Buckle up kid's I'm back from Mexico and it's TRIP REPORT TIME. As usual there's a TL:DR section at the bottom.
EL POTRERO CHICO (THE LITTLE CORAL)
I first heard of EPC two years ago when a bunch of people from the club went during winter, and I sorta had my eyes on this place for a while now. Feels so surreal to have finally gone there and matched the places from those pictures to my own eyes being there in person. Anyway a group of us went to EPC this winter at different times, and for the most parts I'll be talking about my part of the trip.
The climbing at EPC is right outside town. If you see the photo above, past the "Potrero Chico" sign along the road you will reach the crag. Most of the campsites are right along the road leading into the crag, and town is about a 5 min drive from the crag along this road.
EPC is just outside the town of Hidalgo, about an hour away from the nearest big city of Monterrey. To get to Monterrey you have a few options
From Monterrey, you can either take a bus into town. I heard it's rather cheap but I didn't get details on that. The more common option is take a taxi service (in our case, Sean) who will be able to pick you up and drop you at your accommodations accordingly. This costs about $35-50. There's a Facebook Group where people post about accommodation options and also ask about sharing a cab or something, probably worth checking out and just asking questions if you have any.
Generally as pretty economical (or broke) climbers, many people at EPC opt for camping out. There's a variety of options to camp, and most of these campgrounds have better accommodation options such as a hostel room or even a house for rent (albeit more expensive). All campgrounds have a communal kitchen where you can use boxes and refrigerators to keep your food and booze, toilets and showers, and usually a restaurant as well.
The following are the main campgrounds that we know of/have stayed at. There are more options that you can research on.
Mexico isn't exactly in good light when it comes to safety, and the city of Monterrey has seen an increase in crime rates recently. That said, it is unlikely you are a victim as long as you take decent safety precautions. Also it is possible to avoid the city almost entirely during your visit to EPC. As for Hidalgo, it is much safer, and the climber-centric community is really friendly there. The locals are also super awesome friendly people. You can probably hitch-hike in and out of town for the most parts (we got a ride from a nice local driving along the main road, and two years ago Amanda hitch-hiked THE POLICE). During our stay there, we walked out on the streets at night as a group and never felt like we were in any sort of danger per say, and we didn't really frequent town all that much. So anyway, at least from what I know, you would go into town for 4 main reasons:
You can get most of your essentials from the grocery store (marked on map). Selection is limited but I doubt you'll really need much more. There's a bigger supermarket further North but you'd probably require a car to get there. Groceries are pretty cheap and probably about half that of what you would pay in the States. Essentials from the store are mainly
There are a bunch of convenience/booze stores throughout town (there's like 5 that you pass by before even reaching the grocery store). You can get snacks and stuff there but there isn't really much. Only thing I can remember is that some stores will charge you a little more for beer and that's cause you have to return the glass bottle for recycling for them to refund you that extra bit. Also there are a couple of roadside stores selling food (in houses or in food trucks) but we never really tried any of it.
However the one day that we did try the food in town was essentially their version of a farmers market, which happens Tuesdays and Fridays. The one on Tuesday is along a street about 2 blocks south of the grocery store. I did not go to the Friday one but I heard it is at a different location and is much bigger. The Tuesday market was just a row of stores that were set up on the street, selling things from produce to local foods to clothes and even had a bingo table you could sit and play. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND taking a rest day of sorts to go visit this market and try the street food, and also shop for groceries if you need, it took us no more than an hour to see everything so think of it as going to town for lunch. It reminds me a lot of night markets that you see in Taiwan or equivalents around Asia.
On of the few things I remember having were Sopes, where they had like flour tortilla dough discs about the size of your palm and they toast it then deep fry it and cut it open and toss a bunch of amazing toppings inside. IT IS SO GOOD and it's like a dollar each WHATTTTTT damn it now I'm hungry but totally try that it's so good. We also had freshly squeezed orange juice which was so tasty and also Walking Tacos which were basically nachos made inside a chips bag (usually Doritos). There's probably a lot more you can get but I also already bought like 3 large pieces of fried chicken so I was forced to stop eating.
When Mexico decide to start 2018 with some god damn snow you know that no one is going to be climbing, so everyone chills at the local cafe of El Búho Cafe. It's run by a bunch of climbers who are staying here for the long run (I believe it closes in summer when the climbing season is over though). The cafe's profits if I recall correctly go towards building a church for the local community. Pretty cool to see the climbing community and the locals having this symbiotic relationship. El Búho is where climbers go to chill and they have board games and books and pretty good food that is decently affordable (eggs, waffles, french toast, coffee are generally priced ~$1, stuff like a latte or hot chocolate ~$2). They sell coffee beans by the ounce, as well as merchandise such as stickers and t-shirts and also the latest guidebook (more on that later). This is a really nice place to hangout and the community is super friendly and cozy. There's free Wi-Fi but it's pretty much non-existent when there's a bunch of people. El Búho also hosts weekly barbecues every Tuesday night where they get a fire going and you can bring your food to grill and share and have a dope ass time with everyone. Highly recommend going too.
This is the last reason I can imagine you going into town, but basically if you need pesos you can withdraw from the Santander ATM in town. It's a little far away but if you go in the day time it shouldn't be a problem (I followed Kyle during the day and it was fine). At this point I'd like to mention to never change money at the US airport. The conversion rate was ~1 USD : 19 pesos and Las Vegas airport was only $1 : 16 pesos, plus a $10 service fee which was fucking bullshit. I basically paid like $50 more than I needed. If you have the time, you can go to a bank to request for a certain amount of foreign currency but that needs a few days of notice. I would suggest flying into Monterrey (or if you're driving, into any city), use the ATM to withdraw some cash using your US debit/credit card. The rate you get should be pretty decent based on the rate set by the bank. If you are unsure if the rate is good, you can always withdraw just enough to get you to Hidalgo then draw more money after.
Food in Mexico is both fantastic and affordable (just like South East Asia which you should totally go to). If you were staying here for a while and wanted to save on expenses, you can whip up a dope ass meal for less than $3 pretty easily. If you're buying from the local grocery store, most stuff are pretty standard but here are some recommendations for groceries that we enjoyed:
However if you do wish to eat out every meal, that's super affordable here too. You almost certainly can get by with less than $10/meal and it'll most likely include a big ass margarita. Also my impressions is that a good number of climbers are vegan or vegetarian and a couple of places I saw did offer those options which is nice. I didn't try all the places but here's a few that we came across.
Leo's Restaurant: Right next to La Posada. They serve this amazing red chicken in some dope ass marinade that tastes absolutely amazing. For~$6 you get a BUFFET, I REPEAT, A BUFFET. There's salsa and chips for starters, then the main meal of the chicken, rice, some vegetables and flour tortilla, and I think drinks are $1 each. Also for winter there's a nice campfire outside where people chill, and Leo's has a digital jukebox that has a good selection of songs. Really nice place to chill and hang out with people.
Checo's: Opposite Leo's. We had one meal there which was okay (I really like the guac tho). It's an indoors restaurant which is clean and has a nice toilet at the back but other than that the food is ~$5 per dish and drinks ~$1 each. Nothing too memorable but it's a nice place if you want to be warm and cozy indoors.
La Posada: Inside La Posada campground itself. Pretty Americanized, and honestly I didn't really enjoy the food. The restaurant itself looks really fancy and nice (while us people inside are probably dirty and don't look very nice). Service time was a little long, and the food itself was mediocre in my opinion. The desserts seemed nice but were limited, though that chocolate cake was the bomb. Average price for a meal ~$6.
Rancho el Sendero: In Sendero's campsite itself, beside the main kitchen. Didn't actually try any of the food other than the one day with the buffet but there seems to be a good selection at a reasonable price ~$5/meal, and drinks probably ~$1 each. The restaurant is not the nicest looking one but it has a sofa and TV which is nice. But huge selling point is the Friday night buffet, where it's all you can eat with chicken, rice, vegetables, chips, soup, and WOOD FIRED PIZZA, all for $6. It was honestly one of the best things I've ever had. Also there's a nice big campfire outside afterwards where everyone hangs out.
Face Burger: Didn't actually try this but there was a lot of hype for it. Burgers literally the size of your face. It's not really a restaurant but rather a house of one of the locals. Turns out everything's closed on Sunday so we didn't get to go, but it's one of the best places to dine out in town. Also get there early cause the other group went but at 7pm there were like 14 orders ahead of them so they gave up.
Arturo's Tacos: Serves some seriously good tacos. Can't remember what the options were but it's basically beef or pork, and you toss a bunch of cilantro and onions onto it along with some amazing salsa. The trompo tacos are basically meat tacos that are slowly grilled on a vertical cooker that roasts the outside of the meat (which is why in a big group this option will involve a bit of waiting). But it's so damn good, and each plate (which is like 5 small tacos I believe) is only $2, and soft drinks for $1. Bring some wet wipes or something cause it seemed like there wasn't a toilet you could use or even a tap to was the oil from your fingers, but hey it's so good you'll probably lick if off. The Google Maps location was not really correct but they may have updated it. It's in a small alleyway just East of the railroad.
Taco Loco: No idea what this place was called but it's basically a hole in the wall and they set up tables and chairs outside and serve like a burrito thing for dinner BUT they also have a big ass margarita. Nice place to chill with the outdoors seating and they also have a fire to keep you warm. Dinner and margarita is ~$6
Tacos Y Mas: This is the taco stand right by the entrance of the Potrero Chico sign that opens in the evenings where they'll put out a covered shelter and set up a fire outside. Good food, about $1 for a taco I believe.
Edgardo's Pizza: This is where most of the climbers seem to hangout. Edgardo has a trailer which sells pizza, climbing gear, guidebooks, and (apparently the best) margaritas (and apparently does shoe resole too). You'll know when he opens cause he'll blast music from his van which can be heard throughout the canyon (which is kinda annoying actually cause it can start pretty early when you're still on the climb). Lots of people hang out there by the fire which is nice and it's a great place to chill after a day of climbing.
There are definitely more options for food but you'll probably have to ask the locals. This website might help too.
Personally I have a stupid mistake that I made and I think it is important to share this. On the last day after topping out on the last climb, we got ready to rappel. Mihail went down first, and in the mean time I was in-direct to the wall while standing on a ledge. At some point, I realized I mixed up the biners I used and switched them out from my PAS. For about 5 seconds, I didn't realize that I had no points of contact on the wall at any point. When I was back in-direct, I was literally quite shaken by what I had just done, and even now thinking back on it, it really scares me. It didn't even occur to me that what I was doing was dangerous because I was on a ledge and the rope was right in front of me. Doing all those multipitch routes got me complacent and negligent on my safety procedures (I should have had 2 points of contact in the wall and at the very least 1 at all times). I didn't realize what I had done could have killed me. I don't mean to blow this out of proportion but I just hope that we never have to hear of an incident where someone we know gets injured or even dies from making a silly mistake that can be avoided.
EPC is basically just a canyon formed by two mountains (El Toro on one side and the other I don't know the name). One of the best things about this canyon is short approaches. Jungle Wall is literally right beside the road, and your approach to some climbs is literally two steps from the sidewalk. Even the more committing approaches took no more than 30 minutes and are steep but relatively straightforward (less the hike up to El Bobo which was a fucking nightmare).
The rock is limestone which isn't as high-friction as sandstone, but I found that this limestone was still decently grippy and full of features, which is great for an edgy boy like me who loves to edge. The rock can be sharp so get those hands ready to be bloodied especially if you're looking to hand jam. If you never climbed limestone before, it may be good to take a day to climb easier stuff to get used to it. I recommend using the first day to get used to the rock by doing single pitch climbs, because EPC boasts some solid single pitch climbs too. Another plus point for limestone is that it's really porous - most of the climbs dried out so quick we never worried about wet rock for most of the trip. Downside about the rock however is that there is still lots of choss and even large death blocks (marked with a big X) which are loose. Always be aware of the dangers and make sure you yell "ROCK" if there are any pieces falling.
For the multipitch climbs, note that there are usually rappel rings that are separate from anchor bolts. If you are climbing, use the anchor bolts unless you are the first party up or have a bad belay position, because you don't want to be using the rap rings of a party ahead of you. There's a bunch of basic multipitch etiquette that we had to learn (such as how much space to give a party ahead, or when to give up on a climb based on the queue), so make sure to not be 'that annoying party' at the crag.
Ok on a lighter note, here are a few climbs that we did and highly recommend doing. I'm sure there are more but these were all we could squeeze into our short trip to EPC. A quick point that you'll probably find beta on linking pitches, which would involve more draws and potentially a longer rope. Highly recommend bringing 24 draws (at least a few of which are alpine draws), and a 70m rope (some routes can only be rappeled with a 70)
Here are a few cool things that happened over the 10 days I was in Mexico
It’s time for a well overdue trip report that all of us were too lazy to write about!
During the last week of winter break, a good number of us went out west in search of good climbing, less than freezing rocks, lots of good food, and maybe a chance to get lucky.
Yes we’re talking Vegas baby.
Our group comprised mainly of two groups, trad (local climbing legend Alex James and co), and sport (everyone else who wasn’t worthy enough for our local climbing legend). And Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, or Red Rocks for short, boasts quality trad, sport and multi pitch routes in a dry and arid desert (average of 4 days of rain a month), which was perfect for our group. With over two thousand routes just a few miles off Las Vegas Boulevard aka The Strip, this was the go to crag for our winter break.
Most of us flew into Las Vegas airport, except my MVP Ansel Higgs and gang (Eric, Dylan and Amanda) who decided that it wouldn’t be enough of a challenge unless you drove across continental US in the middle of winter (it was rad). Some groups of us arrived a few days earlier and got some climbing in at Red Rocks, while Kyle, Kirsten, Noah and I arrived on Saturday. Kyle rented a sweet SUV, and even with that amount of space, we barely fit all 4 of us with luggage, camping and climbing gear in, so in case you’re considering fitting 5 into a vehicle, I do not recommend that.
Team "Drive Across Continental US Cause I Can"
So now it’s time for some fun facts:
The catch? It’s in the middle of a dried up lake.
There are quite literally no roads there, so driving in at near 2am and shining our headlights in hopes of finding our group was a huge pain in the ass. After half an hour of aimless wandering at other groups of parked cars, watching the GPS jump around, and leaving tire tracks over half the damn lake, we found our group and finally caught some sleep.
The challenge was to identify our group, and the tents didn't help. So we used Ansel's car which had an Illinois licence plate to find everyone (P.C. Ansel Higgs)
The lake sucked, but the sunrise was gorgeous (P.C. Dylan Walsh)
Next morning, after hugging each other in acknowledgement that our friends are in fact alive, our group debated on what to do for coming days. Joshua Tree had a lot more trad and bouldering, and about half of us were there mainly for sport. So by the power of Mountain Project (go download it), we found this place called New Jack City about an hour from JTree, and our group split from there.
Now for the good stuff. New Jack City (officially known as Sawtooth Canyon) is the beautiful gem hidden in the middle of nowhere in Southern California with some 300 sport routes. The metamorphic rock looks gorgeous and while there are a few sketchy routes with choss (loose rock), most of the holds are solid and generally safe. Routes are well bolted and easy to find, even without a guidebook we got around pretty well with Mountain Project. Unfortunately because we didn’t have a guidebook, I did not keep track of which climbs I did, and we kinda just went ahead with whatever grade we were told the climbs were as long as they were within our abilities. On that note, gradings there are close to Jackson Falls, not too tough, but definitely not soft.
The crag comprised mainly a 5.10 and 5.11 climbs, so lucky for me, I managed to bag a few mid 10s which I was comfortable leading. That said, there are some good 5.7-9 climbs too, with the only climb I remember being Crooked Dick Spire (5.9), or as I like to call it, Poop Rock. There are also a few two pitch climbs, one of which I did with Ansel as our first sport multipitch. Unfortunately, it is chossy as hell, hard to find, and very exposed (lots of wind), coupled with some technical difficulties, ended up not being a great climb. But still if you’re looking to do your first multi pitch, there are options in New Jack City.
The pretty metamorphic rocks that forms New Jack City
Poop Rock in all her glory (Crooked Dick Spire, 5.9)
Other great things about New Jack City, camping is free, with vault toilets, a pavilion and fire pit for each, and while there is no running water, the town of Barstow is only a 30 minute drive North on a straight road from New Jack, where you can find a Walmart, gas stations and restaurants.
Did I forget to mention that the crag is 100 feet from the car park?
That was literally my favorite part about New Jack City. It was so compact and accessible, with a bunch of climbs just a five minute walk from the campsite. I felt like I was in this playground that I never got to explore as a child, just that this was a playground for climber which was even better.
The sport group spent two days at New Jack City. The first night, it was forecast to rain so only my car camped at New Jack City while the others went back to the BLM lake. But well it rained at both places (in fact it hit them harder in the middle of a freaking dried up lake with no shelter), and they ended up coming back to New Jack City, so I guess we won that night. Also, we had breakfast at this lovely diner chain called Black Bear Diner, which was a little pricey, but had massive portions and was absolutely delicious so I highly recommend it.
Eric and Dylan atop one of the two pitch climbs in New Jack City (P.C. Dylan Walsh)
I can probably unlock my car from the top of the route
After two days in New Jack City, we heard that there are some sport climbs in JTree so we headed there to regroup. Camping at JTree was apparently full, paid campsites nearby were expensive, and we were sick of staying in a dried lake. So we got two motel rooms instead (9 Palms Inn), which allowed for a good night of drinking and ice cream. Also, showers. It’s nice to be clean once in a while.
Joshua Tree National Park has over a thousand boulder problems and much more trad routes, known to be notoriously sandbagged (under graded). But with no crash mats we had to make do with whatever sport routes we had. Our group split into two, one group followed the trad group by top roping their routes (I only joined for one day, which I didn’t remember much of), and the other group sport climbed in this place called Siberia.
The approach to Siberia was flat but about 2 miles long along a well-marked path called the Boy Scout’s Trail. Getting near the crag was not an issue, getting to the actual climbs to find the damn routes was near impossible without a guidebook, because the main path kind of disappears and it becomes easy to follow a ‘stray path’ that guides you away.
When we first arrived at the rocks, we saw a few routes with the first bolt unreasonably high up (I swear some first bolts were at least 25 feet up, not a difficult route, but not some simple scramble up). Finally after Kyle went exploring a little we found the right place with a couple of good climbs. They were mostly 5.9-10a, with some questionable flakes, high first bolts, and very sketchy scrambles to the base of each route. But they were good climbs, with my second (or first proper) multi pitch Dos Chi Chis (5.10a, 2 pitches) that I did with Kirsten, a slab climb that that was very exposed (Noah apparently got blown off the route, literally), but very enjoyable.
The approach into Siberia involved a lot of scrambling
Eric and Noah atop Dos Chi Chis
Siberia boasts some stunning views, especially near sunset
Getting out of Siberia however, was much less enjoyable. On the first evening, Kyle, Eric, Noah and I had our little desert adventure getting lost, following a bunch of paths and misidentifying landmarks which guided us off track (though I have to say it was quite a scenic hike out in the moonlight). Thankfully Kyle had GPS on his offline maps which allowed us to find the trail after an hour of wandering. So go download offline maps, your life could depend on it.
Another highlight of our trip to Jtree was The Chasm of Doom, a mini ‘cave system’ of sorts that involves lots of scrambling which occasionally gets sketchy, as well as squeezing through cracks and up chimneys. It starts near the Real Hidden Valley loop trail, but honestly I’m not too sure where it really is, you can search online for more details. In fact we may not have done the ‘actual’ trail cause it’s supposedly a secret route but we did what we could. The best part of The Chasm of Doom was that we did it during a full moon, so we barely even used our headlights, relying on the bit of moonlight seeping through the cracks. Highly recommend doing this.
Other things to note about this part of the trip, JTree is a National Park, so you need a weekly pass ($25) or an annual pass (~$80) for each car. Camping in the park is not easy as campsites fill up fast, but we found a site at Jumbo Rocks campground, which was far from the crags we were headed for, but still a nice campground. Also, JTree has vault toilets around, but no running water so remember to stock up. Food wise, there’s a great pizza place called Pie for the People in the town just North (Twentynine Palms). Oh and the rocks in Jtree are quartz monzonite, an igneous rock which from far looks smooth, but up close it is essentially sandpaper embedded with crystals. In other words, don’t fall on the rock. It’s incredibly grippy, but it will grate off any skin you have if you grind yourself against it on a fall.
Our cozy campfire at Jumbo Rocks campgrounds
After three days at Jtree, our group decided to head to find out one more sports crag for our last day of climbing, this time in Phoenix, Arizona. The place we went to was called Camelback Mountain, and it is smack in the middle of the city. Because of that, we couldn’t find a campsite, and settled for a Motel 6 instead.
Camelback Mountain is more of a park, being very established in terms of its walking path, with a nice carpark at the base and a toilet with running water there. Getting to the crag was a little tricky. It’s very close to the carpark and you don’t have to run too far off. Mountain Project has more details on it. But basically there are two walls. Headwall is the base with 10 routes, and Gargoyle Wall is ABOVE Headwall. Yes, you have to climb up some route first before you arrive at Gargoyle Wall, which was why we got quite lost in the process.
All of us paired up and got on some sort of a multi pitch climb. I was with Kyle heading up this unnamed route, Unknown (5.10a, 3 pitches). First pitch was tricky, because the belay ledge was very far right, and I missed it which required some down climbing and quickdraw retrieval. Second pitch was where the trouble began. Kyle got pretty far up, and I was nearing the end of my payable rope. We tried shouting for him but the wind was strong and we couldn’t hear each other. Eventually Eric and Amanda who were climbing beside up got high up enough and he told us he was at the anchors, so I unclipped and started climbing too. Eventually I got up, met Kyle at the anchor and learnt that
That feeling when you sit on stable ground after a long run-out section
Panoramic views atop Camelback Mountain
With the sun setting in Arizona, we headed back to Vegas and caught our flights out of Sin City, marking the end of our climbing trip. Our grand plans for the week in Vegas never happened (I never got to eat my ramen), but I’m kind of glad we ended up straying so far from our original plans. The highlight for me was definitely New Jack City, which I would never have found had we not detoured all the way down to Southern California.
Special shoutout to Kyle for coordinating and taking charge of things with our car, always looking out for us, to Noah and Kirsten for being awesome car buddies, and Eric and Amanda for helping me get sketchy van back home from Oklahoma City. It was a fantastic trip, and I can’t wait to get back outdoors for more climbing.
Climbing Trip Report: China Version ‘16 (Nov-Dec)
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