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Potrero Chico con Merrick - 2003

This is one of my best trips ever. I had been pushing to go back to Mexico, and Merrick was available. Merrick had been on the road, climbing at various areas for about six months at the time, he is still on the road now. See his web site. Both of us were relatively strong and quite motivated, so we climbed every day and completed most of the long routes on the tick list. Afterwards, Merrick went back for another two weeks or so. He is now a huge Potrero fan.

We met up in Austin, and started driving out towards Monterrey at 4 AM. We made good time to the border, managed to take the wrong lane at the crossing, and had to go through a full Mexican customs inspection ... After that, We almost ran out of cash, and spent our last pesos on the Tollway around Monterey. When all was said and done, we got to the campground, hiked in to the crag, and started climbing at Buzz Rock by 4 PM. 5 pitches later, it got dark. An auspicious start. At dinner that night we heard a pretty wild story about a couple of climbers that were simulclimbing on Timewave Zero, a very long new route. Apparently the leader fell and pulled off a man size block which hit the wall below and split in two pieces that went by on either side of the second. The loose rock is one of the few drawbacks of climbing in the Potrero, especially on the longer routes.

Next day we started late at the Mota Wall. I was feeling comfortable on 5.9, so we crossed the road, and got on Jungle Mountaineering. The first lead is mine, it is way scary up to the first bolt, up at least 25ft with a couple of non-trivial unprotected moves up high. I get rattled, and higher up the pitch I try the slabby crux move several times, but will not to commit to it. Finally, I yank on the draw and pull through. We swap leads for two more pitches, and then Merrick leads the last pitch (10a) but it is getting late, so I pass.

The Estrellita ridge is next. We are psyched to go for our first long climb together. Merrick and I have known each other for a couple of years, from the Chicago climbing gym we used to frequent, and work at. We've climbed together at the Red River Gorge, and at the Gunks on a couple of occasions. We also did two of the multi-pitch moderates (Olive Oil and Tunnel Vision) at Red Rocks a few weeks ago -- together with Brian. But we have not yet been together on anything as long as the routes at the Potrero. The morning is cool as we walk up the ramp to the base of the climb and rack up. We are psyched to get going.

Merrick is by far the stronger climber between us. Our general plan for the long routes is to swap leads and have him take the crux pitches (5.10). To increase the fun (i.e. on-sight) factor on the Estrellita, he gets the first three pitches which I had done last year. On the fourth pitch, I take the 5.8 left traverse variation, and manage to surprise Merrick with a move that is far more dynamic than my usual style of climbing. After one third class pitch where we employ the fixed rope, and two more quick (5.7 and 5.8) pitches later, we hit the first crux (soft 10b). Merrick leads through with confidence, and I also follow without any trouble.

By now, some of the ther climbers we tend to hang with in the campground and at dinner are also high up on neighboring routes (Black Cat Bone and Snot Girls). They are having a blast, so catcalls and hollers resonate across the canyon. We join in. We grab a bite, and after that it is my lead, up a narrow slab that is flanked by a dihedral on each side. An excellent pitch, very long, with positive jamming in the left corner crack, and plenty of bolts on the slab in-between.

Merrick on Estrellita after the first 5.10 pitch

The route gets more serious above, and Merrick does great in sending the two crux pitches (soft 10b), although we have one scary moment when he almost pulls off a large flake -- which we mark with an X. The last easy, but very loose, pitch is mine, and we then stand on the summit after about 8 hours of climbing. We savor our outstanding position, sign the summit register that is guarded by a little god-statue, and take lots of pictures. On the descent, I miss the bolts on one of the rappels, and end up 15 feet below. The bolts are set to the side of the rap line, to avoid rockfall. Fortunately the wall is off vertical, so I am able to climb and batman up. The route has some interesting climbing interspersed with easy pitches, and leads to a pretty cool summit. Tons of fun.

Estrellita summit guardians

After going to market and checking e-mail in town, Merrick takes a full rest day. We have met plenty of people by now, so partners are not a problem, and I get a few more pitches in at the Mini Super Wall. We also become acquainted with a couple that is participating in the multi year Global Hot Rock Challenge trip, and who have had a baby in the process. Kara, see below, is four months old and has already been on three continents. Way to go.

Global Challenge Dot Com Daniel crimping at Mini Super Wall

Next day we up the ante, and go for Yankee Clipper. Merrick has been asking for beta on the last (15th) pitch, which is 5.12 or A0. He wants to try and climb that. The climb can be done in 13 pitches, up to the summit ridge, or with two more bonus pitches (5.10b and 5.12). For speed, we combine pitches with a 60 m rope. It is a hot day, which will be a problem later on. There are two steep 5.10 pitches on the lower part of the route, which Merrick leads through rather nicely. The climbing is much more sustained than on the Estrellita.

The ramp pitch midway up the route has some challenging moves, as does the next pitch up to the "Altar" terrace. I combine both of these pitches, and we regroup in the shade. After a good rest, Merrick tackles the two crux pitches (5.10a and 5.10b). These start with a pretty cool layback, then some steep climbing on small pockets. It is by far the hottest day of the trip, and we are baking. I follow the two crux pitches, then lead through the following two, which are unremakable except for the time that I get off route, skip a bolt and end up really runout over some ledges. On the last few moves, I am really toast, but fortunately the difficulties ease up, and I just about collapse from the heat on the summit ridge terrace.

Fortunately, that is in the shade, so we regroup and Merrick tackles the next pitch, 5.10b, which he really likes. Then he flails a bit on the last pitch, and after some debate I convince him to come down. Turns out to be a good decision, as a storm comes in midway through the rappels. Lightning strikes several times, not close to us, but close enough to scare us with the prospect of lightning induced rock fall. Some of the locals are laughing at our predicament, but we manage to make it down safely.

The Altar

Next day is a semi-rest day, but we get out to Virgin Canyon in the afternoon, and climb a few of the lines there. I attempt San Antonio Rose (5.10b), work through the crux, then take a hang, and go on to the top. We come back by head lamp, and at dinner decide to do Snot Girls (5.10d) 7p the next day.

Pitch for pitch Snot Girls was the best climb we did. The first pitch is pretty hard, and I had to take a couple of hangs on it. We started early, it was colder than usual, so after the maxximum exertion, my elbows were screaming in pain, so I pretty much gave up leading for the day. The next couple of pitches are also very good, 5.10 but nowhere near as steep, followed by p4 and p5 which offer outstanding 5.9 climbing. The roofs on p5 are great, and the exposure is awesome. I led p6 -- which is the only one of poor quality. p7 also has great exposure, and some nice layback moves all the way to the anchors.

A 70m rope is reccomended for the rappels. Double ropes are probably better. With a single 60m, it gets a bit involved. The rap on p5 required re-clipping into some of the bolts on the traverse, p4 was a real stretch, and on p2 we went past the Snot Girls anchor to a neighboring climb below (if doing the last rap from Snot Girls p1, a 70m is required).

All in all we were feeling pretty beat up, and not up to climbing Space Boyz on the next (and last) day. We pretty much decided we were not up to doing two big routes on back to back day -- at least my body was telling me as much. We took our regrets to dinner, however, and after a couple of beers the outlook became decidedly more optimistic. So at 7 am the next day, just a couple of minutes before two Colorado climbers, we were racked up and ready to go for Space Boyz.

Merrick on p5 of Snot Girls
Space Boyz summit

From my previous foray on the route I knew the first four pitches. This time I combined the first two. Merrick led p3, sustained climbing on small edges, which he found more challenging than expected. After I led p4, we regrouped on the large terrace, then Merrick led up into the crux section. p5 is tough for 5.10a, I ended up taking a hang. p6 is the technical crux (10d) and is fantastic. A short traverse around an arete gets you established into a superb dihedral that requires precise stemming and use of various small edges that appear out of nowhere. Midway through the pitch a delicate move out right gets you under a roof, followed by pumpy climbing through 4 more bolts to reach the belay. Truly an excellent pitch. Merrick was delighted with his on-sight, I pulled on the last couple of draws for speed -- we had five more pitches to go and a good chance to make the summit. Some people consider the next pitch to be the crux (10b). I can see why, the slabby moves at the bottom are both thin and reachy, but Merrick climbed through very well. The other pitches are not nearly as hard, but the exposure increases the higher you go. p10 (5.9), which was my lead, was fantastic as well (traverse right from belay on the arete, pull a small roof with lots of air beneath, then some more steep climbing in an equally exposed spot). p11 has a reputation for being loose, it had previously been described to me as "climbing stacks of death", but I didn't find it too bad, and wish I had led it.

The rappels took a while, especially the sideways one on p6, which we completed by traversing hand over hand to the left most bolts at the top of p5. We got on the ground when it was just about dark. We were all proud of ourselves, and hitched a ride back with Dane Bass, who let us know our effort was "all training for Timewave Zero". That is a climb that is twice as long as Space Boyz, with a couple of 5.11 and 5.12 crux pitches thrown in. Merrick boulders all the time these days, so maybe Timewave Zero won't happen for us any time soon.

We took off the next day. Got searched at the border -- sniffed by a drug dog, then got stopped at another checkpoint -- sniffed by an illegal alien dog. The former seemed to enjoy his job much more. Merrick went back to the Portero for another two week stint, and his trip report can be found here .

List of Climbs

  • The Fez (5.10b**) 3p
  • Jungle Mountaineering (5.10a**) 4p
  • Estrellita(5.10b**) 12p
  • Yankee Clipper (5.10b**) 13p
  • San Antonio Rose (5.10b*)
  • Snot Girls (5.10d***) 7p
  • Space Boyz(5.10d ***) 11p

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