El Potrero Chico, Battle Royale. Going to Mexico was perhaps the best decision I ever made. It is a land of happy people, cheap beer, and soaring limestone walls. What more could a climber ask for? Arriving at Homero’s campground, I flipped through the flimsy guidebook, marking the climbs I was hoping to try during my visit. One route name that kept popping into my head was Battle Royale. It wasn’t the name itself that intrigued me, but the word printed next to it, “PROJECT.”
A few days later I was begging my best friend Big Al to join me on an adventure left unfinished, the adventure of Battle Royale. He was hesitant, as he had never done a multi-pitch climb, but enjoyed the thought of smoking Mexi-weed in such an exposed position. He smiled, and we started up the route that afternoon. The climb is located on the left side of the Potrero just as you walk into the park. It’s the last climb on the far right side of the Club Mex Wall. In the mid 1990s Kurt Smith and Ned Harris put in countless hours on this masterpiece. Cleaning, gluing, and bolting on this terrain is far from easy, and they put in more work than I could have imagined, but they never found the opportunity to complete the ascent.
The rock leading to the route is low angle and choppy, so we opted for a three-pitch variation which climbs diagonally from left to right, adding three technical rope-stretching pitches of mid-5.12, a beautiful climb in its own right. This variation ends at a belay station that we dubbed “The Station.” At this point climbers can rappel back to the ground and call it good, or continue up the steeper direct line to the top, a.k.a. Battle Royale [these upper pitches are 5.13a, 5.13c, 5.12b, 5.13b, 5.10a—Ed.]. Big Al and I thought it was worth the peek. We pulled off all the moves and set up a top-rope on the three hard pitches. After working the moves and sequences, we pulled the ropes and lowered to the ground from The Station, leaving one fixed line. We returned three or four times and attempted the crux pitches, without success. Each late-February day the sun would glare down, and we would be forced off the wall by dehydration. Finally, on day five, the sky was mercifully cloudy, and Big Al and I decided it was our best shot for a full ground up ascent.
We started with four chocolate bars, one bottle of water, and 15 quick draws. As we got higher our confidence increased, and we grew stronger with each bolt. The climbing felt good and our motivation was high. The route requires nothing more than strong crimp strength and good footwork. The crux came on the fifth pitch, very thin and pumpy, but the adventure is minimal as it is well protected. Nearly all falls are clean and safe, which is great if that’s what you’re into. I gritted my teeth and punched through the most demanding part of the climb. Only three pitches remained, and the cloudy sky held strong. The sixth pitch ended in a small magical cave. After a water break, we easily strolled the final pitches to a jaw-dropping view and a moment of reflection.
It’s fucked up really, how people give me credit for the first free ascent, when really all I did was climb the route, just like anyone else would have. I happened to be at the right place at the right time. Sure it took some work, but the real heroes are the guys who envisioned the line and took the initiative to create it. Without them it would be another blank wall among countless blank walls. They should be the ones writing this, not the skinny sport weenie with strong fingers and a faggy toothbrush who had the route handed to him on a silver platter. I’m not proud that I made the first ascent, no more proud than if I had made the 51st ascent. I enjoyed the climb for what it was, and it made for one of my most memorable days in the vertical world, but mostly I admire the climbers who sacrificed so much to make this type of climbing possible. The location and position of the climb is hard to beat, and we should not celebrate only the ascent, but that there is a route existing at all. It was a gift and I’m thankful.