El Potrero Chico 03/2010


About the trip

I wasn't planning on climbing until I heard Quest was doing a trip.

El Poterro Chico Pages


About El Potrero Chico

El Potrero Chico is an internationally renowned rock climbing area in the Mexican state of Nuevo León, 3 km outside the town of Hidalgo. Long a destination for rock-climbers from around the world, Climbers from Austin, Texas, notably, Jeff Jackson, Kevin Gallahger, and Alex Catlin, along with Colorado climber/raver Kurt Smith started developing the area back in the 1990s. Development continued in the 21st century, notably by first accentionists Magic Ed, Alex Catlin, and Dane Bass. Many climbers have attempted to build bridges with the local community, but there remains much work to be done. The climbs are mostly situated in a canyon at the entrance of the park, while the interior offers undeveloped mountain terrain with lots of good mountain biking, ranging from very easy to expert routes.

El Potrero draws many climbers from throughout Mexico. It is considered one of the top 10 locations to sport climb in the world.[citation needed] In addition to well over 500 routes, the area boasts the second longest sport route in North America, Timewave Zero, ringing in at 23 pitches and over 2000 feet. New routes are continually being developed. There is a large range of different climbs, most of them in the 5.8 to 5.13 grade. The type of climbing can range from steep overhanging face to easy slab. The rock is usually quite sharp.

El Potrero is a unique geological formation of limestone cliffs, some as high as 2000 feet. The eventual status of the land uncertain. Much of the area is a "protected zone" (NOT a national park), a legal classification of little actual consequence. After the Mexican Revolution of 1910, the land within the park was divided amongst the townspeople as per the ejido system. This means that the town ejido commission currently owns and controls 99% of the climbing.

Main climbing areas

Multi-Pitch Climbs


The temperature can vary quite a lot from day to day and from sunny to shady areas. During the summer months however, it is recommended to climb in the shade only. Due to the shape of the canyon, the weather outside may be cloudy and raining, but sunny inside the potrero. It is always possible to find a shady area. In the winter months, the usually daily high is about 18 degrees Celsius yet some days it can reach close to 25 degrees. The low is usually about 5-10 degrees but snow is always possible.


There are quite a few campground/ranches just outside the park from 3-6$ a night. Free camping is also available in the park. Most of the campgrounds also offer rooms for rent and there are several rental houses in the area. For more information on campgrounds, hotels or rental homes check with the tourism director through www.potrerokrew.com

Rappelling / Abseiling

- Tie ends at the end of your rope.  Many climbers have been lost due to this simple mistake.
- Learn how to rappel simultaneously with your partner.  This is actually a very simple process and is safe presuming you can trust your partner.  There are no 'walk-offs' in El Potrero Chico.  Rappelling one at a time takes hours.  Simul-Rapping is over twice as fast.
- Read route descriptions in detail.  Many routes have long traverses which require you to top out after passing that pitch (and rappel another line).


-The rock of El Potrero Chico is limestone.  Most climbs are juggy allowing you to climb in semi-wet conditions.
-Rock fall is a real concern at El Potrero Chico but is not a problem if you are careful, stay on the route and wear a helmet!
-Most rock fall occurs when somebody goes off route to try to make a climb easier.
-Remember tap rocks and listen for the 'hollow' sound.


-Rock climbers and locals have very good relations.  Lets keep it that way.
-Magic Ed, Tami and Dane Bass (all Gringos) are good people to ask for beta, guidebooks and restaurant recommendations.  You will run into them on your visit.
-El Potrero Chico is a relaxing and party spot for the local Mexican communities.  On many levels this adds to the environment.  The locals are very friendly and normally speak enough English to be social. 
-There are no 'baggers' in El Potrero Chico.  The kids occasionally want a biner for their collection.

El Potrero Chico - Rock Climbing - Spadout.com

I live in Estes Park, CO and climb primarily trad, alpine routes here.  I am a strong believer that the routes should stay this way untouched by bolts.  I am opened minded enough to understand that bolts have there advantages and are appropriate in numerous locations including El Potrero Chico.  I would encourage you not to question the ethics used here before you have experienced the climbing here.

Ethics are unique in El Potrero Chico.  If you are from Yosemite I would recommend coming here with an open mind.  Bolting everything is standard practice here.  Having your entire rack be fifteen quickdraws for two thousand feet is a pretty neat experience. 

The rock is questionable at times in El Potrero Chico and placing trad gear the entire way would be exciting to say the least.  There are also numerous advantages to the bolting tactics.  Bailing is easy and the walls are not scattered with huge collections of multi-colored slings (often found on trad walls).  You can push your limits extremely hard and falling is acceptable.  I have taken hundreds of falls in El Potrero Chico and never obtained any serious injuries.

Finding your route is extremely easy because the name of a given route is often conservatively written at the base of the climb.  This is very useful when a wall has fifty plus climbs scattered along its walls.

These ethics are easy to complain about when you live in a world of solid granite cracks with a rescue team and a hospital a close distance away.  Even as a trad climber I love El Potrero Chico.  I can honestly say some of my best climbing days were spent here I defiantly plan to return soon.

El Potrero Chico - Rock Climbing - Spadout.com

Most routes are bolted in El Potrero Chico.  A trad rack is defiantly not required though adventure climbers may appreciate one.

- 20 quickdraws
- 70m rope (60m at a minimum)
- Helmet (don't go without one)
- Hydration Pack or water bottle
- Gatorade or competitive product with electrolytes
- Comfy Harness (allot of belays in El Potrero Chico are hanging belays)
- Chalk bag and chalk (this is a requirement in the summer)
- Belay / Rappel device
- Headlamp with batteries
- Locking carabineers
- Sun Screen
- Mexican car insurance is required
- Spanish dictionary is a plus
- US currency is accepted all over Mexico at a fair exchange rate


Heres some good things to do before you leave for El Potrero Chico by road

* Collect necessary paperwork: You will be required to obtain a temporary vehicle import permit if you are driving beyond the border towns. You must have certain paperwork with you to obtain the permit. These papers can include vehicle registration and title, permission to drive the car in Mexico from any vehicle co-owners or lien holders, your passport, a bank-issued credit card, and return receipts from any previously issued import permits (see "The Vehicle Import Permit", below, for more specific details).

* Take care of maintenance issues: most Americans will want their car well-maintained so that they don't have to worry about breakdowns or unexpected repairs on the road. Get the oil change, make sure the tires and brakes are good, etc. (On the other hand, many Americans cross the border specifically to take advantage of lower costs on many repair jobs: this is especially common in Tijuana where Californians know that they can get good body repair and upholstery jobs done in Tijuana for substantially better prices than they'd get at local shops -- but this is a huge can of worms and a sizeable treatise in itself).

* Understand customs requirements: Leave at home anything that will get you into trouble. Customs agents expect you to declare things that wouldn't normally be used by a tourist. They won't blink an eye at your 35mm SLR camera, nor at your laptop. But, if you're carrying a 25" color TV or a desktop computer system, customs agents may demand that you pay import duties on the merchandise (or they may confiscate them if you didn't declare them). Also, I don't know why some Americans feel that they should bring a gun with them when they cross the border, but you might want to be aware that Mexico has extremely strict gun control laws. Carrying so much as a single cartridge across the border is a felony that can land you in jail for a decade or more.

Crossing the Border
To take your car into the interior of Mexico (more than 20 kilometers from the border), you must obtain and display a temporary vehicle import permit. You must also purchase insurance from a Mexican company. Technically, you could save the money on the insurance and nobody would be the wiser, but if you do not have the insurance and you have an accident, you should expect to be jailed -- possibly for some time. Uninsured motorists sit in jail until police determine responsibility and all claims arising from the accident are settled.

When you cross into Mexico you pass through gates that have traffic signals on them. You will get either a green or red signal. If you get a green signal, you are free to pass and go about your business. If you get a red signal, an alarm bell will also sound and a customs officer will wave you over to a parking spot on the side. You will be asked what you are carrying, and you will probably be asked to open the trunk or the back of your vehicle if you have a truck or van. The inspection is usually quick, courteous, and perfunctory. The inspectors are enforcing the same types of laws that U.S. Customs officers enforce: you cannot carry certain types of produce or agricultural products (I've had cut flowers taken from me), you cannot carry excessive quantities of liquor or tobacco, you cannot carry excess quantities of cash (I believe the limit is $10,000, but it may be less), you must declare any expensive merchandise that you are bringing in (cameras, TVs, stereos, etc.), and they are looking for any type of firearm or ammunition whatsoever.

After passing the gates, look for the blue signs saying "Vehicle Import Permits". That's also where you'll get your tourist visa.

The Vehicle Import Permit
If you want to drive your car into the interior of Mexico, you must get a permit -- this is a big difference from crossing into Canada where you can essentially just keep on moving once you pass Customs. Not so in Mexico.

The permit consists of a silver hologram sticker that is affixed to your windshield and a certificate that you must carry in the car. The permits are good for 180 days (same as the tourist permits). Getting a permit is straightforward, but can be time consuming, especially during peak periods (summer weekends, christmas and easter holidays, etc.) I have had the whole process take me as little as 20 minutes or as long as 2-1/2 hours. The current wave of hysteria about travel that is keeping many Americans at home is great for those of us who like traveling -- one Friday in October, I crossed into Nuevo Laredo Tamps at about 7pm and got my permit within 20 minutes! Last week, there was a mere handful of people in line at the Aduana -- and I was the only gringo!

By the way, they moved the Aduana in Nuevo Laredo as of September 1. It's now on the road facing the Rio Grande, in between bridges 1 and 2 -- watch for the signs immediately as you cross the border. The new office is bigger, cleaner, air conditioned, and has signs suspended from the ceiling that (almost) clearly tell you what you need to do.

How the process works:
1) Get the tourist visa from the Migracion counter. There is a $20 fee for this.
2) Go to the copies counter and make copies of all required documents: vehicle title or registration, drivers license, tourist visa, passport, credit card. If you have had previous import permits, bring copies of the comprabantes showing that you returned the permits.
3) Go to the Banjercito cashier windows and present all documents and copies. You will be charged a fee based on your vehicle blue book value. The cashier will issue your certificate and window sticker.
4) If you haven't already gotten Mexican insurance, get it from one of the many agents in the Aduana office.

I have heard of people having problems getting permits because they did not have a clear title to the car. In theory, you are supposed to have permission from the lien holder if you have a loan on the car: in practice, I've never been asked for it. In theory, they can ask you for the title: in practice, they always seem to accept registration card. (Last summer I was getting a permit and had a registration document that was a year out of date. The guy asked me for a new one, and I told him I didn't have it -- Texans usually just have a registration sticker on the windshield, not a paper document. He shrugged and gave me the permit.) I have also heard that they sometimes insist that the credit card must have a bank name on it. I have had no problem using MasterCard and Visa cards that don't clearly have a bank name. My information is complete and accurate to the best of my knowledge, but I still advise you to check with the Mexican consulate before driving all the way to the border -- official info is usually the best info...

When you leave Mexico and return to the United States you must again stop at the Aduana and cancel your permit. If you do not, your credit card may be charged and you will be unable to ever get another permit. I have heard of inconsistencies in enforcing these rules in the past, but the Aduana guys seem to be getting their act together lately. On recent trips, they've known which permits I've had recently and which were canceled when (at least to the extent where I haven't had to show a sheaf of cancellation comprobantes), and they've had hand-held permit readers that they scan over the holograms to bring up data on your current permits. Aduana enters the 20th century...

No matter how good you think your American auto insurance policy is, you need to buy auto insurance when you go into Mexico. In the even of an accident, you must show "financial responsibility". That means proof of insurance through a Mexican company (or proof of a bond). If you don't have the right documents, you go to jail until the authorities sort everything out and claims are settled.

Prices and coverage vary, so it pays to shop around a little and compare prices and features. This is easy if you speak Spanish, hard if you speak only English since not all the agents will speak English. The prices depend mostly on the value of the vehicle. Here's some examples of what kind of rates to expect. My 2000 Plymouth Voyager has a listed value of about $16,000. In October, I paid $34 for a 3-day policy. Last week, I paid $76 for a 6-day policy that included extensive legal coverage. Over the summer, I paid about $120 for a 2-week policy. My 1999 Saturn SL has a value of about $13,000. In November, I paid $29 for a 2-day policy on that car. Expect to pay cash (US dollars are fine) for the insurance -- few of the agents take plastic.

On the Mexican Highways and Byways
Legalities and business taken care of, driving in Mexico should be fairly easy and straightforward. Check out the guidebooks and see what they say about driving in Mexico. I find some of their advice is outdated and sounds like old wives tales, but some is still probably useful. A few tips:

* Be more alert than usual. Lots of towns have big road bumps, low speed limits, and lots of local cops. Lots of outlying areas have rough roads, unmarked obstacles, and people or animals walking where you wouldn't expect. Speed bumps can appear anywhere. Sometimes they're marked (signs with a row of upside down cups probably means speed bump). Speed bumps are sometimes called "topes", or topetazos, but that seems more southern usage than northern.

Most maps made in the U.S. are useless once you cross the border. Many of the so-called North American Road Atlas books contain only a single page for the entire country of Mexico. If you pause for a moment to reflect on the enormity and complexity of just the capital alone -- a city that is the size of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles combined -- you might understand why I feel so strongly negative about these kinds of maps. I've called them "useless junk" before, that's a mild term for them -- trust me.

The best maps to Mexico are those by Guia Roji. There is a fat book of maps for Mexico City, fold-out maps for all major cities in the Republic, and an excellent nationwide road atlas that is widely available and which you can order on the internet from www.maps.com. Most Sanborns stores carry a good selection of Guia Roji maps.

Fill 'er up
All gas stations in Mexico are owned by Pemex, the national oil company. They are also all full-serve stations and they generally take cash only -- and cash means pesos, not dollars -- even in many border towns. Gas stations are plentiful in urban areas, and even in fairly remote areas, I've never had a problem finding a gas station when I needed one. Gas is usually a bit more expensive in Mexico than in the U.S., but they don't post prices on signs -- you have to look at the pump to see what the price is (and remember that the units are litres, not gallons).

Mexicans always tip gas station attendants, especially if he does a good job, such as by washing windows and checking oil. The tip is usually a few pesos -- 5 is fine, 10 is generous.

Autopistes / Toll Roads
Most of the Mexican toll roads that I've driven on have been among the best roads I've ever experienced anywhere in the world. Wide, modern, well-maintained, and well-marked with 110 kmph speed limits (which are generally enforced nice and laxly). These are also roads that you can safely drive at night. The downside though is the high tolls. The autopiste between Nuevo Laredo and Monterrey currently costs 160 pesos (about $18) for a trip of only 100 miles. The autopiste between Reynosa and Monterrey is about the same. While some guidebooks tell you that you can pay tolls with a credit card, you should be advised that this is no longer true. Cash only, please.

Car Repairs
I suggested earlier that it's a good idea to make sure you've taken care of any maintenance issues before leaving home. I stand by that recommendation, unless of course you're able to speak some spanish because I can almost guarantee you that most roadside fix-it shops aren't the kind of places where you'll find valedictorians from the college of language and linguistics.

Some cars are easier to get fixed in Mexico than others. I doubt you'll have any problem finding dealers or parts for anything Chrysler or Ford. Ditto with Volkswagen or Nissan. Chevrolet is popular everywhere, but the models are sometimes a bit different from those in the U.S.

Toyotas are not common in Mexico and you may be hard pressed to find parts or a mechanic who will work on them. Ditto for Hondas, though I've seen dealers sprout up in Monterrey and Mexico City in the last couple years, so the situation may be changing.

Certain luxury cars are easy to find dealers and parts for, especially in larger urban areas. BMW is particularly well supported and popular, and there are dealers for Mercedes and Volvo in the big cities. If you've got a car from any of the Japanese luxury brands, you're in for a tough time if anything goes wrong: I've never seen a dealership for Lexus, Infiniti, nor Acura.

Coming Back
When you return to the U.S. from Mexico, don't forget to turn in your permit at the Aduana office, unless you don't mind having possible penalties charged to your credit card and being banned from getting future permits...

U.S. border checkpoints are bad: in fact, I find them worse than most other countries. Expect outrageously long lines, rude agents, bad service, inadequate staffing, and general disrespect towards everyone. In Texas, the biggest entry point is Laredo/Nuevo Laredo.

If you're crossing at Laredo, you can minimize the pain of the wait by driving about 50 kilometers west to Columbia and crossing at the bridge there (this also shortens your drive on the U.S. side by about 15 minutes). I recommend this crossing only from Mexico to the U.S. Going the other way, Laredo is more convenient, and besides, I don't know if there is an Aduana office at Columbia where you can take care of car permit business.

I hope I've provided some insight for you, and if there's anything you think I've overlooked, please let me know. Hope you have a good trip...happy trails, amigo!

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About the Guide - Quest

I first visited Quest when I was a Junior in College. I went with our Student Government as part of the training and team building weekend. Once I got on the high ropes course, I was hooked. I was so intersted I started talking to the guides and found out that they offered extended trips open to non students. If you are interested in beginning in outdoor sports, I would recomend them as good way to get your first exposure.

QUEST is an outdoor adventure and recreation program at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania serving students and the general public. Quest offers outdoor and educational courses, mostly at the beginner and intermediate level, in Pennsylvania, the United States, Africa, South and Central America and Europe. People of all ages and backgrounds participate. Many courses are in response to organizations who ask them to design special outdoor experiences for them. Brought to prominence by Roy Smith, the man responsible for bringing Outward Bound to higher education in the late 60’s, and now led by his long time associate Brett Simpson, Quest is a great way to get introduced to outdoor sports.

To find out more information about quest, go to http://quest.bloomu.edu or just give Brett a call.





"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."    — Robert A. Heinlein

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