This story originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of our print edition.
Even the sleeveless shirt and Crocs guy wedged next to me in seat 29E knew something was up. An hour into the first leg of my flight from San Francisco to Will Rogers International Airport in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and I’d already had a couple beers with some tomato juice and a whisky floater. Hell, I still have a layover and another flight ahead. I told myself it was training: Where I’m headed, the hallowed grounds of Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, you need to be able to hold your liquor. Were I competing as in years past, it’d definitely be to calm my nerves from the impending and ruthless beatdown.
I’m on my way to 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell, a climbing competition unlike any other, where endurance reigns supreme and your 8a score means dick. In 2006 a few friends in Oklahoma had a wild hair and wanted to see just how many routes they could squeeze into 24 hours. Oklahoma’s crags, spread across too wide an area, wouldn’t do. In want of mindless bolt-clipping for the midnight hour, they looked east to Arkansas, to Horseshoe Canyon Ranch. This being the same year our lord and savior Chris Sharma was seen in Dosage III wreaking havoc on the canyon’s boulders, the area’s popularity was on the cusp of explosion. For now it remained relatively unsung and local. But the event’s success each year wrought a reputation that built on itself like lava. The event just got bigger and hotter.
I’m going because it’s tradition—I always fucking go. And I’m going because the man at the helm of this rag asked me to “go cover 24HHH like Hunter S. Thompson covered the Mint 400.” Hence the whisky and my rambling affectations. To be fair I’d probably be drinking like this anyway, but that one call from my editor gave me free reign to write off every last drop of liquor I could put away on my taxes next year.
To account for intoxicated wanderings, I kept a simple plan. Get to Oklahoma, collect supplies and necessary people, and head to Horseshoe Canyon Ranch one state over in Arkansas. Then watch and record the madness that unfolds for the 9th iteration of the 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell competition.
My flights were embarrassing for the passengers I sat near due to the amount of morning alcohol I was able to put away. This day wouldn’t be full of climbing, but it would be full of talking about climbing, which could be more exhausting depending on who you talk to, and especially so for those of us self-absorbed enough to think that what we say matters at all. That impending activity requires alcohol in excess to reach peak philistine, I say.
Wheels down. Sixteen new messages. Adam, my Horseshoe Hell life partner, is on his way to pick me up. I’m not the only one psyched about heading east. In five and a half hours, I would be sitting on a porch of a cabin sippin’ something amber with a proof around 100 and just waiting for a mass of misguided youth and aged alike to descend upon the canyon ranch looking for suffering, a party, or both. I know because I’ve been all nine years. Well eight technically, but I have an honorary attendance since Adam decided to plan his wedding on the same weekend as the event one year.
We’ve competed a total of three times. If you’re not familiar with the process, it goes like this: Show up and purchase the requisite food and drinks that might sustain you for the 24 hours of punishment you mean to inflict upon yourself. (Our secret was a sixer of SlimFast and a pack of Camel Wides.) When the shotgun blasts, you run or walk, fast, to your first route, and begin a full day in which you feel everything raw, like an exposed nerve to the emotional rainbow. Elation, joy, love, pain, sorrow, hatred, hilarity, and the list continues out of your control. You’re there with others, but they aren’t really there. Just puppets in your own personal Odyssey of the human spirit.
The rules are consistent and simple. Climb the pitches. Lead them all. The higher the grade the more points. You can lead each one twice for points. You fall? Tough titty. Lower and do it again. You’re tired? Tough titty. Your partner needs to climb another one and you’re the only person who’s allowed to belay. You want to take a break? Tough titty. If you don’t climb at least a single route every hour, you miss out on the bonus points and the well-accepted notion that you really didn’t climb for 24 hours.
Of the three times Adam and I have competed, we’ve only managed to finish once. Year one. Those halcyon days when 55 routes each up to 12c over the course of 24 hours was impressive. Back when the likes of Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell, and Sonnie Trotter hadn’t thrown the proverbial gauntlet to more local-ish climbers by merely announcing their names, creating a race to the top that has included performances with 15 competitors going over 200 routes over the years. Back when you didn’t have to climb more than 150 routes up to 5.13 just to place. Back when PimpinandCrimpin.com threw the after-party. Back when the after-party could still be contained to the barn without fear for its structural integrity.
Year two we were in such good shape around 2 a.m. that we thought we deserved a nap. That nap took us to the shotgun-blast close of the competition. Year three we took off. Mental training. Assess the competition. Year four we followed Tommy Caldwell and Jeremy Collins. Did every route they touched for the first three hours. In the feverish pace set by those 19 fingers, Adam managed to tweak one of our twenty, and we bowed out. I played poker that night and won $50 from some locals. Tommy and Jeremy went on to win the competition as a team and finished 1st and 2nd respectively in the individual rankings. We maintain we were close.
Now we don’t compete. The culture of the event is too fine. Too important to overlook—any good journalist can see that. Every year it gets bigger. Better. Drunker. Partier. Sure the competition-lottery spots fill up in a matter of hours, nay, minutes. Yeah, it’s become like the Boston Marathon (minus the qualifying time, that type of elitism is reserved for runners, boulderers, and MMA reality show enthusiasts). The real surprise is that the volunteer spots fill up just as fast. Those willing to post up for eight-hour shifts just to make sure the climbers belay safely. Are properly caffeinated. Are properly psyched into the wee hours of the night. (And to earn whatever incredible piece of Patagonia gear that’s going out only to volunteers.) Those not lucky enough for official placement, neither serving nor earning, drive out anyway. They come for the culture richer than the pie at Ozark Cafe down in Jasper. It is this that I relate to you because it is this that has made 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell the singular best climbing event on Earth. And that’s no matter of opinion.
A snag in the plan. Our drive, once imminent, is now being delayed so that the car owner can make sure his kid gets to school in the morning. It’s OK. Learn to adapt. Go astral flow and let the great wind guide this adventure. Adam and I wonder why he can’t just let the five-year-old walk herself to the bus stop in the morning. “Pack her a lunch, set the alarm, and leave the coffee on. She’ll be fine.” Steven wonders why me and Adam are six Coronas deep on a Tuesday at 2 p.m.
The morning comes, and the traditions continue. Over the border into Arkansas, we stop at the liquor store. We never buy enough, and every year we buy more. A few bottles of bourbon, fifth of tequila, five dozen beers. That should hold us for a few days? There will be a keg and more whisky. I buy a pack of smokes for kicks. Larry, the wise-cracking skeleton manning the register sees a sucker city slicker from outside his hometown. Ten bucks for cigs? Whatever, OK. I find out Steven gets the same pack for $5. Fuck Larry and his skinny neck. I learned to climb out here, Larry! Don’t you recognize me?
The ranch road is long. It seems longer every time we start down it. Horseshoe Canyon sits smack in the middle of a 14-mile stretch of Highway 74 that spans from Ponca to Jasper. You turn onto the dirt and start the long descent. We crack a beer here. The road is long enough that you’re cracking another as you park. No one’s the wiser. The narrow road winds down to the entrance, a wooden archway bearing the name. My Arc de Triomphe covering an electrified cattle/goat guard. Here, from the top of the hill you can see the road wind down to the barn, main lodge, and HCR Trading Co., but if you glance left and right you can catch glimpses of the many-hued sandstone that lines the canyon. Some of the sponsor tents are already set up and humming. It’s obscene how many people are already here. No sanctioned events start for another day at least.
We park and find Barry Johnson. This is the Johnsons’ ranch. Barry and his wife Amy run the show here, and by show I mean an actual dude ranch. Disney World it ain’t. They and their wranglers and ranch hands, were they not so goddamned kind, would break you sooner than they could break a new quarter horse. The Johnsons, I believe, have found a way not to age. You can’t believe they’ve raised four children. It seems impossible when you stand them next to the beer-gutted gumbies half their age intent on having a true college experience.
Our home away from home sits on a flat up a steep hill above the climbing shop. We’ve stayed in the same cabin every year I can remember them letting us stay in cabins. It’s a duplex, mirror images on each side with a bathroom, kitchenette, mini fridge, one main bedroom, and five double beds upstairs. A couch stares out a picture window overlooking the ranch, but it only gets used for sleep. All the action. ALL the action happens on the porch. It’s as wide as the cabin and serves as a central hang for anyone brave enough to wander up the hill.
On the porch is the same cast of characters. They matter. The core faces never change. For some of us, this is our one time a year we get to see each other all together. Bound by jobs, bound by life, bound by god knows whatever we let ourselves be bound by, but for a week we don’t have it. For a week we stay in a canyon together, soaking. It’s a brotherhood. This is our place.
I know we’re not the only ones who do this. Dick Dower married his partner Natalie Neal. As a team, Leather and Lace, they’ve done the competition every year. They’ve finished the competition every year. Nine in a row. Dick turned 66 about a month before the competition. Natalie climbed 152 routes last year.
Dinner comes and goes. Grilling on the porch, we let the night slide over us partnered with beer and whisky, cigarettes and stories. Comfort in these people glues me to my seat until there are but a few of us left.
Morning comes with the start of the 12-hour competition. Andy Chasteen, the ringleader of the comp, added it a few years ago just to give more people the chance to do something. That something is obviously 12 hours fewer than the real athletes. Training wheels for the less hardy. In the beginning it wasn’t necessary. In the beginning it was just a group of guys measuring dicks and trying to guess how many routes they could climb over the course of a day. Conjecture and posturing. After formulating something a little more structured and sharing with friends, there was a contingency interested. Word spread, and more interested parties came forward until Andy decided to do a little promotion. His vision far exceeded ours in the beginning years. We didn’t want to organize people, so we helped where we could and organized the party. Mere hype men while he built a real legacy. He contacted the ranch with a crazy idea, and on the last weekend in September of 2006, 120 people showed up to test their will (they expected 40). The next year it was 196. Last year saw 450 competitors (it’s capped now just due to route availability), 90 volunteers (300 apply), and “600 or so” spectators and climbers there just to hang out, boulder, and climb when the competition wasn’t happening.
The 12-hour comp is relegated to only the West Side and North Forty, two incredibly route-dense sectors, so after lunch and a couple beers, Adam, once-a-year friend Chris, and I head to West Side to find a route we’ve never done before. We find three. The style here is unique in that, it would be hard to have a competition like this one anywhere else. The routes vary of course, but a good number of routes don’t feel sustained: 5.8 chickenheads lead to a 5.11 crux and back to 5.8 chickenheads. A 5.10 slab leads to a two-move head-scratcher clocking in at 12b. It seems that the rock lets you recover with each boulder problem crux. Now that’s not consistent to everything on the ranch. The East Side’s crown jewel Supersoul Sureshot (5.12c) is as cryptic as it is sustained and arguably one of the better sport routes, regardless of grade, in the whole country. That’s not to say it isn’t without its duds either. Corn Grinder of the same grade is a two-move crux from the ground to get to the start of its 5.11 variation, which is a two-move crux in a corner before finding a 5.7 jug-fest to the chains. But even these are not without merit. The rock is gritty, sticky; the grips are unique and interesting; and the terrain is varied in steepness and difficulty. It has a little of everything for everyone and is the easiest place to drop in for a weekend or a week. Crag a day without falling on your favorite moderates or find a new project and work it out.
We ditch the climbing to go see folks check in. The check-in is a prime social scene. The tables are lined up. Right now some kid is getting a mullet. It’s a good one to be sure. Authentic in length and shape, but it’s tame in comparison to some of styles that will come out of that chair. I can’t say when the haircuts started. One year we were giving them to ourselves and the next Adam was cutting them down by the trading post. The year after that, kids were growing out their hair all year just to have Adam work some magic on their mane. After Adam ditched the comp for his own wedding, a professional barber stepped in to replace the missing stylist, so when we showed up last year, we were without occupation and station.
The energy is building and you can feel it. From here you can see the caravans of cars and trucks in an elephant train winding down the ranch road. Everyone slows around the corner looking to spot someone they know before hauling up the steep drive to the campground. Some stop and check in first and then wheel around and head to the East Side for camping. They opened it a few years back for this weekend since there were so many people. It’s also the designated “quiet camp” for folks who need to be removed from the noise of partying. The most I’ve ever seen of that camp is just waltzing through there on the day of the comp. It’s a wasteland to me otherwise.
I crack another beer and say hey to Charlie and Kendall. More once-a-year friends. That’s not to say disposable. So many folks I see once a year at this event. I don’t talk to them throughout the year, not a word. They volunteer here out of sheer kindness or dumbness or what, I’m not sure, or they come out to see the spectacle unfold and boulder, but without them, 24 Hours wouldn’t have the loud American spirit it carries. A family under a banner of a niche commonality. Something special we don’t understand but refuse not to hold dear. Maybe that’s why the suffering looks fun in the end. Maybe it’s that this suffering supplants the dreariness of our day to day.
The loot looks good for the climbers this year. The comp is the same cost as a marathon or a bike race: $100. And it comes with a helluva swag bag. Every competitor got an Osprey daypack crammed with $150 worth of stuff. The competitors are giddy going through it. Most of them can’t even wait to get it back to their campsite; they just start pulling shirts out and putting them on. More and more climbers are here just milling about and checking out the booths. There weren’t booths here before. Before, there wasn’t anything. Andy rustled up a few pieces of swag in the beginning for the competitors, but there wasn’t a lot. The only thing there was a lot of in the past was garbage. Andy put an end to that, too. Three years ago he stopped providing cups, plates, forks, napkins, anything. You weren’t supposed to bring disposable items either as part of the Zero Trash Initiative. Like one of those funny Photoshop jobs where the creator combines the images of a bustling city with its forgotten dirt road instead of main street, I pictured the trading post area in the first year. Serene, calm, same nervous energy that we were about to do something new and different. I was pulled from it when a loud, sinewy youth and his absolute smokeshow of a girlfriend started talking to Adam about his new ridiculous checkerboard haircut. These youth are the new guard. The vigor and life of this week-long party, and I don’t understand their ways any more than I understand their choices in sexual partner. If I walked around shirtless, sopped with nervous energy, spraying my personality on all who came close, I’d have about as much chance finding a new girlfriend as asking my current one to do it for me.
Tonight we watch Reel Rock. Valley Uprising. The barn can’t hold us all so they’ve put a projector down on the Marriage Rock, an ersatz altar at the bottom of the hill that serves as a nice flat landing. The group is dense in the middle, loosening the farther you get to the outside where I’m sitting, drinking tequila and tonic from a Klean Kanteen. The film is perfect for this crowd. It’s history, it’s ingenuity, it’s purpose, it’s gumption to do things that no one else can do or has ever dreamed to do. It’s a parallel of how each person here feels about this competition. Accessible to every man but not possible for the everyman. “It goes, boys.” It sure does, and in 24 hours these boys and girls will be descending into the darkness, 12 hours deep into an ill-advised adventure cum sporting event designed solely for suffering, guts, and glory—but you have to be gritty.
The morning comes as they usually do for me. Foggy with a chance of breakfast beer. The canyon is buzzing even from up here. Shotgun start at 10 a.m., but no one can sleep past 7:30. The area below the HCR Trading Co. is full and frenetic. The costumes are elaborate. From the check-in booth I can see some very convincing knights who might be wearing chainmail, some folks wearing nude skin suits, a couple hillbilly rock stars carrying around stringless guitars, even a solid representation of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. There’s so much Lycra I wonder if it might come back in style a la our sport climbing forefathers (and mothers). I consider the uproar from when the first bolts were sunk from the top down. I consider the armchair historians and back-in-my-day despots whose effort couldn’t hold a candle to the weakest of climbers before me. Adventure is alive and well with American sport climbers, and this is the vanguard.
Roll call! Andy names them off one by one to pick up their scorecards: “The Hung and the Breastless,” “Honk if You Can See My Balls,” “We’ll Show You Our Rack if You Show Us Your Nuts.” They get more creative and more juvenile every year. My and Adam’s name, “The Coming Out Party,” seems tame by comparison. A black-masked bandit jumps on a flatbed and quiets the crowd for a single moment before they absolutely lose their shit. “Face your partner and repeat after me!” The Climber’s Creed. Tradition. Troop rallying, as if they weren’t juiced enough. These people barely need the help. Standing together is enough. It’s like static electricity building on a carpet. All these dumb haircuts and outfits are connected by something primal, and it goes without saying. They’re in this together. They’re going to support each other. The competition is less about beating each other and much more about making it through the night to that moment the sun kisses the Earth they’ve left and returned to hundreds of times. To when the energy returns and their swollen skin marks an accomplishment reserved for the rarest of breed, where good sense and “fuck it” intersect to make the right cocktail of drive, insecurity, and can-do. You don’t find this back where you came from. These people are your people here to rescue you from modern life. To distract you with the fullness that we all want and expect but are too scared to go grab on our own. We need each other, our tribe of vertically inclined warriors. “PARTNER! Do not freaking drop me!” The masked bandit yells into the microphone as 450 competitors scream an echo into their partner’s face. “Partner! I chose you not for thine skill but for thine determination and will! We battle our own battles! We fight our own fights! Partner! We are more than climbers! We are warriors! We clip the chains of our destiny! And yes, partner! We are lions in a field of lions!”
There’s screaming, there’s power, there’s a symphonic crescendo of energy and optimism that this is good and we will make it and we will do it better than we’ve done anything, and just before the shotgun blasts the start, you hear our orator roar a righteous roar, screaming, “OUR FATE IS UPON US! LET’S CLIMB!” and the horde breaks rank, charging like William Fucking Wallace was leading them away, and then—silence.
It’s eerie. I fill the void with the crack of another beer. Panged in the heart from what is that? Remorse? Some sadness that I can’t identify. “We should be fucking doing this comp,” Adam says, staring up toward the Far East. You can see the neon-clad kids rushing up the hill toward Purple Nehi—one of the best 5.11s anywhere. “Yeah,” I affirm. “Maybe. Next year.”
“Next year is the 10th anniversary,” he tosses out casually. “Maybe the Coming Out Party throws another rager. One that goes all night…”
He fades, and the both of us consider a few training timelines.
The rest of the spectators shuffle around and look at each other awkwardly. Some of them go off to boulder for the day. Cole Fennel picks us up with a cooler of Sapporo and a mission. Right on schedule he drops into the canyon, says something snide about the competition, fills us in on any new Arkansas route developer drama, and whisks us away to his newest discovery—what is surely to be the future of Arkansas rock climbing. Cole is a developer and has spent an inordinate amount of time on the ranch both helping develop routes for the ranch as well as researching for his guidebooks. He knows the place is great. Hell, he knows the competition is great. He’s just old like we are. We can’t see past what it was in the beginning and what the place meant to us. Maybe we’re just not ready to share it. Maybe we just want what everyone else wants, a little recognition. For what, we don’t know. Winding through the Arkansas backroads on the way to Cole’s new fortress of steep sandstone sport climbing we laugh about his older areas. Plenty of good routes—five-star even—but none of them have the density of the ranch. The place is special, and even though the new area Cole took us to was incredible, it’s no replacement. It’s great for a day, hell maybe a few if I were going to be around. But I’m not flying across the country for great-for-a-day.
Back at the ranch we load up on beers and head to the North Forty. The long cliff line is popular at night. The crowds make it easier to stay awake. Easier to stay psyched. Easier to forget that you’re 14 hours into Hell and the skin on your hands is screaming to stop at whatever cost. We pass a belaying Honnold. He’s not giving away anything. He says his partner/girlfriend Stacy is climbing stronger than he is. I shrug and walk off; he’s got a crowd of competitors and non-competitors around him. Climbing with the stars. Out here everyone suffers. No rest for the wicked.
Farther along the cliff line around a dark corner, I spot Rob D’Anastasio. He’s wild-eyed, and I can tell the night is wearing on him. His forearms are comically massive from exhaustion and pump. The bulging veins betray his energy level, but he’s positive. He’s cookin’. He’s doin’ it. A low scream builds and fills the dark air around us before dropping off. Every hour on the hour, every competitor lets out a roar to remind the lost and downtrodden that this isn’t over. That they aren’t alone. That another hour has gone by. A Hunger Games canon song for time passed and routes devoured.
I make my way back to the cabin and get in bed. Another scream as another hour goes by, and as I drift off to sleep I think of the incredible joy that comes with morning. The rebirth of energy and of hope. If there is a proverbial wall in this comp, it’s fast approaching, and some of them won’t make it through. Some will sleep like me. Some will do it willingly, while others will sit and rest and just doze off. If they can make it, the reward shines through the trees brighter than any headlamp turned on right now. It will reveal the raggedness that survived the night and pushed through to now. It will highlight kinks in ropes and grime on fingers. It’ll show holes in Lycra and grooves in belay devices. It will show them what they did. It will show them that even Honnolds and Caldwells get tired. That making it this far is a hell of an accomplishment. That the end is coming and weariness will end.
They stagger in after 9:00 a.m. Slowly trickling at first and then a line forms. They have to turn in their scorecards and tally up their points. Everyone’s drinking beer when they finish. Icing their burning tips with a cold can or bottle. They stand around the parking lot exchanging war stories. Falls, fears, jeers, gaffs, and cheers. It’s over and they finished. Partners band together. Arm in arm for many. It’s a trip to hear some of the numbers coming in. Two intermediate guys climbed just under 100 routes up to 5.10d. They probably won’t even place. Everyone’s hands are a wreck. A few people are sleeping in between cars near the trading post.
The center of the canyon is alive again. The nucleus—these people—has come together again after orbiting along the rock walls that spread out from them now. There’s energy again. There’s energy in these people. You can taste it on your tongue and with each scorecard that gets turned in before the closing shotgun blasts; you can see that these people get it. It’s a competition, there are prizes, sure, but there’s no ego. There are high-fives. There are beers cracked. There are people sleeping literally on top of each other. The bond that was felt through the dark of the night isn’t gone. And even when we find out who won overall (Honnold), we go through the other categories. We find out that the number of routes done doesn’t differ a hell of a lot. We find out 150 people climbed at least one route every hour for a full rotation of the Earth. We find out we want to party.
The night comes quickly enough and delivers. We have kegs. We have liquor. We have mixers. We have music and dancing. Spiderman crawls across the barn’s support beams and meets a girl in the middle for a kiss. Someone is pouring a shot of bourbon directly into the mouth of a short, attractive young woman. I yak with some underage boulderers about the comp and ask if they’d ever do it.
“Hell no!” says one. “It just doesn’t seem fun.”
“Yeah, I don’t think I’d be able to make it through the night. I’d way rather just boulder,” replies the other.
I implore them to reconsider.
“Nah, bouldering is just way better. It’s so much more chill.”
Ostensibly, they don’t get it, but the core of their argument affirms a certain respect for what heroics the competitors achieve here. They may not realize that they’re impressed, dreaming only of mono lockoffs and one-arm pull-ups, but for tonight they understand that primal feats can look different and have their own reward. That here, if but for a long, humid Arkansas weekend, the only thing that matters to these climbers is maxing out on those things we love most, and thus celebrating what climbing does for your soul. It’s something of an enigma, but seeing all these people in one place, together enjoying the hell out of a sport that’s so often very personal, is special. It’s unusual in the fondest sense of the word, and I know that each year I can escape the drudgery life thrusts upon you for one whisky-soaked weekend of climbers doing what they do best: climbing.
Photo Gallery: 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell
Scorecard: 24HHH By the Numbers
Each route is assigned a score value, which on the surface might seem arbitrary, but it’s intended to reflect the difficulty of the route. Then you score points by leading that route clean and climbing at least one route every hour for 24 hours straight (or 12 hours for the 12-hour version).
Most Points (Individual)
43,490—Alex Honnold (2014)
Most Routes Climbed (Individual, Male):
246—Everett Pauls Springfield, Missouri (2014)
246—Wayne R. Hartlerode, Compton, Arkansas (2013)
Most Routes Climbed (Individual, Female):
152—Natalie Neal Dower (2014)
Most Points (Team):
76,290—“Stable Pop,” Nik Berry and Mason Earle (2014)
Most Routes Climbed (Team):
470—“Does it count as free soloing if I clip the anchors?” Wayne R. Hartlerode and Mark Vabulas (2014)
Top Three States Represented:
1. Missouri, 52 climbers
2. Arkansas, 51 climbers
3. Texas, 39 climbers
Top Three Most-Climbed Routes (by far):
358 sends—E-Kat (5.7), 30’
351 sends—Little Miss Giggles (5.5), 35’
332 sends—Owen’s Best Buddy (5.8), 30’
You want detailed performance advice? Go to twofourhell.com for a PDF. But we believe for this unique event, the best success is simply not effing up too bad. Here are the top 5 rookie mistakes to avoid, from Caillin Murray who competed with her sister on team “Space Jesus Take the Wheel.”
One of my major mistakes was over-indulging in party festivities the day before the comp. The beer’s flowin’, people are getting their heads shaved into the worst mullets imaginable, and vendors are making it rain swag. It’s hard not to get caught up. But I drank too much and got sunburned, which led me to dehydration-ville. The cramping started eight hours in; I uncontrollably peeled off jugs with basically T-Rex arms at my side. This is incredibly discouraging when you are only a third of the way through the comp. It eventually eased up when I lessened my pace, but there is a lot of time wasted in waiting to control your arms again. So please for the love of God, drink SO MUCH water.
You don’t want to wait until after your skin hurts to tape, because there is a none-percent chance of it getting any better. I taped my hands before the start—and kept re-applying tape throughout as it got manky—but after I completed my 116th route, my skin was the only part of me that wasn’t on fire.
I would definitely recommend leg day. Like, many, many leg days. You’ll be spending a lot of time on easier routes, basically stairs, and your legs are going to give out before your arms do, because we’re climbers and we don’t know what legs are. Seriously, train on stairs beforehand, and get your single-leg press on lock. Also train for endurance. I swear, 5.6 was the fight of my life 16 hours in—don’t let that happen to you. Also make sure you train your skin quite a bit. Build up your calluses as an extra defense under your tape.
Definitely be familiar with the ranch before your first 24HHH. You’ll have an easier time if you know where you’re going. I have a friend who lost hours attempting to find the East Side at 2 a.m. Don’t be that guy!
Leave the Testarossas at home. If you’re wearing aggressive, or even remotely snug-fitting shoes, you’re going to have a bad time. I snagged a pair of size 8 Five Ten Rogues from the lost and found at my gym right before the comp and wore those the whole time. My street shoe size is a 7! I was definitely swimming in them, but the rubber was enough to get me up my hardest route, a 10c, and comfortable enough to hike to other areas in like a total gumby, but who gives a shit at that point? My feet were comfortable in their enormous shoe palaces.