This trip report was sent to us by Pernilla (Penny) Andersson, a Swedish climber living currently in Costa Rica, from her recent trip to Potrero Chico. You can follow her on Instagram @MsPennyRoca. If you have adventures that you’d like to tell the world about, please contact us. Penny – thanks for sharing. Enjoy the read.
Stopping Time in Potrero Chico
By Pernilla Andersson
One week back to civilization I am still trying to find the words to describe the lessons learned and the experiences felt in Potrero Chico. I have come to realize that this is practically impossible. Like Helen Keller once said: “The best and most beautiful things in this world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart”. With that said, I’ll do my best to tell the story.
We arrived late on the evening of the lucky date of Friday 13th, we could make out the silhouettes of a mountain range behind our rented chalet but not until the morning could we with awe take in the tremendous beauty of the valley of Potrero Chico. The rock is indescribably majestic and the atmosphere pure Zion: heaven on earth.
Our group consisted of 10 Ticos (Costa Ricans) and a few infiltrators like myself (Swedish origin but belong to the world), for some of us (me included) this was the first introduction to real multi-pitch climbing. For some this was the 4th trip and they therefore organically became the sherpas to the rest of us.
First morning, with itchy fingers and big pride, me and my partner followed two experienced climbers up Space Boys, (5.10d). Abuelo (grandfather) as we call him, was calmly letting us know that this route is a classic that we will be done with before lunch and maybe we might even have time for another multi-pitch after. Innocence is bliss they say and completely new on the rock we bravely linked, lead and traversed up the magical path of bolts, chalk and cactuses. Up there on the rock it is very easy to start reflecting on how small we really are. Mother Earth is always in charge and in the mountains her powers are ever so present. The weather was cold and foggy and although we climbed our way passed the crux routes we abandoned the route 2 pitches from the top for a such novice mistake as bathroom necessities.
Down on firm ground I started reflecting on the experience. My first encounter with multi-pitch climbing was a true slap in the face, a reality check. Space Boys made me as much humble as it made me stronger. I realized that up there on the rock it doesn’t matter how prepared you are, you always have to take decisions that might hurt your ego but in the end save your life. I learned that there is a balance between pushing oneself to the limit and realizing that it is not about the goal as much as it is about the journey and about harmonizing mind and body with the rock.
The second day the sun showed her beautiful face and we were three teams that went out to conquer Estrellita, an 11 pitch 5.10b route. After the first day of realty-check smack in the face, Estrellita was a nice climb to regain self esteem, onsighting the harder pitches, we arrived with smiles and confidence to the top. For anyone starting multipitch climbing, Estrellita is an obvious recommendation!
The third day we decided to take a break from climbing and we ventured out of the valley to find hot springs. In the middle of nowhere we entered a deserted parking lot, which ended up being the gates to a secret underground-sulfur world. After and hour of sulfur toxication and scolding hot water we stumbled outside, our lungs gasping for fresh air but with rejuvenated bodies. Well worth the visit.
Tuesday, 17th of November, 2015 – Time Wave Zero (5.12b)
Alarm clocks were set for 3 a.m., oatmeal ready from the evening before, harnesses racked and bags packed. 3.30 a.m. the approach started and 4.15 a.m. the first team started the first of the 23 pitches long route. The first two routes can be linked and the second pitch is the dreaded 5.11a/b. My partner danced up the first two pitches and we were on a roll. At 6 a.m., while belaying from the 4th pitch, my Tuesday morning alarm rings thinking I’m still in Costa Rica. Looking out over the awaking landscape I take a moment to let the beauty and serenity of the situation sink in. I can’t believe how blessed I am. I started this climb without knowing what I was getting myself into and without any expectations. Luckily this day everything went according to plan. The topo was well studies and we treated it like a treasure map. Besides two, a little-too-close-for-comfort encounters with some Potrero rattlesnakes, the rest of the climb was solid and steady towards the top. To our astonishment we found ourself on the top of Time Wave Zero, clocking in on a slightly proud time of 10 hours. With super adrenaline and an energy I have never experienced before I thought to myself at the top that if I can do this, I can do anything.
After the initial feeling of being on top of the world, the realization of 23 pitches of rappel, felt to say the least – very daunting. All our training and preparation for this adventure was about to get tested. Although dehydrated and tired we worked like clockwork when it really mattered which helped us get down to solid ground safe and sound… The last 5 pitches of rappelling where the most liberating experience in the world. The feeling of conquering mountains suddenly had a real literal meaning. We could taste our victory. The only thing I could think of, besides a big glass of Coca Cola (!), was that I wanted to do this again.
The rest of the week was pure enjoyment. While Paris was under terror attack, my only worry was what route to climb. Surrounded by friends that turned into family, Potrero Chico will serve as my introduction to the wonderful world of multi pitches, a place where ordinary people come out of their comfort zone to reach goals they thought were impossible. Inspiration is everywhere and it is up to each and one of us to make our dreams come true.