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Val Zephyr

[TR] Christmas in El Potrero Chico: Mexico - 12/25/2011

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Trip: Christmas in El Potrero Chico: Mexico -


Date: 12/25/2011


Trip Report:

“You know that Road-runner cartoon, where Wiley Coyote tries to jackhammer off the end of the cliff with the road-runner standing there, but instead the end of the cliff stays and the rest of the world falls away? That is what I think of when I think of Potrero Chico; a small oasis when the surrounding world is falling apart.” (cerveza inspired quote adapted from a Potrero climber, Allen of Michigan)


After Joshua Tree, I flew from San Diego to Houston and met up with Nathan for a horrendous overnight stay in the Houston airport. I’ve made this mistake many times and will probably make it a few more. We survived though and caught a morning flight out to Monterrey, Mexico. I had booked a room for one week at the Posada in Potrero Chico a couple months prior to the trip for $200 USD and a cab straight from the airport to our room for $46 USD. After these two expenses, the rest of the trip really only cost a few bucks.


We had arrived on a Tuesday, so we hit up the street market in the nearby town of Hidalgo (Tuesdays and Fridays). Here you can stock up on fruit, veggies and eggs for cheap. There is a supermarket in town too, but the street market is fun and we bought most of our food for the entire week for just 200 pesos (~$14 USD). That included one avocado for each day of the trip! We began to discover that getting into and out of Hidalgo (~2 mile hike each way) is a pain, but at least ½ the time someone will offer you a ride along the boring “never-ending-sidewalk”.


The Posada is set-up with small rooms, a larger cottage which would be great for a small group of friends, and tons of camping. Campers have access to a shared bathroom, shower, kitchen and laundry. Quite a few people had come to stay for a few weeks to a month here for only a few bucks a day. There is also a restaurant operated by the Posada where one can have a full dinner, or just grab a liter-sized margarita (these are delicious!), beer or wine to have while you cook your own dinner in the shared kitchen. The water in the rest of the area is not suitable for drinking (even just 2 miles away), but is safe at El Potrero Chico. This place really is an oasis.


The crags are just out your doorstep!



Ok, on to the climbing! All of the climbing is less than a 30 minute walk from the Posada, most is just 10 minutes away! Nathan and I single-pitch cragged on our first afternoon there at Scrutinizer Wall. I figured that I’d need time to get used to the rock there (I’ve never climbed on limestone before), but I immediately found that I was very comfortable on this rock. There’s great little positive holds, usually a jug to clip from and tons of friction. Because of this, everything felt easier than the ratings would lead you to believe and I was surprised at how willing I was to make bigger moves while a few feet above a bolt. Everything that I climbed was very well bolted, the 5.8-9 range usually had about 10-12’ spacing with perfect clipping stances, never felt like I might accidently come off. The 5.10 and up range often had bolts as close as 5’ apart. This was the safest feeling place that I have ever climbed. I also found some great 5.8-5.10b routes in the Virgin Canyon. I’d recommend this spot for a relaxed day of cragging.


Cragging in the Virgin Canyon



Many of the routes have name tags!



I wasn’t necessarily there to relax though. I wanted to get on some of the many multipitch sport climbs that this place offers. We wandered up to a four pitch 5.10a climb our second day, “Will the Wolf Survive?” in Los lobos canyon. When we arrived at the base I discovered that Nathan might be a more reasonable person that I and was not interested in exposure and hanging belays. To each their own. Excited to get on my first multipitch of the trip, I ran into a team of two from Texas (Heath and Josh). I gave them my spiel about climbing for 12 years, multipitch trad, lead 5.10…. blah blah blah, they still seemed hesitant. Then I blurted out that I was a photographer and could photograph their climb… I take good photos (mostly ‘cause I visit beautiful places), but I’m not a photographer! I think that I meant to say something more like I could offer to be their photographer. They saw right through that but did let me climb with them. Thanks guys! I did set my new camera to RAW and hoped that photoshop (with the help of Jason K’s lecture on photo editing) could get some mileage out of whatever photos I managed to shoot on this climb. The climb was sweet. Face-climbing, crack-climbing, then a final “short, but intimidating” airy 5.10a. I may have lied about my photo skills, but was at least useful in leading this short pitch. Charles and Allen (who I’d later meet) got a few good pics of the final crux moves while descending La Estrellita.


Palm Trees growing everywhere, one here is from “Will the Wolf Survive?”



Crux pitch of Will the Wolf Survive? Loved it!



Heath topping out on Will the Wolf Survive? (At least I got one nice photo of this guy)



I had a taste of multipitch here and I was hooked. I wanted more! Heath introduced me to Sonya that night. She had just arrived from Nashville, Tennessee and was as eager as I to get on the rock. I’d usually suggest an easier day for having just met someone, but we were about to be shut out from multipitch due to weather for the next couple of days. Luckily, she introduced herself as a multipitch trad climber, and I didn’t feel like I needed to ask much more. We decided on the classic 12 pitch 5.11a, La Estrellita for the next day. We were on the rock at around 8:30am and moved fast. We strung together pitches and swung leads. Even with a minor rope snag on the rappels (that required me to test the roots of a palm tree in limestone more than I ever wanted to) we were back at our packs by 2pm. With so much time to spare, we set our sights on the nearby Super Nova, an 8 pitch 5.11a. The climbing was a little more slippery than Estrellita, but the position at the back of the canyon could not be beat. Music from the cars of locals that come to the crags to hang out in the afternoons echoed up the canyon: surreal. We linked pitches there too and were down by 6pm. 20 pitches, two big climbs and one of the best climbing days ever!


Belay Station on La Estrellita



High on La Estrellita



Single Palm tree on the summit of La Estellita



First pitch of Super Nova



Rappelling Super Nova



Nathan and I relaxed over the next couple of days. I cragged a little each day. We wandered around some. Honestly, there really isn’t anything to do here but climb. But as long as you are a climber, this is paradise. During our wanderings, we watched some silliness unfold on the Spires. A group was dead set that they were going to slackline between the Spires. Several of them ascended the spires on all sides, a major engineering project unfolded up there (luckily at least a couple of them were engineers). Wind and weather thwarted their efforts on the first day. They returned two days later and after an entire morning of work, they had erected a slackline. We waited for the perfect photo: a slack-liner silhouette between the spires. Unfortunately, I never got that shot. As it turned out, slacklining at such great heights must be terrifying. “In all of my 4 years of slacklining, I have never been this shaky” one said. “Just look at a point ahead of you”, another advised. “I always choose the ground to look at!” It was great entertainment for our off day at least. Thanks again guys!


Hanging out by the Spires



Christmas Day Silliness, the slackline is completed!



But our slackliners “forgot” how to slackline and do some tyrolean traverses instead



The trip was now quickly (too quickly!) coming to an end. I wanted one more good multipitch. I teamed up with Sonya again for the popular 11 pitch 5.10d, Space Boyz. Though this line had an easier crux than our other two routes, the line was steeper and more sustained. Many of the belays were of the hanging variety and the exposure was sweet! The route is reportedly a little loose at the top. This is in fact true (though loose here is still fairly solid compared to a lot of what I’ve seen in the Cascades). You can see remnants of some of the major rockfall events by the holes in the structure below. They may have built this resort a little too close to the rock… We began early while it was still cold to avoid the crowds that always swarm this route. Still, a party of three had beaten us to it and clipped a backpack to the first bolt to “claim” the route (a common occurrence at El Potrero Chico). It was a minor annoyance, but I managed to get under their pack to clip the bolt and was on belay. They were on the third pitch when we began, by the top of the fourth, we had caught up to them. It was two inexperienced folks and their guide friend dragging them up this mega classic. We spoke with the clients, one was fine with us passing, the other was absolutely freaked out by the idea of potential rock fall. We found ourselves in a rather strange situation; in the past the obviously slower party has always offered to step aside (I’ve always done this when I was the slower one too), but this didn’t seem to be the case here.. what do you do? We were sitting at a hanging belay while these people were being jugged up a 5.10a by their guide friend with the crux pitches still ahead. We finally ignored the scared climber and spoke with her guide friend ahead. “We are happy to wait until you have a good ledge to sit on, but then we’d like to pass”. He agreed to this (the frightened climber still protested otherwise). Unfortunately the ledge he picked for us to pass was between the 5.10d and 5.10c crux pitches. He offered that we could link these two and pass them. Sonya is a rock star and agreed to this in order to get us through. This meant leading a sustained 5.10c with a fuck ton of rope drag, and we began our own small shit show on this crag. Sonya led through the 5.10d traverse with ease and began up the 5.10c corner. With nearly 60 meters of rope out the weight and drag became too much and I heard a distinct “falling!” I’m pretty sure that she went a ways with the stretch of the 60m of rope and zig-zagging that was going on. She got back on and finished the pitch. I was up to follow and then we’d break free of the crowd. The first part of this now 60 meter pitch required me to unclip a draw and then traverse around a roof. “Don’t fall here or you’ll be screwed”, I knew. I fell. Damn. There’s a lot of stretch in 60 meters and a blank wall now in front of me. I clawed my way up it somehow with Sonya taking up any slack that I could generate. We were free. To ease the mind of the frightened climber now below, we agreed to wait until all of us had topped out to begin rappelling the route. A fair trade we thought. We’d much rather wait for them at the summit than behind them in hanging belays. We got back to speed again. Three more pitches flew by before the climbers had gotten up their next pitch. We were very happy to have been allowed to pass. We were out of sight before the clients were even visible at the top of that same 5.10c pitch. We reached the summit and sat there as promised. An hour and a half, maybe two went by. Geez, they were pretty damn slow, but seriously guys, WTF. I got set up with Obadiah’s holster method to rappel, avoiding surprising them by throwing the ropes. We rappelled one pitch. We still didn’t have a clear view. Sonya carefully rappelled another pitch. Some shouts rose back up to me, “they bailed!” “Their pack is even gone!” This meant that they bailed quite some time ago! They knew that we agreed to wait at the top, but didn’t even bother to shout up to us or indicate their possible intention to bail when they had a chance. Wow, what jerks! In the end this was a cool route, and we had a great time, so we aren’t going to remember this part as much as the cool exposure, sustained climbing and great teamwork we had that day. I’m mentioning all of this just because it is part of the story. It is also an interesting dilemma that I had that day that I’ve never had to deal with in the past. How nice is too nice on the crags? When do you just be assertive and pass the slow party? Should we even have agreed to wait at the summit, delaying our own descent by two hours just to be nice? I hope I don’t end up in a similar situation any time soon, but I likely will and I’m curious to know what I’d do next time.


Nathan kindly waited at the bottom of the route with chocolates and beer for Sonya and I. Unfortunately for us, we were late and Nathan drank our liter of beer. Beer is a great present for this reason. He found the beer there rather hydrating. In fact, when he was too lazy to boil water at the end of the trip (I drank it, Nathan did not), he just got a few extra beers.


Space Boyz is 11 pitches straight up to that point left of center in the photo:



Summit of Space Boyz



Rappelling Space Boyz; notice the holes from rockfall in the building below



Our final night there, Nathan and I finally found a non-climbing activity in Potrero Chico: caving! There is a bouldering cave about 20 minutes away. It is not a pristine cave by any stretch, but if you look into the smaller passageways in the back of the cave or on the ceiling in places that are out of reach it was actually a well-decorated cave. We found stalactites, stalagmites, columns, bacon, cauliflower, and soda straws, and popcorn! Huh, cave talk is a lot like ski talk: all about food. 2179994460101779210S600x600Q85.jpg







We were only at Potrero Chico for 7 days. I was fortunate enough to get up some fantastic lines. Even better, I left dozens more lines undone (by me at least) and there are more being put up all the time. This place is already HUGE and they say that it is only 3% developed so far. Anyone who is a climber has to check this place out sometime. Don’t miss it!

Edited by Val Zephyr

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Still, a party of three had beaten us to it and clipped a backpack to the first bolt to “claim” the route (a common occurrence at El Potrero Chico).

i suspect it has more to do with not wanting their shit to walk away on them while climbing than claiming routes. nice tr.

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Still, a party of three had beaten us to it and clipped a backpack to the first bolt to “claim” the route (a common occurrence at El Potrero Chico).

i suspect it has more to do with not wanting their shit to walk away on them while climbing than claiming routes. nice tr.


Thanks! Yes, you're right. My guide book said that people commonly hang packs to both avoid local kids from running off with there stuff (luckily I never heard of this happening to anyone while I was there) and to let people know that there are climbers above on the route. It also might warn people to wear helmets as there are obviously people above them and (though I only knocked one rock on the entire trip) there has been some rockfall here......



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