Sunday, July 3, 2011

Out of the shoebox: Hueco Tanks, TX (before all the stupid rules)

A half hour east of El Paso exists a pile of brown rocks called Hueco Tanks. For years Hueco was a destination spot for the world's best boulderers. The attraction, because let's face it, nobody vacations in El Paso, was the quality and volume of over-hung, gymnastic climbing. A perfect illustration of this type of climbing is Starpower (above), a 35 foot jungle gym during which the climber isn't ever more than 6 feet off the ground.

I spent the spring of '97 and '98 living out of the parking lot at Pete's, a dirt lot just down the road from Hueco with a quonset hut run by an old vet and his wife. Pete's wife would open the kitchen in the evening and crank out tamales and gorditas. They stocked beer, namely Australia's national sedative, Sheaf Stout. It was a fun place to hang out, play scrabble, meet new folks. I, and a crowd of others were cheering when Tara Lipinsky won gold in figure skating at the Nagano Olympics.

As with most climbing meccas, Hueco began to experience access problems as more and more climbers arrived on the scene. The little state park was being over-run with boulderers by 1996, and by 1998, real restrictions to access were in the works. I feel fortunate to have climbed Hueco for the two largely unregulated seasons I did. The problem was exacerbated by the widespread development of the bouldering "crash pad". Pretty soon, everybody had one, and the destruction to the undergrowth near the prime boulders was obvious. Another issue also came to the fore when a local tribe claimed that the degradation of Hueco Tanks' 5,000 year old pictographs was due to the climbing population, and they had an argument. In 1998 it was estimated that over 80% of all visitors to the park were there to climb. In '98 I attended a county council meeting in downtown El Paso over the access issue. The tribe argued their position effectively and the state slapped major restrictions on climber access to Hueco Tanks. I was very disappointed in the contingent from the Access Fund. They explained all the details of what the climbers brought, in locally spent dollars. They argued that the state park rules were being manipulated to support the local tribe at the expense of recreational interests. What they did not once put into words was one the thing that I believe could have made a difference in the minds of the council. I wish they had explained what attracted people from all over the world to this little pimple on the ass of America. What was so special about Hueco Tanks to the climbing community. The Access Fund, in a word, failed to accomplish a damn thing for it's constituency.

During those 2 seasons I was able to climb/figure out many of the classic V5's and several V6's and V7's. In 1998 I participated in the annual Hueco Tanks Rock Rodeo, the local's end of season climbing competition. I competed for points in the "intermediate" group, against who knows how many other climbers. At the end of the day I had tied with another guy for second place. The tie breaking "hang-off" (a one armed dead hang until one or the other of us fell off). My arms were shot after the whole day of hard bouldering, and as the hang dragged through it's 5th minute I came off the bar, about 1 nanosecond before the other guy did. I could scarcely shake the guy's hand.The after-party was great, but a bit subdued due to the uncertain future for bouldering at Hueco.
Below:
Pete's, and Rob Hamilton's RV, the "Limping Trout", 1997
Above:
Some wall on the Spur
Below:
Below, my Rock Rodeo trophy
Below:
Beer, Pizza, and a..., V6, took me a couple days of hard work to figure out this beautiful torture-fest.
Below:
Gums, very likely the scariest V2 in America. Falling is not an option. It's very high-ball, and as for the landing, tales of head injuries related to this climb abound.
Below:
The Dragon's Lair super-classic, Hobbit in a Blender V5
Above:
I walked right up to Moonshine Roof and walked off the top. Fun.
Below:
Rest-day recreation
Below:
Foolin' on the Norwegian Wall
'97 and '98 were pretty shitty years for me, a period that I reflect on now and then. I've come to the conclusion that good friendship and hucking myself at Hueco problems were about the best thing I can recall from those 2 years. I'm glad I had my time at Hueco.

1 comment:

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