The first time I heard about Peñoles was years ago in Cresciano when my Mexican friend Diego Montull was talking about this remote bouldering area in the mountains of Mexico. Eventually his photos and stories got me wanting to visit the place. However the last few years especially the Northern part of Mexico has been very unsafe with an ongoing war between the drug cartels. Now things seem to have cooled down a bit so we decided to finally go see for ourselves what this place is all about.
We flew to El Paso in Texas, right on the Mexican border, packed the car with everything we needed for a couple weeks trip and drove down to Peñoles. After about 12 hours of travel, two of which were spent dealing with import permits for our cars, which you need to get through the military check points and another two hours just plain lost, we finally found ourselves in the massive boulder field of Peñoles. We spent the first night just sleeping outside by the boulders and set up our camp in the morning.
The massive potential was hard not to notice straight away. Just within minutes of walking from our camp there are great problems like El Baca Loca (V13), Lado Activo del Infito (V14) and El Fantasmo Hambiento (V12). And now on top of that my first ascents; Zugzwang, El Infierno, 101, El Señor de los Cielos and Blood and Sand. And that’s just what’s right next to the camp.
Peñoles is geologically a lot like Hueco; a mountain of boulders in the middle of the desert. Also the rock in many places is similar to Hueco, but that’s pretty much all these places have in common. There are no restrictions of Hueco, no entrance fees, no waiting in line, no back-country guides needed. You can camp by the boulders and go climbing whenever you want without getting a permission from anyone. Those who’ve never been to Hueco may take all that for granted, but really it’s a privilege.
Almost all the boulders are massive and although the rock type is similar to Hueco, some of the features and the size of the boulders remind me more of Bishop. At first glance a lot of the rock seems chossy, but it usually cleans up really well. Let me be specifically clear about this. I did not climb on choss once the whole trip. Sure, there is also lot of chossy rock in Peñoles, but when you have a ridiculous amount of rock to choose from, why would you climb on anything but good rock? You find a lot of great patina rock which is bomber and barely needs any cleaning.
The rock seems to be made for hard boulders. While there are great problems and projects for all grades, what really strikes my eye is the amount of hard projects in the v14 - v17? range. It is very rare to find these lines that are really hard but still possible and I don’t think I’ve never seen so many of them anywhere else in the world.
Zugzwang is one of the hardest problems I opened this trip. It’s a total freak-style problem and it took me 3 days of work and cleaning to do. It’s also one of the most morpho problems I’ve ever put up and particularly hard for me. Zugzwang has a very unique sequence; it starts with a ninja-kick dyno to a position where I am completely spanned out to the point i have to open-hand everything. From here I get a swing going and kick my foot on a foothold as far as I can possibly reach. After matching my feet and inverting my body horizontal I am totally stretched out in every direction. And here comes the crux; the release. You’re completely stuck and feels like moving any part of your body will just send you flying off the wall, hence the name. I only managed to hold this crazy swing once on the send.
First ascent of Zugzwang (V14)
First ascent of Zugzwang (V14)
To the right of Zugzwang I opened another stunning and hard highball El Señor de los Cielos. It’s proper bigwall bouldering, just trying to find the easiest way to navigate up the huge overhanging face.
Bimbos & Booze is another great one I opened. It has a hard dyno start off a rock and the whole wall is perfect Hueco style patina rock. It’s in the same zone with, Corona sin Rey, another new amazing and hard highball. Corona sin Rey is really long and sustained and although not as steep as the Martini cave in Hueco, it reminds me a lot of Esperanza.. except maybe when you’re at the last moves 9 meters of the ground manteling over the lip!
First ascent of Bimbos & Booze
Also in the same area is yet another great highball I opened called High Definition. This tall slightly overhanging patina face might be my favorite problem I that opened in Peñoles. It has very Bishop style climbing, but across the whole wall the rock is like the best kind of iron rock you can find in Hueco.
The downclimb from El Infierno
El Infierno is another really hard one I opened. It was my last problem of the trip and I was very psyched to leave with having finishing all the projects I had set out to. El Infierno is Diego’s old project that he’s spent a lot of time working on and I was psyched to hear he managed to send it as well shortly after we left! The really hard part of the problem is down lower, but it keeps going and going until you find yourself on top of a 20 meter tall boulder. This is when I found out there’s no easy way down! I ended up down-climbing a steep slab with some loose rock halfway down and jumping over a big gap onto another big boulder, which you still need to down-climb to the get back to the ground!
El Intento project
There are some really hard projects waiting in Peñoles, like Diegos El Intento project to name one. Diego has tried it over 7 years now and he’s getting closer. That and the countless projects and all the problems that he has opened up to V14, should keep anyone busy for a long time. And every day we kept finding great new projects that I’m psyched to get back to!
Just another project we found
I’ll leave the safety issues of traveling to Mexico for everyone’s own consideration, but apart from that Peñoles is well worth a trip in my opinion. Some more information about the place can be found here: http://www.toropesado.com/toro/pesado/
Stay tuned for the videos!!