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10/14/13 – The 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell (24HHH) in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas fulfilled its reputation as a wildly fun yet intense climbing competition for the eighth year in a row. On Friday, September 27, at 10 a.m., 280 excited climbers prepared to start the event, ready to forgo all sleep and climb until they dropped.
Designed to test stamina and strategy, the competition challenges climbers to finish as many pitches as possible on the sandstone cliffs at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in a 24-hour span. Paired into teams, climbers gain points with each clean lead of a route.
This year’s participants took the competition to another level, with 102 climbers reaching 100 or more pitches in 24 hours. Five climbers were able to do 200 or more routes!
Dick Dower, a climber in his mid-60s who has participated in 24HHH from the start, attests that climbing 100 routes was not a common achievement in the early years of the competition, but is a benchmark that has evolved with time.
“Almost everybody you talk to [wants to reach 100 routes], but it didn’t used to be that way,” he said. “Last year was the first year everyone really figured it out.”
Dower said that reaching 100 routes is no longer as difficult because the staff has been able to add more routes to the ranch. The new routes provided more options and less crowding, leading to explosive record breaking.
Wayne Hartlerode, a climber from Arkansas, won the men’s competition by completing 246 pitches, climbing 1.83 vertical miles over the course of 24 hours. Daniel Schuerch took second place for the men’s competition, accomplishing 216 routes.
Well-known climber and alpinist Kate Rutherford won the women’s competition, climbing 124 routes. Bobbi Bensman, no stranger to competitions, took second place at 112 routes.
While 24HHH tests climbers on an individual basis, the competition equally honors team accomplishments. Powerhouse team “BDEEZ NUTS,” comprised of Chris Thomas and Hayden Kennedy, climbed a total of 402 routes. As a team, they climbed an astounding 3.21 vertical miles.
Over the years, 24HHH has seen all levels of climbing, from professionals to newbies. The wide range of grades available at the ranch, from 5.4 to 5.12d, makes the competition even more accessible.
Dower attributes the massive success of the competition to the unique atmosphere fostered by 24HHH.
“It’s kind of interesting how the big-name athletes like to come, because unlike the venue [at] a world cup, where everyone is focused on them, here they’re climbing with everyone else. People get to think about climbing next to Honnold and Caldwell—it’s interesting to have them climbing a 5.13 and you’re next to them doing a 5.9,” said Dower.
According to Dower, strategy for success at the competition boils down to weather, food, order of routes, and perhaps most of all, keen awareness of lines of climbers.
“The main challenge is hoping your strategy is right and avoiding lines,” he said. “Everyone gets nervous about who is going where first. Knowing where to be at the right time [is key].”
While for the most part 24HHH is all fun and games, Bryan Schillig, a climber who won the trad category with 94 routes, described tougher parts of the competition.
“Climbing 75-foot routes throughout the wee hours of the night was brutal,” he said. “The routes never seemed to end… I felt like I was in a climbing episode of TheTwilight Zone.”
Schillig listed some other hardships of the competition, including leaving or losing gear, but considered the loss part of the expense of climbing trad for 24HHH.
Regardless of a few hellish moments, the promise of a healthy competition and a one-of-a-kind community keeps climbers coming back. Andy Chasteen, creator of the event, said, “It’s a four- to five-day family reunion each year. Everyone new to the event is automatically added to the family.”
With registration for this year’s 24HHH filling in less than four minutes, the event obviously has become an annual holiday tradition for many climbers. The registration for next year’s event is not yet open, but stay posted for next year’s competition on the 24HHH website.
“I have always had a great experience every year I have done this competition,” said Schillig. “The first year I thought: Can I climb for 24 hours straight? Each year I’ve upped the ante. Can I climb 100 sport? Can I climb 100 trad? Eventually it might be: Can I climb every route in the ranch (around 420)? What is the limit? You never know until you try.”