A true mecca of climbing, Yosemite Valley has been at the heart of American rock climbing from the sport’s earliest days. Legendary climbers like Royal Robbins and Warren Harding pioneered the valley leading up to modern day heroes, like Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold’s assents. Since the early 1990s, Yosemite has provided the setting for pushing the boundaries of what humans can do on rock.
Despite this, the “spirit” of the valley has diminished with the park’s rising popularity. With over four million visitors annually, there is serious competition for everything from simply entering the park to getting a campsite. Additionally, while early climbers lived in the Valley for the entire summer, visitors now are only allowed to camp for 14 nights in the park. The climbing remains phenomenal but some of the climbing culture has certainly been lost. Luckily, it has not disappeared all together. As the natural progression of adventure locations goes, it has simply moved to a new place. A less busy place.
El Potrero Chico in Northern Mexico has stepped into the shoes Yosemite left empty. A true dirtbag paradise, Potrero has a perfect balance of rock climbing and culture. The park contains 562 routes, many of which bolted and/or multi-pitch. Monster routes like the intimidating 23-pitch 5.12, Time Wave Zero, draws in serious climbers while softer routes like 3-pitch (5.9), Remember the Alamo, gives novice climbers the chance to get up on big walls.
Another factor the makes Potrero an attractive destination for climbers is how economically sensible it is to stay for long periods of time. The strength of the dollar in Mexico gives visitors a big bang-for-their-buck with ‘glampsites’ (that have showers and kitchens) running $5 a night and all you can eat tacos that cost even less. This is very attractive for dirtbags and climbers on a budget. The “park” has no entrance fees or even time limits on how long visitors can stay. The only time limit is the standard 6 months visa that comes with entrance to Mexico. The lack of rules and insanely beautiful surroundings allows the rebellious spirit of climbing to blossom once again. Climbers are able to push themselves to the limits on multi-pitch routes and then simply repel down to the valley- where they are greeted by campfires, friends and ice cold margaritas.
Potrero is a very special place because climbers are able to do what they love: climb. No rules or bureaucracy. Just hard routes, good people and better food. The heart and soul of the climbing community can thrive in this environment. A home for dirtbags, Potrero has attracted more and more climbers every year.
My advice: go now and enjoy what the original climbers at Yosemite’s camp 4 got to experience.
All Photos: Noel Nelson