Saturday, March 12, 2011

Hueco Tanks Update...

“Did you know there are eight murders a day in Juarez!” My dad's voice boomed out of the speaker on my Phone as Becca and I jumped in the van and started driving south.

“Really dad? You don’t seem too concerned about me running it out above dodgy gear on El Cap, or multiple day pushes high in the mountains in Patgonia. It’s El Paso, it will be fine.”

12 hours later we sped past the barbed wire and smoke stacks that line the US/ Mexico border. Pollution kept the visibility to just a few miles, and teams of Harleys crowded the streets; the riders wearing bandanas over their faces with skulls and ghosts printed on them. “Maybe we should keep the doors locked...just in case.”

We turned left at the space ship shaped real estate office, drove past the run down shacks, domes and trailers, and I started to feel strangely nostalgic.

“Ahhhh, tailer park life, lard filled Mexican food, margaritas, and LOTS of climbing.”

I used to spend my winters climbing in places like The Virgin River Gorge where trucks speed down interstate 15 in such close proximity to the climbing that your belayer can't hear your shrieks of fear as you sail off the notoriously run out routes. Back then climbing the hardest routes around dominated everything. I didn’t care if they were in the arm pit of the southern US. I would spend months on the road sleeping in the back of my Honda Civic and eating canned foot that I had pilfered from my parents pantry.

Hueco Tanks is one of the few places where a truly “dirt bag” culture thrives. The climbers here live in trailers and tents braving frequent dust storms. Showers are about as rare as bear sightings in Texas and gaining access to the boulders requires rolling up your pants and wading through an ankle deep sludge of Texas fees, regulations and bureaucracy. For the dedicated few that stick it out, the rewards are pretty sweet.

The boulder problems are unlike anywhere in the world. The rock is steep, solid, and perfectly featured. The moves are complicated and powerful. As Becca and I wandered around our first day I felt that familiar surge of excitement. There really is a beauty here. The rock is masterfully sculpted with a chaotic pattern of huecos and chicken heads. The boulder problems sit amongst water polished slabs and intricate corridors. The people that dedicate their winters to climbing here are muscle bound, hunched backed apes that climb with no hesitation. I have found no other place on earth that is as good for getting strong. Every trip I have made to Hueco has been followed by a big breakthrough in my climbing. I guess that’s why I came in the first place.

On our way to the park we stopped by Adam and Melissa Strong's land where a few dozen dirty climbers park their trucks. “Field Day” (an all day party dedicated to beer drinking, horse shoes, and hillbilly golf) was just getting under way and at 10am a few climbers were already looking a bit tipsy. We decided to skip field day go climbing. We met up with a long time friend Cory Dwan and a group of Aussies that we know from a trip to South Africa two years ago. Throughout our time there I attempted many of the classic test pieces like Slashface and Esperanza, completing none and realizing that all that El Cap slab climbing really has not prepared me for Hueco all that well. Becca learned to love steep climbing and we both did a lot of falling. After a few days I realized why some people dedicate much of their lives to climbing here. The bouldering is inspiring in a way that invades your brain. I was kept up at night by visions of moves running through my head. Each day I saw dozens of problems that I would love to do someday…..when I get much better at bouldering. We both left feeling much stronger and psyched to keep training.


  1. Hi, One of the most memorable articles I've read in alpinist was one you wrote about the Diamond. Look forward to reading a future article about El Cap (sat through KJ slideshow a few days ago at red rocks) or patagonia or any other place. Btw I was wondering if you ever tried routes on the Rainbow Wall, it was too hard for us but we kept staring at it from the wall next to it.

  2. Tommy Caldwell is a clown. Find real work!