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El Potrero Chico con Miguel - 2002

The logistics of the trip are pretty well covered in the other reports on Dawn's site, so I won't dwell on it. The short story is, I went to the Potrero with great plans, accomplished only a small fraction of those, and had a great time in the process. The climbing is heady, more so than I expected for a "sport" area, mostly because of the rock quality which tends to vary a lot between climbs. Generally, the higher one goes, the looser it gets. You must wear a helmet at all times.

I got a great workout for my footwork, as well as for my lead head with all the suboptimal clipping stances encountered. I'm definitely going back. Some of the details follow.

Sat 1/19. We got to the Potrero very smoothly. We had a pretty tight connection in Houston, so I was quite anxious about our bags getting delayed, but once the last bag emerged on the belt at Monterrey airport, I was already feeling great. Getting there was a full service experience, the taxi companies are familiar with Hidalgo, and between Miguel's fluent Spanish and the directions printed off the website there wasn't much left to chance. We even ended up listening to the Bears game on the radio (in Spanish). The campground ran by Kurt Smith continued the full service theme, the sites are very nicely laid out and the gravel they have for the actual tent spots makes a big difference. The common area has everything -- showers, boxes for food, stoves + dishes, couches, stereo, etc. -- .

Miguel and I walked around, checking out the canyon and the various walls, getting psyched for the next day.

Sun 1/20. We climbed one pitch stuff on Mota Wall. There was some loose rock, and the bolts were a bit high off the ground in a couple of places. Tomas, who works at Kurt's, climbed with us, and showed us some of the easier routes.

  • Abuelito Dime Tu (5.8)
  • La Vaca (5.9 R **) -- very high first bolt, didn't lead this one
  • Sleepwalkin (5.9 *) -- some sketchy moves at the end
  • I Believe I Can Fly (5.7) -- big scary flake at the end
  • Emilio's Pose (5.9 *)

Mon 1/21. We head out to Buzz Rock, home of moderate routes on a well cleaned, solid slab, which is in the shade in the afternoon. Climbing there is quite uniform, slab moves with big pockets. Good intro to the area. (Mota Wall is more varied, we climbed a couple of corners there in addition to the face stuff). The approach is shorter than to the main canyon, but uphill. I jump on the rightmost route, which is 5.8, and has a rather awkward second clip. Next, I blow the onsight of the next climb (5.9), when I fail to believe in a small crimp required between two big pockets, so I downclimb a couple of moves, rest on the bolt, and then make the move and the rest of the climb. We keep moving left, but in between the unseasonably hot weather and both Miguel and I trying to lead every climb, we run out of steam sooner than expected.

  • Babylon Sister (5.8)
  • Green Flower Street (5.9 *)
  • Graphite and Glitter (5.9 *)
  • Day Hay Zoose (5.9*)

Lord of the Rings, the Potrero version. South Side of the canyon viewed from Buzz Rock.

Tue 1/22. Market day. We see a couple of guys from the campground, one of whom looks really familliar. His friend has a Canadian flag on his pack, and that is a givaway. Turns out I had met Aaron last year, and hooked up with him for a great day of climbing at Squamish. Miguel declines to climb in the afternoon, but I drag him out to the Mini Super Wall, where I lead the start of Leftover Man (5.9* PG/R) , but veer left to finish on the neighboring 5.7 corner when my feet start sliding in my slippers. The first clipping stance on the 5.9 is pretty high and rather dicey for my taste (blue alien below would solve the problem, but green was the smallest piece I had). Maybe I just don't see it ... I get to appreciate the 5.9 on toprope, and find out the awkward, balancy start is followed by some really nice moves on positive holds.

Wed 1/23. Planned for a big day. Miguel is going for his first multi-pitch climb. My original ambitions called for climbing the entire Estrellita (5.10b) . I was even ready to lead every pitch on it, but we haven't been that fast so far and the guidebook shows 3 pitches of 5.10 on the top portion. Miguel has given up on leading anything for the moment, and although I now have a better feel for the rock, it seems like a big jump for me. My sport climbing "resume" has one 5.9+ and one 5.10a on-sight on it, and I am hesitant to push the limit.

I compromise, and we go for the first 4 pitches of the route, with the goal of adding more pitches on other short routes later in the day. The first three pitches go pretty fast, although there is some loose stuff on pitch 2 that didn't do wonders for my confidence. This was right before I climbed on the side of a giant flake (which is stable, fortunately). Miguel finds the 3d pitch ramp rather exposed and asks if we can rap off. By now, I am very much into the climb, and the answer is NO, NO and NO. A nice overhanging finger crack beckons above. That's obviously not the 5.8 4th pitch, but it has 3 bolts and some obvious gear placements in the short power section, so I go for it. I get there, and after clipping the first bolt I give up on freeing it. I french free most of the section on bolts and gear, and step into a sling to make the last clip. The sequence is comitting and exhilerating, so when I top out I am 100% dialed in and really, really, want to go to the top. However, we don't have our walking shoes, and Miguel wants off, so we rappel down the Mojo slab (alternate start to the Estrellita). Later, inspecting Magic Ed's guidebook reveals the 4th pitch variation to be 5.11a.

These 2 raps are really down a bowling alley, where you are the pins. Actually you are the pins, standing in the gutter ... Lucky for us, we didn't pull any rocks off, when pulling the rope down.


Miguel pronounces himself done for the day ... and really wants to have lunch. All we manage to do after that is trudge up to Buzz Rock again, and do the first pitch of The Fez (5.9 **) , which I find to be one of my favorite pitches of the trip. Lunch has absorbed all my adrenaline from the Estrellita, and I find myself pretty tired. When Miguel asks to rap off again, I agree.

Thu 1/24. Miguel is taking a half day off, but fortunately I hook up with Aaron. His buddy Simon is nursing a sprained ankle, so off we go. It has been unseasonably warm, hot even, so we take to the shade of the Virgin Wall, which also has some of the cleaner rock at the Potrero. I finally have a rope gun so after leading the first two climbs, I take advantage. Aaron wants to tick some harder stuff, which he does with no problem. I lose the footwork on the 5.11a, and instead try a couple of laybacks, and blow it. The 5.10d is no problem on top-rope.

  • Gracias Mi Amor (5.7)
  • Mr. Patacca (5.9+ *)
  • Sancho Panza (5.11a *) -- need a piece at start, as per guidebook
  • Trouble at Border (5.10d *) -- also easier with gear at start, tricams

Aaron wants to go back early, and Miguel never shows up. But I have brought a truly excellent book with me, and really get into the relaxing atmosphere at the campground. Apparently it gets quite crowded over the holidays, but right now there are only a few people around, the weather is nice and hot, and the siesta is super.

Fri 1/25. Space Boyz (5.10d) is open, and we are going to do the first 4 pitches. The first two aren't very hard, but bolted a little sparingly. Miguel refuses to carry the big pack past the first bolt, and leaves the little pack with some food and the camera at the first belay. I call this to his attention, but he won't downclimb or be lowered back 10 feet back to the belay. No matter, my attention is now on the 3d pitch, rated 5.9+, and bolted generously. It keeps on going for a while on lots of fairly small holds, with some insecure clips as a consequence, but it is a lot of fun. Miguel follows, and asks to rap off. The combination of exposure and loose rock is getting to him, but I insist we do the next pitch as planned. I start to regret this half way up the next lead when I run into some big loose stuff, but the difficulties ease and I can climb around the bad blocks (from what we heard, the last pitch on Space Boyz is much, much worse than this one). The top of pitch 4 has a really nice platform where we enjoy the view. It feels like we have climbed a lot higher than 120m, so we set up the double rope rappel. At the top of pitch 3, it looks like I can reach the next station, so I continue, and barely make it by stretching to clip my daisy chain in the left most bolt of the anchor. We make the next rap, and when I am about to make the last rope throw we notice a soloist starting up the climb. Seems like an odd time to start a free solo, so perhaps he is only planning to climb to the first bolt (i.e. our backpack). I conjure up visions of throwing various things down at him, and Miguel more diplomatically yells down that rockfall is likely from our ledge. The guy climbs down and hangs out by the pavillion for a bit, and then clears out before I complete the rap. A rather weird sequence.

Two extra credit trips to the first bolt are required, as first I forget to untie the knot at the end of the rope, and then as the rope gets caught for real in a tree. We pack everything up, and savor our experience. Miguel is done for the day, and turns out for the trip, but I beg another belay off him at the Mini Super Wall, on Hey Buddy, You Gonna Eat That (5.8) , which looks like it is super well bolted. As I approach the anchors, I can't see the last bolt, and decide the FA party, namely Mr. Smith, played a bad joke on the likes of me, by peppering the lower part with bolts but leaving a runout to the anchors. The last bolt does come into view, however, and all is well.

Sat 1/26. Miguel doesn't climb, again, and stays at the campground after Aaron decides on a rest day, so Simon and I decide to hook up. We head to Los Lobos canyon. The sunny side of the canyon has a couple of really nice routes, which are sustained and rather sandbagged for the Potrero (i.e. normal grades for everywhere else). Simon is quite the rope gun, and this day I drop all pretense and skip leading altogether.

  • Whistle and Fish (5.9)
  • Fish and Clips (5.10b *)
  • Manboy Joins the Revolution (5.10a **)
  • Emiliano Zapata (5.10c **)

In conclusion. The Potrero is a very convenient place to climb, and in late January did not appear very crowded. Even with the bolts, the longer routes have an alpine character to them. I wasn't very comfortable pushing my limit, and I was often going very slowly, testing holds and weighing them just right way. But there is a ton of climbing to do at 5.9 and up.

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