El Potrero Chico — 2016

Dec 30, 2016 · 10 min read

“8 pitches with 3 people? No problem!” Rafael said, a climber Katie and I met who was also staying at a casita at El Chalet. We were contemplating doing Super Nova, a multipitch of mostly easy 5.6–5.9 climbing, except with one hard start.

You can do the 1st pitch!” Rafael smiled broadly at me. He was a friendly Brazilian, who’s name is pronounced as ‘HAWF-ah-el’.

The Whole Enchilada: A Climbers Guide to Potrero Chico, Mexico

The start is rated as an 11a, with a 10d variation. The last time I attempted an 11a was at Boulder Canyon’s Sport Park, where I fell off Free Willie. 5.10d is kind of my limit, with 11a I’d describe as aspirational.

And then there were 7 more pitches after that.

“Yeah, alright,” I responded. What’s the worst that could happen? I get worked over and have to yard on draws — French Free all the way!

Leading Super Nova

The 1st pitch of Super Nova

Yes, I tried to do it all free, without grabbing gear, but well…I couldn’t. I was at my limit — with all the grunting and emoting that I required, and it was either turn around, or keep yarding. I think at one point I found myself sideways. On the third grab of a draw, Raphael sang up to me, “Great styyyyle!” I had to laugh at that one. It took nearly all I had to make it to the anchors.

I set up the top belay, and caterpillared up Katie and Rafael. I then led the much easier 2nd pitch (5.8), before handing the next 2 leads to Rafael. We continued to hopscotch each other 2 pitches at a time.

Hangdoggin’ Super Nova (Photo: Katie Grimes)

Apparently, the late Magic Ed, the iconic EPC bolter-educator-organizer was a fan of long moderate routes, and is listed as the getting the FA on Super Nova, along with Bob Almond.

This was I and Katie’s 3rd day of climbing — on Christmas day. The first day, we were on the Moto Wall, dispatching Abuelito Dime Tu (5.8), Death of a Trad man (5.10a), the first pitch of Hey buddy, nice cock (5.10b), and the first pitch of La Vaca (5.9).

With Ariel, owner of El Chalet (Photo: Katie Grimes)

For some reason, I thought that the 5.10b and 5.10a were both easier than the 5.8 and 5.9 to their left.

I was puzzled at the ratings, but what else is new? It’s so hard to get accurate ratings since so much depends on variables such as body length, limb length, finger strength and flexibility. The rock at Moto Wall is some of the best in the EPC.

Hacking my way through the Jungle Wall (Photo: Katie Grimes)

We followed that on the second day with a go at the Jungle Wall, warming up just to the right of a couple doing the 11 pitch Space Boyz, called CDC&J (5.8). We followed it with a mystery 3 pitch route just to the left of the 15 pitch Yankee Clipper I found challenging, maybe 5.10ish.

I think this is the first time I had to be careful of cactus while climbing a wall.

Then, Christmas Eve. La Posada, one of the main climber lodging options in EPC, had a $12 USD Christmas dinner that had so many good dishes — turkey, salad, cactus, potatoes — and other stuff I didn’t know the names of.

Raffle time at the La Posada Xmas Eve dinner

La Posada

This guy across from me kept telling anyone who would listen, “Hey, have you tried Pitch Black? It is soooo good! So good!” I could see how some people could tire of the constant climber talk.

This other girl at the table was saying, “If I hear ONE more person spouting about how they just did Inglorious Bastards I SWEAR to GAWD I’m going to lose my mind! So what if you did 5.12, it’s Not that hard! THOUSANDS of people have done 5.12! Talk to me when you’ve done 5.13!”

Finally, a rest day at the San Joaquin Hot Springs, a gorgeous sulphur hot spring 45 minutes outside of EPC.

San Joaquin Hot Springs

This was a good respite for 2 days of climbing, getting used to the new rock and in preparation for the 8 pitch Super Nova we planned for the following day. A 45 minute cab ride we arranged at La Posada and we found ourselves descending a spiral walkway down to the arched catacombs of the hot spring.

8 Pitches? No problem!

The mystery 3 pitch we had done a couple days ago at the Jungle Wall was little prep for the 8 pitch. I think after days of just doing 4–5 single and double pitches, an 8 pitch is something a little different. It’s a bigger day on a bigger wall, and anything of that length and above is appealing to the masses of climbers looking to sample some of the longer moderate multipitch climbs in El Potrero. On our outing we had one team climb past us, with 2 other groups that followed.

Super Nova, venga venga!

It’s the dramatic line at the end of the Las Estrellas (The Stars) canyon. Our intention was to try our hand at Estrillita, a 12 pitch 10d, but since there was a party in front of us (at 7:30am) we made a go of Super Nova.

Partway up Super Nova

Rafael Marzall

Rafael ascending

Katie on Super Nova

I liked that Raphael’s Brazilian pronunciation of the letter “R” sounded like an “H”. Especially before he tossed the rope for rappel, it sounded like he was yelling “Hooooope!”

For the remainder of the trip I would yell “Hoooope!” prior to tossing the rappel rope.


Because of the popularity of the route, we had 2 other parties behind us backed up because we were rapping with 3 rather than the usual 2 party climbers of a typical multipitch team. A young party of 2 just above us tried to rap past us on a single line.

I couldn’t quite figure out his setup. Like, how was he descending on a single line? The only thing I could think of is that they secured the line on one end with his partner at the top — but how did they intend to retrieve it? How was the person on top to descend? The only other way I could think of it is that the other person would have another rope to connect the 2 ropes. (I’ve since learned about single rope rappels, and the ability to retrieve the rope with a cord) In any case their 70 meter rope was not long enough. The rapeller went in direct with his PAS at a bolt below our rappel station. We offered our rope for him to descend, but he declined. But when we got to the next belay station I heard one of them yell above us the dreaded “Rocks!”

Potrero Select: Selected Climbs at El Potero Chico Mexico

The 3 of us hugged the wall, but not before I glanced up and saw a shower of rocks come down. Some looked about the size of a fist and smaller, any one of which could break a skull, fracture a shoulder. We lowered our heads and waited for the impact that never came.

Apparently, the 2nd guy above the stuck rappeler swung into the ledge for the belay station, and inadvertently kicked rocks lying there.

Katie in the upper reaches of Super Nova

Later, at La Posada, we described the rockfall, and one of the climbers said, “Oh, was that you? We heard the rocks come down. That was scary!”

That person wasn’t even in the same canyon. The acoustics of the canyons make even ordinary conversations audible from far away. And the yelling of commands reverberates off the numerous walls.

View from El Chalet of the Moto Wall

The EPC can get rainy and overcast in December, but we enjoyed mostly sunny days the majority of the days.

Another view from the top of El Chalet

Frankly, just the length (and the hard first pitch) of Super Nova tired us out for the rest of our trip, We followed with an easier training day on One Dead Teardrop at the Wonder Wall, and doing Libertad, an interesting 5.7 that ends with an exposed arete to teach Katie the finer aspects of multipitch on this cool 2 pitch spire.

Our last day we just did a few pitches at Canon de Los Lobos. Rafael met with us after we did The Blacksmith. He looked up and said, “This type of rock is my least favorite. See how broken up it is?” I followed his gaze at the large jumbled blocks stacked on other blocks. I did feel that it was a tad chossy, but looking at it through his eyes I felt it might be a less desirable area to climb. Looking down, you could see large fallen blocks, some as big as a VW, lying on the path up.

We ended the day with the Anvil, a climb with a nice crux that I overcame with a short series of sidepulls.

We called it a day. The next day we had to catch our taxi at 1:30, and so we had an afternoon of organizing, with a final evening at La Posada to talk with our new climber friends.

El Buho

A couple of our days we took the hike in to Hidalgo, to sample the best tamales I’ve ever had. I asked a street vendor where I could find tamales

Painted wall at Cafe El Buho

Top floor balcony at El Chalet

Top floor Casita at El Chalet

¿Dónde puedo encontrar tamales

This is what I heard:

Blah blah blah take a left then blah blahh blahdedly blah then a right blahhblahhblahhh

Well, that got us there.

El Buho, and the Game Where No One Wins

We then hung out at El Buho with the other climbers. These 2 guys were talking about how one of them was trying to convince his partner to have a go at Timewave Zero, one of the resident hard man climbs. A 23 pitch 2,300′ route ranging from 5.7 to 5.12a.

“Just tell him, ‘Don’t worry brah, ’cause where we’re going we’re not going to land on land’”

The other responded cryptically:

“This is a game where no one wins.”

They stared at each other straight-faced, then both broke up laughing.

A game where no one wins. That could be about climbing.

A horse, of course

Quick Guide: 8 Day Moderate Climbing trip in the EPC

Climbing Books on El Potrero Chico

Online Guides


Where to Stay:

  • El Chalet Run by Ariel and Chely. Friendly hosts, beautiful view, closest to crags. Best place to stay in EPC. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ariels.cabana
  • La Posada We took our taxi thru La Posada. I think they have the most amenities of the lodging there with a pool and restaurant. Good place to talk with other climbers.
  • Homero’s The original climber hangout


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Rock Climb the World!


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Rock Climb the World!

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