Thursday, February 15, 2007

My 24 hour fling with Hueco Tanks

So I was hanging out in Moab about three days ago, looking at the weather forecast. It was calling for rain and snow for the next two days. Someone I know was headed down to Hueco Tanks in El Paso, TX (once hailed as America's Bouldering mecca) for the week, and the weather looked great there. Since my current residence has wheels, I fired it up and rolled down.

I was a little concerned, just because my rotator cuffs in my shoulders have been giving me problems for the past few weeks. And bouldering can be very rough on your body – it's a good thing to avoid if you're trying to heal, for argument's sake, a pair of rotator cuffs. But I'd been doing some exercises for them, and icing every night, plus I'd been bouldering in the gym and they felt strong. What could go wrong?

The drive wasn't bad - it really helps to be able to sleep wherever you want. The van is working out great so far, it's currently winning the Gear of The Trip award. (The Carharts are in close second.)

When I got down to Hueco, I checked into the Hueco Rock Ranch, which is just a few miles outside the park. That place is pretty sweet - they've got camping, and a building to hang out in with a shower, wireless internet, a fusball table, and some couches. It's the perfect spot to chill on a bad weather day. Outside they have another little building where everyone stores their food and does their cooking. Fantastic setup, wish I could have stayed longer...

The climbing access in Hueco is kinda weird - it used to be an open door policy, but back in 1998 they restricted it due to environmental impact. Of the four main climbing areas, only one remains open to the public. You can only climb in the other tree with a guide, who you hire for the day. So these days, in order to climb, you must either:

  • Have reservations
  • Be one of the first ten people in line in the morning to walk-in
  • Take a commercial "guided tour" for $20
  • Show up at noon, when they let in whoever's standing around, in place of anyone who had a reservation, but didn't show.

Confused yet? Yeah, me too. And of course the reservations were all booked through the end of the month. Basically the beta is this: show up at the gate in the morning. If that doesn't work, go back at noon. You'll probably get in.

Luckily, I got in on my first day. They made all us first-timers sit through a little orientation video, which talked about the environmental concerns in the area, as well as the acheological history. (Basically it was a popular spot in the desert back in the day, because water would gather in the big "Huecos" or pools in the rock, hence the name Hueco Tanks. ) After the video, they set us loose on the North Mountain area.

I met a guy named Corey in the orientation, so we headed out together. The park is a little confusing, cause there are boulders EVERYWHERE. Go figure. But we found some landmarks and managed to locate a good warm-up area. After a few problems, it became apparent that I am still not a very good boulderer. The grades at Hueco are stiff for sure, definitely not a place to go inflate your ego. I was feeling pretty challenged on the V2's.

The rock at Hueco is amazing. Everywhere you look, there are tons of problems. I probably climbed about 20 problems that first day, all of which I'd call good to excellent quality, and we didn't move more than 100 feet. It's unreal.

Most of my experience with bouldering has been a bit like this:

  1. Thrash through the woods for half an hour looking for some killer boulder a buddy told me about
  2. Give up on finding it
  3. Find some other boulder with two crappy problems and one that looks alright
  4. Realize I lost one of my shoes somewhere back in the scrub oak
  5. Try the problem anyway with only one shoe
  6. Cut myself on a sharp crimp and call it a day.
But things were to be different at Hueco. My day turned out more like this:
  1. Find some pretty sick problems
  2. Flail on some pretty sick problems three grades below where I thought I'd be cranking
  3. Randomly run into a buddy from SLC
  4. Try one last crimpy problem at the end of the day, and tweak the hell out of that rotator cuff in my shoulder.

Everything was going great until #4.

I limped back to the ranch to get an ice pack for my shoulder, and to go sulk in defeat. The sulking felt good, but the shoulder got worse. I braced to see just how bad it would get, and it looks like this is pretty much the worst I've ever tweaked it. It's my left shoulder, which is weird cause that one hasn't been a problem till now. I guess that's good news – my right shoulder must be healing nicely!

Since any more bouldering was absolutely out of the question, and there's nothing to do in El Paso besides boulder, I decided to leave. It was a fantastic 24 hour fling with Hueco Tanks, but it just wasn't meant to be. In my short time there I met some cool folks, and got some fun climbing in. And I have this swollen rotator cuff to remember it all by.

A Texas Sunset, as seen from the van.

So right now I'm back in Moab, taking a few days rest with lots of icing and ibuprofen. Hopefully that'll get my shoulder back in shape, and I'll be able to trad climb again, which was what I was supposed to be doing anyway.



Blogger Rachel Murphree said...

Hey -- I'm from El Paso, not a climber, but took my niece and nephew bouldering at Hueco recently. It's a great place, but yes, the restrictions are SO confusing. A huge problem was graffiti on the pictographs. Anyway, next time you're in El Paso, check out the Franklin mts. State park for bouldering. It's at the Transmountain Exit off of I10, on the west side of the mountains (Hueco is way east). there's primitive tent camping in the Tom Mays park off of Transmountain. On this site you'll see people rock climbing.

2/26/2007 7:28 AM


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