El Potrero Chico Rock Climbing – by Frank Madden
Since its initial development, El Potrero Chico has always been known as a perfect winter climbing destination. The area is riddled with natural beauty, complete with a gorgeous circling mountain range, unique desert vegetation, a mild winter climate and of course, the titanic, pristine walls of El Potrero Chico. They are remarkable to look at no matter who you are, and for a climber they are a nearly endless playground. Even the locals, although few of them climb these walls, love and appreciate the intensely beautiful mountain that they live in the shadow of. And throughout the years the locals have always been open to the climbing community that arrives each winter when the conditions are ideal. Between October and February you’ll find climbers coming in from all over the world, especially from the United States and Canada. Come March, the exodus of climbers begins as the heat of the summer starts to set in. But no matter the time of year that you decide to visit, the local town of Hidalgo is always welcoming. Just keep in mind that if it’s a hot and sunny day, there is still plenty to climb in the shade. With the walls mostly being north or south facing, you can decide on where you want to climb based on the heat and sun situation.
Climbing started here in the late 80’s and early 90’s and has seen more than a couple waves of heavy development. Jeff Jackson and Alex Catlin really found a gem in the Northeastern region of Mexico. At first, coming down here and drilling with their gas powered drills was more than a little bit of a shock to the locals but the good times quickly started rolling with plenty of Tecate and tequila flowing. A few of the local families, influenced by the initial generosity of Homero Gutierrez Villarreal, have done major work on building the climber friendly community of Potrero Chico. The small backyards that housed a few tents back in the day are now excellent campgrounds that are home to hundreds of climbers during the climbing season. There is no amount of praise that is enough to Homero and his family for getting it all started.
Over the years as climbers came and went, a few decided to set up a more prominent home in Hidalgo. Ed Wright, also known as Magic Ed, is probably the most well known because of all the help he gave out to climbers visiting the area. Airport runs, climbing information, and massive amounts of route development made him a legend in Potrero Chico history. He also spent a great deal of time helping out in the local community by getting kids get out rock climbing. His love for the area lives on every time someone gets out there and climbs one of his classic routes.
With over 600 plus routes here, almost entirely sport, there is plenty of climbing available for everyone, even during the busy season. Although the crowds can seem a little daunting from mid December to mid January, if you are willing to step off the beaten path you’ll find yourself exploring the lesser known climbs here and I can assure you that there are plenty of gems tucked away in Potrero–enough to find you coming here season after season for a great Christmas and New Year’s getaway. Most of the climbing here is slab or vertical face climbing that will have you pulling on small crimps while balancing on miniscule feet to gain your way to anchors and summits. But for the lover of overhanging rock, don’t be discouraged! There are a few big crags here with overhanging headwalls, both single-pitch and multi-pitch. Only a handful of traditional lines remain including the epic ridge climbs that have only seen a handful of ascents, though they are best climbed in the off season when there is less climber traffic in the area due to poor rock quality and safety concerns for the people below you.
Although the bolt lines can be packed tight in on certain walls, there is so much room for future development if you are willing to walk a little ways. Most of the current routes are within a 5 to 10 minute walk from the road which is nice and easy on the legs, but don’t let the longer approaches for certain crags keep you from checking out some really good climbs. With everything so close to the campgrounds, you don’t even need a car, making Potrero a fantastic winter vacation destination. And now with the El Potrero Chico’s new rakkup mobile app, all the amazing crags of Potrero Chico are even more accessible with all new color topo photos, route descriptions and climb ratings to help you find exactly what you want. As the area continues to grow, rakkup allows you to have an extremely up-to-date guidebook right in your pocket, without having to purchase new editions. In the future, a printed book will also be available.