Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

El Potrero Chico Trip Report

Trip Report – Oct 18-23, 2007

Accommodations – La Posada, Casita #5
DSC06953.JPGDSC06975.JPGWe really liked Posada! Everything was very clean, and all the folks that worked there are awesome! Our room was only 2 feet wider than our bed on 3 sides, but aside from the mosquitoes it was great. We even had an extra loft up above to store all of our gear, and even had a private bathroom! The community kitchen was a fun environment – pots/pans and everything were provided, and they had a fridge and several stoves. We had brought all of our breakfasts and crag food, but did go into town to get eggs, tortillas, beans, salsa, and cheese for dinners!
Weather – HOT in the sun, very pleasant and breezy in the shade for Days 1-3, cold, cloudy and windy for Day 4.

Day 1
Cactus Piles – 3 pitches (5.7, 5.10b, 5.9) 310 feetDSC06958.JPG
We ran into Ed the night before and he recommended this as a good intro to Potrero multi-pitch. It was a good warm-up. The 10b section was short and really only two moves (one if you’re tall).

SuperNova – 8 pitches (5.11a, 5.8, 5.6, 5.6, 5.9, 5.6, 5.9, 5.8) 800 feet
Horrendous uphill approach on really steep scree with lots of cacti and spider booby traps, but it was worth it! First pitch was tough, I fell once on lead, Steve thrashed and flailed his way up it. Really nice straightforward climbing from there. Steve linked the two 5.6’s together, and I linked up the last 2. Perfect choice for a hot afternoon – we were in the shade for all but the last pitch.

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Day 2
Sabroso – 5.9 70 ft.
 

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Cerveza – 5.10b 80 ft.
 

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Quick Draw McGraw – 2 pitches (5.8, 5.11a) 200 ft.

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Climbed everything cleanly and methodically until the last 20 feet of the 11a pitch. It had been difficult but doable with lots of balancey smearing moves on little pockets and crimpers. A little more runout than I would have liked, but I was being methodical. I had clipped 11 out of 12 bolts and was one move away from the last bolt before the shuts. My right foot was in a big high step, and my left food was catching a tiny edge. I couldn’t quite reach the next hold, so I tried to adjust my feet to extend my reach a bit. My left hand popped off the crimper and I fell…for a really long time. DSC07016.JPGWhen I stopped, I was about 3 feet below bolt 10 – we figured it to be a 25-30 footer. Unfortunately, since my right foot was in such a precarious highstep, the initial fall cranked all my weight down onto my ankle, spraining it pretty badly…it was the size of a baseball by the time I had stopped. Other than that, however, I was completely unscathed. Steve told me he would just lower me from the draw on bolt 11, but after a few deep breaths I felt pretty strongly that I should finish the route – not to be tough or to prove anything, but for mental purposes – I wanted to get my head back together so I wouldn’t be scared the next time I got above a bolt. I was a little sketched out, but finished with the help of a little bush growing off the side of the cliff, and rapped down in pain to the top of the first pitch, where Steve let me go ahead of him and get down.

Day 3
 

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Las Chimuelas – 3 pitches (5.8, 5.9, 5.8) 300 ft.

My ankle felt surprisingly good this morning, even though it still looked horrible. A few ice/elevation sessions and a half a bottle of aleve later, we were back out on the rock, testing my ankle out on some easier stuff. Steve led the first pitch, and I followed. I was relieved to find that my ankle felt great on the rock – it didn’t hurt at all. I led the 2nd pitch, and then swapped with Steve for the last one. Steve had a rather exciting lead on the last pitch….towards the top one of his footholds broke off and sent a rock the size of my face hurtling down a couple hundred feet. Thankfully it wasn’t close to me, and there were no other climbers in the canyon below us – but we got a firsthand preview of rockfall Potrero is famous for. I was proud of Steve for keeping it together and hanging on without falling. 

Bubba Loui – 2 pitches (5.9, 5.10c) 160 ft.

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We had been considering tackling the classic Estrellita the next day, but I wanted to test my ankle out on something harder to see how it felt. This seemed like a fitting route b/c it was right beside Quick Draw McGraw. I was a little intimidated by the looks of the second pitch b/c it was pretty steep, but I went for it anyway, and was so glad I did – definitely my hardest sustained onsight yet. Great confidence booster and mental prep for Estrellita. Overall this route was a smidge easier than Quick Draw – it was 40 feet shorter, and also got pretty juggy for about 10-15 feet near the top which gave me a physical and mental break for a bit. The last two bolts were way steeper and the finish was a bit precarious. Steve was a little unsure whether he even wanted to attempt it or not, but I convinced him, and he flashed it! I was so proud of him! We rapped down in much higher spirits than we had the day before! Our New Zealand friends were on the route beside us, so we gleefully and melodramatically re-enacted the fall from the day before – of course their first question was whether or not I had finished the route… 🙂

Day 4
Estrellita – 12 pitches (5.9, 5.9, 5.9, 5.8, 3rd class, 5.7, 5.7, 5.10b, 5.9+, 5.10b, 5.10b, 5.8) 1100 ft.
P1 and P2 – I linked together. DSC07022.JPGAll the wind was a little intimidating, but sketchiest of all was the baby rattlesnake I stumbled upon a mere 15 feet from the ground. I pulled up, and after a few seconds realized I was staring at a very well camouflaged snake about 6 inches from my face. He seemed pretty chill, and, not knowing he was a rattlesnake, I called down to Steve that I was going to take a picture, but by then the snake had seen me and was heading into a crack. I got a pic of its body, but thought maybe if I touched it, his head would come back out and I could get a better one. The minute I touched it, I heard a loud rattle and saw it on its tail. I immediately backed off and kept climbing, totally sketched about every pocket and crack I stuck my hand in from that point on. When Steve came up, he said the snake was on his way back out and was coiled up and not too happy looking. Not the way we had wanted to start the day…P3 – the only pitch Steve wanted to lead, slab, some super-reachy moves (for me anyway) with lots of exposure off to the right. I was happy Steve led it. P4 – weirdest route I’ve ever seen. Actually traversed for about 20 feet or so, and then moved up a difficult crack on a block, then more slabby ramps. P5 – 3rd class scrambling on a fixed line. The only time we stopped to eat. It was at this point that we had to decide to commit to the summit, b/c from this point on, you could not rappel down the same way we came, b/c of all the loose rock, and twists and turns on the route. We were feeling good, and still had plenty of time, so we decided to go for it. P6 – we weren’t even sure we were headed the right direction at first, b/c there were NO bolts for the first 50 feet or so, thankfully the climbing was easy DSC07023.JPGand WAY less than vertical. Total, the pitch was about 125 feet and there were only 4 bolts – looking back, I probably could/should have slung a few trees along the way. P7 – a good deal steeper but still 5.7 moves and not nearly as runout. P8 – first of the three 10b’s. Fairly straightforward, but with one tough section moving out onto a steep exposed section up towards the top. P9 – easier than the last pitch, but a little trickier than I had expected. P10 – pretty tough, not my most graceful lead (I was in a big crack to the left completely up to mid-thigh). Crux was on the vertical face that was quite featureless. I confess here and now that I did put my foot on a bolt for a split second…off to the right was much easier terrain, but it would mean I would have had to skip the bolt at the crux b/c I couldn’t have reached it. A fall would have had a huge swing into a big block, so while it was anything but wise on lead, it worked out nicely for Steve following me up. J P11 – similar moves as P10, but not quite as steep and blockier holds. Loose rock abounds and I had to be really careful to not kick anything off. At one point I did pull off a fist sized rock. P12 – relief to be back in 5.8 range. A bit run out, w/ weird chimney-esque stemming moves. A few really mean cacti in key placements as well…at the summit I couldn’t find the shutts so I just belayed Steve off the bolts (turns out they were right behind me…).
We didn’t spend tons of time at the summit b/c of all the wind, but we took a few pics and signed the register book. I left my cut up sock I was using as an ankle brace in the box along with everyone else’s random trinkets. I felt like it was symbolic of our journey, I didn’t need it anymore, and also that it was not out of the realm of possibility that someone else might be happy to find some bandaging up at the summit some other time.

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DSC07007.JPGAfter climbing all day, it was time to head down. We had to follow the fixed line to the first rap station on the backside of the canyon – I was pretty freaked out when Steve tossed the rope and the wind gusted it 40 feet to the right…the wind was horrible and scary and I was so cold my teeth were chattering (who knew we would have a random day in the 50’s with hurricane force wind gusts?). Aside from me missing the anchors by about 10 feet and having to climb up using the random palm tree on the side of the cliff on the first rappel, we got down fairly quickly and uneventfully (oh yeah and my hair got caught in my ATC once…). 5 hanging rap stations later I was on thankfully on the ground and confident in my opinion that hanging belays suck. After a quick food break and a 20 minute scree scramble we were back on the road.

CONCLUSIONS –
I’m so glad we came when we did and not at Christmas when it’s so crowded – since we’re new to the whole multipitch thing we are not the fastest, and it was nice knowing there was no one chomping at the bit to get up the route behind us. We had our pick of any route we wanted, and even though it was hot, with the arid climate and orientation of the canyon, there was ALWAYS shade, and the shade was always pleasant and breezy.
As for the fall – the ankle injury was a bit freakish, and only happened b/c of the weird position my foot was in – the injury was on the initial fall, so had I only fallen a couple of feet, it still would have happened. It had nothing to do with the distance of the fall. Everybody says that if you climb long enough, you’ve got to take a whipper, and I’m thankful that I’ve gotten that out of the way, and it actually was way less scarier than I had anticipated it to be. I think it will only make me a better and smarter climber in the long run.

I’m so proud of us! A year ago we never would have imagined we could have attempted something of this magnitude, let alone by ourselves with no guide! We both decided it would be well worth it to come back in a year or two and go for some of the harder more sustained long classic routes – Space Boyz, Snott Girlz, Yankee Clipper, and Black Cat Bone to name a few.

We think we figured out the inconsistency we heard about the ratings – some said it was really soft, some say it was right on target, etc. B/c most of the routes are slightly less than vertical; you can climb really hard several days in a row. Even though the moves seem fairly consistent with the ratings we’re used to, b/c of the balancey nature of the climbing, it’s easy to find rest stances quite often on the route, so you can keep going for a really long time without getting pumped out.

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All in all – two thumbs up! It’s a great place to go and we would both recommend it to anyone!
Steve also carried his Suunto S6 watch on all of the climbs. You can check out the altitude data from our trip here: http://www.thelineberrys.com/gallery2/20663-1/El+Potrero+Chico+Altitude.xls

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1 Response to “El Potrero Chico Trip Report”

  1. Brian Lynch

    Erica & Steve! I didn’t know you guys went to Potrero Chico! Or maybe I did and just can’t remember it! Erica, had fun climbing with you tonight – I saw a pic and thought, ‘Boy, she looks just like Erica!’

    Anyway, wanted to comment that I had seen you guys online!

    Reply

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“Not all who wander are lost.” —JRR TOLKIEN