Preserving Mexico’s History of Climbing: Interview With the Makers of Sueños de Altura

Mexico has a rich climbing history that dates back to the 1940s.

For various reasons, the origin stories of the sport hasn’t been well documented, and unfortunately, many of the pioneers are moving on to eternal multi-pitch pastures, taking with them the tales of the past.

Thanks to Rebeca Zuñiga and Jhasuá Medina, documentary filmmakers and climbers, la historia is being preserved in Sueños de Altura (High Dreams).

The duo behind Pez Leon Docs worked their way backwards in creating the first long-form documentary about the history of climbing in Mexico. For the past few years, they’ve been dirtbagging around the country filming contemporary climbing feats. While interviewing veterans in each locale, they slowly began to uncover the long past and intrigue of earlier generations.

The documentary is expected to be finished by the end of the year (2020). Read on to learn more about their project, and if you want to support the final production, consider contributing through their online shop.

Please note, I translated Rebeca and Jhasuá’s responses from Spanish to English using my rudimentary understanding of the language, translation tools, and ultimately, a review from my friend, Daniel, a budding professional translator (i.e., please excuse any errors). Where it made sense, I altered the responses for readability.

“This is one the first climbing books written in Spanish (1948) and It became the basis of the knowledge for Many Mexican Climbers.” Photo courtesy of Pez Leon Docs


Aaron: What inspired you to start creating documentaries about climbing in Mexico? 

Rebeca Zuñiga y Jhasuá Medina (in Spanish): Nosotros estábamos muy inspirados por la escalada por que además de ser un increíble deporte que te permite explorar tus límites y enfrentarte a ellos, te motiva a viajar otros lugares, a explorar otras fronteras y a descubrir lo inimaginable; aunado a esto y en nuestros viajes encontrábamos en México un paraíso de roca con mucha historia y muchas generaciones que dejaron un gran legado en todas sus rocas.

Y así fue como empezamos a atraer este pensamiento a nuestras vidas y asi fue como llegó Sueños de Altura.

English (EN): We were very inspired by climbing because as well as being an incredible sport that allows you to explore your limits and confront them, it motivates you to travel to other places and explore other frontiers and to discover the unimaginable; coupled with this and in our travels we found a paradise of rock in Mexico with a lot of history and many generations that left a great legacy in all the rocks.

And so it was that we began having these thoughts and from them, Sueños de Altura came to be.

Rebeca and Jhasuá. Photo courtesy of Pez Leon Docs


What is your background? Have you always done creative work?

Jhasuá:  Soy originario de Colombia y desde muy joven la escalada ha sido un pilar importante para mi vida, estudié geografía pensando que sería la mejor herramienta para la exploración y más tarde estudié fotografía y cine para poder contar esas historias de alturas, y de lugares remotos que era lo que realmente me interesaba. Desde entonces he realizado diversas producciones de cortometrajes en documental y ficción buscando siempre aportar una mirada distinta pero que a su vez permita entrar en esos mundos que solo pocos pueden alcanzar.

EN: I am originally from Colombia and since I was young climbing has been an important pillar for my life. I studied geography thinking that it would be the best tool for exploration, and then later I studied photography and film in order to be able to tell the stories of the heights and of remote places that were what really interested me. Since then I have made several productions, including documentaries and fictional short films, looking always to provide a distinct look while allowing the viewer entrance into these worlds that only a few ever reach.

Rebeca : Yo vengo de otra rama, la Administrativa-Contable. Entonces para mí ha sido un gran reto entrar en este mundo pero a su vez mi experiencia ha permitido que este documental crezca pues desde la producción estos proyectos se convierten en grandes empresas.

En muchos sentidos el documenta ha cambiado mi estilo de vida desde que empecé soñar.

EN: I come from another branch (of industry). The administrative and accounting [side of things].

So for me, it’s been a great challenge to enter into this world, but in turn my experience has allowed for this documentary to grow since producing these projects turns into huge undertakings.

In many ways, the documentary has changed my lifestyle [because] since [then] I [have] started to dream.

Rebeca and Jhasuá in Africa: “Thanks to ‘Por La Tierra Originaria’, we could get to know natural beauties and incredible people.” Photo courtesy of Pez Leon Docs


How did you get into climbing? What do you like about the sport? 

Jhasuá: Yo empecé desde muy joven en los gyms de escalada donde aprendí lo técnico, pero solo hasta que vives una gran aventura en una lejana montaña y sólo dependes de ti para sobrevivir es cuando de lo más profundo aflora el espíritu guerrero de lucha y de sacar (sic) todo lo que traes para poder seguir habitando estos mundos verticales, es ahí cuando todo cambia y pasa de ser la escalada un deporte, a convertirse en una filosofía de vida, en una religión.

EN: I started very young in the climbing gyms which is where I learned the technique. But, it’s only until you live a big adventure in a distant mountain and depend on yourself in order to survive; when from the depths of your being a warrior spirit rises up and brings out everything you carry within in order to continue living those vertical worlds.

It’s there that everything changes and the climbing passes from a sport to a philosophy of life, into a religion. 

Rebeca: Cuando empecé a escalar empecé a verlo solo como un deporte que me hacía bien. Me costó mucho trabajo entender los movimientos, agarrar fuerza y domina las maniobras con la cuerda pero conforme fue pasando el tiempo y mediante el documental ahora la escalada se ha vuelto el eje principal de mi vida.

EN: When I started to climb I began by seeing it only as a sport that was good for me. It took a lot of work to learn the movements, to get stronger and to master the maneuvers with the rope. But as time went on and through the documentary, climbing has become the principal axis of my life. 

What motivates you, in life and climbing?

Jhasuá: La exploración, la aventura, y el poder descubrir lugares remotos son mi mayor motivación, por ende los deportes outdoor son los canales para internarme en la naturaleza desde las profundas cuevas a las altas paredes roca, son canales de percepción que se abren y te conectan con lo esencial y majestuoso de la naturaleza.

EN: The exploration, the adventure, and to be able to discover remote places are my biggest motivations. Consequently, outdoor sports are my avenues for getting deep into nature, from the deep caves to the high rock walls; they are channels of perception that open and connect you with the essential, with the majestic side of nature.

Rebeca: Ahora estoy muy  motivada con el documental sueños de altura se cumpla y viaje a muchos lados y a mí me encantaría poder viajar y escalar mucho (sic).

EN: Now, I am very motivated by the documentary, Sueños de Altura, to travel to many other places. I’d love to be able to travel and climb a lot. 

“Here in Peñoles in December 2018 with Bruno García, José Hernández and Balta.” Photo courtesy of Pez Leon Docs


How did the idea for Sueños De Altura come about?

(It looks like it may have started in 2017, following Ricardo y Bruno García, in establishing the FA of Lujuria (Lust), 5.14d?)

Empezamos con un proyecto que traían Ricardo y bruno y los seguimos en su caravana Escalando México, empezamos a entrevistar a personajes de las áreas de escalada que visitábamos, fue ahí que nos dimos.

Cuenta que había muchas historias que merecían ser contadas y muchas se estaban perdiendo tras la muerte de algunos pioneros de la escalada en México.

EN: We began with a project that Ricardo and Bruno brought [to us], and we followed them climbing around México in a camper van. We started to interview people in each climbing area that we visited, it was here that we realized that there were a lot of stories that deserved to be told and many of them were being lost when some of the pioneers of climbing in México were passing.

What have been some unexpected things you’ve learned since the project began?

Durante el rodaje de este documental no teníamos una línea precisa que seguir pues no existía una investigación contundente al respecto. La búsqueda nos fue llevando desde un personaje a otro  y poco a poco fue agarrando forma la historia. Este proyecto se ha convertido en una gran escuela con grandes maestros para nosotros.

EN: During the shooting of the documentary, we didn’t have a precise line that we followed because concrete research, past investigations, didn’t really exist. The search was taking us from this person to that, and a little by little the story took form.

“36 years ago German Wing followed his dreams and travelled from Mexico City to Yosemite Valley California, a Mecca of rock climbing.” Photo courtesy of Pez Leon Docs


What has been the reception from climbers in Mexico when they learn about the project?

Sentimos que hay mucha expectativa al respecto ya que estamos abarcando muchos personajes de diferentes generaciones y regiones del país, que en conjunto forman una gran historia que estamos seguros les va a encantar.

EN: We feel that there are a lot of expectations in this respect because we are covering a lot of people from different generations and regions in the country, and collectively they form a great story that we are sure they are going to love. 

How has climbing in Mexico grown over the past 5, 10, 20+ years?

La escalada en México ha crecido mucho en los últimos años, pero en sus inicios tuvo muchos cambios y transformación que la fueron consolidando como el gran deporte que hoy en día es.

EN: Climbing in Mexico has grown a lot in the last few years. Since its beginning it has changed a lot and transformed, consolidating into the great sport that it is today. 

How can readers of this article help the project?

Tenemos una tienda en línea. De artículos que nuestros patrocinadores donaron al proyecto los cuales estamos vendiendo 

También nos encantaría que los lectores pudieran seguir nuestras Redes  @suenosdealturadocumentary y que compartan el proyecto con sus amigos pues vale mucho la pena, ya que en la historia se encuentran nuestros orígenes y la raíz misma de este gran viaje.

EN: We have an online-store. We are selling items that our sponsors have donated to the project. Money raised goes towards funding the project. 

We’d also love if the readers followed us on instagram at @suenosdealturadocumentary, and that they share the project with their friends because it is worth it, since our origins and the very root of this great journey are part of this story [that we all share].

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