Heading To El Potrero Chico? Read This First
Planning a mid-winter getaway to somewhere warm? El Potrero Chico might just be perfect—but here are some things you should know before you pack your bags.
When to go
December and January are prime time—read: the busiest months—mostly due to the holidays and moderate temps (highs in the 70s and lows in the mid 40s). But really almost any month is fine for climbing, so long as you find the shady crags in the hottest months and realize that not all accommodation options will be open or busy with other climbers year-round. If you’re looking for a slightly calmer time, but not too quiet so you can still meet other climbers, with cooler temps and guaranteed dry climbing days, try to November, February or March.
Where to stay
There are many affordable options to stay just outside El Potrero’s park. However, unless you get a group of friends together to rent a house, La Posada [LINK: http://www.elpotrerochico.mx/] is the best place, in my opinion, to stay as a climber if you want peace of mind and amenities at a reasonable price for casitas, rooms, or camping. Here’s why I say this:
- It has the best pool in town.
- They accommodate a high concentration of climbers in an open environment, making it easy to meet other climbers and find potential partners.
- They have a large cooking facility, nice restaurant with an extensive menu (and good espresso drinks and margaritas too!), WiFi, laundry service, transport arrangements, and more.
- You can book in advance (if you want to stay in a room or casita and be able to lock up your stuff, though, you can rent a locker too.)
What to pack (the basics)
Here’s a few clutch items to bring with you from home:
- Earplugs. No matter where you stay, you’re likely to need earplugs to ward off the street karaoke, Sunday street parties, drunk vacationers, chickens, turkeys, dogs, and other inexplicable noises that carry on into the wee hours.
- Sunscreen. Easier to bring it than head into Hidalgo to find a Farmacia that sells it.
- Your favorite coffee and maybe your aero press. (I’m from the PNW.)
What (and where) to eat
There’s only about a half a dozen eateries near the climbing and accommodations at El Potrero Chico. Set yourself up for sending success by getting your nutrition in order.
- Dirtbag’s delight! La Posada’s self-cook kitchen has a free “community” bin. Check it daily and you’ll reap rewards. From TJ’s jasmine rice, to PB and Nutella, fresh veggies and black beans, it’s not hard to score here! And if you spend enough time in the kitchen and are friendly with people, they seem to want to give you their leftover everything: eggs, the last of their prepared meal, etc. We augmented our meals enough when we first arrived that it delayed a trip to the store for 3 days! Best day to score big is obviously Mondays when all the locals and foreigners head home. Just be sure to contribute to the bin with your extras when you leave.
- (M)Eat at Leo’s. Just around the corner from La Posada, about 100 feet downhill, is a roadside BBQ joint called Leo’s. For 100 pesos, about $5 US when we were there, you could get a giant plate worthy of splitting. Add 20 pesos and you can get all the meat you can eat or just buy a whole roasted chicken and at 120 pesos.
- Fiber anyone? Head into Hidalgo just a couple miles down the road to the market to get your veggies and any other staples you need. We dropped about 700 pesos (about $35US) on a giant tub full of fruits and veggies, not to mention eggs, cheese, chorizo, tortillas and other staples to keep us regular for the next 8 days for three of us.
- Quality and comfort. When you want a meal you can count on to be good, head to Quinta Santa Barbara, the first roadside restaurant on your right as you leave El Potrero Chico Park. Prices seem the same as all other restaurants in the area, but the quality of their food rules. They make a good mole, and believe it or not, BBQ pizza.
- Chill out with a chili margarita. A famed local climber has a blue tow-behind stand inside the park and sells t-shirts, pizza, and most importantly, amazingly refreshing chili margaritas. You can get them “classic” or “strong.”
Drink the water…seriously
The saying, “Don’t drink the water” has been etched in my brain since my first trip to Mexico as a kid. But the small community just outside of El Potrero Chico is an exception. It took us asking several locals and climbers alike to believe it, but the water at El Potrero Chico is totally drinkable out of the tap. A mountain spring comes out just uphill of El Potrero Chico, offering fresh drinking water to those nearby.
Find the sunny/shady crags for your level
There are great routes in almost any area, but some are better for hotter days, some for cooler.
Our favorite crags in the shade:
- Morning shade (Sunrise until 10-11am in February)/Evening Shade:
- Moto Wall
Good concentration of high quality single and multi-pitch 5.9-5.12’s. Motivacion is a super climb!
- Mini Super & TNT Walls
Mini Super offers lots of quality single-pitch moderates. When you’re warmed up, head to TNT to get on a few more sustained routes before the sun hits. (TNT sees almost all-day shade at peak winter, but not in mid-February when we went.)
- Moto Wall
- Shade all day (or at least after morning):
- Virgin Canyon
There’s multiple areas within Virgin, with lots of quality single and multi-pitch climbs from 5. 8 to 5.12+. As a result, this area can get crowded on weekends with temps above 80-degrees. Some great climbs to get on: The Shroud, Don Quixote, and Penitente.
- Zapatista Wall
Don’t let the 35-minute approach scare you off! Two great multi-pitch climbs share the same first 2 pitches and are well-worth the walk on a warm day: Off the Couch (5.10d) and Satori (5.10c). You can link most the pitches making the climbing go very fast and put you at the top of spire-like formations. Bring a 70-meter rope.
- Virgin Canyon
- Save for cloudy days (or days you want a suntan/burn):
- Outrage Wall and Surf Bowl
Good for those who want to try hard and project climbs on stunning walls. Both are South-facing, but both get shade in the late afternoon/evening as there are nearby walls that cast a shadow. Get on El Sendero Diablo (The Devil’s Path, 5.11c) on Outrage Wall while you’re there! It’s a super high quality 6-pitch climb, though some skip the last 5.7 pitch. Just be sure to read the notes on the rappels in Mountain Project and other guides before venturing up. It’s not hard, but it could be an epic if unprepared.
- Time Wave Zero
If you have a lot of energy and a partly cloudy, don’t miss this 5.12 enduro climb. With only one 5.12 pitch that most climbers aid anyway (especially after some holds allegedly broke off), a confident 5.11- climber will be rewarded by pitch after pitch (23 to be exact) of high-quality climbing and a stunning summit. Most pitches can be linked, so if you’re fast at transitions, it’s totally doable in a day. Simul-rapping is super helpful too—it enabled our 23 raps whiz by in only 2 hours.
- Outrage Wall and Surf Bowl