The Climbing

Last updated: August 19, 2013

El Potrero Chico (“little coral”) is the world famous big wall sport climbing paradise in northern Mexico. It is an amazing climbing experience of a lifetime of well-bolted, multi-pitch sport routes with ratings from 5.7 to 5.14 and routes with up to 23 pitches. Most of the climbs have a crazy easy approach about a 5 minute walk from most campgrounds, eliminating any need for a car. The cost of living is very low and the friendly people wonderful. Welcome to our little coral.

About The Rock

El Potrero Chico canyon itself is a natural basin 3 miles wide by 6 miles long with steep 2000 ft grey limestone walls. It is an area formed from the erosion of doubly plunging anticlines – which means that there are lots of near vertical fins of limestone and dolomite soaring up a few thousand feet, forming a large oblong ring of mountains with a canyon cut into it. It is located in the arid Chihuahuan desert in the East Sierra Madre in the state of Nuevo Leon, Mexico with georgraphy similar to south Texas. The limestone is characteristically sharp and has many pockets that leads to a style of face climbing that comes more natural to beginner climbers. Some make the comparison of the limestone in Potrero being similar to Thailand, but more solid. Rockfall does occasionally occur so you should always wear a helmet. The bolts are usually very good and run outs are scarce.

Potrero Chico History

Potrero Chico development was first started in the early 1990′s by Austin, Texas climbers – most notably Jeff Jackson, Kevin Gallahger, and Alex Catlin, along with Colorado climber Kurt Smith. Development has continued by most notably Magic Ed and Dane Bass.

Potrero Ethics

Panorama of the top of Estrellita

Panorama of Estrellita by Tom Grundy

The Potrero Chico park is a wild west of regulatory rules with virtually no oversight of what you can and cannot do. Its official status of “protected area” means very little in Mexican law. This is convenient for putting up routes without hassle but unfortunate for the huge amount of trash and environmental impact. Potrero Chico is always in need of volunteer work. If you are interested in helping clean, fix trails, upgrade routes, or bolt new routes you are encouraged to talk to Magic Ed, the owners of La Posada or other regulars.

Multi-pitch Climbing

There are an incredible amount of long multi-pitches in Potrero. They range from beginner routes with 2 or 3 pitches up to the second largest multi-pitch route in North America – Time Wave Zero. The majority of multi-pitch routes fall into the 6-10 pitches category, which make for a perfect day of climbing and still time to jump in the pool in the late afternoon.

There are a variety of multi-pitch techniques and methods that vary from climber to climber. In Potrero Chico its fairly popular to simul-rappel – rappelling at the same time as your partner from opposite ends of the rope – because of the long routes. Linking pitches is also common on the longest routes. Its important that everyone have proper training and instruction before attempting these more advanced, and more dangerous, techniques.

Gear Beta

El Potrero Chico is almost entirely bolted, and it is not uncommon for existing traditional routes to be later bolted. A small amount of trad routes exist. Here’s our suggested gear you’ll need for doing some of Potrero’s famous multi-pitch sport climbing:

  • Durable climbing shoes – for sharp rock. Bring two pairs if its an extended trip
  • Comfortable harness – important for multi-pitching
  • Helmet – rock fall does occur
  • Belay device
  • Self rescue gear- (prusiks)
  • 2 locking carabiners & 2 personal anchors – depending on your preference
  • 14-20 quick draws – routes are closely bolted and 20 is useful for linking multi-pitches
  • 70m rope – with some sort of middle marker. 60m minimum
  • Chalk bag & chalk – it gets hot
  • Headlamp and extra batteries – the long multi-pitches often cause night repels
  • Water bottles or large hydration pack
  • Sun screen

If you arrive and find yourself lacking any of these things, you can probably find them at one of these local places.

Dangers in Potrero Chico

The Mexican desert environment brings with it some unique challenges that foreigners are often unaccustomed to. Less in the winter but especially in the summer you can find large poisonous caterpillars and rattlesnakes on ledges. Cacti are a big nuisance both to cutting yourself and getting your rope stuck in them. Professional rescue teams in Mexico are almost non-existent so extra care must be taken when multi-pitching to deal with snake bites, rock fall, dehydration, and ropes getting stuck in ledges, cracks or cacti. As with all climbing, climbing at Potrero Chico is a inherently dangerous sport that must be practice with care and carried out with proper instruction. The following pictures are all from Potrero Chico, but your chances of actually seeing most of these is pretty low.

Specific Route Information

This website does not attempt to document individual routes; there are plenty of other good sites and guidebooks that already do that. We do have a few recommended beginner routes in the next section. The following are the best places to find more route information:

Beginners Routes

A common beginner question is where to start – there are hundreds of routes to choose from. The following is a short list of recommended beginner routes based on our experience at Potrero Chico. We encourage everyone to comment for further beginners route advice.

Climbing Snot Girlz

Excellent Warm Up Walls (lots of 5.8 & 5.9)

  • Far left of Mota wall
  • Wonder wall
  • Scrutinizer wall
  • Mini super

Excellent Beginners Multi-pitches

  • Cactus Pile
  • Estrellitas
  • Super Nova
  • Snot Girlz

  • Frank Sarat

    I discourage the European ethic of multi-parties on routes with the expectation that faster parties can play through.

  • Jcwmara

    There is now an emergency Back Board and kit stored at the Posada-which they have agreed will be available 24/7 for whenever it is needed…

  • http://davetcoleman.com Dave

    Added to website, thanks!

  • Ericjohnwright

    Am specifics on why that makes sense, you would like to share with us?

  • paul

    I can think of a couple problems with passing.

    1) Multiple parties on the same route increase the risk of rock fall
    2) Passing may not be easily accomplished
    3) The second party will hold up the first (while waiting for them to pass) and the first may not have the extra daylight needed.
    4) First come, first serve
    5) The passing group might not be as fast as they think they are…

  • Jerome

    I would add to gear beta, self rescue gear (prusiks) and the knowledge of how to use them.

  • http://davetcoleman.com Dave

    Done

  • Mark Grundon