Saturday, April 4, 2015

Top Ten Myths about El Potrero Chico


Top Ten Myths about El Potrero Chico:

1)  You are crazy for going to Northern Mexico because of the Drug Wars


While it is true that Northern Mexico including Monterrey has had an increase in violence related to cartels fighting over territory, that violence has decreased in the last few years, and the violence is targeting towards those involved in the drug trade.  I have lived in Mexico in the winters for seven years and have never heard of a climber having any problems with the cartels or even criminals outside of things like shoes getting taken at the bases of routes.  The closest hit towards home in El Potrero Chico was a Cumbia band getting killed which was only mildly related to cartels as the band was sadly killed for disputes over playing in different cartel territory.  In general over the past few years I have noticed a decline in news stories about cartel violence around the Potrero area and a decrease in military presence.  There has also been an elimination of the past corrupt police in both Monterrey and Hidalgo where El Potrero Chico is located for new better trained and more well payed police such as those pictured below.



2) El Potrero Chico is full of loose rocks.

In El Potrero Chicos early years there was a lot more loose rocks on the newer routes.  Now that it has been in existence for a few decades things have cleaned up tremendously.  This does not mean there are no loose rocks.  I try to avoid cragging below long multi-pitch routes.  The tops of the routes have the worst quality rock.  Places like the Mota wall can be good to avoid on a busy day when there are many people above on the multi-pitch routes.



3) Don't drink the water in Mexico


This can be a hard one to convince people.  The water at the campgrounds comes straight from an aquifer coming out of the canyon and is super clean.  There aren't really any chances for it to get contaminated from fecal matter on the way to your campground. 


4) You need to know Spanish to climb in El Potrero Chico.

Sometimes unfortunately El Potrero Chico can feel like an American island in Mexico.  Many of the campground employees speak English and you are surrounded by other Gringo climbers. You can arrange your airport pickup ahead of time get dropped off in the American filled climber campground, and climb with Americans all week. When you are ready to leave your comfort zone in the climbers campground you can wander down to Hidalgo and torture the patient locals with your terrible Spanish.


5) You don't need to buy toilet paper for the climbers campground.

Somewhere on the internet I read this, and I have never seen a square of TP in a climber campground that wasn't already soiled with brown stains and in the trash can.  Yes it is asked to throw away your TP in the trash can so as not to jam the fragile septic system.


6)  El Potrero Chico's rock is like Thailand

While both Thailand and El Potrero Chico are limestone they are very different styles.  The majority of the climbing in El Potrero Chico is on less then vertical grey pocketed limestone.  Thailand's rock is known for it's steeper tufa climbing with giant features protruding from the rock.  El Potrero Chico has some of this tufa climbing but it is not prevalent.
This is not Potrero but a near by area the Cumba Cave that does have tufas
This is not Potrero but a nearby area the Cumbia Cave that does have lots of Tufas



7) There is a nice choice of restaurants and a coffee shop in El Potrero Chico. 


The guide books and many online sources lead you to believe this as it was true ten years ago.  Checos and Tamis cafe shutdown quite a while ago.  La Posada has a great restaurant for dinner that is now a fully enclosed building with wifi.  Edgardo Baca and his mother are in the canyon selling tacos and pizza during the peak climbing season.  There is also a great coffee shop in Hidalgo selling freshly roasted coffee as well as many local restaurants in town.

The Buho Cafe
 

8)  El Potrero Chico is best visited in January


While the weather can be cooler and sometimes wet in January it is the most crowded time due to the lack of other climbing areas in the States at that time.  November through March are all great times to climb and the further away from New Years you climb the less people there will be.
New Years 2015 Celebration with perhaps 500 climbers


9)  You don't have enough money to climb out of the country.


Once you arrive in El Potrero Chico you do not need to spend much money at all.  You can buy fresh fruits and vegetables in the markets for a few pesos to make your own food in the campgrounds our be baller and eat dinners at La Posada for $5 a meal.
La Posada's new Restaurant building


10)  The long routes of El Potrero Chico are big sport routes.

While this is close to true as they are for the most part bolted in such a way they leave the sport climbing category with their more serious nature of being way up high on a big limestone face.  The descents require knowledge in multi-pitch rappelling.  There were two fatalities in 2015 from rappelling accidents on multi-pitch routes.  There is also loose rocks to be avoided up high on the routes.  Knowledge of what to do when your rope inevitably gets stuck in the cacti on the side of the routes is also important.  This last myth leads to why you should consider hiring a guide with El Potrero Chico Guides if you don't have experience leading long multi-pitch routes.  We offer courses in multi-pitch techniques and guided climbs up the classic long routes.

For information on multi-pitch classes or guided climbs visit:

www.elpotrerochicoguides.com


Sunday, November 9, 2014

What is this El Potrero Chico Place?

Mexico makes a great destination for your winter getaway.  There are beautiful beach villages with uncrowded swell for surfing, big resort towns where you won't even know your in Mexico.  El Potrero Chico lies in between these two experiences except in the mountains.  You have the comfort of the climbing resort mostly occupied by Americans speaking English, but then you step out the gates or walk down to town and you are surrounded by the life of small town Mexico where the vast majority of residents don't speak any English.  For Americans looking for a rock climbing vacation in Mexico El Potrero Chico is your spot.



With hundreds of routes from 5.6-5.14 and routes as long as 2,000 feet there is something for everyone to climb.  It is often a popular destination for climbers looking to learn multi-pitch techniques.  With nearly every route being bolt protected it makes for a simpler way to work in to multi-pitch climbing.  The style of climbing is mostly pocketed face climbing which comes very natural to most climbers.


Why is El Potrero Chico so popular with American climbers?  It is one the few places in North America where you can rock climb comfortably in the winter.  The temperatures are normally warm enough that it is more comfortable to climb in the shade.  If not many of the routes are in the sun.  The tempuratures, route concentration, it's easy to arrive in El Potrero Chico, and the easy logistics upon arrival all make it a popular climbing area.  When you fly into Monterrey a major airport for the third largest city in Mexico you can get picked up by your climbing guide and dropped off at La Posada the climbers resort where you can camp or rent a room.  Their information is below:

http://www.elpotrerochico.mx/ 

If you are looking for more house options Magic Ed local climbing developer has many options listed here:
http://magicedspotrerochico.com/

On rest days from your climbing there are many great activities to do.  Plan your rest days on Tuesday or Friday to visit the local street market in town.  You can also take a trip to the famous underground hot springs of San Juaquin.  For more info:
San Juaquin Hot Springs


So if you are thinking about coming down to El Potrero Chico for the winter and are looking for a guide feel free to contact us at El Potrero Guides:

Email: markgrundon@yahoo.com

Monday, April 14, 2014

General Mexico Travel Advice

Traveling around Mexico on a budget and still enjoying many luxuries one might not be able to afford in the States is pretty great.  There seem to be a few tricks though I have picked up over the past few years that make this go a lot smoother and cheaper.  I have been living the winter months in Mexico for the last six years and we love to explore different climbing areas and the long beautiful coasts of Mexico.
Surfing in Punta de Mita Nayarit, Mexico

Now we are a family of three.  My wife and six month old baby.  We need some extra comforts for the baby we did not value before.  Things like renting a car, hotel rooms, and airplane tickets.  These things in the States will often be hundreds of dollars, and they can be in Mexico also, but if you know where to look and play your cards right they can be just hundreds of pesos. 
The Family and a Crocodile

I think one of the sneakiest things about renting a car in Mexico is the liability insurance.  Internet search companies will give you the price with out the liability insurance.  This insurance is mandatory by law in Mexico and if you get in an accident with out it you are likely going to jail.  I have rented in the past without naively thinking my credit card covered this.  Apparently the companies are not supposed to rent to you with out this insurance some will and some will not depending on the city.  T|he point is that it increases the price by sometimes six fold.  A surprise for me the other day in Puerto Vallarta when I went to pick up my rental car and the $50 dollar Expedia price jumped up to $300.   I ended up calling all the rental agencies and Alamo had the least expensive insurance per day.  The collision insurance covering the cost of the card was then covered by my credit card.  This saving $25 a day.

As far as flights Viva Aerobus is by far the cheapest inter-Mexico company.  With an open schedule you can get $100 round trip tickets often in Mexico.  Things are always changing with their annoying hidden fees, but at the moment it is usually cheaper to buy on the phone then the internet as you don't have to pay for the expensive line they create while waiting to board the plane.  You might need a Spanish speaker for this, you also seem to need a Mexican credit card at the moment but that has not always been the case. Their website is www.vivaaerobus.com
Taking some boat transportation in San Blas, Mexico


As far as hotels the only thing I have would say is planning ahead can often be more expensive.  If you are trying to schedule everything ahead on the internet you might not be able to find a lot of the cheaper hotels that can't afford to have a large web presence.  Books like Lonely Planet are great way to find the budget hotels and book rooms ahead of time.  One thing to always check is for Mexican holidays.  If you show up at the beach without a room at the beach during Semana Santa, the Mexican spring beak, without a hotel you are probably out of luck.  Also don't cross the borders on holiday weekends or black Friday which I have done and regretted.

Crossing the border is another great topic.  I have tried almost every way now minus swimming, though it would have been faster on black Friday.  The only gem of knowledge I have learned is when going from Laredo (US) to Nuevo Laredo (Mexico) by bus it is easier and there is more availability if you walk across and take a bus in Nuevo Laredo.  When crossing in bus into Mexico it is a big ordeal with the customs.  You have to get you bags scanned, and wait a big bus line.  You also might be waiting hours for this one bus that crosses only to wait more hours for another bus in Nuevo Laredo as you have to change buses after crossing.  The bus that crosses is used for just crossing. 
Cerro Chipinque "M" mountain flying out of Monterrey

If walking across you will have to cross Bridge number 1. It puts you in downtown Nuevo Laredo which is not my favorite place to hangout but there are many taxis waiting right there and it is not too far to the bus station.  It should be around 50 pesos to the bus station.

If you are looking for the cheapest way to get to El Potrero Chico without paying the $50 dollar cab ride you should be able to take a bus now.  From the main terminals there is a shuttle to terminal C which is where Viva Aerobus is located.  From there you can go inside and pay for a ticket to the main bus station of Monterrey.  From there a bus to Hidalgo.  From the Hidalgo bus station you can walk thirty minutes up to Potrero or behind the bus station and to the right near the Kindergarten there is a taxi company. Much more difficult then a taxi but it is possible.

Hopefully this little gems of travel advice can be helpful.  We have often had to learn by making many mistakes.  Travel in Mexico in general is way less stressful then the States because there are buses running everywhere at all times of the day. In general I don't see many other gringos traveling in Mexico accept in clusters in the few places they have deemed "safe" like Puerto Vallarta and Baja.  Get out there and eat some amazing foods you have never heard of and experience the rich cultures Mexico has to offer.


Friday, December 6, 2013

Cumbia Cave: Land of Giant Tufas



Lots of tufas!
Lots of tufas!



The Cumbia Cave is down a bumpy road in Nuevo León, Mexico. It is located in an area called Las Adjuntas, which is where two rivers converge in a beautiful lush canyon famous for it's canyoneering adventure called Matacanes. The Cumbia Cave is on the way to the already popular area El Salto also known for it's amazing tufa climbing.



Rodrigo on some big stalactites on Cascabel 11a
Rodrigo on some big stalactites on Cascabel 11a



Nuevo León is loaded with climbing potential. With only a few local climbers bolting and a smaller number of US climbers then pre-drug war days it is overwhelming how much development of amazing climbing there is to be done here now. Another area which has huge potential is called El Diente which is ten minutes down a road from the city of Monterrey. It has everything for a great sport climbing area four stalactite caves, a 1,000 foot El Diente (the tooth), and an amazing two pitch tufa wall two minutes off the road pictured below. It is all on National Park land but unfortunately a mining company now owns the access road to this amazing gem.


A small piece of the amazing tufa wall that is currently off limits de...
A small piece of the amazing tufa wall that is currently off limits despite being in a National Park.



We found the Cumbia Cave while driving to another cave full of amazing tufas in the Chipitin waterfall. We decided the drive and hike was a bit to much for that cave though I think somebody could bolt a long adventure route there and it would be amazing. We started bolting the Cumbia Cave last spring and there are currently 15 routes from 11a to 13a.



Me on Celso Pina 12c jug fest
Me on Celso Pina 12c jug fest




With the abundance of holds and tufas at the Cumbia Cave we will likely be bolting many more routes. Just looking around a little last weekend I spotted another cave across the canyon. We also bolted an area called the La Cueva del Oso two years ago it is a little more remote and has the white dust of north facing limestone caves.


Fernanda on La Gripa 12c in La Cueva del Oso
Fernanda on La Gripa 12c in La Cueva del Oso




If anyone is interested in climbing or bolting in the Cumbia Cave this winter feel free to contact me for beta on getting there. There is some beta here:
http://www.mountainproject.com/v/cueva-de-cumbia/108010004

Beta for La Cueva del Oso here:
http://www.elpotrerochicoguides.com/#!cuevadeloso/c1wet



Joel transformed into a Tufa on Vasco Viejo 11d
Joel transformed into a Tufa on Vasco Viejo 11d






Rodrigo on the FA of Vasco Viejo 11d
Rodrigo on the FA of Vasco Viejo 11d



Donkeys!


A Las Adjunatas donkey. Don't leave your food out while camping these guys are worse then Yosemite bears.
Credit: KRS-Grun


The river at the camping for the Cumbia Cave.


Steam rising on the river in Las Adjuntas in the morning.
Steam rising on the river in Las Adjuntas in the morning.