El Potrero Chico Part 1: It’s Been a While

After a hot week in Manuel Antonio, galavanting around the beaches, working on my tan and staring at sloths, I said goodbye to Central America. Please note that I did not leave without buying a pair of VERY tight, VERY sexy black pants that Costa Ricans love. I couldn’t resist. The woman in the store told be they were very pretty. I was taken over by the consumption Gods, what can I say?

In any case, I flew in the morning to Mexico City where I had the vaguely harrowing yet surprisingly easy experience of entering through Mexican customs. The man at the immigration counter was very friendly after I told him I spoke Spanish and only asked me two questions: where are you going? how long will you be there? Easy peasy.

Not so easy peasy was finding my gate. The MEX airport is fairly enormous and my gate changed a couple of times. Nevertheless, I did get onto my next flight to Monterrey, landing without a hiccup and getting picked up by Rudy, who write the Potrero Chico climbing website. The ride to Hidalgo from Monterrey cost me $50, but apparently its a lot easier and nicer than having to navigate the public buses from Monterrey to Hidalgo, so it was just once of the costs of travel.

The desert was surprisingly green as I looked out over the otherwise grey landscape. It had just rained and so it was surprisingly chilly. “Don’t worry,” Rudy said, “It’s about to get real hot around here.”

He brought me to Rancho El Sendero a little off the main road where I was greeted by Mario and his son who manage the ranch together. I paid for 14 nights of camping up front, which came to about $75- not bad. I then took in the impressive, towering fins of sandstone looming above me in the distance. What would those mountains have in store for me while I was there?

There was really no one else at the camp for a while. I set up my tent along one of the border wall in order to protect myself from the seemingly relentless wind, I made myself some food in the kitchen, and then finally, long after dark, some other folks began to appear. First was a woman named Cosima, from Austria, but who had been living at the ranch for about a year, since her van had broken down. She made me a half a margarita, which made me pretty drunk pretty fast. I had lost a lot of weight at that point thanks to the jungle bacterium that seemed to want to hold on to my digestive tract. I still was not able to eat normally at that point, and the gurgle-y discomfort I was somewhat getting used to did not really appreciate the alcohol.

I woke up feeling pretty wrecked in the morning, but I had made arrangements on the Potrero Chico (EPC) facebook page to meetup with another climber and get out for the day. Paul turned out to be a perfectly nice man, and we headed into the “canyon” (really a notch) together at around 9:30. The sun was already extremely hot, and we quickly had to take shelter in one of the side canyons called “Virgin Canyon” which received shade all day.

See, EPC means “the little corral” because it is literally shaped like a corral:

EPC Topo

And there’s just one little notch that acts as a gateway into the valley in the middle. Hence the title of “corral,” because ranchers and cowboys could use the natural formation of the mountains to corral their livestock without have to build one. Of course, this only works to a certain point because the valley is still enormous, but you get the picture.

That first day I was planning on doing a few easy climbs, just get back into the swing of things, remember how to tie my knots and be safe, etc. I ended up leading a 5.9 as my first climb then top roping a 10.b and 10.d, which is decided not taking it easy. It’s not crazy, but it’s not a walk in the park either. The 10.d that I top roped is called “Mugre Mugre” and it looks like this:


I didn’t do it clean, but I did finish it. It was a great gauge for my level as I returned to rock. That level was: just about a good as I was when I left. I had lost a bit of weight at that point thanks to the jungle bug that had ruined my ability to eat for a couple of weeks, and MAYBE that had something to do with it, but I think that it had more to do with the nature of climbing.

Climbing is at once totally unforgiving and forgiving. It’s surprisingly more skill, experience, and technique-based than we might think, but you do loose your strength very quickly. I think I hadn’t lost my experience and technique, and so I got through some harder climbs more easily than I thought. All that was left for the next two weeks was to regain my strength and break through my mental barriers around lead climbing. Maybe it had been a while, but I was back. on. rock.

More next week.



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