Week two of our El Potrero Chico trip! Cora was a spark plug and arrived shortly after Christmas. She got on some amazing routes and coaxed (forced) us into our freezing cold pool by encouraging us to toss Tecate’s in there.. Week two was punctuated by rain.. lots of it. At first it was an annoyance, but looking back it got us into town more, and really added a bunch more learning experiences and cool stories. Cool stories like hitchhiking to town in the back of a small pick-up with 12 (I believe) other climbers hanging on for dear life.. Or hitting up the Friday market to gawk and explore. Or walking into a cool hole-in-the-wall tamale restaurant and stuffing our faces with steaming hot tamales.
Aside from the setbacks, we also had the best climbing days of the trip. When the weather started to clear after 3 days of rain Andy, Steve and I completed a major milestone in our climbing careers by sending Time Wave Zero (5.12a, 23 pitches). We were the only people on the route, and battled adverse conditions and dark rappels, but were rewarded with one of the most memorable sunsets (and climbs) of our lives.
On our last climbing day Robyn, Andy and I set off on Yankee Clipper (5.12a, 15 pitches) and summited via two of the most incredible pitches I have ever climbed. This may have been the single best stretch of climbing on the whole trip, and an amazing way to cap our journey. Without further ado, I will turn it over to pictures and spastic day notes, typed on the iPad during our trip.
La Posada is the climbers campground down the road from Potrero. There is a communal kitchen, restaurant, pool and showers. Pretty awesome place. This was taken on Christmas Day, enjoying a rest day and some beers as we met new friends.
Carta Blanca’s on a rest day at La Posada.
Chippah! Steve was immediately smitten. Good dog.
Day 6: Merry Christmas! Slept great last night. A shower (cold as hell) last night and the discovery that we have a heater in our room and the long process of assembling the necessities of a comfy bed all added to a great night sleep.
We woke this morning to a light drizzle. Down to the campground after breakfast, we sent a few quick emails and met some Danish climbers. Back to the castle we collected a pile of wood from the adjacent arroyo to cook a wood fire BBQ dinner on. Last night Steve, Andy and I vowed to give Time Wave Zero a go. TWZ is a 2,300′ climb up El Torro and clocks in at 5.12a. This is one of the tallest sport routes in the world.
After La Posada, we scavenged firewood from the arroyo across the street, breaking it up into pieces to feed the flames of our wood fired BBQ.
Andy is so stoked he can barely believe it. What a great meal!
Meat and chewy corn. Christmas dinner over a wood fired BBQ in Nuevo Leon, Mexico.
Since today was a rest day we decided to head up to the base to make sure we knew the way there. Tomorrow we will leave at about 4:30 a.m. to climb the first few pitches in the dark (including an 11b). Once it’s light we plan to string together two 5-pitch blocks of trimulclimbing to save time. Of course that all depends on whether the rain that’s falling gives us a window to climb in..
As for now we are stoking the fire and getting ready to cook steaks on our awesome wood fire grill that sits in the open air attached to the living room. Andy just threw on some sweet potatoes and the iPad is kicking out Sinatra Christmas. Not bad.
Time Wave Zero (5.12a, 23 pitches) ascends to the summit on the left (7 pitches) and then tackles the massive headwall to the tippy top of the formation.
Day 7: Rain today. TWZ will have to wait. The mist is hanging from the cliffs like a scarf. The sky is grey and still. We briefly entertained a day at the crag but quickly determined that it was just simply too wet. Instead we walked into town to El Búho, a local coffee shop run by climbers. This place had some serious character. Paintings, drawings and several other depictions of owls coated the walls. My favorite was a mural of an owl riding a T-Rex. The baristas were two younger girls from North Carolina and Virginia that had come down to work and had only been there for 3 weeks.
Andy met some cool folks outside and was quickly recruited into an impromptu jam session involving beat boxing, a guitar and singing. The rest of us enjoyed a warm cup of coffee and a bit of surfing the net.
the local coffee shop. In here you will find an eclectic mix of climbers from all over the world. The baristas from the east coast moved there to live and work at the shop during the season.
We spent a few rainy days here playing scrabble, checking Blazer scores and socializing. Andy even found him self in an impromptu beatbox jam session with some local Mexican guitar players.
Stray dogs were everywhere. This guy and a few others enjoyed the concrete jungle of a long overlooked skatepark.
The Cemex Plant in the center of Hidalgo.
After coffee we struck out to explore the city. Rough around the edges, but full of friendly people, Hidalgo has certainly seen its heyday come and go. Built around a cement plant, the global recession and subsequent selling of the plant to big business has dried up the local economy. Today most residents commute to Monterrey for work.
We ventured down to the town plaza, withdrew some cash and ate lunch at Hidalgo Tamales. The five of us stuffed our faces with fresh, hot tamales for a total of $10 USD, although I accidentally tried to pay them $100…
Tonight is shaping up to be pretty mellow, although we bought some different looking beer that tastes exactly the same as all the others we have had. A highlight is that the label has a lady with a unibrow on it and while walking home a police car rolled by and we smiled, waved and swigged our beers as they passed. They rolled down their window, slowed and returned our smiles as they went on their way.
Hoping for a weather window tomorrow but if nothing else, the next day seems like it should clear again for the remainder of the trip.
Pretty. But when it looks like this it usually means a rest day.
Day 8: falling behind. Seems like the days are starting to run together. Third day in a row that we have woke up and looked outside to determine whether or not we were going to climb TWZ or not. Strike three. Today is the Friday market in Hidalgo so we decided to cruise back to town to scope that out. There is just about everything at these markets. Two narrow streets bordering the cemetery are slammed with people and tarps covering tables of various trinkets, watches, produce, porn, shoes, kitchenware – you name it. On one street people line up for a block to get to the food tent. Delicious looking rolls of dough were being smashed, twisted and cooked.
The Friday Market, where you can get all things from light bulbs to porn. Some of the trees along this street have had so many lines tied off to them over the last hundred years that they have grown in this strange hourglass shape.
Just hanging out.
Week two of our trip was punctuated with more forced rest days than anticipated. At the time it was a bit of an annoyance, but in hindsight we experienced way more of the culture there than we would have otherwise. Here, locals at the Thursday Market boil pig parts in a vat of oil.
When I say pig parts I mean all kinds of weird chunks. Smelled good, but I abstained.
Fresh handmade churros. Sooooooo good.
Cora arrives! A seasoned world traveler, Cora was the least dazed looking of all of us when she arrived. Flights all seemed to go well and as soon as she got here we rolled down to get dinner at La Posada. This is an interesting place. It reminds me of Miguel’s (Red River Gorge) in a way. No matter where you are in the world there is this comfortable familiarity that develops around a community of climbers.
Day 9: Time Wave Zero. After looking all over the web for a weather forecast I could agree with we decided to go for it. As long as it wasn’t actively raining, Andy, Steve and I were going to give Time Wave Zero a shot tomorrow. Let alone the fact that this was the longest route any of us had attempted (23 pitches and ~2,300′) and that there was a 5.12a waiting at pitch 21, we were also planning to climb it as a group of three which would afford us very little downtime and required a few advanced techniques as we climbed.
4:00 a.m. -raining. Shit. The route would be wet. But the weather seems to be lifting a bit.
6:00 a.m. We are up and nervously eating bowls of oatmeal and swigging coffee in the dark. Illuminated by the red lamps on our headlights we sat quietly. Cora was asleep on the floor in the living room.
Early morning wake-up call. With 3 days of rain and a foggy wake-up forecast we were (not surprisingly) the only people headstrong (foolish?) enough to try to climb one of the world’s longest sport climbs.
Sweat. The relative humidity was 100% and at times we couldn’t see the massive wall directly to our right despite being able to throw a rock to it. Hiking through the mist we passed the spires and climbed to the surf bowl where the first pitch sat, mostly damp, but downright dripping wet in places. Steve took the lead and strung up the runout 5.7 and we were on our way. One of the greatest unknowns awaited us at the second pitch. A 5.11b crests a pocketed headwall adjacent to the surf bowl and a glistening water streak covered the last 4 bolts, crux and anchors.. As the wall steepened, the climb drew me to the water streak. The holds were soaked, and some had pools of greasy mud. The crux. Pulling up to a hand match on a wet rail, a long lock-off guards a sinker 3 finger pocket. With three days of rain, no sign of chalk and little traffic I was relieved to latch into this hold before crossing through and clipping the chains.
Andy led the next pitch, a wet 5.9, and from there we trimulclimbed the next four to the top of pitch seven. Here there is a 3rd class section that leads to the main headwall. The next 12 pitches were a blur of linked pitches and another section of trimulclimbing a block of five. This trick was really the secret of our fast 3 person ascent. Thrown in for spice were a couple of 10+ pitches with exposed and runout moves. All the while, the soup we had been climbing in had started to thin, and occasionally we were offered expansive views of the surrounding mountains. Near pitch 15 the clouds turned a brilliant white, and the sun popped through. The light was angelic as we climbed in a bright white bubble up beautiful featured stone.
I think this was at the top of the second pitch. Climbing in the fog and over wet cruxes. Stoked it wasn’t raining. No idea what we were in store for. Awesome adventure. Photo: Steve Dodd
Top of pitch 7. A little 3rd class scramble to the base of the HUUUUGGEE headwall. Feelin’ alive. Photo: Steve Dodd
I think we slept through the first 7 pitches. I love this photo. We were excited, SUPER excited, but also a bit hesitant. This climb was at least twice as long as most anything we had been on before.
Andy leading on Time Wave Zero (5.12a, 23 pitches). Photo: Steve Dodd
After the two hard 5.10 pitches we took a lunch break at the base of the 5.12a pitch. Steve braved the first attempt, found some beta and hung the draws. 5.12 is a lot harder when you have already bagged 20 pitches on the day. I went next, and got the flash. Andy followed, and we were on our way to a free ascent of one of the longest multi-pitch routes in the world.
Breaking through the mist at pitch 15 or so. Photo: Steve Dodd
Flashing the upper section of the crux pitch of Time Wave Zero (5.12a). 5.12 is way harder after 20 pitches.. Photo: Steve Dodd
What a feeling! cresting the last technical pitch to the summit ridge. Now just some 5.6 and fixed lines to the summit of the longest climb of our lives! Photo: Steve Dodd
Rapping in the dark. “ON WAPPEL!” Andy’s fatigue induced speech impediment was about the funniest flippin’ thing I had ever heard. Here we are at about pitch 9. Mad props to Steve for heading down to fix all the rappels.. 23 to be exact..
Day 10: Single pitchin’. The weather today was absolutely perfect. Cool and crisp in the morning, dry rock. Light breeze and plenty of sun. We spent the day single pitching at the Central Scrutinizer crag which is right off the road. Sunday’s are a big family party day in Mexico, and everyone was out in full force.
As Robyn entered the crux of her flash on Gringo Disco (5.11b), a carload of soccer players rolled up in a minivan bumping Ice Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice, followed by Elvis and then the Mexican top 40. Some locals seem to love to bump their stereos through the canyon, hang and socialize in stark contrast with others on horseback. Got some cool photos of Cora today. Also scared some nearby climbers with Steve’s “Best belayer of the year award” in which he had a margarita in hand, a harness too small and said things like “here’s a fun fact, I’ve never used a cinch before..”
Robyn and Cora stoked to see the sun again. No rush to get out, the crag is 5 min away.
Cora on Upside-down Cracker (5.8+)
Cora getting wild on a perfect pitch of bullet limestone. It’s awesome climbing past funny pokey plants and cactus.
Cora had some conversations with other climbers on the plane about how she had just started climbing the year before. “And you are flying to Potrero to climb?!” “Yup!” Go big or go home.
Day 11: RRRRAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIN. harder than ever today. Walked to town, and the coffee shop was closed. Hit up the market to restock on supplies before heading home. We had a good group chill-and-read-with-coffee session back at home before hilarity ensued. In order to guarantee that we get in the pool at some point on this trip we tossed four 22 oz Dos Equis in as we walked by… A few beers later and it was swim time.
The rest of the night consisted of general hilarity around games of pool and getting high scores on an iPad game. Rain again in the forecast for tomorrow..
Time to retrieve the Tecate’s in the bottom of the pool. I’d be damned if we didn’t use this pool on our trip despite the fact that it was way too cold! MAKE HIGH SCOWAH
Time for chicken!
This was taken during an entertaining narration of the Last Supper courtesy of Robyn, Andy and Tecate.
Keeps ya regular for those early morning starts.
Andy lived off tuna.
Soft & Sweety
Shortly before Andy broke the crock pot..
You know those foreigners that show up and take pictures of EVERYTHING and you think to yourself, “What the hell are they taking pictures of?” Yeah that was me.
Day 12: More rain today but it’s New Year’s Eve! What a stark contrast from last year’s Las Vegas Strip experience. This year we had a holiday feast at La Posada. It was incredibly delicious! The night was already a success.
New Year’s Eve dinner at La Posada.
New Years party #1, Cora breaking it down with some locals.
This was by FAR the best meal we had on our entire trip. Delicious!
The DELUXE buffet line. Todos por favor.
Steve and Lauren.
Ringing in the New Year.
Across the street, two parties were going on. One was a raffle to help support the local animal shelter potreropups.org and the other was the local gear/margarita guy who set up his trailer and a bonfire in the adjacent lot. Edguardo sold gear and margaritas from a trailer he towed to the base of the crag each day. He also blares techno through some huge speakers. When the clock struck midnight people ran and jumped the fire, we took random fog shots and danced our way home to the castle.
New Years party #2 was a bonfire outside Edguardo’s gear/margarita trailer. We ran out behind the trailer to take a 2014 shot. Holding perfectly still in the dark for the long exposure we were hidden in the night when an unknowing partier tossed a firework over my head for this cool shot.
Rockstar status in front of our casita. haha
swerving home in the mist.
Possibly my favorite shot of the trip. Reflection of Edguardo’s trailer, techno bumping, disco lights, and the alley that we took the 2014 shot (upper left).
Andy and Cora ordering some margs.
Day 13: Spires. Slow start today since we didn’t get to sleep till 1 am. The rock is slowly drying and we decided to check out some lines on the south side of the spires. Cora got on Sunnyside Up (5.9) one of her favorites of the whole trip, as well as Easy Over (5.10d) marking the hardest route she had ever tried. Easy Over was a great route. Long and varied up the southeast face of the Grand spire. Next we climbed Young Crankenstein (5.11d) and Aspire (5.12a). Aspire was a real standout of the trip. At 165ft, it was a monster pitch that led from the ground to the very summit of the Grand Spire in one long push. It’s hard to get a better position, and what a finish. The crux involved some thin clips and a Techy crimp sequence at mid height.
We actually did do some climbing in week two. After a few days off, Cora was stoked to get on this route Sunnyside Up (5.9), Cora’s favorite of the trip?
Robyn and Cora after another stellar day of climbing.
Cora climbing above the old pool facility in Potrero.
Looking to the summit of Time Wave Zero. Our climb ascended the opposite side of the formation, but this gives you an idea of the scale.
Day 14: Yankee clipper. Hard to say enough about this route. Yankee clipper (5.12a) is a 15 pitch work of art, climbing a proud sweeping line to the summit of Garza Peak (sp?). Andy, Robyn and I were up and at the base before first light but still managed to be slightly behind the first group. The first three pitches were still really wet, which made our trimulclimbing a bit of a spicy adventure, but once past those pitches we enjoyed some of the best pitches of the trip. Extremely featured limestone jugs for hundreds of feet.
Robyn on the wildly exposed 15th pitch of Yankee Clipper (5.12a). Photo: Andy Traylor
We strung the last 5.10 and 5.12 pitches into one mega-pitch. Possibly one of the best links I have ever climbed. The 5.12 pitch leads to a perfect pinnacle summit. Photo: Andy Traylor
On top! Yankee Clipper (5.12a)
What a way to finish the trip.
Rolling through Hidalgo.
We had pizza here on one of our rest days. The people were SUPER nice. The appetizer was a bowl of hot peppers. Using spanish to order a pizza with cheese on one half was fun too.
The western summit of El Potrero Chico.
Parting shot. Coffee on the roof before flying back to the states. Thanks so much to everyone for making this dream a reality.