Climbing at El Potrero Chico
and el salto
I first heard about El Potrero Chico in the fall of 2014. I was sitting around a cozy bonfire at Miguel's Pizza, one of the local campgrounds at the Red River Gorge, after a long day of climbing overhanging sandstone. A beer in hand, I asked the other climbers enjoying their own brews where they thought I should go climb over the winter. I wanted to rock climb, I told them, not ice climb. And I needed to stay within driving distance because my dog, Kyra, would be coming along. I am also very fond of warm weather, so I was looking for a place that had decent climbing sun coverage, so I wouldn't have to freeze myself to death while belaying.
Every climber around the fire had an opinion about the matter. Some people championed the idea of bouldering in Bishop or Hueco Tanks. Others loved going to Arizona or Chattanooga. Quickly, the discussion developed into an argument about the best place to climb in the US in the winter. After a lengthy discussion about the merits and downsides of all these possible areas, a climber named Mike asked the question that changed my life for the next three years, "How about Mexico?"
This past winter was my third season climbing in El Potrero Chico. Every winter, I come back to this limestone heaven to meet up with old friends, eat an incredibly unhealthy amount of barbacoa tacos and drink a very healthy amount of margaritas. Also, did I mention how cheap the avocados and mangos are?
Most people come to EPC for the long, moderate, sport multi-pitch routes that reward every climber with beautiful views of the canyon below. But that is only touching the surface of what Mexico climbing has to offer. Don't get me wrong, the multi-pitch here is fantastic. You can climb hundreds of feet of vertical limestone and, most of the time, the hardest pitch you'll encounter is 5.10d. And since all the pro you need to bring are your quickdraws, brain bucket, and rope, these routes are extremely accessible to anyone who wants to climb higher than the clouds.
However, multi-pitch is not the only type of climbing you will find at El Potrero Chico. If you feel like taking a break from the joys of rope management, hanging belays, sore feet, and feel like cragging for a change, there are many options for you. Two of my favorite walls, Outrage Wall and The Surf Bowl, include some of the best 5.12s and 5.13s in the canyon. Both areas are slightly overhanging and you will be able to find some great routes with tufas to pull on for some pumpy rides.
On that note, did I say tufas? Just a couple of hours south of EPC, you will find El Salto, an overhanging crag laden with tufas and flakes. The wall is smooth with several 5.12 and 5.13 routes with the warm-ups starting at the 5.11+ grade. So, if you venture this way, prepare yourself to be worked hard!
Where To Stay
This past winter I set my tent up at Rancho El Sendero, one of the many camping options near the canyon. La Posada, Quinta Santa Barbara, Homeros Ranch, and La Pagoda are a few of the other campgrounds that offer a place for you to stay. All of these places include a kitchen with kitchenware, fridges, stoves, and everything you'll need to cook every day meals. All camping options range for around $4-$6 a night, while the rooms and cabins costing a bit more depending on the location. Most of the places you can stay at are located within a 5-15 minute walk to the canyon and about a 15-25 minute walk to the small town of Hidalgo, where you will be able to find churros, tacos, and the local coffeehouse, El Buho, which is the local hangout for climbers from all around the world. Hidalgo itself is only a 30 minute drive from the big Mexican city of Monterrey, one of the richest cities in the country.
If you make your way towards El Salto, Kika's is where you'll be staying. Doña Kika owns a small grocery store and she offers camping in the empty lot attached to it. There is also an outdoor kitchen and a fridge that campers may use. She rents small cabins as well, so if you are not in the mood for tenting it up, there are other options available.
Getting to El Potrero Chico is easy. Just follow the map below if driving from Colorado. Otherwise, make your way to Laredo, Texas, and cross from there. I've included two maps below: one giving you directions from Colorado, and another one from the border crossing in case you are driving from into Mexico from somewhere else. You can cross through the very busy Laredo International Bridge or take the easier-to-navigate but slightly-out-of-the-way Laredo-Colombia Solidarity International Bridge. I always cross through the Colombia Bridge, since it's never busy and the customs office is only a few feet away from your crossing spot. From the bridge, head over to the town of Hidalgo, where you will drive west, following the sings towards El Potrero Chico. The maps below will take you where you need to be.