Thursday, March 21, 2013

Spring Break at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch

What should have been roughly a 10 hour drive quickly devolved into a 15 hour haul when we caught a storm early Saturday morning and followed it eastward across Oklahoma's route 66 all the way to Arkansas. Visibility was limited and kept our pace at a crawl trough most of the deluge. This was the ominous beginning of our week-long trip to Horseshoe Canyon Ranch. We finally pulled into the ranch around 11:00pm and set up camp in the freezing downpour. Unfortunately, the rain persisted all day Sunday as well; the day was cold and the rain made a mud pit of the camp, giving everyone in our crew a heaping helping of some excellent type II fun! This was our first trip to HSCR and things were looking grim...

By midday our group had joined the other climbers at the ranch under the covered pavilion on top of the hill. Groups from all over had gathered together to escape the sopping wet of the canyon. At first each group, driven by necessity, kept mostly to themselves--staking their claims to square feet of precious dry cement. However, as the day wore on each tribe gradually began the process of assimilating to the group as a whole. This seemingly miserable day ended up providing a wonderful day of camaraderie inspired by mutual bordem!

As the late afternoon drizzle fell, the pavilion burst with activity: slack-lining, cooking, and ridiculous games of human feats ensued. This was my first introduction to a wonderful game involving two partners, an empty can of PBR, and all the gymnastic prowess of Cirque du Soleil. The premise of the game is pretty simple--be the team to get the can the furthest from the starting line. 

Merritt and I setting the bar high!
The mechanics of the game are as follows:
  • Place a starting line on the ground.
  • The first partner drops into a pushup like position and is not allowed to move their hands or rearrange at all. (No other parts of your body are allowed to touch the ground)
  • The second partner (preferably a lighter one) climbs out, with can in hand, and seeks to place it as far out as possible without ever touching the ground. 
  • The second partner must them climb back across the starting line, and then with the cooperation of the first partner, pull the first back up across the start-line without dragging or dabbing any body parts. 
  • The team who gets the can the furthest wins. (As the game progressed, the technique for moving the can evolved faster and with more ferver than the space race.) 
A bit of high-lining over the creek 
As dusk settled in, and the light of the day dwindled, the rain cleared just enough for a little bouldering in the North Forty. We donned our headlamps and set out to find overhanging routs that had retained some semblance of dryness throughout the day. Sad to say, this was my first experience on sandstone, and I have to say, I've been missing out! As a Hueco Tanks devotee, I had no idea that rock could be so kind to your pads! After a couple hours of bouldering, it was back to the muddy mess that was our camp. 

By the morning, the rain had subsided but the cold had set in. There is something incredibly demotivating about waking up to a rain-fly that is frozen solid. Needless to say, we made a late start. The afternoon sun warmed up the wall enough to make climbing on the North Forty tolerable. (Now granted, I say all this as a Texan; the crew from St. Louis didn't seem to mind the cold.) 

The North Forty has some pretty classic lines including:
Just to name a few...

The wonderful thing about HSCR is that you don't have to choose between a sport climbing, trad climbing, or bouldering trip. This place has plenty of all three, and all within comfortable walking distance of camp! 

The third day found us at Roman Wall and The Far East

Roman Wall had some great sun exposure, which made for a nice break from the cold. However, it was also at this wall that I discovered the downside to such skin-friendly sandstone--BREAKAGE. OSpartacusI ended up decking on my way to the first clip when an otherwise solid feeling crimp exploded under my hand. Luckily it was only a five or so foot fall to a flat landing. Other than that small setback, it was a pretty great route! 

Merritt at the second to last bolt of Spartacus 
We finished the day at The Far East, which boasts a remarkable route called Plumb Bob! This route works its way up an arete, featuring big moves and plenty of rests, and finishing on a big crack that is just longing for a fist-jam. I can't recommend this route enough! 

The next two days were spent really exploring HSCR's extensive bouldering. Again, the sandstone was wonderful on the hands; however, after an exhaustive day of throwing ourselves at some classic routes, our pads had begun to look a little worse for wear. Even sandstone will eventually leave your fingers pink and weepy!

The Idaho Boulders have some great problems, plenty of solid roof and highball alike. But, by far, the most terrifying route is the "downclimb" from The Loaf.  The downclimb from The Loaf is an ancient length of climbing rope tied around the base of a small tree a few feet back from the edge. The knot is now mostly biomas, and the sheath is completely exposed at a point where the rope rubs a blade-like edge of rock. Needless to say, this rope is terrifyingly sketchy! However, as we quickly discovered, there is a much better way down--simply climb onto the tree directly off the front of the boulder and downclimb the tree. Also, just around the corner from The Loaf sits the most classic V5 on the ranch: War Bonnet, an amazing line of overhung pinches into a techie laid out, top-out!

Me on Bottoms Up
Now, there was a strange aligning of the stars happening that week... As we came to find out, nearly every group in the canyon was from The Lone Star State! Two groups from College Station, two or three from Austin, another from San Antonio, more than a group or two from Dallas, and ourselves out of Lubbock--600 miles away and it still felt like home! If you happen to be one of those people reading this, give me a shout out!

Unfortunately however, all good things must come to an end, and after a long week of climbing we had to get back. But it had been a whirlwind week of climbing with no off days due to the rain, and while our spirits may have been willing, our bodies (especially our pads) were weak!

The last day on...
So, after a much more enjoyable 10 hour drive, we arrived back home, tired and dirty, but enamored with the ranch. I have climbed many places in my six-year tenure as a climber, and I have to say, Horseshoe has won my heart; the sport routes are classic, and the bouldering keeps me just as excited as Hueco! If you haven't been to HSCR, I encourage you to make the trip; it's worth every hour of driving you may have to make.

May your clips be clean, and your falls be graceful,

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