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Sea of Holes (II 5.10- R), Hueco Tanks

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Hueco Tanks State Historic Site; El Paso, Texas Muchos huecos, pocos “boltos” — ¡Muy picante!

It’s a bit hard to call an R-rated route “classic” — you don’t want people whipping off and breaking their legs and whatnot. But then again, most R-rated routes aren’t the Sea of Holes, the two-pitch jug ladder up an eye-pleasing convex buttress on the Front Side, at Hueco Tanks. Sure, you only get three bolts on the first pitch and four on the second (and a whiff of trad pro), but if you keep a steady head, the eponymous holes — hand-swallower, smooth-lipped huecos — practically won’t let you fall. Get this: the first ascent, by Mike Head circa late 1970s, was an onsight free solo. Beginning in 1975, Head, with a crew of fellow, low-key Hueco disciples, had the Park to himself, though the rangers weren’t keen on reckless free-handin’, bolted or otherwise. So Head and crew went into stealth mode, gunning big runouts or sometimes just ambling ropeless up the featured synenite porphyry. And while many Front Side routes were re-equipped with modern hardware beginning in 1989, these are not sport climbs — they’re face-tech rope-stretchers that demand solidity and commitment at the grades.

Hueco's North Mountain covered in winter afternoon light.

The BetaGuidebooks: Hueco Tanks Climbing and Bouldering Guide (second edition), by John Sherman (Falcon, 1995); Rock Climbing New Mexico and Texas, by Dennis Jackson (Falcon, 1996);

Guide Services: Hueco Rock Ranch: (915) 857-1135;

Equipment Shop: Sports Authority (for chalk and basics): 801 Sunland Park Dr., El Paso; (915) 584-6556

Reservations: Make reservations at least two days prior to your trip (and much longer during winter high season), even for North Mountain. Visit or call (915) 849-6684 for info.

Rack: Ten quickdraws, slings for anchors, and selected cams Show us your classic photo of Sea of Holes and win a Madillo from Edelrid!Log on to’s Photo Post, submit your Sea of Holes images to the Classic Climbs folder, and on February 15, photographer Jim Thornburg will pick his favorite. The winning photographer receives a stylin’ Madillo helmet ($110 value) from Edelrid.

Five Classics near the Sea of Holes, Hueco Tanks State Historic Site, Texas

By Matt Samet

If the Sea of Holes hasn’t given you the blood-pumping Hueco fix you were looking for, the Front Side has plenty of other rope-stretcher face/mixed classics to sink your teeth into.

Cakewalk (5.6): Steep and exposed for the grade, this is a trad-style two-pitch lead on the left (north) end of the Front Side, up a right-leaning line down and right a bit from the Flake Roof. Bring lots of small wires and be solid at the grade. Beta: mountainproject.comGear: Standard rack

Malice in Bucketland(5.10-): You don’t get many bolts on this one (eight in 150 feet), but the holds are solid and welcoming, with lots of big-hueco pod rests. A top pitch (Busted) up a rounded arête gets you up and over.Beta: mountainproject.comGear: Quickdraws; 70-meter rope

Indecent Exposure (5.9): A beautiful, improbable, and serious route up the airiest buttress at the Tanks. The crux comes on the second-pitch traverse, so leader and second should be equally solid at the grade. Beta:mountainproject.comGear: Standard rack, with lots of long slings

Fox Trot (5.9+): Solid face holds and the occasional flat hueco see you up this pleasant buttress, toward the right (south) side of the Front Side. Beta:mountainproject.comGear: Seven bolts, and a few mid-range nuts

Wyoming Cowgirl (5.12-): Not a lead (unless you’re really bold), this fine toprope up the chocolate-brown north face of the End Boulder is a classic Todd Skinner Hueco pump and a good intro to harder iron-rock crimping.

Gear: Anchor set-up and 100 feet of toproping line