This is, to my knowledge, the standard route up the mountain. Had I done the first ascent (& thus had naming rights), potential route names would have included The Corkscrew, Geology in Motion, Get Yer Rocks Off, or A Good Day to Die. As it stands, I’ll simply call this the Standard Route.
Expect phenomenal desert views, solitude, fair to (in places) terrible rock quality, loose rock pretty much all along the way, & a healthy dose of adventure. As the descent is the ascent in reverse, it should be understood that an ability to downclimb anything you upclimb (unless you rig an anchor (not always possible) & rap’) is necessary. Also, as there is routefinding involved, make sure to take notes on the ascent so you will recognize the route (& key landmarks, turning, & exit points) going the other way. Also, remember: DON’T STEP ON THE CRYPTOBIOTIC SOIL!! Lastly, a picture is worth a thousand words; while I’ve tried to accurately verbally describe the route, I’d highly recommend looking at the included photos as well.
*Disclaimer: While Bjørnstad calls this a 5.0 in his guide, he states that the crux is surmounting the initial chinle band; despite the abysmal rock quality of this section, I definitely feel that some of the subsequent cruxes are more difficult; I'm not even certain I went the way described in Bjørnstad's guide (wording somewhat opaque; I felt like after Crux 2 I figured out most of the route on my own), although I there were occasional cairns along the way that make it seem like I might have been on track. So, to make a short story long, despite some misgivings, I'm rating this higher than what I saw it rated as, to provide what I feel is a more accurate representation of the route's difficulty.*
Mexican Mountain is located in the northern San Rafael Swell (as defined by I-70). While the drive, & lack of people along the way will make you feel like you’re out in the middle of nowhere (& you sort of are), the access roads are (mostly) good, & you’ll reach the climbing before you know it. Even so, a high clearance vehicle is highly recommended for Mexican Mountain Rd.
To get there:
• Take exit 131 off of I-70; Zero your tripmeter once you’re on the N side of the highway.
• Initially this road (CR 332, also known as Buckhorn Draw Road later on) will swing E & parallel the highway, & it’ll seem like you’re going the wrong direction. Keep on going. The road will eventually swing N. Keep driving, & enjoy the views as they get progressively more impressive.
• 19.4 miles from the highway, you’ll finally get to the bridge crossing the San Rafael River (important landmark). Cross the bridge & take your first R (~.15 mi. past the bridge).
• Right after turning off of Buckhorn Draw Rd., go past the human & equestrian campgrounds. Follow Mexican Mountain Rd. for 14.1 miles (from the bridge) until it ends at a large dirt clearing. It starts out fine right after the campground for awhile, then will have the occasional rough sections (high clearance highly (no pun intended) recommended). Make sure to close any gates you go through.
From the parking lot, take the old 4WD road/trail past the locked gate & start hiking along the road/trail. After about 1 mile, leave the trail as it nears the San Rafael River for the first time. Ford the river.
Upon crossing the river, head for the obvious light-colored chinle outcropping sitting on top of the dark brown moenkopi talus slope. Surmounting this 15’ chinle band is the first crux of the route (Crux 1). Taking it head-on, it’s 5.0. There is also a ledge system to the (climber’s) L (4th class). Either way, this is quite possibly some of the worst rock you’ll lay your hands on.
Once past this unpleasantness, cross the plateau toward the mountain. Your next objective is the obvious talus fan slightly to the L under the main massif. Find your way up this the easiest way possible (near the top, there is a path of sorts underneath/to the R of an large boulder). The talus dead-ends at an imposing-looking wall maybe 30 ft. or so high. This is the 2nd route crux (Crux 2). This being said, it is fairly solid, & positively delightful when compared to the lower chinle band. Climb it (4th class). Make a note of this critical exit point for the return.
The next goal is the notch between the main massif & the sweet-looking sub-peak to the N. Look for cairns leading up & L to the notch. Follow these to the notch (N of the cliffs forming the main summit massif).
From the notch (potential cel’ reception at various points from here to the summit), skirt around the NE face of the mountain; this will be a virtually level horizontal traverse (look for a climber’s trail) below cliff bands. Go under a large rock protrusion (see photo
), to the obvious 3rd class talus gully.
Follow this gully until it ends at a short cliff band (see photo
This short cliff band is the 3rd crux of the route (Crux 3
). Find the easiest way up the slab, to the obvious large ledge above. While this rock is nowhere as bad as the initial chinle band, it’s no Yosemite granite, either. Be mindful to not remove valuable hand/footholds en route, that could hold value for the descent. Protection difficult, easy 5th slab.
Once on the large ledge, relax for a moment & savor being above one of the psychological cruxes of the route (& forget that you’ll have to downclimb it later). Following this, go (climber’s) R maybe 100 ft. or so, to a tree. The next crux waits above.
Take the blocky chimney/crack system up the boulders above to the plateau above: easy 5th crack climbing (see photo
; Crux 4). This is also one of the few cruxes on the route where a rope & protection could actually benefit the leader.
Follow this large ledge (I went R; it’s quite possible that L could work, too) until you find a break in the short cliff band where it is possible to scramble through (3rd class). This will put you on the large plateau below the smaller summit plateau.
From where you stand, head to the R side of the cliff bands protecting the summit plateau (the most obvious break in the cliff band). Take care to not disturb the (great deal of) cryptobiotic soil en route. Follow the easiest way up, going first L, then R (Last Crux; if you’ve made it this far, this shouldn’t be too big a deal; 4th class). A short scramble later, & you’re on the summit, demarked by a wooden post shored up by a pile of rocks, with barbed wire radiating out.
In sharp contrast to the isolation you’ll most likely have encountered until now, you’ll suddenly feel the pull of civilization as you see and hear the traffic from I-70 far below. If you feel the need to text your friends your whereabouts, this is probably the place to do it. Soak up the stunning desert views and surroundings of the Swell.
Descend the ascent route.
While any of the following items would have limited, if any, use on the route due to limited protection/anchor placement opportunities, maybe you’ll get lucky! Helmet, short rope, harness, runners (including some long ones), & a few chocks. Medium to large (3.5 Camalots) cams might protect Crux 4.