Violence Hits Close to Home for Potrero Chico Climbers

posted by dpm on 01/30/2013


Initial reports from multiple media sources state that 18 members and crew of the band Kombo Kolumbia were kidnapped after playing a show at a bar near the popular climbing destination of Potrero Chico, Mexico. The victims were driven approximately 10 miles northwest to the town of Mina, where at least 12 of them were murdered and dumped, though all but one surviving band member are presumed dead. One member of the band was able to escape and alert authorities to the location of the deceased. The method of kidnapping is consistent with drug cartel related activity, though no solid motive for the crime has yet been revealed.  

Members of the band Kombo Kolumbia. Photo: konflikty.wp

Kombo Kolumbia was a popular 'vallenato' band from northern Mexico that played regularly in the nearby city of Monterrey. On the night of the incident they were playing for approximately fifty people at La Carreta, a bar within earshot of the climber's campgrounds near Potrero Chico. Cross-referencing multiple news stories showed some confusion about the location of La Carreta, some saying it was located in Sabinas Hidalgo, a different town far from the Hidalgo that is home to Potrero Chico. It has since been confirmed by Potrero local Magic Ed that the kidnapping did occur just a short walk from the climbing area.

At approximately 4:00 A.M, Borderlandbeat reports that 14 vehicles pulled up to La Carreta and 10 armed men forced the band members and their crew into the vehicles. Locals report hearing gunfire, then vehicles speeding away. The surviving member of the band told police that they were blindfolded and driven on dirt roads until they stopped. He heard the kidnappers asking if the band members were part of a cartel, then gunshots. Though police declined to comment on how the surviving band member escaped 'a source' suggested that he slipped away undetected and jumped in a hole.

As of last evening (1/29/12), 12 bodies had been retrieved from the well into which they were dumped. Some reports state the bodies were dismembered and showed signs of torture.

This is yet another tragic incident in the ongoing drug cartel-related violence plaguing Mexico. It was Mexico's largest single kidnapping since 20 tourists were taken near Acapulco in 2010. Those innocent victims were found in a mass grave a month later, apparently mistaken for cartel members.

Friendly locals and the Potrero Chico climbing area. Photo: Mark Watson/

Potrero Chico is a one-of-a-kind climbing area. Massive walls of limestone line both sides of a deep canyon just a five minute walk from the campground. Nearly every route is a sport route making it possible to go out and crank off single-pitch climbs all day, or get an early start and climb one of the numerous multi-pitch routes with nothing but a rack of quickdraws. Routes like Space Boyz (5.10d, 1000 feet), Time Wave Zero (5.12a, 2100 feet), and the classic Time For Livin' (5.13a, 600 feet) could all be climbed in a day thanks to the convenient bolting.

Beyond the excellent climbing, it's the setting that draws people to the Potrero. It's possible to fly in, catch a short cab ride to the campground, and never need a car. Good climbing, good food, good winter weather, and good beer are all within walking distance. And it all comes at an extremely reasonable price, making the Potrero a top choice for climbers that want to set up for the winter and live the good life for cheap.

For climbers like myself, that have visited Potrero Chico on multiple occasions, the violence hits a little too close to home. It's unfortunate that such a wonderful climbing area now feels off limits and deemed too dangerous by many that would like to visit. The people of Mexico, especially those near Hidalgo, are extremely friendly and welcoming to tourists.

A quick scan through the message boards of climbing sites finds differing opinions on the relative safety of a trip to Potrero Chico. Some, that have made recent visits, claim that if you keep your head down and stay out of the cartel's business, you'll be fine. Others, based on what they are seeing in the mainstream media, have deemed it completely unsafe and not worth risking a trip.

This recent event will surely tip the scales for some folks that were planning a visit. It's unfortunate for the local businesses that will suffer and for the climbers that would otherwise get to experience the excellent climbing and lifestyle found at Potrero Chico.

The topic of risking a trip to Mexico was also addressed in the comments field regarding Nalle Hukkataival's recent trip to the bouldering area Peñoles in Chihuahua, Mexico.


Note: This article is not intended to create unwarranted fear or discourage folks from a trip to Potrero Chico. It's also not an attempt to suggest that planning a trip to Mexico is safe like some suggest. The intent is to provide the facts and let climbers that were planning a trip make an informed decision on the current level of safety found at Potrero Chico.

While I do believe that the facts in this story are straight, there are conflicting reports in the details from many different mainstream media sources. This story was based on the following sources as well as Magic Ed's confirmation of the location of La Carreta on