Tuesday, February 4, 2020

True Vacation Climbing in Mexico: El Potrero Chico

The term "vacation climbing" can have a wide spectrum of meanings from sport climbing on the beach to an arctic first-ascent mission in the alpine. What if "actual" vacation climbing meant less stressful climbing, good food, and a pool sporting hammocks? Here's a profile on El Potrero Chico.

A climber walks into EPC
Spanish for "The little Corral", El Potrero Chico (EPC) is an incredible limestone destination in northern Mexico, near the large city of Monterrey. While trad routes exist, EPC is known predominantly as a sport climbing destination with one of the highest concentration of multi-pitch sport climbs outside of Europe (the Dolomites). The style of climbing can vary depending on the crag, but as a generality much of the climbing is vertical or near-vertical with thin holds and sometimes delicate movement with sharp limestone.

The Spires, EPC
Due to some extremely hot temperatures, the EPC season usually starts sometime in November and goes through February, with December and January being the peak climbing months. Classic routes exist in both the shade or the sun depending on when one can visit, so route choice can truly dial in the most comfy temps.

Getting There
Getting to EPC either involves a lengthy drive (depending on where you're driving from) or a flight to Monterrey, with several taxi services available to drive the 45 minutes to your lodging. Once you get to EPC itself, it is a short walk to the crags (no car needed) from any of the main lodges/camping areas. A taxi transport arrangement can be made beforehand with the motel one is staying at.

There are several different options for lodging depending on budget and what one is looking for. During our most recent trip we stayed at La Posada in a motel room with beautiful views of EPC, cheap but delicious food, and a poolside hangout. The camping at La Posada features an indoor common room with stoves, fridges, and wifi. La Pagoda, El Sendero, and Homero's are other fantastic options.

La Posada with EPC in the background
The Climbing...
At first glance, EPC may look intimidating for a newer sport climber with a 5.10 limit but many of the 5.10 routes here are amicable, well protected, and aren't too sustained. Even those looking for harder climbs might enjoy a day or two warming up on routes like Satori (7 pitches, 5.10) or Off the Couch (7 pitches, 5.10) which are both in the shade. For sunnier introductions, look at Estrellita (12 pitches, 5.10 or 5.11 with variations). Other more moderate multi-pitch routes do exist at the 5.8-5.9 level like Las Chimuelas or Ramsey's Shenanigans. At the 5.10 grade it feels like the multi-pitch offerings are endless and high quality.

A climber follows Pitch Black (6 pitches, 5.10+)
The Harder Climbing...
Stepping it up a notch or two in difficulty, EPC has a healthy selection of long and challenging routes. One of the most famous routes in EPC, Time Wave Zero, has been dubbed one of the longest sport routes in the world (2,300 feet, 5.11 A0 or 5.12-) and is truly unique...where else can one feel like they're "big wall free-climbing" at relatively modest grades on solely bolts. The 5.12- crux is one of the last pitches of the route, and may feel quite stout after climbing a few thousand feet and attempting 5.12 on thin holds in the sun. The classic testpiece of EPC is El Sendero Luminoso (youtube the video of Alex Honnold soloing it!) with 15 pitches and mostly 5.12-5.12+ climbing. Dozens (and dozens...and dozens...) of other routes offer grades from 5.11-5.13 (or harder) on single and multi pitch.

A climber rappels off Time Wave Zero after a successful ascent.
On one final note- those looking for areas to develop sport climbing...there is a great deal of potential here for new routes, some would say far less than half the area has been developed! For any climber, consider EPC for your next vacation, particularly when you are looking for an "actual" climbing vacation!


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that you find the latest info about climbing in El Potrero Chico on theCrag: https://www.thecrag.com/climbing/mexico/el-potrero-chico