Cerro La Aguja Grande

January 29, 2023


Nuevo León, México

Co. La Aguja Grande is an obscured rock tower in the deserts of Nuevo León state of Mexico. It’s not terribly far from the popular climbing area of Potrero Chico but very few asides the locals know the existence of this peak. Co. La Aguja Chiquita is the smaller tower nearby. Elise and I had seen these towers from the summit of Picachos El Fraile the day before and were intrigued by their aesthetic appearance. I thought those would make the perfect objectives for the following day if we could find some “beta” or any indication that serious rock climbing wouldn’t be required. A few hours later in our hostel in Hidalgo we found several trip reports on Wikiloc, unfortunately all in Spanish, but a few of them included their GPX tracks and that’s basically all we needed. It did not sound like a rope would be required but we decided to carry one just in case. The climb turned out to be “class 4” with exposure.

Several trip reports indicated a 4×4 vehicle was needed to drive to the actual trail-head whereas a 2WD car could make to as far as the village of Carricitos about 4.5 km from the trail-head. Our rental car did not have 4×4, but did have a reasonably high clearance so it’s hard to say where we would end up parking at. To give us enough contingency we had to plan as if we needed to park in Carricitos. The forecast for this day was nuclear hot with the afternoon temperature approaching 30 degrees, so we were forced to wake up early again. I set the alarm at 4:45 am and by 5:30 am we were on the road. The driving wasn’t difficult in the dark but required extreme caution as speed bumps and gigantic pot-holes coming out of nowhere are nothing but “norm” in Mexico’s highways. We had to drive about 10 km of dirt roads to get to Carricitos and the condition was bumpy but not too bad. The final 4.5 km beyond Carricitos was the real unknown and the strategy was to only solve the problems immediately ahead. There were a few rough sections but no real show-stopper. The road became bushy at places so I made sure to drive at a snail’s pace to not put pin-stripes onto the rental vehicle. The conclusion was that we managed to drive all the way to the trail-head and that was quite a pleasant surprise. We got there right in time for the sunrise and the towers were extremely daunting but beautiful.

Cerro La Aguja Grande and Chiquita from the drive-in
Cerro La Aguja Grande would be our first objective
Cerro La Aguja Chiquita and its overhanging east face
Cerro Gordo in the distance, the tallest summit in this group
Picachos El Fraile behind us in the far distance.
Elise and our rental vehicle. This was shaping to become another awesome day..
Another photo of Elise in our rental vehicle
The Agujas (Needles in English) from the parking lot
La Aguja Grande and Chiquita scramble route. GPX DL

Given that we had driven to the trail-head we thought this day would turn out to be “nothing” but we were wrong. There’s still fair amount of work needed to ascend these peaks, especially under the toasty sun. The day’s already becoming hot as we stepped out of the vehicle. The first stage was by following the old road and then the unmaintained trail to the saddle between Aguja Grande (big needle) and Aguja Chiquita (tiny needle). This stage was rather no-brainer but we did have to pay attention to the thorny plants. We decided to scramble the big needle first as that’s the main objective. The route did not look straightforward nor did we really have a clue of what exactly to expect, but by breaking the daunting task into pieces I knew there must be a way. The GPX track directed us upwards into a shallow gully relatively free of the bushes and we utilized that to ascend to the base of the imposing cliffs. The only way now was to traverse climber’s right (north) and break those cliffs one by one. The route was actually quite obvious with paths and cairns but it’s nearly impossible to avoid the thorny cacti. There were also several class 3 sections with moderate exposure to top out onto the NW Ridge.

There were thorny plants everywhere.
Me starting the ascent following the old road
Looking back we could see more rugged towers in the foreground
Elise with Co. La Aguja Grande
The east face of Co. La Aguja Grande
Elise plodding to the saddle between Aguja Grande and Aguja Chiquita
Elise with the west face of Co. La Aguja Chiquita behind
Me ascending the shallow gully straight up
Ascending to the base of the shear cliffs
Our first glimpse of views towards north towards Cerro de la Popa
Looking back while traversing under the east face of Aguja Grande
Elise picking her path trying to avoid the cacti…
The scrambling started somewhere here..
The terrain was loose and somewhat exposed
A taste of the terrain on the lower face.
A series of traverses and a series of steps
Onto the NW Ridge now, looking across to the other side

Up to this point I would describe this route as “ugly” or “painful” with hardly anything worth to recommend, but the real fun part is the NW Ridge. There was no more bushwhacking needed and the scrambling would soon become class 4 with lethal exposure. We traversed a narrow ledge into a gully feature on climber’s right of the ridge and climbed a series of stiff class 4 steps. Near the top of this gully we had two top-out options. The easier option appeared bushy so we climbed a vertical chimney on climber’s right with at least one or two harder moves. This was followed by some exposed class 2+ ridge scrambling to reach the false summit.

Me negotiating one of the few tricky steps on the ledge
Elise starting the uber exposed ledge traverse
Pulling up a stiff 4th class step with lethal exposure
Elise checking out the exposure…
We then climbed this vertical chimney to exit the gully
Onto the upper NW Ridge leading towards the false summit
Elise balancing on boulders. There’s fair amount of boulder-hopping
Me staring at the true summit from the false summit

The true summit appeared daunting but turned out to be fairly trivial. After the down-climb into the true/false saddle we scrambled the “nose step” on the connecting ridge head-on. The step appeared technical from afar, but was actually not even in the realm of class 4. The rest of the scrambling to the summit went without event and there’s a huge sense of accomplishment for reaching an obscured semi-technical desert tower. This climb proved once gain that the harder peaks in the deserts are usually not the prominent “sky islands” but rather the seemingly lowly towers.

Down-scrambling from the false summit
Elise attacking the “nose step” on the true summit
More exposed ridge scramble leading to the true summit
Me on the true summit of Aguja Grande inspecting the views
Summit Panorama from Cerro La Aguja Grande. Click to view large size.
Picachos El Fraile in the distance. We climbed it the day prior.
Co. La Aguja Chiquita and Co. Gordo in the foreground
This is a southern view into layers and layers of limestone peaks
The ranges and valleys around form some bizarre circular pattern
Elise soaking in the views
Me on the summit of Cerro La Aguja Grande
Elise on the summit of Cerro La Aguja Grande
Elise and I celebrating the success of this obscured desert tower.
Our mandatory selfie shot on the summit

After spending about half an hour on the summit we leisurely started the descent. There wasn’t really much worth noting asides we tried our best to reverse what exactly we did on the ascent, including some variations. The down-climbing wasn’t as sketchy as I thought and I did not end up needing to use the rock shoes that I had also brought for this trip. I simply down-climbed everything in the trail runners and I never felt uncomfortable. Avoiding the cacti was even more impossible on the descent and we both got stabbed multiple times. The “tiny needle”, Cerro La Aguja Chiquita no longer appears dramatic from the saddle but we had agreed to ascend both peaks so we must carry on.

Elise down-climbing that “nose step”
Traversing across the saddle between the true and false summits
Elise now re-ascending the false summit
Scrambling down the lower portion of NW Ridge
Down into the gully and the ledge traverse now
Me down-climbing one of the exposed steps
This step was really awkward and exposed
A zoomed-out picture of the ledge into the gully
Down-climbing 3rd class ledges and steps with cactus…
Finally off the hands-on terrain
Picachos El Fraile across the east face of Cerro La Aguja Grande
We were almost back to the Grande/Chiquita saddle