Angela on Slider V9, HP40.Photos by Jamie Emerson courtesy of B3Bouldering.com
I’m on the road again. It’s been a year and a half since my last big climbing trip, so I am excited to be traveling. It took a few days to fall back into the groove of living out of a truck and climbing all the time, but I can’t complain. I have a great trip ahead of me that will take me to the southeast, Hueco, Switzerland and France. This will be the first time I have climbed overseas, so I’m most excited about that. But the first part of the trip will be awesome as well, since the South is one of my favorite places and Hueco never fails to be a good time.
Angela braves Bed Wetters, a tallish V10 with a dangerous landing, LRC.Photos by Jamie Emerson courtesy of B3Bouldering.com
The SouthI love the South. Being there is pretty much the opposite of being at home in Boulder, Colorado and that is quite refreshing. Don’t get me wrong, Boulder is great, but it definitely has its downfalls. Sometimes it’s nice to step away and breathe a sigh of relief and throw myself into a culture that is completely different than the one I am used to. The people in the South are always friendly, the climbers are always having fun, and the barbeque is delicious. Some of my first climbing trips were to Horse Pens 40, so I think the South has a special significance to me. When I think back to those trips I remember running around and climbing until nearly all of my tips were bleeding and loving every second of it. Plus, sandstone is my favorite rock and in the South it is immaculate and abundant. Basically, the list of reasons to visit this area is endless, so we started our trip here.
Landslide, HP40.Photos by Jamie Emerson courtesy of B3Bouldering.com
We spent days climbing in Horse Pens 40, Rocktown, and The Stone Fort [Little Rock City] and also visited some less popular areas like Zahnd and Laurel Falls. Horse Pens is probably my favorite climbing area in the country. The rock there is perfect and forms the craziest bulbous features that are tons of fun to climb on. Everywhere you turn there seems to be another classic problem, whether it be an amazing tennis shoe highball or a seemingly impossible slab. Plus, the area is one of the most climber-friendly places I have ever visited. The Schultz family owns the place and has a great operation set up that welcomes climbers with open arms. The concentration of the problems there is another plus and I love this about the place. I often have the most fun when I devote an entire day to running around and climbing as many problems as I can, and Horse Pens is perfect for that. Still, I am always humbled when I climb there, as I usually spend a good chunk of my time falling off problems that I think I should be able to do. The climbing style required for southern sandstone is markedly different than that needed for Colorado granite. While Colorado climbing usually involves lots of crimping (one of my strengths), the South is all about slopers (one of my weaknesses). But climbing at Horse Pens forces me to be a better climber. It makes me focus on body position and finding the middle ground between trying too hard and not trying hard enough. It makes me pay attention to and trust my feet and forces me to be creative in my movement. Most importantly, climbing in Horse Pens reminds me that moving over rock is one of the most fun experiences a person can have.
Millipede, HP40.Photos by Jamie Emerson courtesy of B3Bouldering.com
It was very neat for me to return to Horse Pens more than seven years after first visiting the area. When I was younger, I thought that this place was the end all of bouldering and couldn’t imagine anything better. After traveling around to various areas since those initial visits, my opinion of Horse Pens is essentially the same. To me, it is still one of the best bouldering areas in the country (and maybe the world? More on that after visiting Europe…) If you are looking or an ego boost or an abundance of liberally graded problems, Horse Pens is not the place to go. But if you love climbing and want to have a great time doing it, I highly recommend heading that way sometime.
Millipede, HP40Photos by Jamie Emerson courtesy of B3Bouldering.com
Another sandstone squeeze, HP40Photos by Jamie Emerson courtesy of B3Bouldering.com
Jamie on Ghetto Superstar, HP40.Photo by Angela Payne courtesy of B3Bouldering.com
The hospitality of the South is equally as humbling as the climbing. This point was driven home one night when we were camped near Rocktown. My boyfriend, Jamie, and I were sitting by a small fire we had built when two strangers approached us. Being in the woods and rather ignorant of the true meaning of “Southern hospitality,” I was initially uncomfortable. Maybe we stole their campsite? Maybe we weren’t allowed to be here after all? Maybe all those crazy stories you hear about the deep south are true? I soon felt ashamed for questioning their intentions when they offered us free firewood, which we graciously accepted. Before we knew it we were sitting by a raging fire and a five-foot high stack of logs, all thanks to the kindness of some strangers. We soon learned that encounters like this were not uncommon in the South. When we were having trouble finding a place to camp, a local climber, Ronnie Jenkins, welcomed us into his home and acted as our tour guide for our time spent in Chattanooga. As silly as it may sound, the kindness I experienced in the South renewed a bit of my hope for humanity. Amazingly enough, places still exist where people take the time to say hello and random strangers strike up conversations. I’m glad I got to visit such a place and I think I’m certainly better for it.
Perfect sandstone.Photos by Jamie Emerson courtesy of B3Bouldering.com
We originally planned to spend three weeks in the South, but we were having so much fun that we extended the trip by a week. After seeing all the rock I saw down there (which was likely only the tip of the iceberg), I decided that I could probably extend my stay for years and still have plenty to climb on. We flirted with the idea of skipping Hueco all together and spending the remainder of our pre-Europe trip running around to The Stone Fort, Laurel Falls, Rocktown and Horse Pens. Then I thought about the projects I had left unfinished in Hueco on past trips. This was a good chance to try to tie up some loose ends, so we left the South, deciding that we might regret it if we didn’t go to Hueco. But, just to make sure I have good reason to return to the South (as if I needed another reason), I left some things unfinished there. And I still haven’t eaten my fill of barbeque…
Photos by Jamie Emerson courtesy of B3Bouldering.com