Trip Report
Climb Like a Mexican
Thursday September 21, 2017 2:58pm
I had no idea what I was in for and it made me grumpy. Being away from home for a six week project was bad enough. Being in Mexico and not speaking Spanish was even worse. But missing the prime California spring ski season was more than icing on the cake. Spring skiing WAS the cake. To top it all off I managed to get myself talked into a blind climbing date with a friend of my partner. So I sat there in the hotel lobby, waiting for, what? That’s just it. I had no idea. And that made me grumpy.

“Dingus?” I looked up at a nondescript Mexican dude; brown skin, black hair, black eyes, faint mustache and a wiry build. He wore faded blue jeans, an old button down dress shirt with the tails out and dirty cowboy boots. His neutral expression was topped off with a battered and bent straw cowboy hat. I flashed a humorless smile, then nodded uncomfortably. He held out his hand while I still sat, forcing me to rise half way and return the shake. There was no pressure to his grip, none at all.

“Mel,” was all he said. He thumbed over his shoulder at the lobby doors, nodded in that direction and pointedly looked at my pack on the floor. Then he turned and started for the entrance. ‘Jesus,’ I muttered under my breath as I scooped up my daypack and raced after him. The things we do for a climbing fix!

I caught him just as he eased into the door of an old F100. I threw the pack in the back where it landed in a spare tire along side the other pack. There was plenty of other stuff back there too; some gardening tools, a couple bags of feed, a transmission and a big black dog tied to the rail. The dog wagged his tail, the feedbags had big holes in them and the tranny was leaking fluid all over the place. I could smell the fluid and the dog.

I closed the door as he started the motor. Without further comment we headed out of the parking lot. The cab of the truck reeked of dog and brown-grade pot. A couple of crumpled Modelos Negro littered the floor. The torn fabric on the bench seat oozed foam like intestines from a gut shot horse. The windshield hadn’t been cleaned in many years. A big crack ran down my side and spider webbed out at the base.

After a few minutes of driving I began to get worried. We positively flew down streets with no visible signs or marks of any kind, using whatever side of the road was convenient for that particular moment. It occurred to me; am I being kidnapped?! As casually as I could, feigning disinterest as though I did this sort of thing every day I asked,

“So…. where we headed Mel?” I tried not to let him hear the desperation of my question. He saved time on the answer by nodding through the grimy windshield.

Off in the distance I could see a large formation jutting out of the desert. I looked back at my host and he at me. The faintest hint of a smile played about his chiseled features, the gleam of bright metal flashing momentarily as his lips parted. His eyes seemed to dance for a moment as we bounced and pounded our way down a rude dirt track.

We stopped at the end of the road, which seemed to die out abruptly in the scrub. I climbed out and was surprised immediately by the buzzing of cicadas and the cry of a distant hawk. I followed my host to the back of the truck and without fanfare, the dog was freed and the packs retrieved. The dog immediately raced off into the underbrush and was seen no more. Mel seemed unconcerned.

“You have water?” I nodded a grim affirmation and donned my pack, following the suit of my host. Off we went, down a faint trail. This guy hiked like the wind, fast and without sound. I was hard pressed to keep up, puffing and wheezing from too many days in the computer room, too many nights at the bar. He paused and waited for me a couple of times, always silent, without even looking at me. It kind of irritated me.

I allowed myself to be bullied into this day of pity climbing with an ‘old friend of an old friend’ but this was getting ridiculous. I didn’t have to put up with this sh#t and was about to say it when rather abruptly we rounded a bend and came out of a gully of cottonwoods. I stood there slack jawed, temporarily frozen to immobility as I gazed upward.


It was crystal clear, a blue-skied spring day in the desert. Flowers bloomed by the millions and covered the ground both near and far. In three directions the desert faded away to infinity, revealing distant ranges purple on the horizon. But the dome dominated the 4th. It soared up above us, eventually curling out of sight. The lowest portion of the face was the steepest, clean and barren. But it was split by many crack systems and my eye immediately began looking for route possibilities.

My friend’s friend led us to the base of one of the cracks and dropped his pack on the untrammeled dirt there. I mimicked his actions as he dumped the contents out on the ground; rope, pile of climbing pro, harness, chalk bag and shoes. As I put on my harness I shrugged. ‘No kidnapping today, guess I just gotta try and survive the climbing,’ I thought.

Soon we were ready to go. I still hadn’t said more than five words to him since we met and he’s standing there, tied in and ready to go. The absurdity of the situation made me laugh. I gave him a goat-eyed look and said,

“I reckon we’re gonna go climbing now, eh Mel?” He just nodded yes as he handed me the rope to put him on belay. Before I could think twice he went flying up the crack, climbing so fast I barely had enough time to pay out slack. Occasionally he paused to put in some pro till seemingly just a few moments after he began, he reached a ledge, set a belay and gave me a thumbs up to indicate he was safe.

I figured he was ready for me when he tugged on the rope. He’d climb so fast and I was so busy dealing the rope and the surprise of it all, I really hadn’t had a chance to check out the climbing. So I headed up the crack not really expecting anything at all, other than steep.

Immediately I swung into an all-time 5-star hand crack. Move after satisfying move, I plugged in my hand, twisted it in some subtle fashion and locked off with truck stopping power. My feet were swallowed up by this large mouth bass of a crack, finding bedrock solid jams with a simple twist of the ankle. This gradually narrowed to a perfect finger crack that went all the way to the belay. By the time I got up to Mel’s stance, my entire perspective had undergone a transformation.

My eyes were wide and intent, fixed on my fingers and toes, enveloped in the ‘climber’s concentration.’ I had a permanent grin on my face. Mel had floated up this thing, running it out between every placement, climbing with a relaxed and speedy style. And his gear! Old friends, possibly first generation, were accompanied by a mishmash of scrounged nuts and fuzzy slings. I was totally intimidated!

I got to his belay and tied in. I inspected his anchor out of habit before clipping in. Under his watchful eye I noted the three perfectly placed pieces, one cam and two nuts. He'd cloved into each one of them in a tight arrangement, no slack. I clipped the anchor as I nodded to him. He looked back at me, flashed a genuine smile and in one motion, extended the rack. I took it, blinking in the bright sun as a reflection briefly caught my eye.

I excitedly babbled on for several minutes about what a great pitch that was, what a great LEAD that was! I went on and on about the fantastic rock, the cool location, the fine views. I racked and nervously re-racked the gear, checked my knot twice, looked up at the crack above, as if looking alone could climb it. Then abruptly I ran out of excuses. I shut up, shrugged and started upward.

Right off the bat I had to deal with a couple of fist jams, working my feet sideways to gain their maximum advantage. I even threw in an elbow when I stopped to put in my first piece. Soon I was into another great hands section. A substantial roof brought me up short of the belay and I frittered around for a long time before figuring out a weird combination of hand jams and heel hooks to rock my way over the lip.

I was in seventh heaven as I set the belay and tugged on the rope a few times. Mel climbed as fast as on the previous pitch and soon arrived heel first from beneath the overhang. He pulled himself into my belay. I watched as he too inspected my setup. Just as quickly he looked back at me and smiled broadly. The morning sun flashing upon a golden tooth and he said,

“Nice lead man.” He worked quickly as I began to hand over the lead rack. I had warmed to the nice weather, the fantastic rock and the stoic silences of this man. He gave off a warm vibe, not overly friendly, but not overly cautious either. He had an air of expectation about him, as if he were withholding his judgment of me till he got my full measure but so far he was thinking I was OK.

The air seemed so crisp I could almost see the creases in reality. I could smell the creosote, flowers, and even my companion. His jet black hair seemed almost purple in the warm sunshine. His dark eyes twinkled in secret mirth. His brown skin seemed a part of the desert, even part of the fabric of the rock itself. He was like some rock cowboy or something.

Smart-ass that I am, I quipped,

“So do all Mexicans climb like you?” Thinking it a harmless remark. But he grew somber and gave me a measured glance. I worried I’d gone over the line and offered some ugly American offense. And then he smiled the biggest grin of all, and laughed out loud on top of it. His gold tooth gleamed and sparkled as he chuckled away. Then he clapped me hard on the arm; SLAP! In a clear choppy accented English, he responded,

“I don’t know. I’m Navaho. I live in Tucson. But I think, yeah, they can all pretty much climb like me!” I looked at him open mouthed for a moment and then cracked up at the absurdity of it all. We laughed together as a slight breeze fanned our desert perch in the sky. I felt very much at home and content. I no longer braced myself against an unknown adversary, but felt relaxed and welcomed by a new friend. The nervous glances were gone, in their place the eyes of familiarity. He looked up at the next pitch and turned back to me once more.

“I think you’re gonna like it here my friend.”


  Trip Report Views: 2,011
Dingus Milktoast
About the Author
Dingus Milktoast is a narcissist spraylord from Northern California.

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mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
  Sep 21, 2017 - 03:40pm PT
Well-told, sir. Thanks for sharing.
T Hocking

Trad climber
Redding, Ca
  Sep 21, 2017 - 03:48pm PT
Cool share,
ever climb with Mel again?

Balcarce, Argentina
  Sep 21, 2017 - 04:07pm PT
You've spun a fine tale!

Trad climber
The fake McCoy from nevernever land.
  Sep 21, 2017 - 04:08pm PT
This was exceptionally good writing, cheers.

Trad climber
the middle of CA
  Sep 21, 2017 - 04:14pm PT
I'm gonna be that guy that asks for pictures.

Great story.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Sep 21, 2017 - 04:34pm PT
With a story that good you don't need pictures....bravo!
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Sep 21, 2017 - 05:22pm PT
That was awesome Dingus,
Even better if its true, lol

San Diego
  Sep 21, 2017 - 05:23pm PT
Nice writing. Clean and descriptive. Not easy to do.

Trad climber
the middle of CA
  Sep 21, 2017 - 06:16pm PT
With a story that good you don't need pictures....bravo!

Oh, I totally agree, I just really want to see this dome :)

Felt like I was reading a Louis L'Amour story about climbing.

Social climber
Desolation Basin, Calif.
  Sep 21, 2017 - 06:16pm PT
TFPU. The Mexican backcountry is very nice.
Tom Patterson

Trad climber
  Sep 21, 2017 - 06:33pm PT
Ho, man...
rick sumner

Trad climber
reno, nevada/ wasilla alaska
  Sep 21, 2017 - 06:36pm PT
You weave an incredible tale Dingus. Good show man.

East Bay, CA
  Sep 21, 2017 - 07:39pm PT
Enjoyed your story! Be nice to get some more stories out of you!

Social climber
  Sep 21, 2017 - 08:28pm PT
Well told! TFPU, DMT.
Larry Nelson

Social climber
  Sep 22, 2017 - 03:56am PT
Another well written gem.
Gnome Ofthe Diabase

Out Of Bed
  Sep 22, 2017 - 03:59am PT
Good yarn fu'-sure,

Far from the maddening crowds

Tripping from space to space

Your world travels down the back roads of your world

belie your humble beginnings

Per your Jersey roots
Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
  Sep 22, 2017 - 05:39am PT
Love it.....thanks for that DMT.
Nick Danger

Ice climber
Arvada, CO
  Sep 22, 2017 - 06:14am PT
Now that's some story telling! DMT, thank you very much for that little ray of sunshine for my morning coffee.

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
  Sep 22, 2017 - 06:23am PT
Yet a hey!
Dingus Milktoast

Trad climber
Minister of Moderation, Fatcrackistan
Author's Reply  Sep 22, 2017 - 07:14am PT
Yah tah hey, ASCHKEEH!


Boulder climber
Andy Cairns
  Sep 22, 2017 - 07:21am PT
Every now and then, after all the years, the old doubts, fears, and joys come alive again. It seemed you went though a lot in a short time. The images were clear and I saw Mel, smelled the desert, heard the hawk, and felt the crack right along with you. Nice.

Trad climber
Red Rock
  Sep 22, 2017 - 08:08am PT

Social climber
  Sep 22, 2017 - 08:41am PT
THAT was nicely written DMT. You turned a good story into a great read. Cudos!

Andrzej Citkowicz far away from Poland
  Sep 22, 2017 - 09:00am PT
Excellent read. Not sure it's true, though.


Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Sep 22, 2017 - 10:23am PT
hah! Well told, good fine sir!


Trad climber
Mancos, CO & Bend, OR
  Sep 22, 2017 - 10:47am PT
Navajos have a sense of humor, the absurd - and they are bullshitters.

Chris Blatter told me this story.

He picked up a hitchhiking Najavo on the reservation near Shiprock, NM. The route took them past fine views of Shiprock itself. He told his passenger, "I climbed Shiprock" pointing to the formation.

"Show me picture" was all the old Navajo said. So much as calling out "Bullshit White Man!"

P.S. for my good friend Moose-in-ski-kov-owicz. It's not true.

P.P.S. No more true than the time Donini, J. tried to tell me (when the subject golf came up) that he picked up a 5-iron on day and hit the ball 200 yards after just a few tries. Maybe Jim has a little Navajo blood and that explains everything!

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
  Sep 22, 2017 - 11:00am PT
A fine yarn in the classic Dingus tradition!

  Sep 22, 2017 - 11:09am PT
One of the top threads of the week, or month!!

Thank you for your cool story & humble writing

The state of quantum flux
  Sep 22, 2017 - 01:41pm PT
Funny Dingus...
"Please, Sir, I Want Some More"
Gorgeous George

Trad climber
Los Angeles, California
  Sep 22, 2017 - 01:51pm PT
For a second there, you seemed to have been describing some of the thoughts I had experienced on a composite of many climbing adventures with people I did not know.

Then you clinched it: "Move after satisfying move, I plugged in my hand, twisted it in some subtle fashion and locked off with truck stopping power."

I am sure our minds have locked together at one time or another, because in my perspective, that is the hallmark of my crack climbing style.

And, being from Nogales (originally), the ending was classic (except my abuelo claimed to be Apache).


The state of quantum flux
  Sep 22, 2017 - 02:14pm PT
Several years ago my wife and I were at Lake Powell for some sightseeing and swimming with her brother Joe and his wife. My wife and her brothers are about 1/16th Navaho but mostly Latino.

We rented a motor boat and spent the day on the lake seeing Rainbow bridge and other such formations. The young Navaho guy at the dock was going over how to operate the boat and such when he said to Joe, "Dude, what tribe are you from?" Joe looked at him straight faced and said, "Dude, I'm Mexican.

Joe's such a conservative, apparently he he didn't take it as a compliment.
Q- Ball

Mountain climber
but to scared to climb them anymore
  Sep 23, 2017 - 07:31am PT
Great story!!! Really enjoyed it!

Just livin' the dream
  Sep 25, 2017 - 04:58pm PT
You're a darn good writer, Dingus.


Trad climber
Redwood City, CA
  Sep 25, 2017 - 06:27pm PT
Great story, well told.

Trad climber
SF Bay Area, California
  Sep 25, 2017 - 09:42pm PT





right here, right now
  Sep 26, 2017 - 01:36pm PT
It occurred to me; am I being kidnapped?!

… flowers bloomed by the millions and covered the ground both near and far. In three directions the desert faded away to infinity, revealing distant ranges purple on the horizon.

… checked my knot twice, looked up at the crack above, as if looking alone could climb it.

The air seemed so crisp I could almost see the creases in reality.

 This is just one of the reasons why we need you here, Ding, and don't ever forget it!

Trad climber
portland, or
  Sep 26, 2017 - 12:09pm PT
Jim D. is part right: great story! But without photos, it didn't really happen.
Dingus Milktoast

Trad climber
Minister of Moderation, Fatcrackistan
Author's Reply  Sep 26, 2017 - 12:32pm PT
clode, limpingcrab and moosedrool, the next time someone you know makes you a free dinner you really enjoy, try the 'I need to see pictures or you didn't make it' out on them, see how they react.

Now I'm saying that with a smile, for now.


Trad climber
Erik O. Auburn, CA
  Sep 26, 2017 - 01:06pm PT
Thank you for writing and telling the story. At least one picture would be good. You must have passed over or under a bridge or two on the way...

“So do all Mexicans climb (insert "like" here) you?”

Trad climber
the middle of CA
  Sep 26, 2017 - 01:16pm PT
Ha! Ya, I get what you're saying. The story doesn't need pictures, I just like seeing rocks.

Hoping for more of these in the future.
Dingus Milktoast

Trad climber
Minister of Moderation, Fatcrackistan
Author's Reply  Sep 26, 2017 - 01:27pm PT
Good catch labrat, edit complete.

Cheers limpingcrab. :)

Per images, I have an old print of Mel, somewhere in a box, but probably only a single image. In the pre-digital era I did not snap so many images of course and didn't always take the camera with me. I suspect I have lost that picture in the intervening years. I wish I could find it, just for the hat. It was truly a piece of work.

I did go to see Mel in Phoenix some years later but he was working mid-shifts and his wife would not wake him when I came to the door. We never reestablished contact after that.

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