New Route in Mexico: El Diente North Face

© Gareth Leah

British ex-pat Gareth Leah now lives in the US and sent in a report of an impressive-looking new route on El Diente North face in Mexico: El Son del Viento, 5.12d (7c), 420m, 15 pitches

The idea of the wall first came to me in April of 2014 while visiting Monterrey, Mexico to learn more about the at-risk youth program of Escalando Fronteras. While in Monterrey, local climber Joel Bert Guadarrama invited me to an area he was developing named "El Diente" after the giant tooth shaped peak that stood above the tufa filled walls he was bolting below.

Though the single pitch sport climbing was truly world class, my attention was drawn more to the giant wall at the back with its distinct shape, semi-remote location and lack of routes on its striking north face. I knew immediately that I wanted to make a route here but at the time I was tied up in the process of establishing another big wall route on the north face of Pico Independencia in Parque La Huasteca ("The Life You Can Save" 5.12+, 350m.)

The line of The Life You Can Save" on El Diente North Face  © Gareth Leah
The line of The Life You Can Save" on El Diente North Face
© Gareth Leah

With this, El Diente was put on the back burner until the following winter when I planned to return to Mexico with more time to dedicate to the wall and to form a team for the route. I returned to the US and to the 7am - 8pm grind of an arborist job where I spent my evenings discussing dream routes with potential partners. One of these guys was my good friend and veteran big wall climber from Chihuahua, Sergio "Tiny" Almada. Tiny had established big wall first ascents on both El Gigante in Bassasatchi and on the walls of "Los Delincuentes" in Huesca, Spain. Tiny also brought with him a friend from Juarez, Octavio "Ocho" Aragon. Though less experienced than myself and tiny, he was a quick learner and a big wall machine, especially when it came to getting it done.

Fast forward to November 2015, which marked my return to Mexico and our plans were set. In the months prior to attempting the wall, I had taken some short trips back to Monterrey from the US, each time making an attempt to reach the base of the wall which had seemed unreachable to me no matter which way I went. I eventually was able to reach the base on my final trip with help from local climbers Carlos Flores and Diego Guittierez who bush wacked with me for hours through the thick Mexican jungle.

Summit celebrations on El Diente North Face  © Gareth Leah
Summit celebrations on El Diente North Face
© Gareth Leah

The Route

The climb itself takes a more or less direct line from the base to the summit, tackling many of the distinct features the wall offers including a number of steep roofs and tufa sections. The route is a pure sport line that requires little more than a rope, some quickdraws and some multi pitch experience. It is equipped from top to bottom with rappel stations and many of the crux sections are possible to french free through. The route required a normal amount of cleaning to remove plants, loose blocks and fragile holds that we encountered along the way.

The wall is tall, but not so wide and much of the available rock is not climbable due to the surface being heavily calcified with a perfectly blank and smooth layer.

Tiny leading pitch 5  © Gareth Leah
Tiny leading pitch 5
© Gareth Leah

When developing, we split the route into pitches. First I would equip a pitch, Tiny would belay and Ocho would clean. The next pitch, Ocho would Bolt, Tiny would clean and I would belay and so on and so forth to the summit.

We spent periods on the wall up to 7 days but would return to the ground to recharge drill batteries.

One of the major epics we had on the wall was route finding. Because we aimed to avoid crack systems and an old route that zig zagged the entire mountain, we often found ourselves questing into unclimbable areas on hooks.

This north face of El Diente is an incredible wall that breaks the desert cut ridge of the Sierra Madre with its distinct tooth shape. The route takes a more or less direct line to the summit through various limestone formations including a number of tufa sections. The north face was attempted many years prior to this route and the old equipment can be seen once up on the wall and acts as a historic tribute to the boldness of the climbers of the era, true visionaries, generations ahead of their time.

Bivi ledge on the third pitch  © Gareth Leah
Bivi ledge on the third pitch
© Gareth Leah

P1: Climb the blocky slab to a wide crack that leads to a good ledge
(5.10a), 25m, 9 bolts + Anchors
P2: A steepening slab that has some great moves through its first
dihedral. Above, move through crimps to a belay below the roof (5.10c)
25m, 6 bolts + Anchors
P3: The crux pitch of the route that can be easily skipped via some
A0. Climb out right to the roof where you get 3D with some amazing
tufas to a sharp and crimpy top out. (5.12d / A0) 15m, 9 bolts +
P4: Traverse out left to some good but sharp holds and move up the
small tufas to a belay below a small roof. Pumpy! (5.12a) 25m, 11
bolts + Anchors
P5: Climb the small roof into easier ground through rain pockets. Move
into the big black tufa, finishing at its top (5.11d) 25m, 13 bolts +
P6: Traverse left into the dihedral via tricky foot work and neat lay
backs near the giant foot ledge. (5.11b) 15m, 6 + Anchors
P7: Head up and right into the dihedral, battling small stemming
sections through the continuing small roofs to a belay at a cross and
tribute to a fallen climber (5.11c) 35m, 13 bolts + Anchors
P8: Scramble across the ledge and up the face, pushing into the slab
as the arête begins. (Some vegetation) Finish at a stance on a good
ledge (5.11b) 30m, 11 bolts + Anchors
P9: Climb up into the corner and battle the small roof on its right
side (crux) Move up the easy slab to the chains. Some blocks move
slightly but the pitch is mostly solid. (5.10c) 30m, 8 bolts + Anchors
P10: A perfect fist crack that moves out right near the end and
finishes on a ledge below a roof. (5.10b) 35m, 9 bolts + Anchors
P11: Pull the roof on its right side (crux) and move onto the slab for
some technical climbing through side pulls and good edges (5.12a) 30m,
12 bolts + Anchors
P12: Delicately move left from the belay, making progress into the
large tufa corner. Climb up to the giant hanging tufa that rings hard
and move past to its right into yet more amazing tufa. Move up into
the corner through perm draws to the chains. (5.11c) 25m, 11 bolts +
P13: Traverse out right under roof to a series of amazing tufas that
almost feel manufactured. Exit the roof through technical moves.
(5.11c) 25m, 9 bolts + Anchors
P14: Climb the technical face through a number of good side pulls.
Move out right near the 3rd bolt and make easier movement back left
and to the chains. (5.11d) 30m, 11 bolts + Anchors
P15: A short class IV sections with a single 5.6 move. (5.6) 1 bolt. 10m
Summit: Scramble some Class IV to the palm topped summit that also
various other interesting fauna. 40m

Descent: Rappel the route using all the fixed draws along the way to
ensure you can reach the anchor from the overhang. Rappel directly
down from the anchor of pitch 7 to pitch 5 using the perma draws on
the wall.

Equipped and FA Gaz Leah, Sergio 'Tiny' Almada Barrera, & Octavio "8" Aragon
January 22nd, 2016

Gaz leading pitch 7  © Gareth Leah
Gaz leading pitch 7
© Gareth Leah


El Diente is an impressive rock formation, that captivates attention. Due to that, we weren't the first ones to have in mind to go and climb it from the most iconic side: the north face. In 1962 the Sierra Nevada Club of Monterrey conquered the summit climbing via west face through rough class III & IV terrain, and some years later they had a goal to open a climb going up in the north face. A team of climbers, including local climbing legends Miguel Angel Villareal Garcia, Dionicio Rodriguez Durón, Rogelio Trevińo Manriquez, Adolfo Flores, Humbero Pérez, and Genaro Matamoro, were the first to stand on the summit of the cliff. This took a lot of effort since they were doing it ground up, and with old school techniques and movements that they learned by themselves and even testing some new ways to go up that they invented.

Total visionaries in Mexican Climbing history, completely given to the passion of climbing and the development of it. They changed their jobs, families and responsibilities to go and conquer a summit or climb up a new wall. They tried so hard on El Diente (north face) even to the point that it took a pair of lives: one from a climber that got stung by bees and fell to his death, and another who had leukaemia and couldn't fight it anymore (In commemoration of his death they placed a cross at the half of the wall 200m high up). In the end, they were stopped by a set of roofs that couldn't be climbed in aid with their techniques. They tried everything, going into a traverse and getting up on the old line, then rappelling to take a look and see which kind of protection they would need. This clearly opened more their eyes and saw that in fact it was a difficult task to get over it. Finally their enormous effort reached an end due to the difficulties in the wall and they abandoned that route, with hopes that someone in the future might want to repeat their mission.

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18 Feb, 2016
Looks amazing! Would love to go and do some of these routes in Mexico! This and El Sendero Luminoso look superb!
20 Feb, 2016
Very good effort ..nice to see some real adventure climbing rather that one pitch practiced climbs.
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