el gavilan rock climb
La Popa, outside Los Remotos, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. "El Gavilan" (9 pitches, 5.13) takes the prominent prow; (photo/Monica Garza)

Canadian Women Resurrect Legendary 5.13 Mexican Big Wall on First Female Ascent

‘El Gavilan’ takes the king line up a 1,000-foot cliff outside the tiny pueblo of Los Remotos, Mexico. Bronwyn Hodgins and Kelsey Watts freed it for the third time ever — the first by a female team — just before Christmas.

For over a decade, Jeff Jackson and Kevin Gallagher’s “El Gavilan” loomed silently over the chaparral in Nuevo Leon, Mexico. The nine-pitch 5.13 on steep tufa stone had generated an ominous legend and sat in the middle of nowhere.

Though located just 35 miles from the uber-popular El Potrero Chico, its foreboding reputation made it seem far more distant.

Getting to the base of the cliff, called La Popa, required a miles-long approach through unforgiving desert flora. According to Jackson’s account of the first ascent, threatening supernatural beings also guarded the area.

He returned to civilization with a story about shapeshifting horse people, a levitating presence that visited the team’s portaledge, and enticing hard free climbing.

Perhaps coincidentally, peyote grew abundantly in the region.

Hodgins and Watts Resurrect ‘El Gavilan’ With New Hardware, Approach

Bronwyn Hodgins and Kelsey Watts made the pilgrimage to Los Remotos after hearing Jackson’s tale on The Enormocast. Undeterred by the reported phenomena, they walked away with the route’s third free ascent — and the first by a female team. They also skirted the arduous hike by pioneering a new top-down approach and replaced the route’s obsolete hardware.

The ascent itself capped off two seasons of work. The team plans to put the route firmly on the map, adding a topo for the new hardware and updated approach. Hodgins shared her synopsis of the process via Instagram.

“Kelsey and I knee-barred and stemmed our way up the orange limestone wall, pulling the two wildly exposed crux roofs near the top and swinging leads with no falls!” She wrote. “Accessible from El Potrero Chico, we’ll be coming out with a complete topo and new access info soon.”

 

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A post shared by Bronwyn Hodgins (@bronwynhodgins)

Alex Honnold and Josh McCoy made the second ascent of “El Gavilan” in 2013. Jacob Cook and Tony McClane followed with a free/aid ascent in 2019.

So far, no team has mentioned the supernatural circumstances that overtook Jackson and Gallagher on the first ascent.

“Shout out to Jeff and team for spotting and creating the line a quarter of a century ago, a true visionary route of the time,” Hodgins wrote. “I’m psyched to bring it back to life!”

La Popa hosts two other routes: “Spanish Harlem,” 11 pitches, 5.11+ A0, and “Super Blood Wolf,” 900 feet, 5.11.

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Sam Anderson
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Sam has roamed the American continent to follow adventures, explore natural wonders, and find good stories. After going to college to be a writer, he got distracted (or saved) by rock climbing and spent most of the next decade on the road, supporting himself with trade work. He's had addresses in the Adirondack Mountains, Las Vegas, and somehow Kansas, but his heart belongs in the Texas hill country.