We’ve been hanging out in Hueco Tanks for the last few weeks now. Besides the video, we’ve been focused on climbing and having a good time, the former of which being slightly difficult for being so hot. The past week we spent hanging out with a crew from Fort Collins, CO, and we have a lot of stories from that, but I’ll write a full post about them. There is also a ton of unsorted and unedited footage of them, and we’ll be putting a video out in the not-too-distant future.
One of the coolest aspects of being in Hueco Tanks is that everyday, someone, somewhere inside the park is doing something really impressive. For example, we have been climbing with a pair of French climbers named Alban and Caroline. Caroline is Vikki-sized and very strong, nearly doing Sunshine (V11) in a session. As for Alban, he’s not much bigger, but he is very good at this sport. On a tour the other day on East Mountain, I watched him do Liane (V11), Sunshine, and Mojo (V10 flash). He then nearly did the extension to Mojo, which goes at V12.
Speaking of impressive, Fred Nicole is also here, along with various other recognizable figures. Went on tour yesterday with Jason Kehl. No big deal. Climbed with crusher Brian Antheunisse a little. I can say without reservation that everyone, famous or otherwise, has been friendly, open, helpful, and humble. Fred, the man who put up virtually every hard climb in Hueco, the mythical monster of one-pinky pull-ups, almost sheepishly introduces himself to everyone as just “Fred.” Sean McColl gave us beta. It’s easy to be star-struck, and even easier not to be given how cool these folks are.
Every day, just walking around, you catch glimpses of people studying the science of movement on tiny patches of rock. From skin maintenance to hold brushing, from feet-above-hands beta to power-spotting, Hueco Tanks and the boulder fields of America are absolutely fascinating arenas of applied kinematics. I want to do one of those black suit/white ball studies.
And we have been climbing. We are trying to adhere to a day-on-day-off schedule, though the Spring Break crowds have made us more opportunistic. Our friend Corey, one of the few remaining back country guides, took us to East Mountain last Monday to try a new-ish problem called Sledgehammer, given a grade of V8. With Byron filming, Corey was able to send it quickly and in fine style, and I managed to do it second go. It is a small roof with one of the coolest pinch-loaf holds ever seen. Alban flashed it (of course), and Caroline was able to do all the moves except for one involving a low heel-hook.
Another guide by the name of Max was in the area with his girlfriend Liberty and some other clients. The couple was on the road for over 9 months, and they both kept blogs that I read before leaving on this trip. Their climbing stories helped to keep the psyche high during our pre-trip tribulations. It was Max and Lib’s last day, and they were touring the classics. They pointed me in the direction of The Maiden, a roughly 35 foot tall V0.
I didn’t know it 8 years ago, but The Maiden is exactly why I started climbing. A sheer face pocked with huge huecos looking out across a large gully towards other areas of East Mountain, the problem starts with a crux roof encounter and continues up 5.6 jugs. The feeling of being up there on huge jugs, high off the deck but utterly comfortable and in my element was something to savor, and I ended up doing the climb three times. On the last lap I found a perfect knee-bar in the last hueco, and posed for a few no-hands photos for Byron.
The rest of that Monday was spent at the immaculate Moonshine Roof. This thing is horizontal. It has three climbs (Moonshine Roof, Moonshine Roof Left, and Moonshine Roof Right), and they all utilize the infamous “surfboard.” Imagine a surfboard stuck to your bedroom ceiling, with about 4 inches sticking out on either side. You can heel hook, bat hang, and do all kinds of other totally unnatural things on this feature, and it gets my vote for the coolest in the park (that we’ve so far seen). Vikki made some great progress on the center version of Moonshine Roof, and Byron nearly did the right. I made some good links on the nearby classic Power of Landjager, which has always been a dream for me to attempt, and Alban sent it on the very last attempt of the day.
It is difficult to climb and film at the same time. Byron is, of course, the main man behind the camera, with an uncanny eye for what may become cinematic gold. He does most of the composition and gear setup, with Vikki and I pitching in with holding reflectors, sliding cameras, and getting other angles with the secondary camera. A lot of work goes in to producing climbing footage, it turns out, not the least of which is hauling all the crap around. Throw in climbing stuff, water and food for the day, and the fact that crashpads typically suck as backpacks, and you can get an idea of the work that goes into bouldering cinema. It also takes a toll on the climbing itself by dividing our attention.
Making movies also means that the day isn’t over once we return from the crag and settle into our trailer for dinner and a beer (or cider, in Vikki’s case). Evenings and rest days are spent going through gigabytes of footage to separate out the diamonds from the rough, compressing it, putting it in a timeline, and then cutting out even more. Our first episode was made up of over 350 gigs of footage, roughly 6 hours’ worth, which we pared down to 8+ minutes. And the hardest part is that shutting ourselves in means that we might be missing some great campfire banter, or that we’re not picking Fred Nicole’s brain about how to hold on to dime edges on a 20 degree overhang. Suffice it to say, we all suffer from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).
For all of the challenges, filming is totally worth it. Instead of disjointed photos and memories of what we did, we have a professionally shot and edited record of our time on the road and our time at the crag. It also attracts the right kind of attention. People who happen to be climbing near us might get filmed sending their project, and they appreciate having a high quality video of their success.
The weather just turned. Sunday was windy and dusty, such that everyone’s eyeballs burned and throats were scratched from all the dust, and by 4:30 everyone was hunkered down at El Pasito gorging on burritos and swallowing Mexican beer. There was a fine film of desert in our trailer this morning, which also featured some snow. Though the wind has died down, the skies remain threatening. We are taking a day to restore our trailer to some semblance of order, and to continue the infinite loop of filming, editing, and producing. In fact, as I type this, it has just started blowing a gale and driving a combination of rain and snow on to the window that I’m currently sitting next to. It’s funny how much the trailer rocks in the wind, even with the leveling jacks down. It reminds me of airplane turbulence. I feel a strange sense of uneasiness, which I then have to put aside because there’s nothing to worry about and nothing I could do about it anyway.
In other news, Byron is heading back to California for a two day work stint. We’ll be in Hueco Tanks until at least the end of the week, at which point we will be moving onward, Eastward, and hopefully to some sick sandstone. We’ll keep you posted.
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