Alex leading Lunch Rock Direct, Lunch Rock Wall
FRIDAY: Braving the cold
I had been a bit leery of this trip due to the recent cold snap. And sure enough, the temperature was 19 degrees when we woke up, with a forecast high in the mid 40’s. I’m a cold weather wimp, so it’s my general policy not to climb when temps are below 50. But hey, we didn’t fly all the way to El Paso to sit in Denny’s and drink coffee, so we headed to Hueco Tanks. By 10am we were roped up, but temps were still in the 30’s. Within the first 10 feet of the first route my hands were numb — the rock sucked every shred of warmth (and confidence) from our bodies. But we pressed on…
Fortunately, by about 1pm the sun was shining on the rock and the climbing became a lot more enjoyable. We ended up climbing 7 total pitches before fading light forced us off the rock:
Divine Wind, 5.7 — Sport route, good warm-up
All the Nasties, 5.10 — Steep and crimpy
Cakewalk, 5.6 (2p) — Easy but fun
Window Pain, 5.10 — Long and sustained, probably my favorite route at Hueco
Uriah’s Heap, 5.7+ (2p) — Love the second pitch
SATURDAY: Waiting in line
Hueco Tanks entrance gate, 7:30am
If you’re familiar with Hueco Tanks, then you know that it has severe access issues. On the one hand, Hueco Tanks is an incredibly signficant archaeological site, with dozens of pictographs dating back over 1,000 years. Given that, I’m thankful that they allow climbing at all. On the other hand, Hueco Tanks is an incredibly significant climbing destination, with arguably the best bouldering in the world (and darn good roped climbing too). So the challenge is to preserve Hueco’s rich history while allowing people to enjoy the park today. The State’s current solution is to allow only 70 people to visit the park each day — with 60 of those spots requiring advance reservation.
I didn’t have reservations for this trip, so we had to wait in line outside the park until noon, hoping for no-shows. We eventually did make it in, but didn’t get on the rock until almost 1pm. Oh well, at least it was warm by then (and by warm I mean mid 40’s but sunny). We managed to tick off 4 nice pitches:
- Malice in Bucketland, 5.9 — Huge holds but a “sporty” lead
- Alice in Bananaland, 5.10 — Nice crack at the top, soft for its rating
- Banana Patch, 5.10 — Wild step across a chimney
- Lunch Rock Direct — High quality, well protected route
SUNDAY: Plan B
Since Sunday was our last day, we showed up at the park gate at 7:30 and were the third car in line. Unfortunately, they only had enough walk-in passes for 2 cars. Since we were flying out in the afternoon we didn’t have time to wait for no-shows, so we headed to Franklin Mountains State Park to check out some of the climbing there — something I’ve wanted to do for a while. El Paso sits in the shadow of the Franklins, and the climbing there is even more convenient than at Hueco Tanks (think 2 minute approach).
After arriving, we hiked up a trail to North Mt. Franklin as a warm-up. The mountain tops out at 7,000 feet, and you get a 360 degree view of Texas, New Mexico, and Old Mexico.
Kevin on the ridge to North Mt. Franklin
While we were on the hike, we passed a couple of small crags. One in particular caught my eye. It appeared to have a couple of promising trad routes, so we grabbed the gear and checked it out.
This was my first time to climb without any form of beta, but I’ve been climbing long enough that I can judge routes pretty accurately from close inspection. I started with the right-most line, a trad route that followed a ramp and dihedral system. It was a really nice route with great pro and one or two funky 5.9 moves.
The next route looked to be more difficult. It went straight up a smooth, dead vertical wall with a mix of face and crack climbing. This route turned out to be a real gem — one of the best pitches I’ve climbed (including lots of routes at Yosemite, Red Rocks, etc.). The climbing was hard (felt like 11-) with interesting, technical moves. However, I’m still not sure whether the finish goes left or right. As soon as I got home to Fort Worth, I did a little Googling and I think the formation we climbed is called Mine Rock (there is an old mine shaft right next to it). And apparently it’s currently closed to climbing. Oops!
The other crag we saw, Sneed’s Cory, is more popular and has 17 short bolted routes. We didn’t have time to climb any of them, but here’s a picture of the formation. Despite appearances to the contrary, the granite is super high quality (better than the Wichitas).
As always, I was glad to get home and see my three girls. But this trip definitely left me wanting more. Time to plan that Spring Red Rocks trip…