Wednesday, December 31, 2008

El Potrero Chico (Mexico) is teh sick


I spent the first three weeks of December climbing in El Potrero Chico near Hidalgo, Mexico. Basically, this area consists of several 2000+ foot tall mountains with shear limestone walls on every side. Crazy. Huge amounts of awesome rocks and established routes. Only a small percentage has been cleaned, bolted and established. Cragging, multi-pitch, bouldering, you name it.

I climbed tons of five star routes, but Timewave Zero was the one to remember. It is a 23 pitch (2300~ foot tall) bolted route that tops out at a peak. (!!) Many strong climbers are benighted and end up spending hours rappelling in the dark. I was pretty nervous, since I am not known for my speed in life tasks or in climbing.

Two weeks before our attempt, I had struck up a conversation with a balding/grey-haired Swiss climber called Lucien. His English was sparse, but better than my French. His girlfriend had only been climbing for 2 months and wasn't up for any big missions, so Lucien asked me if I would like to climb Timewave Zero. I pulled out the topo, pointed to Pitch 20 (5.12a) and said, "but this pitch is very hard." Lucien replied, "I can lead this, no problem" making some crimping and pulling motions and gritting his teeth.

I set my alarm for 5:45am, 1-1/2 hours before sunrise brings warmth to the desert. I performed each of my morning tasks according to the plan that I had previously devised. My bag and lunch had been packed. My clothes and breakfast had been set aside. I had written the topo on my forearm in sharpie. I had spent the previous day neurotically fretting over every detail, but this allowed me to be an efficient morning machine.

Lucien and I walked into the park, where the gatekeeper heard our voices, rolled over in his bed, opened the window of his hut and groggily asked us for the 10 peso entrance fee. That's job commitment! We made our way up the steep and loose approach, arriving just as the fist hint of dawn was appearing. I was unpacking when Lucien realized that he forgot his harness! "I will make very sure foot", he said, borrowed my headlamp and disappeared into the darkness.

When he returned, the dawn light was in full swing. He was very sweaty and asked me to lead first, since his heart was beating too fast to climb. I lead the first pitch, got to the anchor and proceeded to drop my belay device! Lucian linked the next pitches to an out-of-view anchor and we spent the next 15 or so minutes waiting for each other and staring at the rope. I was beginning to worry that Lucien had a heart attack, but it turned out we just needed to discuss the belay commands for French and English. This was not an auspicious start, but we were in good spirits and I was confident we would iron out the wrinkles.

The next twenty or so pitches seemed to melt away with Lucien and I swapping and linking. The climbing is mostly soft 5.9 with a few 5.10's and one each of 5.11, 5.12, and 3rd class. We kept a steady tempo, never rushing, but rarely pausing. It was almost as though my mind trusted my body to take over. I felt safe and didn't worry about the bolts, the runouts, or the exposure. Lucien on-sigthed the crux pitch. I freed the entire route, except twenty feet of the crux pitch where I french-freed (pulled on draws and the rope). We arrived at the top around noon. I had been smiling all day, but at the summit my grin was truly shit-eating. The feeling of moving over so much rock, so quickly is simply amazing.


Taking off on Lead Again

Hanging around on Timewave Zero


EM said...

YOu are SOO HAPPPPY!!!! GreeeAT

CHL said...

w00t! i kinda wish you got a shot of the gatekeeper dude in the pickup truck....wah!