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Melissa Arnot Talks Climbing Teamwork from El Potrero Chico, Mexico
Posted on February 26, 2011

By Melissa Arnot

Melissa Arnot and Dave Morton are on a two-week trip to the famous climbing area El Potrero Chico, Mexico, with the goal of climbing single and multi-pitch rock climbs to prepare for their upcoming climb of Makalu—the world’s fifth-highest mountain, just 14 miles away from Everest.

After nine straight days of “climb up, step up,” I am finally starting to find my rhythm here in El Potrero. It seems like it takes a few days to get to know the rock, then a few more for your body to adjust to all of the strain you are placing on it. When I first arrived I couldn’t believe how huge this area looked. After spending the last week exploring, it still feels more vast than what I can comprehend. We spend our time moving from short routes to long routes. El Sendero Diablo, Pancho Villa, Snot Girlz, Space Boyz—all classic routes, all fun climbing.

One amazing aspect of climbing in EPC is the exposure. You get up so high on a wall (I mean, 600-feet-off-the-ground high) so quickly, and the entire world just sits quietly below. When I am belaying from that high, it doesn’t usually feel scary. I can see the anchor, I know my equipment is safe, I am backed up. It is when I am in the middle of a hard route that the ground seems so far away. My fingers start to sweat more, making the rock slippery. I start to recheck all my knots, that my harness in buckled correctly. I look at my belayers to make sure they are paying attention. I usually do all of this while holding on to an impossibly tiny ledge, with one move between me and a huge hold.

That mental stress is part of why I like rock climbing so much. I was climbing a route yesterday with one move that was very hard for me. I tried it a few times and then told Dave I couldn’t do it. There was nowhere to put my right foot. He said, “Can you move your left foot up then?” I wanted to quit. I was tired, the move was hard and the fall would be big. I took one deep breath and decided to try Dave’s idea, and guess what? It worked. He was right. That is part of what makes climbing together so great. He knows my limits, he knows how to push them, to help me understand what I am capable of doing.

Stretching the boundaries of our partnership is a huge part of what this trip is about. Yesterday, as the sun was going down, and Dave began up an unknown route, I tried to return the favor. “You have this, go for it. The next hold is huge,” I said (though, honestly, I couldn’t see any of the holds). As Dave attempted to climb, the steep and technical face fought back, spitting him off for his first big fall. “Nice work, you will get it this time,” was all I could say. He laughed and asked me if I was just saying that. Of course not, our partnership is about believing in each other and supporting each others’ goals, or at least catching each others’ falls.

We have a few more amazing days of climbing here. The temperatures are going to get hotter, and we will have to find the shade. My fingers hurt, Dave’s shoulder is sore. It is a good hurt though. When you travel somewhere to climb, it is hard not to climb as much as you can, because you know it is snowing at home, and there are responsibilities that will take priority. I want to soak up as much of this experience as I can before it is time to put the down suit and big boots back on. Fortunately, the climbing planned for tomorrow only requires shorts, rock climbing shoes, and some flip flops to wear at the belay—no big boots needed. For now, that is a relief.

Author: - Saturday, February 26th, 2011
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  1. Moenkopi

    Its amazing how cheap it is to live and climb at El Portrero. I highly recommend it for familys too. 5$/day includes place to pitch tent next to pool, kitchen and bathroom shower area.

    Its a bummer there’s so much trash and spray paint but so is Mexico:( Definitely a must see!

  2. Jansen

    Theres 5 star hotels and upscale boutiques areas close too ,you can find trash and spray paint all over the world! Not just in Mexico!


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