Dawn at El Potrero
David Goldstein wrote that he’d like to read more about “something related to the fun climbs”. Last year at this time, Dave and I went to Potrero Chico (Read about Dave’s famous ‘Passive Head Restraint System for Road Trips’ in “The Mountain World”).
Neither of us had visited Potrero Chico, but Dave had a hit list of long, hard routes, whereas I wanted to start on easier climbs. We went to the Mini Super Wall and climbed one pitch routes. After three climbs, Dave tired of “grid-bolted” routes and suggested we cross the road to try a longer climb.
We walked to “The Jungle” where he’d scoped out the four-pitch Jungle Mountaineering. The guidebook states: “tradition demands that this be your first climb in the Portrero.” Though not our first climb, it would be our first multi-pitch route, with pitches at: 5.9, 5.9, 5.9r and 5.10a. By the time I’d put on my shoes, Dave was halfway up the first pitch.
“Put me on belay when you’re ready,” he yelled.
The pitch seemed easy so I felt comfortable swinging leads. The second pitch continued on slabby limestone with good holds on solid rock, with bolts whenever I wanted one. I’d heard about Portrero Chico’s run-out sport climbs, but the bolting seemed fine.
Dave quickly followed my pitch. “Those pitches both seem easier than 5.9,” he said. I agreed that the grading seemed soft. On the next pitch, Dave clipped every other bolt “to add a bit of challenge.” After my fourth lead, at the next belay, a line of bolts continued up the rock.
Why would bolts continue past the fourth pitch? Perhaps someone added a pitch? We assumed each stance after 100 feet indicated the end of a pitch. Perhaps the pitches were 200 feet long, and the intermediate bolts were for rappelling?
I continued up. If our pitches were 200 feet, I might as well run it out. I feared running out of draws, so I skipped clips whenever I could. After another 100 feet, I arrived at a belay stance. More bolts continued up.
When Dave arrived, we discussed our predicament. We’d climbed five pitches, and faced a sixth pitch ahead. He thought we must be on another climb.
“That could be why those pitches seemed so easy,” he said. However, we had no idea what route we could be on. We saw Space Boyz to our right, and Jungle Boy, left of Jungle Mountaineering, had only two pitches.
“Let’s keep climbing as long as there are bolts,” Dave suggested. This was fine as long as any hard pitches we encountered were his – Dave was comfortable on 5.11s and easy 12s; I was happy leading 5.10.
Dave led pitch six, which seemed somewhat harder and I led pitch seven on excellent rock with abundant pockets. By now, I was hungry and thirsty. At the end of pitch eight, we saw two climbers rappelling down. Finally, someone could tell us how many pitches were left, and how hard they were.
“What route is this?” I asked.
“You’re on Yankee Clipper,” they replied. “It’s 15 pitches, but most people skip the last two. The register is at the top of pitch 13 and two pitches, 10b and 12a, go to the summit.”
“Let’s do the rest of the climb,” Dave enthusiastically suggested.
They gave us their topo. When I remarked that we’d brought no food or water, they shared their water and gave me some chocolate goo. With seven pitches remaining, Dave combined pitches 10 and 11 and I combined pitches 12 and 13.
At the top of pitch 13 we reached a notch with a view down the other valley. Clouds rolled in, making it windy and cold. We’d done 16 pitches, including the warm-up climbs. As it got colder and nastier, Dave agreed that we could sign the register and descend. I was happy to reach firm ground, with water and snacks.
After managing 16 pitches on our first day, we both felt more optimistic about Dave’s ambitious climbing plans, which included trying both Space Boyz (11 pitches, 5.10+) and Snott Girlz (7 pitches, 5.10+) in one day. That would total 18 pitches, only two more than we’d done today!