Since I began climbing, I’ve been searching for the perfect wall: a towering giant of rope-stretching routes that are technical and sustained, with solid rock and well-placed bolts. Add camping on a flat and grassy cliff base, a short approach that merely serves to deposit me away from the road I’ve parked on, and a longer-than-normal climbing season with fairly low temps, and I’d be set. Jilotepec, Mexico, a couple hours northwest of Mexico City in the Dexcaní Mountains, is home to the crag that’s the closest I’ve found yet to my personal heaven. If it doesn’t quite reach heavenly status, that’s only because it’s in Mexico and not my backyard.
As at other great crags, “holy shit” is likely to be your first response after catching your first glimpse of El Huevo, the 300-foot-tall, egg-shaped monolith smack dab in the middle of the Jilotepec (Jilo) climbing area. Walking up the trail to the base of El Huevo had me craning my neck farther and farther back as I tried to digest the thought of climbing to the top of this daunting wall in a single mega-pitch. Opting for something a bit less intimidating on which to warm up, our group meandered around the trails to Jilo’s various cobbled volcanic crags, trying to find a suitable starting line.
Whether the standard for the area (or for Mexican climbers) is higher or the rock just doesn’t lend itself to easier climbing, a vast majority of the Jilo routes are 5.10 and up, with only a few 5.9s and 5.8s scattered through the area. La Prima de Nancy (5.8) and Nancy (5.9) are two slabby but solid warm-ups on the trail leading to El Huevo. El Circo, directly opposite and up the hill from Dio de Campo on El Huevo, holds some of the better moderate lines, with the highest concentration of good 5.10 climbing, while the backside of El Huevo at the Frenesí sector has slightly harder routes in the 5.11 range. If you’re the type of climber that likes warming up on 5.10 or 5.11 and projecting 5.12, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more suitable area for your strengths. Many of the 5.11 and 5.12 routes yield sustained and thoughtful climbing. And if you’re psyched on climbing routes even harder (5.13a to 5.14+), the front side of El Huevo has a wealth of hard, established lines, and there are plenty of open projects to go around. A few of these harder routes are chipped and contain drilled pockets (denoted in the guidebook), which will certainly deter some climbers.
Jilo’s vertical and slightly overhanging cliffs are a technical climber’s dreamland, with squared-off cobbles littering each route. We quickly found that some areas (like Frenesí) have great 5.10 climbing as long as you can get past the one- or two-move, off-the-ground cruxes. The fun Serpientes y Escaleras (5.10c) requires circumnavigating a cruxy cactus in the middle of the route. Often you’ll find yourself negotiating voluminous cobbles welded into the hard volcanic stone only to reach smaller cobbles that force you to get creative with your hands. El Nahual (5.12d) and El Chaneque (5.12a) both have cruxes that force the climber to put basically every limb on a single giant cobble to advance to easier climbing above. As at every climbing destination, once you learn a few tricks and techniques (such as identifying good and bad cobbles, and knowing when to rest and when to simply keep moving), the climbing becomes much more manageable.
I’m told by others who have visited the area that it’s best to keep all of your belongings with you and not in a rental car, due to the break-ins they’ve experienced. Because of Jilo’s location far from the U.S. border and a good distance from Mexico City, we traveled mostly worry-free, but you can never forget that you’re still in Mexico, a developing country plagued by poverty in many parts—crime can occasionally be a problem. Knowledge of the language and culture are certainly a plus when traveling here, along with watchful eyes and ears. On the whole, however, the people of Mexico were as kind as possible and incredibly excited that climbers were visiting their local area. Will Jilo be your personal cragging heaven? With more than 80 bolted sport routes (50-plus of them under 5.12), you should fi nd plenty to keep you busy while you decide.
Getting there: Fly into Mexico City and take a bus to Jilotepec, departing from the Terminal de Autobuses Norte. Take a cab from the airport to reach this terminal.
Getting around: If you’re not planning on leaving the area, taxis are fine for getting between the crags and the town of Jilotepec. The drive is only about 15 minutes, and the cabs will run you about $5 to $6.
Where to stay: You can camp at the crag, but if you’re more into creature comforts, the Xilonen Palace is the nicest hotel in town, has a great restaurant attached, and will only run you about 550 pesos ($45) per night, which is fully worth the price
• Tourist attractions: The Pirámides de Teotihuacan, northeast of Mexico City, are home to the third-largest pyramid in the world and a rich Mesoamerican history. The entrance ticket is 51 pesos ($4), and you can hire a guide for the area as well as participate in the Temazcal ceremony (a kind of ritualistic, spa-like steam bath).
• Guidebook: For a 32-page guidebook, contact Javier Canché (javiercanche@ hotmail.com).
• Season: The area, located at about 8,000 feet above sea level, can be climbed year-round. Locals say it never gets too hot or cold, with temps staying between about 40°F and 80°F. The only tricky time is the rainy season, which runs July to September.
• Nearby climbing: The tufa-draped cave of El Chonta is easily combined with a trip to Jilotepec. For info, search “Los Sueños Grandes” at climbing.com.
• ¡Ay Nanita!: El Hombre del Costal (5.11b), El Chaneque (5.12a), El Nahual (5.12d)
• Frenesí: El Alacrán (5.10d), Gula (5.11c), Frenesí (5.12b)
• El Circo: Cirque du Solei (5.10b), El Equilibrista (5.10d), El Carrito de Bomberos(5.11a)