El Potrero Chico, Nuevo Leon, Mexico

Neither of us speak Spanish or have visited Mexico before so we were a bit nervous to drive across the border.  As we traveled earlier in our road trip, we met many climbers who raved about their experiences in El Potrero Chico so we had to check it out.  Of all the places in North America to spend the winter Climbing, Potrero is one of the warmest with the most stable weather. So off we went to drive across the border into Mexico armed with http://potrerochico.org/, a AAA map, Google Translate and a wad of Pesos.

Much to our surprise, Boris was singled out by US border control while entering into Mexico, but we had no problems crossing back in. We wanted to take pictures while five agents stood around the truck with the hood popped after scanning the vehicle with an x-ray van, but felt that might further delay our entry. After what felt like an eternity, they eventually let us through and we crossed the bridge into Mexico. The Mexican border control agents let us through with barely a search after they realized we didn’t speak the local language and we were off to go find the Modulo CIITEV to pick up our tourist visas, vehicle import permit, and Mexican car insurance.  The directions got tricky and after a wrong turn onto a one way street in the wrong direction, we found the correct building and got all our permits in order. Luckily some of the employees spoke excellent English and the process was a breeze.  Then we had a scenic 3 hour drive on toll roads which were well maintained to the town of Hidalgo. Along the way we saw a few federal police convoys and one army checkpoint driving on the highway. This was alarming at first glance since they had many well armed soldiers in the trucks (and 50 cal. machine gun turrets), but we realized that our tolls were helping pay for the nice pavement and local security forces. The ride was pretty uneventful after exiting the highway, aside from the window washers who jumped on Boris’s running boards while we were at a red light in town and stayed there until we gave them a few coins.

In general, driving in Mexico off the toll roads is bit like driving off road. As soon as you exit the highways there becomes many potholes to dodge and the lanes also begin to appear and disappear randomly. Turn signals and headlights are optional and cars often travel half in the lane and half in the shoulder to allow for passing. Once you get into the town of Hidalgo the speed limit goes down to 30 km/h (18mph).  You really can’t go much faster as there are tons of speed bumps, stray dogs and people walking around everywhere. The cliffs of El Potrero Chico can be seen as soon as you reach the outskirts of Hidalgo and provide a beautiful backdrop to the town. As soon as we checked in at our camping spot, La Posada, we drove up the canyon to check the cliffs out.

Boris has made it to Mexico!

Boris has made it to Mexico!

Sierra San Miguel West in all its glory.

Sierra San Miguel West in all its glory.

The climbing in el Potrero is mainly bolted limestone.  This type of climbing is predominately face climbing which requires delicate balance.  The large draw to this area is all of the long multi-pitch routes.  The longest route is 2300 ft tall and there are many climbs in the 600 – 1200 ft tall range.  Since it is sport climbing, you don’t need to carry a lot of gear and the leads move fast allowing you to cover hundreds of feet of climbing quickly.  This turns long routes into casual days where we could sleep in, have a leisurely breakfast, then climb 700 ft of rock in the afternoon with plenty of time to get down before dark.

Joanna follows one of the last pitches of Yankee Clipper (5.10b).

Joanna follows pitch 8 of Yankee Clipper (5.10b).

Fossil in the limestone.

Fossil in the limestone.

Looking back on the city of Hidalgo from the cliffs.

Looking back on the city of Hidalgo from the cliffs.

12 pitches up means 12 rappels down. Joanna starts rappelling on Yankee Clipper (5.10b). We found saddle bagging to be a useful technique to keep our ropes from getting tangled in the prickly vegetation.

12 pitches up means 12 rappels down. Joanna starts rappelling on Yankee Clipper (5.10b). We found saddle bagging the rope to be a useful technique to keep our ropes from getting tangled in the prickly vegetation.

During our first week in Potrero our trip happily overlapped with two friends from Boston, Dan and Minyoung.  It is always enjoyable to reunite with the Boston crew while travelling!  We all stayed at the campground/complex La Posada.  With showers, cook area, pool, and a restaurant, this was the most luxurious place we have stayed all trip.  It is also only a short walk from the cliffs, making it super convenient.  It is also full of climbers, mainly from the US, Canada, and Australia, making it a very friendly social scene.

Dan belays Minyoung on Dope Ninja (5.10b).

Dan belays Minyoung on Dope Ninja (5.10b).

The view of the Mota wall as Dan and Minyoung get started on Dope Ninja (5.10b).

The view of the Mota wall as Dan and Minyoung get started on Dope Ninja (5.10b).

Luxury dirtbagging at La Posada.

Luxury dirtbagging at La Posada.

George and Boris enjoy their accommodations at La Posada, a convenient 5 minute walk to the climbs.

George and Boris enjoy their accommodations at La Posada, a convenient 5 minute walk to the climbs.

Local Horses.

Local Horses.

One of the major attractions in the town of Hidalgo is the street market which happens every Tuesday and Friday.  This is where we bought all of our produce, which was super fresh and inexpensive.  You can buy many different items here, from produce to pet fish and bunnies to tools to clothing, the list goes on.

The market of Hidalgo, the best way to get fresh and inexpensive produce.

The market of Hidalgo, the best place to get produce.

Steve wanders the market. You can buy many different items here, from produce to pet fish to tools to clothing, the list goes on.

Steve wanders the market.

Hidalgo cemetery.

Hidalgo cemetery.

Looking at the Front Side and Virgin Canyon from a route in Los Lobos Canyon.

Looking at the Front Side and Virgin Canyon from a route in Los Lobos Canyon.

The TNT wall with Palm trees and all.

The TNT wall with Palm trees and all.

Joanna leads the final pitch of Yogi Unchained (5.10b/c).

Joanna leads the final pitch of Yogi Unchained (5.10b/c).

Mid pitch palm tree hug.

Mid pitch palm tree hug.

The view from the top of Satori (5.10c).

The view from the top of Satori (5.10c).

Happy Steve on the Satori summit.

Happy Steve on the Satori summit.

The dirt lot is full of people from Monterrey who came out to party for the weekend. Every Sunday brings a party with all sorts of music reaching us in the cliffs above.

The dirt lot is full of people from Monterrey who came out to party for the weekend. Every Sunday brings a party with all sorts of music reaching us in the cliffs above.

Be careful when grabbing for trees while hiking, even they have spikes!

Be careful when grabbing for trees while hiking, even they have spikes!

Starting up Supernova (5.11a) with a nice spot. High first bolts seem to be pretty standard for El Potrero.

Starting up Supernova (5.11a) with a nice spot. High first bolts seem to be pretty standard for El Potrero.

Joanna leads the crux first pitch of Supernova (5.11a).

Joanna leads the crux first pitch of Supernova (5.11a).

Selfies mid route on Supernova (5.11a).

Selfies mid route on Supernova (5.11a).

Steve tops out after 800ft of super fun climbing on Pitch Black (5.10+).

Steve tops out after 800ft of super fun climbing on Pitch Black (5.10+).

Looking back at the route Pitch Black (5.10+).

Looking back at the route Pitch Black (5.10+). The line is directly left of the black streak in the middle of the cliff, right near the shade/sun line.

Steve works his way up the wide crack section of Excalibur (5.10c).

Steve works his way up the wide crack section of Excalibur (5.10c).

George the explorer scales The Ivory Tower to locate Excalibur high over the city of Hidalgo.

George the explorer scales The Ivory Tower to locate Excalibur high over the city of Hidalgo.

Joanna enjoys the vegetated cliffs.

Joanna enjoys the vegetated cliffs.

Adios Mexico!

Adios Mexico!  It was fun, we will be back.

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