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Dog Days In El Potrero


Submitted by AllIn on 2009-02-15

Rating: 12345   Go Login to rate this article.   Votes: 3 | Comments: 11 | Views: 4844

by chris frederick


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Rolling into El Potrero Chico in true dirtbag fashion left me feeling rather exhausted, but my roadwearyness melted away while I salivated, my heavy eyes opening wide to marvel at the beautiful and terrifying chunk of rock that so dominated the scenery.

The "non-stop" bus from Dallas to Monterrey Mexico did manage to stop long enough in Laredo at 3am to pull my baggage off, unbeknownst to me. Imagine my surprise at the border when we unload the bus for "customs" and... no bags. The terrifying thoughts of losing ALL my gear did not stay with me for long, though. After about 5 hours of hassle, I was on the road again and only a few hours from my destination. The bad vibes caused by many hours of travel, lack of sleep, baggage hassles, and having to eat from Burger King were whisked away after I transferred from the bus, which delivered me from the madness of Monterrey to a cab that put me on a straight shot to El Potrero. The massive cliff grew closer by the second and I became more and more giddy.

The cast of characters started to reveal themselves to me immediately. The very first person I met as I pulled my increasingly heavy bags out of the cab, was Checo, the newly appointed director of tourism and owner of the best restaurant in The Potrero. He directed me across the street to La Posada where the few climbers that were in town were residing. As I rolled in, and arranged a tent space for the night, the party began. News had just traveled the wires, then the wireless to a climber's computer, announcing Obama's lead and forecasting his inevitable victory. Being in no shape to party, I crashed and slept through what sounded like a wild night.

The next day I met Homero, who treated me to a history lesson on The Potrero as we scavenged for pecans and cracked the shells with our teeth. He recounted the first time he saw Jeff Jackson while he was partying in The Potrero and called him over to drink a beer (a tradition which is still practiced by many Mexicans in The Potrero today). "For 7 years Jeff would keep coming back, and he would bring more of his friends each trip," Homero explained, "and they were always invited to stay at my house. One day they passed around a big jar and all of them filled it with money and gave it to me."

More and more people arrived at El Potrero every day and we were all climbing non-stop. We hurled ourselves relentlessly at the many super-classic multi-pitch routes. A 10 pitch climb was but a morning of climbing. The weather was always phenomenal, ideal for climbing, and the climbing was continuous. Eventually I got lazy. I adopted the pace of Mexico, and I found that the climbing at El Potrero is really suited for that pace. It is the only place I know of that I can wake up late, have a casual breakfast, leave the campsite at 10:30am wearing all my climbing gear having left the pack in the tent, find a partner on the way to the cliff, wait for him to lazily get his gear on, choose a route that looks most comfortable and accommodating to the weather, climb up through 1,500ft of stunning, vertical, bolted limestone and be back on the ground by mid-afternoon feeling totally satisfied, though craving an avacado and valentina taco.

I couldn't get enough of those delicious avacados. Surprised at how easy it was to hitch-hike, I would frequently hitch to the local market where I could get a big bag of them for the price of a pitiful lone avacado in the US. One day, as I was hitching back to camp, I was picked up by an American woman named Dottie Cross. As we quickly became friends, I was surprised to learn that though in her 60's she climbs 5.11, and that she is largely responsible for alleviating the dog problem at El Potrero. It seems the locals don't have the desire or the means to control the dog population, so they often end up dropping off the excess dogs in El Potrero. Dottie runs a dog rescue, and with much help from Tami and Ed Wright, she has managed to find homes for countless dogs who have all reportedly made excellent crag dogs.

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Before long, I found myself knowing the names of all the dogs in the area. They were all friends of Dottie and so soon they became friends of mine. This wasn't limited to dogs though. I soon found myself getting to know a whole slew of "local" climbing characters such as Tami Wright, who runs the local coffee shop and wi-fi hotspot, Ed Wright (Magic Ed) who has put up a great percentage of the routes here and is the author of one of the guide books, Dane Bass who has put up the other great percentage and wrote the other guidebook, and Edgardo Baca who is the local (actually local) hard climber and runs the mobile gear shop, just to name a few. I found myself getting involved in each of their lives. By bolting lines with Dane, doing deals for shoes with Edgardo, becoming one of the many grateful climber dirtbags that Ed and Tami take under their wing, and helping Dottie communicate with the only vet for dogs in town (of whom PotreroPups is the sole supporter) gave me a real sense for the strong climber community that exists in The Potrero.

Potrero is an amazing place. Come for the climbing. Climb Time Wave Zero the 23 pitch monster 12a that you can do even if you only climb 5.11. Climb all the amazing multi-pitch moderates. Climb the overhanging outrage wall with picturesque 12's and 13's. Climb the choice lines that Jeff Jackson put up that are famous in The Potrero for being harder for the grade than anyone else's. Yes, it is amazing, unique, and well worth it. There is more than a lifetime of it. And there is more than a lifetime of FA's in and around El Potrero. But don't leave without experiencing what makes this place truly unique. The culture in EPC is totally unassuming, and for the most part, people leave the egos and ethics debates at the border.

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11 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

 lostinalaska
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 2009-02-16
4 out of 5 stars Great story man, no pictures of the Dogs?
 terrieamartin
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 2009-02-16
4 out of 5 stars Nice, I really got a feel about what it would be like as a climber in El Potrero. Didn't know you were such a good writer.
 AllIn
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 2009-02-16
They only used one of the pics I sent them.
 woodenapple
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 2009-02-19
Great article..interesting people, beautiful place..where are the dog pics??
 AllIn
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 2009-02-19
Ok Ok, I get it. You want to see the dogs. Ok well here they are www.potreropups.com
 arwyn
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 2009-03-11
What an amazing place. Bravo for Dottie and her great heart for the potrero pups. She could use some donations to help support the work of love. arwyn
 arwyn
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 2009-03-11
Go to www.potreropups.com for info on helping Dottie and her dancing dogs. arwyn
 ACJ
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 2009-03-31
Cool story. Sounds like you really immersed yourself in the culture out there and slowed down a bit.
 c_szumylo
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 2010-01-26
Awesome, I'm at El Potrero right now and love it!
 rocknrob
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 2010-02-19
I'm from oz and i have yet to get to el potrero...but great story and...i know dottie!! as i'm sure half the climbing world does. i was climbing with her at cityofrock in utah when she had to rescue a guy who had dropped the rope on top of a 5.11...heheh...did he get a scolding! love you dottie!
 alpenweg
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 2011-01-12
switzerland is nothing like that
all competitive and not much of a community
more of a indoor climbing community here since it rains most of the year, but when it is dry and good to go, wow it is glorius

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