Rock Climbing in El Potrero Chico: Yes it is Safe!

Like everyone else looking for a winter climbing destination I had El Potrero Chico, or EPC, on the top of my short list.  The only thing keeping me, and I imagine many others,from booking was the question: “Is El Potrero Chico Safe?” The information on the internet was split between “It’s safer than a runout 10c” and “You will likely get kidnapped“. Luckily I randomly met some new friends at the climbing gym and local crag who assured me EPC is safe and the climbing great.  Without delay I booked my ticket for a week stay over New Years Eve, and it turned out to be an amazing trip.  Hopefully this post convinces you to book your trip and provides you with some good beta.

flying into el potrero chico

Mountains poking through the clouds as we fly into Monterrey

Getting There

We flew into Monterrey Airport (MTY), then got a ride with Magic Ed to our campsite.  He is a local climber that has put up 224 pitches in EPC, mostly on lead.  Not only is he a super friendly guy with great stories, but the price of a ride ($50 for 1-2 people)  includes an updated guidebook for the area with great topos for the classics.  Ed will show you the places to eat in town and stop at a grocery store with you to stock up for your stay. Here’s a quick pack list to help you get started.

Where To Stay

La Posada Bathroom View

The view from the men’s bathroom of EPC and the girl’s bathroom at La Posada

We stayed at La Posada, which definitely seemed to be the most popular spot for climbers.  It was 75pesos a person/night to camp.  There is a large kitchen that has multiple gas burners for you to use, as well as pots, pans, plates, silverware, etc… There is a fridge and plastic bins to keep your food.  It has a little wifi, occasionally letting you get an iMessage out.  If you are impatient like me you may want to bring a small camp pot so you don’t have to wait on someone making a gallon of oatmeal before you can get your caffeine fix.

The camp bathrooms are solid with unlimited hot showers.  One thing to note is that it is BRING YOUR OWN TOILET PAPER.  Easy enough to grab at the grocery store on your way in, but we didn’t know we needed it until we were at the camp site.  There is a small store at La Posada that sells some basic climbing supplies, suntan lotion, guidebooks, toilet paper, etc…  When you’re tired of cooking there is even a restaurant/bar that has great food and drinks.

Weather

In the week we were in EPC we were soaked with two days of the most consistent rain I’ve ever experienced, two days of sunshine with temperatures in the 40-50F range, and three days of sun and 70F.  Moral of the story is be prepared for great (sunscreen) and terrible (raincoat) weather.

Exploring the park on a rainy day.  Spires in background.

Exploring the park on a rainy day. Spires in background.

Approach

The approach to the climbing area is a 5 minute walk up the road from La Posada.  There is a road that runs right through the park and the approach trails branch off from this main road.  I was surprised at how close all the climbing areas are; the start to the farthest approach trail is about 10 minutes.  From the main road the approaches range from 5 seconds to 30 minutes depending on where you’re headed, but most are obnoxiously short.

El Potrero Chico

Gates of El Potrero Chico on a sunny day

Jungle Wall

The lines without vegetation are Space Boyz (climber’s right) and Yankee Clipper

Once you’re in the park the easiest way to orient yourself the first time is to find Space Boyz and Yankee Clipper on the Jungle Wall.  They are the two long clean routes behind the tin pavilion on your right.  Once you have found those two routes you should be able to figure out where the other walls are  based on the guidebook map.

Climbing

Outrage Wall

Outrage Wall

The climbing can be very varied based on what wall you go to, but it is all limestone, and almost entirely sport.  One of the major draws of EPC is the multipitch sport climbing and that is how we spent most of our time.  There is however a solid number of great single pitch routes that could easily keep you occupied indefinitely.  Next trip I will definitely be spending more time trying hard single pitch routes on the Outrage Wall and Surf Bowl.  Advice:  Outrage Wall and the Surf Bowl stay dry in rain.  Save them for a wet day.

Estrellita 11b.  Starts on the wall to the right then heads up the ridge to the palm tree summit.

Estrellita 11b. Starts on the wall to the right then heads up the ridge to the palm tree summit. Rap down the back side.

For the multipitch routes I’d recommend getting started with Estrellita to get a feel for the rock, bolt spacing, and iron out your multipitch technique.  The route is 12 pitches, two of which are 11a, but those sections can be bypassed with alternate pitches that bring the grade down to 10b.  I found the climbing on Estrellita to be nice and varied with each pitch being a bit different than the last.  On the summit there is a lone palm tree and the view is incredible.  You rappel down the backside of the climb so it can accommodate high traffic and slow rappellers.  Just make sure you follow the white arrows on the way down.

One of the upper pitches of Estrellita

One of the upper pitches of Estrellita 11b/10b

Once you have honed your multipitch skills and acclimatized yourself to the area, here are some of the other long classics:

  1. Will the Wolf Survive 10a – 4 pitches
  2. Dope Ninja 10b – 6 pitches
  3. Treasure of the Sierra Madre 10c – 7 pitches
  4. Snot Girlz 10d – 7 pitches
  5. Space Boyz 10d – 11 pitches
  6. Black Cat Bone 10d – 9 pitches
  7. Super Nova 11a – 8 pitches
  8. Pancho Villa Rides Again 11d – 5 pitches
  9. Yankee clipper 12a/c – 15 pitches
  10. Time wave Zero 12a – 23 pitches

Note: Some of the longer routes can be somewhat run-out. Mentally prepare yourself.  

An upper pitch on Time Wave Zero showing some bolt space.

An upper pitch on Time Wave Zero showing some bolt space.

Rest Day Activities

Drink 1L margaritas and watch people climb.  There is a guy who brings a trailer into the park every day and sells the giant margaritas for 50 pesos as well as an assortment of climbing gear.  Splitting a couple of these with a partner will turn any rest day into a fun day.  Just make sure you don’t overdo it and require another rest day.

Notice the head sized Styrofoam cup

Notice the head sized Styrofoam cup.  Ask for an extra shot, he’ll give you two.

Walk into town and enjoy delicious tamales from the shop Magic Ed pointed out on your way in.  Two of us ate our fill for $5.  The carne was the best, no contest.

Go to El Buho, a coffee shop that you could just as easily find in Seattle.  They definitely have the best internet in town and great coffee to boot.  Send your friends and family funny emails saying you’ve been kidnapped while you enjoy a cappuccino and listen to indy music with a smile on.

If you are feeling particularly productive, you can try to find the routes you want to do after your rest day.  It can take some time to locate the route you want to do.  The ultra classics had name tags, but the routes in between are anonymous  and there isn’t a picture of every route or wall in the guide.   I found it super helpful to play detective and figure out where climbs started on a rest day so that no valuable time was wasted lost on the climbing day.

Conclusion

Enough already.  You should have booked your trip by now.  It is safe.  Much safer than runout 10c.  Infinitely safer than climbing without your helmet.  If you have any questions leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer.  If you need to pick up any climbing/camping gear, Sierra Trading Post usually has the best deals on quality equipment, and by using the above link you are helping to support this website!

el potrero chico

View walking from town back to La Posada at sunset