No one is listening until you make a mistake.
Looming above the swimming resort, the four pitch Access Denied (5.10a, 5.9, 5.10c, 5.9) is another route that I looked at for more than 10 years before I got to climb it. Normally this is due to the vast amount of unclimbed rock in the Potrero, but in this case I didn’t venture onto it because there used to be a crusty old caretaker at the resort who would not allow us climb there. Finally, in the Spring of 2005, the old guy retired and the assault on the “resort walls” could begin. Dane Bass, Rick Ross and Ralph Vega put up a number of excellent routes on what they called the Wonder Wall (“It’s a wonder that this wasn’t the first wall bolted in the Potrero!”) and I went a bit further uphill to those dihedrals that I’d been looking at for so long.
After a false start that crapped out just 20 feet up, Thomas Emde, a German climber and Potrero regular, and I found the way into the dihedral on the first pitch. Unfortunately Thomas had to leave but I was able to replace him with Javier Gonzalez, a Spaniard who now lives in Southern California. Javier and I climbed and bolted the rest of the route and actually did the free ascent before cleaning all the vegetation and loose rock because now Javier was running out of time.
Just before he left, Javier jugged up to the start of the 4th pitch to trundle a huge refrigerator-sized block that was perched on a ledge. Now this was just a week before the swimming pools were scheduled to open and crews had been cleaning and painting and getting things ready but on this day the only person around was the new caretaker. We warned him about the block coming down and explained that because of the steep terrain below the wall whatever came down was likely to roll and bounce all the way to the pools. Well, that’s exactly what happened and a huge chunk of rock came crashing into one of the buildings causing some damage. The caretaker immediately went downtown to report us.
The local administration’s response was to close the whole Virgin Canyon to climbing. This made a lot of climbers angry because the Virgin Canyon is very popular that time of year since it gets lots of shade. We had to set up a meeting with the mayor and his henchmen to explain that we knew what we were doing and had made sure there was no one in the line of fire and that we actually did them a huge favor because that block would have come down on it’s own sooner or later. Calm was restored, the Virgin and Wonder sectors re-opened and we had a great name, Access Denied, for the new route.
Cleaning the rest of the route properly had to wait until the following Fall when the swimming pools closed. The second pitch was especially hard to clean because it consists of a 100 foot-tall wide crack that was completely choked with loose flakes and dirt and vegetation. When the route was finally clean I left the fixed ropes on it so I could jug up and get some good photos of Rusty Baille and Gildas Tremblay, long-time Potrero regulars, bagging the second ascent. Enjoy.
El que con lobos anda a aullar se enseña.
He who walks with wolves learns to howl.
If everything is coming your way, then you’re in the wrong lane.
Don Raul Revilla is generally acknowledged as the Grandfather of Mexican rock climbing.
Raul’s friends were always trying to get him to come hiking with them in the mountains above their home town of Pachuca, Hidalgo, an old mining town a couple hours north of Mexico City. Raul wasn’t interested until one day he heard that some visiting Spaniards were going to climb the vertical rock outcrops. He went, he saw, and he became an avid climber.
It was 1940 and the only climbing gear they had was a hemp rope, toreador slippers and home-made ring pitons. The leader would climb up the cobbled rock until he encountered a small crack where he could pound in a piton. Using a piece of hemp cord he would tie himself to the piton, untie the climbing rope from around his waist, pass the rope through the ring in the piton, tie back in, release the cord, and continue climbing.
One day Raul was reading a French novel that had been translated into Spanish. One of the scenes in the book was about rock climbing and it described a carabiner and how it was used for the climber’s safety. Now Raul had never seen a carabiner but based on the description he’d read he decided to make himself a couple of carabiners.
Made of hammered iron and baling wire, he beat Black Diamond to the wire-gate idea by more than 40 years.
Owning these two ‘biners, as well as his passion and big cojones, made Raul a very popular fellow.
Raul was a shoe maker and one day a friend asked him to make some mountain boots. They turned out so well that by simple word of mouth he had embarked on a new career that would support his large family and Revilla’s custom boots are still popular among Mexican climbers.
In 1990, Eric Sandberg and I went to Mexico for two months with 200 bolts and a hand drill. Our objective was to put up some routes on the Peña de Bernal, a huge monolith in the State of Queretaro.
Just before we left we picked up the latest copy of Rock & Ice magazine which contained an article about climbing in Mexico by Bill Hatcher and Todd Skinner. In the article they talk about meeting Don Raul and declining an offer to go climb El Colmillo, The Fang, 5.10b, one of the Maestro’s early masterpieces. As Todd put it, “the first crux is at 65 feet and the first protection is at 75 feet. The base of El Colmillo is littered with white crosses. If you did fall you’d land among them. At least six climbers have died attempting to do the route.”
Eric and I decided we had to meet Don Raul and at least take a look at this famous route. Here’s how it came about.
We were spending Christmas in Mexico City with my Mom when we heard about a climbing area right inside the city. You take the subway to the Copilco station, walk up to the street, turn into the high rise complex with 30 story buildings towering above you and find yourself amongst some really good basalt climbing. The buildings were built to house athletes during the Olympic Games of 1968 and now serve as married-student housing for the University.
While we were there we met a couple of climbers who said they were from Pachuca but attending the University in Mexico City. ”Do you know Maestro Revilla?” we asked. ”Sure, he’s my father,” replied our new friend, Pablo Revilla.
A few days later we found ourselves in Pachuca, an interesting city influenced by the large number of Cornish miners who moved here to work the mines.
This clock tower was a gift from England and the clockworks are a twin to Big Ben.
We stayed with the Revilla family for several days, climbing the local crags with Pablo and talking climbing history with the Maestro himself. He showed us his carabiner as well as a leather protector he made for those painful Dulfersitz rappels.
Finally the subject of El Colmillo came up and Pablo surprised us all by announcing that he felt he was ready to lead what was considered the local “final exam”.
By the time we were ready to leave the next morning the party consisted of Eric and myself and Pablo and two of his brothers. The Maestro had already planned an outing with some of his friends and would not be joining us. But at the last minute his friends cancelled and he decided to come with which was a good thing because without him we would never have found the right trail let alone the right spire to climb.
El Colmillo is in an area known as Los Frailes de Actopan, The Friars of Actopan, full of conglomerate spires and other weird formations.
Pablo powers through the unprotected crux.
For some reason I don’t have a photo of it but the belay anchor at the top of the first pitch consisted of two railroad spikes driven into some shallow cracks with a bunch of webbing tied between them.
Just before I started up the Maestro asked me, “Wouldn’t you rather be leading this?” ”Sure, but this is Pablo’s day.”
For a short time only, copies of my Climb El Potrero Chico, the ONLY up-to-date guidebook to the Potrero, will be available by mail. These books are usually only available after you arrive in Mexico. Order yours today.
Paypal $16.00 to firstname.lastname@example.org
Solo lo barato se compra con dinero.
Money buys only what is cheap.
When we first began living in Hidalgo the local’s idea of owning a dog was that someone would give them a puppy, or a stray would start hanging out near their home and they would throw them a few tortillas every day, and that’s all. No shots, no worming, very little affection, and when the dog got sick, the accepted practice was to ditch them in the Potrero.
Over the years we have rescued many of these dogs and found homes for them among the visiting climbers. We have had many wonderful successes and a few tragic failures. We have made great strides in educating the locals, supporting the young local veterinarian and offering free sterilization and have had a noticeable impact on the stray dog situation in town but we have a long way to go. We appreciate your support in these endeavors.
Rudy and Isaiah are my fabulous crag dogs. They were both plucked off the street near the Potrero when they were tiny puppies.
Jefe was adopted 2 years ago by Charles from North Carolina. He is the spokesdog for Charles’ company which makes dog leashes out of recycled climbing ropes.
We were driving some folks to the airport when we saw a tiny, mangy, puppy trying to cross the highway. It was Jim Thornburg, the famous photographer, who jumped out of the car and scooped her up. When we got back to the campground she was immediately adopted by Anne Ramsey and her partner Michelle. They named her Margarita and she has come back to visit every year since then.For more on Wendell see the March 25, 2011 blog posting.
Chuy has a fairly bad case of mange but the good news is that he is being cared for and is improving rapidly. I’ll be posting photos documenting his progress.
This is Negro, a pit bull, chow chow mix who has been hanging around the campgrounds and following us to the crags.
He looks rather intimidating but he’s really gentle and good-tempered.
He disappeared for a few days and came back all beat up from fighting with other dogs–prolly over a woman. Jeremy Ashton has stepped up and is taking care of him.
November 6, 2011
We are sad to report the passing of Rudy, crag dog extraordinaire and faithful companion for the past 16 years.
Little Chuy continues to improve:
One year later, Peanut and Kelly are back for another visit.
Who is this handsome dog?
Tami and I have adopted a new puppy, a little girl we’ve named Chloe. We’ve been amazed by how quickly she adapted to her new family and environment.
Negro has established himself as the official camp dog at La Posada and loves following the climbers to the canyon every day.
August, 2012–Somebody gave our neighbor’s Dad a puppy and he gave it to her but she decided it wasn’t fair to keep him because she’s gone at work all day so she brought him to us to see if we would take him. It was a no-brainer and we’ll be raising him up until we find him a good home.
Here’s the latest photo of Chloe:
Caleb has been adopted and will be living in Austin with Chris Palmer who adopted Pochica here 11 years ago!
It’s been a year since our beloved Rudy left us so I made a photo retrospective of his life.
We’ve been rescuing dogs for a long time but last year Dottie Cross and Ann Ramsey bumped things up a few notches by formally establishing the Fiona Animal Shelter, a non-profit foundation. Donations have been trickling in and we recently helped them inaugurate their now kennels and veterinary office and surgery.
If you would like to help please visit their website: potreropups.org