Sunday, February 12, 2012

El Potrero Chico

I was at Brooklyn Boulders, belaying a friend, when Jesse came up to me and said, "There's a place in Mexico that has the tallest sport routes in the world.  I don't remember what it's called but it has a route called Time Wave Zero that I want to climb.  It's 23 pitches."  A 23-pitch sport route?!?  I looked it up that night and found the area is called Potrero Chico and that Time Wave Zero is indeed 23 pitches, about 2,300 ft of vertical climbing.  The area looked like climbers paradise....hundreds of routes, most multi-pitch between 400-over a 1000 ft walls.  All within a 10 minute walk of the accommodations.  I called Jesse and said, "We're going!"
Within 2 months we were packing our gear and getting on the plane to Monterrey, Mexico.  Potrero Chico is about an hour from Monterrey, which happens to be one of the most dangerous cities in the country, suffering from the worst drug cartel violence in recent history.  This news, of course, worried us a bit (not to mention our disapproving parents), but after doing some research we came to the conclusion that the violence was sporadic and mostly confined to the city itself (which we would not be entering).
 We were picked up at the airport by a guy named Magic Ed.  He's one of the original route-setters of the area, and helped set many of its most classic routes.  Ed and a handful of others spend half their lives in Potrero Chico, climbing and setting routes, splitting their time between Mexico and the United States.  We met a few other ex-pats there who had opened coffee shops, animal shelters, etc, making this part of Mexico their home.  It was a high-elevation desert with dry, dusty landscapes scattered with cactus, surrounded by the beautiful limestone cliffs.  Hidalgo is the nearest town, sparsely populated with friendly locals who will be happy to give you a ride from the market back to camp.

Cuties of Hidalgo
 There were only about 30 climbers in the whole valley scattered amongst a couple posadas and houses along a quiet stretch of road.  We stayed in the tents we brought ourselves and cooked and ate in the communal kitchen.  We stayed at La Posada, which I would recommend to anyone going there.  Everyone was super friendly and we made a lot of friends and climbing partners.  We also met another friend we know from the Gunks, Chalu, who had arrived a couple weeks prior.  We were there for a week and climbed every day.  The weather was perfect, like summer with only a slight chill in the night.  We climbed in shorts and a t-shirt (I was of course wearing sun-block for my burn-prone skin).

View from La Posada
This was a big trip for me for, although I have been climbing for a couple years and been to many great climbing destinations, I had only lead once before in Rumney.  Leading is when you go up the wall first, clipping into the bolts and anchors, in order to belay the others following below.  It's quite a bit more intimidating than being the second person up, where you're tied into a rope being belayed from above.  In leading, if you fall 10 feet above the last piece of protection, you'll fall over 20 feet down the side of a mountain!  Could be painful if the route is highly featured or angled.  But I went for it and lead 10 pitches while there, all intermediate levels (5.9's and 5.10's).  There were definitely times where I was like, "why am I doing this?" but it felt so good to complete a climb that you lead yourself.

Approaching early morning
Me climbing
Jesse Climbing
View from the top
In the week that we were there Jesse and I climbed multi-pitch routes like Cactus Pile, The Spires, Jungle Mountaineering and Will the Wolf Survive.  I also did a bunch of single-pitch crag climbing with some of the new friends I made while out there.  Jesse got to do his Time Wave Zero.  He did it with a young, strong guy we met out there and it took them about 9 hours I think (they left at about 5:00 in the morning).  I realized while there that I didn't have the right shoes for such long climbs.  My feet were killing me.  My shoes are very tight with narrow toes, good for aggressive climbing, but not good for the long haul (my toes are still tingling a week after our trip).  I didn't do any climbs more than 4 pitches because my feet needed a break.  I'd like to go back for sure and do the longer routes with more appropriate footwear (although Time Wave Zero will probably always be a bit much for me).

Meeting new friends
Chilling at La Posada

Adios, Potrero Chico!  See you again someday.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi James,

Nice photo!

I remeber "Vertical limit"