Exciting times, as we have just completed Episode 2. This one chronicles our first “chapter” in Hueco: the week after finally arriving, with tons of friends and culminating in the Rock Rodeo. It has much more climbing in it than our first episode. We have tons more Hueco footage to put together, and hopefully we’ll have a couple more doses up soon. So enjoy, and please feel free to leave a comment. We’re going to spend Monday driving to Horse Pens 40, where we’ll stay about a week or so. Psyched!
On Tuesday March 27, we loaded up all our bits and pieces in the trailer and hitched up for the first time in a month. The sepia-brown rock of West Mountain and East Spur faded into the distance as Bert lugged the Pilgrim onward, eastward into the hot Texas sun. Bound for Horse Pens 40 by way of New Orleans by way of Austin, we all reflected on our month spent at the Ranch. Encapsulating all the memories in a single article is impossible (and for you, dear reader, probably boring), so here are the highlights, memories, and lessons learned from your friends at the RV Project.
One of my biggest highlights of the month was sending Left Martini on the last day, after about four sessions of work. It is a long problem on a dead horizontal roof, with a several-move crux at the bottom leading to a 25 foot long V6 finish. Unfortunately, the “top out” involves swinging your feet onto a 4 foot tall boulder and hugging it, but don’t let this deter you. The moves through the roof are so fun, and the roof itself so miraculously long and well featured that the problem gets three stars anyway. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a roof that long. Meilee in Santa Barbara is probably the closest, and it doesn’t even come close. It felt really good to have a solid, long-term project send to leave Hueco with.
Hueco Tanks taught me a lot. Skin maintenance is critical. I had a split in my middle finger between the first and second digits. This is one of the most painful of splits, since it opens up every time you crimp. The problem is that the thick, callused skin is inflexible and hard, and will pull apart the soft, pink, tender flesh underneath. The best cure is prevention, which means never letting any calluses develop in the first place. Daily use of a sanding block or emery board is easy and effective. However, once you do get a split, no amount of “shoulda” is going to heal you. To heal your wound, file down the callus on both sides of the split to the point where it resembles a shallow valley rather than a deep crevice. This requires more filing than you initially think. Then, Neosporin the hell out of the thing. I recommend the pain relief kind. Then, take a rest day. You should be good to go.
Hueco Tanks also taught me to appreciate the freedom of most of America’s climbing areas. Bishop, with its small, relaxed, outdoorsy town, free camping, and easy access to boulders stands in stark contrast to the bureaucratic scene at Hueco Tanks HQ. I used to think Yosemite was cumbersome because you needed a $40 annual pass to get in and couldn’t speed through the Valley. And despite the restrictions, Hueco is such a hot commodity that people line up well before 8am to get a chance to sample the stone. Furthermore, we discovered that it really ain’t so bad, at least during the end of the season.
Hueco Tanks told me in no uncertain terms that I am terrible at crimping. While climbs like Glass Ass Crack and Left Martini were quite doable, I was literally unable to do a single move on Diaphonous Sea. I flashed King Cobra, a compression-style prow, but couldn’t do B Flat, a crimp problem two grades easier. My fingers are gonna learn, whether they like it or not.
Finally, I learned how to spot properly. I thought I knew what I was doing, and then I saw Alban spot. He is the most attentive spotter/pad mover I’ve ever seen, and I immediately wanted to emulate him. His eyes are always on the climber’s hips, hands always ready and not pointing out beta. He positions his body to brace for a fall. I started to practice good spotting habits, and more than once it paid off in catching an unexpected fall and preventing injury. Spotting may not be the most fun thing in the world, and it can be quite scary indeed, but it’s a lot less fun to have to cut the climbing day short and drive your friend to the hospital. Spotters should be more than beta-sprayers that happen to be holding their arms up.
What I will always remember about Hueco Tanks (in order of appearance during our stay there)…
The drive from the city of El Paso into Hueco Tanks State Park. The stark difference turning from Montana street, with trash covering either shoulder, onto Hueco Tanks Road, with the mountains in the foreground gave me mixed feelings everytime. While Hueco Tanks is cared after religiously, the surrounding city of El Paso is seemingly forgotten with a growing accumulation of trash that will likely never be dealt with.
The most memorable instant of the drive for me is a bright white bench and tree that hangs over the bench with its trunk also painted white. It was always a remarkably beautiful, stark image on the backdrop of the dust-colored desert. I wish I had taken a picture of it, but I was able to find one on the internet.
I am exceedingly curious about the origins of the white bench, so if anyone has more information – please ease my mind!!
The signs pointing the way to the Hueco Rock Ranch. The squiggly arrows are a great touch.
Being in a parallel universe (to what I’m used to) where is it okay, scratch that, commendable to shower as infrequently as possible. Showering once a week, or less, was surprisingly easy to get used to.
Climbing outside 4-5 times per week for the first time in my life. I’m starting to learn how to use my feet and was able to get into a rhythm of day-on-day-off climbing that works well for me. I was also finally able to trust myself enough to do a few (very easy) highballs. I surprised myself because I had not even put that into my realm of possibilities within climbing.
Meeting Fred Nicole was extremely motivating. I would be very surprised if a single person staying at the Rock Ranch would not recognize him, but he still introduced himself to each climbing bum he came across. He was incredibly polite and friendly, which was very refreshing. Also, he has much larger hands than I thought, judging him by his ability to crimp on the tiniest holds. I, on the other hand, have minute hands. This leaves me with absolutely no excuse to train my little fingers to crimp much harder.
Hueco Tanks is a pristine environment next to the hurly burly of the City of El Paso. The access to this oasis is limited and most climbers call it “a bitch”. The park lets 70 people on North Mountain each day, and slightly more for commercial and volunteer tours to the other Mountains; West, East, and East Spur. If you ask any climber about Hueco they would tell you that access is tough but you can figure it out pretty easily. Dealing with the access issues at Hueco last month taught me a different ideal. The restrictions are not very well liked in the climbing community, but in my opinion it has a utility.
Imagine this: open gates in Hueco, as many climbers can go in as show up everyday, chalk lines every single boulder, pads are strewn in sensitive huecos where species lie dormant. Development has stopped because Hueco Tanks, including West Mountain, has been climbed out. Hueco is not known as a pristine oasis that holds water and attracts all kinds of animals anymore, it is a climbing destination similar to Bishop, CA.
Hueco Tanks, thankfully is not what is described above, but it is a Mecca of climbing that tests everything about being a climber. Development of this area is for the truly dedicated, the people who commit to staying on for a full season and really searching the countless caves under countless boulders. As much as it is “a bitch” to access this area, maybe this is a good thing. In the words of William Shatner, this may be boulderings Final Frontier. Hueco is and will always be an oasis in a desolate desert, and to truly learn about this place, you have to pay your dues.