower area, El Arenal. Without too much effort, we found the rhyolite cliffs, which were dry, warm and of decent quality. While at the Las Bolas cliff, we established a new seven bolt route up a pocketed 25-meter face.


Our next stop was the town of Bernal, which sits at the base Pena de Bernal. The Pena is reportedly one of the largest monoliths in the world. When we arrived, the trail toward the top had hundreds if not a thousand or more Mexican families enjoying the day. By dusk, we had done two great bolted face routes just off the trail. At the base of the peak were all sorts of vendors selling beer, food and trinkets. We finished the day there with Michelados (beer with chili powder, Worcestershire sauce, lime juice and other stuff mixed in), gorditas and people watching.

We climbed to the summit of Pena de Bernal the following day. The top is only accessible by climbing or a via ferreta. The route we did took a couple hours and involved roughly 500 feet of climbing. The rock was much like Red Rocks in Nevada, with lots of crisp edges and features. That afternoon we did another 300-foot high climb, also of great quality. On our final day in Bernal, we did a new two-pitch route on the Pena. While the climbing was moderate, it was kept exciting by drilling on the lead.

Our next stop was the very cute town of Aculco, which was a two-hour drive south of Bernal. The countryside surrounding Aculco looked much like the Central Coast of California, with rolling, grass-covered hills and oak trees. Some call the Aculco climbing area “the Indian Creek of Mexico,” but since the area is basalt, a better comparison might be Paradise Forks in Arizona.

We found the climbing grades at Pena de Bernal to be 1-2 grades soft (i.e.: 5.10b = 5.9). This was not the case at Aculco. We did a handful of excellent crack routes that all seemed hard for their grade. On our final day, we established two new routes; a bolt protected stemming corner and a crack climb.

Given the quality of the climbing and incredible culture, we have already made plans to return to Mexico next Christmas vacation!