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El Potrero Chico for dummies (versus JT Nat. Park)

Original Post
Alipio Loyola · · Sao Paulo, SP · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 5

Hi all

I'm a Brazilian climber heading to North America in December and using the opportunity for some good rock climbing with my girlfriend.

We are more used to trad climbing in Brazil so we first thought about Joshua Tree in SoCal. But since the majority of the routes seem to be single pitches we started looking for other places with multipich routes that could work on winter, and ended up on websites about El Potrero Chico, which apparently is known for multipitch sport routes.

Since I come from other country with different references (including a own grading system), I first would like to understand if the difference between trad and sport climbing in US is basically the kind of protection used - bolts closer to each other for sport routes versus "portable" gear (as we call them here) with more runouts for trad routes. Is that it? My question might seem silly, but the definition of "sport multipitches" is not common to me, since in my country, normally sport routes are single pitch; and multipitch routes are normally defined as trads, no matter if they are well bolted or require cams and stoppers.

The second question is about recommendations for El Potrero Chico next December. If anyone has been there during that season and could share experiences around climate, crowds, hotels and other pros and cons. Would you recommend it more than JT as a climbing destination?



Max Forbes · · Vermont & Colorado · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 114

Can't comment on Potrero Chico...

In the US, a sport route is defined as any route that does not require the placement of traditional gear (stoppers, cams.. etc) These routes are predominantly single-pitch, however there are certainly many that are more than one pitch. Bolts are placed close enough that no trad gear is required, unless otherwise stated in a route guide.

A traditional climb is defined as any climb that requires the placement of traditional gear, and has nothing to do with length. Their are often many multi-pitch climbs that are predominantly trad, with some sections of bolts, or bolted anchors, but are still defined as trad routes.

gblauer Blauer · · Wayne, PA · Joined Jul 2008 · Points: 980

PM'd you

Ed Wright · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2006 · Points: 285


We actually don't consider the multi-pitch routes in the Potrero to be "sport climbing". These are long bolted routes on big serious rock.

The only time the Potrero is crowded is from the day after Christmas until about the 6th of January. If you're camping, no problem, but if you're hoping to rent a room or a house you'd better reserve something soon.

btw, JT in Dec and Jan can be mighty cold. Daytime, OK, as soon as the sun goes down you will freeze.

more info here

NC Rock Climber · · The Oven, AKA Phoenix · Joined Dec 2009 · Points: 60

I don't want to be too inflammatory, but

Max Forbes wrote:...In the US, a sport route is defined as any route that does not require the placement of traditional gear (stoppers, cams.. etc)...
is totally incorrect and displays your lack of experience. It is not a crime to be inexperienced. However, posting misleading information on a website is pretty fucking stupid.

Greg's post above explains things pretty well (except he forgot NC, where slab = fear), so I won't repeat the details. Suffice to say, bolts does not = sport in the US.

IME, EPC is bolted pretty liberally. I would not call the big multi-pitch routes "sport," but I never felt runnout or scared on any route the two times I was at EPC. YMMV.

Cheers, Alipio! I hope you have a great trip.
Alipio Loyola · · Sao Paulo, SP · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 5
Ed Wright wrote: We actually don't consider the multi-pitch routes in the Potrero to be "sport climbing".
Thanks for the reply. This is how most of the EPC routes are described here in Mountain Project. Do you know why?
NC Rock Climber · · The Oven, AKA Phoenix · Joined Dec 2009 · Points: 60
Alipio Loyola wrote: Thanks for the reply. This is how most of the EPC routes are described here in Mountain Project. Do you know why?
Ed can jump in here and correct me if I am wrong. "Sport" usually implies single pitch with bolts closely spaced. At EPC, the most climbed routes are over 6 pitches and require multiple rappels to descend. With that in mind, the level of commitment required to complete these routes is significantly different that what you would find at your typical "sport" crag.

Like I said above, although very long, the routes at EPC are almost always reasonably bolted. Lots of folks with little muti-pitch experience go to EPC and have a blast learning on the relatively easy routes there. Again, I would not call these routes "sport," but they are pretty close.

Best of luck with your trip.
Alipio Loyola · · Sao Paulo, SP · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 5

Many thanks to everyone that helped! Good to know that my confusion makes sense since the photos and infos I found about EPC did not fit to my reference of sport climbing.

I hear a lot about violence. Is there any real treat for visitors? Any recent report of problems around the village?



Tim Stich · · Colorado Springs, Colorado · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 1,470

I have been to both Joshua Tree and many times to the Potero. For me, there's just no comparrison. I would go to Potrero Chico any day. I just like limestone much more than the rock at J-Tree. I also like the vibe down there more, too.

Mark Grundon · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2011 · Points: 1,405

If anyone is looking for a AMGA Certified Guide for El Potrero Chico, I live there half the year. More info here: El Potrero Chico Guides

Ed Wright · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2006 · Points: 285

Everything here is peaceful and safe.

Climbers are arriving every day so the 2014-2015 season is under way.

Wally · · Denver · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 0

I am surprised to see a debate here about whether or not EPC is sport climbing. If I go on a rock climbing trip and I leave the trad gear at home, and all I am bringing for protection is a rack of sport and alpine draws, then hell yeah, I am going sport climbing.

Yes, multi-pitch and rapelling experience is important and helpful at EPC. If this is limited for you, then perhaps it would be good to start slowly (3 to 5 pitch routes??), before getting on some of the bigger lines.

Alipio - if you have trad and multi-pitch climbing experience - you will find the climbing at EPC to be very straight forward and cruiser fun. With an early start (climbing around 8 am), you can climb a 12 pitch route and be back in time for lunch. Easy to link pitches since most routes are set up to be rapped with a single 70 meter line. Bolts are sometimes so close together that after clipping a high bolt above your head you can unclip the next lowest bolt near your knee, or some moves are easy enough that it is reasonable to skip some clips.

EPC rocks - book your trip - you will have a great time. Great climbing vibe and community there.

And yes, regarding safety, it sounds like climbing traffic is starting to again increase at EPC. I know of several friends planning on EPC this season.


jTaylor · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2012 · Points: 50
Ed Wright wrote:Everything here is peaceful and safe. Climbers are arriving every day so the 2014-2015 season is under way.
Is the route there also safe? I really wanna check Potrero Chico out...
Greg Barnes · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,763
Greg Opland wrote:There are all kinds of bolted routes all over the US with super long runouts between bolts that would NEVER be considered sport routesÂ…..On Mountain Project, I've seen a lot of routes that were patently NOT sport routes, but had been marked as such. I try to correct them when I have time.
As an administrator, you could start clearing up the confusion pretty easily with Mountain Project forum descriptions!

Sport Climbing
Bolts. Yummmmmmm.
Trad Climbing
Bolts? What are those?
Wally · · Denver · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 0

My sportclimbing comments above still stand, but yes, I agree that some old school bolted routes (such as are common at one of my home crages - the South Platte) should not be considered sport routes. However, on most of those routes I am brining a trad rack, hoping to find marginal protection along the way which may or may not exist.

jTaylor - the usual advice is to fly into Monterrey and then book your ground transportation from the Monterrey airport with Magic Ed or Posada's. Best to book flights so ground transportation occurs during daylight hours.


sherb · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2012 · Points: 60

I hope the original OP isn't confused by this language debate! Language is defined by those who use it, speaker and listener. I think these definitions below most broadly used:

By protection:

Sport Speaks to the climb's protection only. Leave the trad rack behind and bring up only quickdraws. Any climb, whether single pitch or multi pitch that is fully bolted, where no protection is placed. Even if there are run-outs still call it Sport.

Call a run out a run out - it refers to the protection intervals and not the protection type. The opposite of a run out is well protected. Sport does not necessarily mean well-protected, so this word helps modify.

Why give the word "sport" additional hidden adjectives. Then when speaking I have to work hard to remove those adjectives, if a bolted route isn't single pitch or well protected.

Trad Bring the trad rack and place pieces. I hate it when a route is called a "sport route" or "bolted route" on mountain project (as mentioned regarding South Platte above) and I get there and find out there is a single bolt, and I had to bring pro. So when there is any gear to place, I call it a trad route. A bolt is a bonus, just like a piton is a bonus.

As for its protection interval, trad routes may be run out if it is hard to protect, or protectabale takes protection well.

If trad was a respository for anything that is not well bolted and single pitch, more nuances would be needed.

number of pitches:

Multipitch Need multi-pitch procedures and equipment, which may include long slings, an extra ATC for rappeling/guide mode/insurance on dropping as well as a grigri for belaying first or second, a small backpack, headlamp, portable water, topo etc

Single pitch One pitch. Single pitch trad routes exist - Indian Creek and Tennessee wall. They are not sport, you have to bring your trad rack there.

"single pitch" can modify "sport" as well. Actually, well-protected single pitch sport is generally now referred to as: cragging.

I wouldn't even say cragging has to be gymnastics moves. If someone wants to know the types of moves once they are on the rock, I would then further define it to be slab, run out slab, overhanging jugs, crimps, slightly overhung, balancy, bouldery-start... etc.

Now that the classifications are provided, they can be mixed and matched as appropriate.

Some people were kind of rude to Max, he seemed very chipper to help a guy whose first language is not English, and then some people have to ruin his good spirits by smushing him down. It may be ok to disagree, but respectfully, as some have done. I actually agree with Max's terminology, and further, except for the commands such as "slack" and "take" terminology may be colloquial. These words have only taken on these meanings within this past century, words do not follow scientific law like the lawws of physics, they are defined by those who use it.

marty funkhouser · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2007 · Points: 30

Id say the biggest difference between EPC and JTree is the climbing. Limestone vs Quartz Monzonite (very, very similar to granite). A lot of granite snobs don't like limestone and vice versa. Also, EPC tends to be vertical walls with few cracks and JTree tends to be less steep with lots of technical cracks and slab climbs. There are of course many exceptions to these generalizations.

Tradster · · Phoenix, AZ · Joined Nov 2007 · Points: 0

Greg, you are right. A perfect example of an all bolt non-sport climb would be Serpentine on Suicide Rock in Cali. Or the third pitch on Bee Line in the Stronghold.

sherb · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2012 · Points: 60
Greg Opland wrote: I'm sorry, this is not the definition of sport climbing, no matter how many of you fairly new climbers learned it that way at some point. The (sorry) traditional definition of Sport climbing is a route that is bolt protected well enough so that the focus of the route is more on the gymnastic or physical aspect of the route instead of on the protection aspect (consequences of a fall). A traditionally bolted route in Tuolumne Meadows (Yosemite) would NEVER be referred to as a sport route. Ever. Most especially by someone from Europe.
I'm sure historically you are correct. But times change and definitions evolve. American English is different from British English, even though it originated from GB.

So, the proper term for bolted Tuolummne Meadows routes is "traditionally bolted," meaning, the bolts are spaced farther apart than the 10-15' standard fare, yet no trad gear is taken. What did people call traditionally bolted routes prior to the sport bolting of today to distinguish it from trad?

From a logistics perspective confining "sport" to those which are well bolted leaves a lot of room for interpretation, e.g. a shorter person may find a routes not well bolted whereas a taller person might (i.e. the bolts are not in a good clipping stance)

I understand your need to preserve the original interpretation. People misuse words all the time, and to someone who knows the difference, it is annoying. The word "since" is not interchangable with the word "because." "Since" is associated with time, and is not a cause and effect.
People also interchange the words "jealous" and "envy" but they originally had different meanings. Envy is when you want what someone else has, but jealousy is when you're worried someone's trying to take what you have (from
I still understand what the speaker is saying, and has been updated to reflect the common-use, though originally erroneous, defintions.

I appreciate the historical perspective. If nothing else, it may be useful down the road so I can press for further clarification and don't need to have this conversation about definitions. Thanks!
Russ Walling · · · Joined Oct 2004 · Points: 3,246

ChristineY.... not to be rude, but you are talking out your ass. Your "definitions" are a mess, even to an EFL person.

Tradster · · Phoenix, AZ · Joined Nov 2007 · Points: 0

So according to Christiney a bolted climb with 50 foot run-outs is still a 'sport' climb. Yeah, sure.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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