Hey ya’ll! That’s right, we’re in the south now. ‘Bama. Steele, Alabama. Got lots to talk about but right now you need to be watching this little piece we put together about a crew of crazy crack climbers from Colorado. Underneath that, there’s a little piece I wrote about the climbing here in Horse Pens. Kinda blows Castle Rock, CA out of the water, but that’s not what this piece is about. It’s about humility. Enjoyment. Triumph and tragedy. And bouldering. Enjoy!
I fell into the trap.
At Hueco Tanks, the climbing is gymnastic. Straight-forward moves, steep terrain, rubber-smeared flakes and jibs and crimps and damn, if I could just crimp a little harder I would’ve cranked my first V-who-gives-a-shit.
Yes, I admit it. I started chasing “doable” problems at the upper end of my climbing ability for my own vanity. Going to “check out” this V-bla thing that “looks totally my style” became more important than it should, nearly surpassing as priorities making friends, making good film, and helping folks get psyched. Not flashing Chosspile #7 V5 was failure, damn the uninspiring nature of this knee-high lump of ironrock. Success only came on “cool” lines, or more accurately, the only cool lines were the ones I could do. Except Esperanza. That thing is as amazing as it is unreachable.
It took a visit to Horse Pens 40 to snap me out of it. There was the (in)famous Bum Boy. V3. Well within flash territory. I was already dreaming up the text message to my buddy, somehow combining bragging and humility (“I was lucky enough to…”). Then I came face to face with the reality that I have no idea how to use beachball slopers on a hot day. This humbling came on the heels of a blow up among the RV Project members. The rift has been repaired, but at the time Horse Pens, bouldering, this whole stupid trip had started to seem like a terrible idea.
So daytime climbing was out, and we went night bouldering instead, with Sawyer and Blair, a couple of Real Southerners from Louisiana. We looked at God Module. Not a chance. Damn, there went my dreams of a dark horse send propelling me on to the cover of Rock and Ice on the wings of an Adidas sponsorship.
A funny thing started happening underneath Stretch Armstrong, though. A lantern and a couple of bright camera lights were shining on a few American 20-somethings who were lightly drinking and trying hard to do some insanely silly movements on a dead horizontal roof. All of a sudden, we all stopped caring about success, about bragging rights, about tick lists. The numbers didn’t matter, perceived difficulty didn’t matter. All that mattered was a battle against a chunk of stone. We attacked relentlessly. The stone responded with increasing apathy. Some of us succeeded. Nobody cared. Everyone laughed.
We’ve been out night bouldering most evenings, when the temps drop to the 50s. What felt like polished marble on day 1 now feels like medium sandpaper, and we’re learning to use non-positive foot placements too. Now we seek funky climbs and party tricks, not thuggish pulling and soft grades. Frankly, grades here make no sense except relative to each other. A V3 can feel like a V6 or a V1 depending on the conditions, but a V5 will certainly be harder than a V3 no matter what those conditions are.
We’ve learned for ourselves what the guidebook told us the climbing here is all about. Having fun, hanging out, trying hard, and not giving a damn, because at the end of the day, nobody else will give a damn either.