Man it literally hurts just typing this cause I have a blood blister on my index finger but who cares cause my stoke tank from HCR is still full and I am excited to write about this amazing place that I have fallen in love with so buckle up kids it’s time for another trip report. Also I'm still as long winded as ever so there's a TL:DR section below.
HORSESHOE CANYON RANCH (HCR)
Some basics and admin stuff about HCR first
Now that that’s out of the way it’s time for me to unnecessarily recount everything that happened in those four days chronologically in great detail.
Sketchy van left campus around 4pm on Friday and since we’d reach HCR pretty late we figured we’d save the $25 on camping and just sleep at a Walmart in Branson. The weather was oddly warm but pretty welcomed at this time of the year. None of us really slept all that well for those few hours but this is what we get of being cheap.
At the crack of dawn we left Walmart and took the windy road into HCR. Take note that the road in isn’t all that bad but there are some sections which are quite steep and if it was muddy the drive may not be all that pleasant (I think sketchy van may have had troubles getting out if it was raining). As with Jackson there are potholes in certain areas and you may want to keep your eyes on the road if you don’t have a decent amount of clearance.
A little after sunrise we met up with the rest of the gang at the West Campground just up the hill from the Trading Post and bought our climbing passes to get ready for some climbing. We had quite a group (~20 of us) which I don’t know how it came to be but I just added a lot of people who said “I’m interested” and here we are. We were generally split in 3 groups; the big kids (Eric, Dylan, Mina and Logan) who were getting on some hard stuff, the crack boys (Peter and Mihail) who were getting crusty the whole trip and the rest who were a mix of regular and newbie climbers. I was trying to push myself and so I tried to stick with the big kids and I’m glad I did cause I pushed my limits trying to keep up with them.
Our first crag was The North Forty, which is the largest area in HCR and boasts over 100 sport climbs in the area, mostly in the easy to moderate range. I paired up with Eric and tried to knock out as many climbs as we could. Started out with Groovy (5.10b) which is just 5.8 climb with a 10a/b boulder start. We then made a bad move of immediately hopping onto Crimp Scampi (5.10d) which is supposedly one of the best climbs in the crag but personally I didn’t enjoy it all that much. Both of us pumped ourselves out more than we liked to and didn’t get the send so that was a bummer. A good thing however was that the route was popular enough to get permadraws throughout which was a pleasant surprise.
Then came the highlight of the day which was Circus Wall, a section of North Forty with a good concentration of quality climbs, and completely hung with permadraws which was fantastic. Eric convinced me to hop on Fat Hand (5.12a) which was a decently pumpy climb with ~V3 boulder problem start. The start is a little height dependant and it was quite frustrating, but checking off my second 12a was a great feeling. We then moved on to Big Top (5.11c) right to the left which I thought was much more fun and managed to clear with only one take. Also Dylan managed to rodeo the first clip of Fat Hand in one big swing and it was pretty cool.
After that we still managed to pack in a few more climbs. Some easier but quality ones were Green Goblin (5.8), First Normal Form (5.9), Season of the Storm (5.10a). We also did Sonny Jim (5.11a), a really good climb with a cool roof problem at the end of a nice slab. And perhaps the coolest route in that area was Lavender Eye (5.12a) which was very aptly named because one section had a lavender colored oval which looked like an eye and it was one heck of a roof problem. Eric managed to get it but I got shut down after a good half hour of fighting and swearing and ripping my fingers. It was so painful to get through the crux but run out of strength to make the clip right in front of my face. But nonetheless I’m glad I did try it and I’m waiting to get my revenge on it. Also Dylan finished the route but he may have left out some key details ;)
The climbing in the day was great and the night did not disappoint either. Perks of being in the middle of buttfuck nowhere is that there is minimal light pollution and the night sky is incredible. The temperature took quite a dip but we had a good fire going to keep us warm, good food to fill our tummies, and a whole bunch of shenanigans to keep us entertained. One thing about climbing in November was that sunset was ~5pm and it felt much later than it seemed, so we were out cold around 9pm and most of us slept all the way through the morning.
Boy I could feel my fingers throbbing but there was climbing to be done so I sucked it up and powered through. After some tasty pancakes in the morning the main group headed towards The Far East which had a good number of routes too. Eric and I started off on Gracie’s Eight (5.8) which had a huge bivvy ledge. We then got on a classic and my favorite climb of the day – Horseshoes and Hand Grenades (5.11a), which had a nice crux section down low and pretty cool moves. Eric then proceeded to fight it out on what was allegedly the best 5.12 in the canyon, Super Soul Sure Shot (5.12c), which featured a crimpy start and a crazy gaston crux in the middle. Eric crushed it and I made a mistake of thinking I could possibly do it too but simply ended up ripping the skin on my fingers and not even being able to do it (I TR assisted the starting crimp section and couldn’t even do the crux by French Freeing).
After a terrible defeat I proceeded to repair my ego by climbing Orange Crush (5.9) which was the tallest climb on the furthest part of the canyon, and it is famous for having the best view of the canyon which I agree. It is quite a view to take in and you should definitely bring a camera when going up. This route is also over protected so you can bring 14 draws or just skip a few close ones to get up.
To end off the day we headed to Roman Wall, which featured vertical faced routes up to ~40 feet up, followed by a pretty crazy roof past the ledge for a few climbs. We were all eyeing Maximus (5.12a), a 30 foot roof overhang up to a roof for the finish. You can get to Maximus via a classic arete problem Commodus (5.10a) to the belay ledge. Dylan, Logan and Mina went first so Eric and I got on Boronocus (5.11c) which was a less intense overhang but still loads of fun on a rather long route.
Eventually I went up Maximus but my skin was absolutely bare and chalk literally would not stick on my fingertips (plus I was still feeling terrible from Super Soul Sure Shot) so I couldn't stick the crux and it was quite a bad way to end the day, but well I think I was just happy to have tried. Eric subsequently went ahead to cruise through the crux and finish up the climb.
Jared's car had to leave early so after dinner they left for Champaign, while the rest of us cuddled by the campfire cause it was getting real cold. The major highlight of the night was Logan showing us that he could totally do Danger Can in one hit and said "It's cause you guys don't commit enough" and then proceeded to smash the can on his head and not break open the can. It was probably the best thing we saw all trip. Mihail and Logan proceeded to go late night bouldering while we all got an early night.
After a day of defeat I decided to slow it down with pushing myself on the hard stuff. We warmed up at Roman Wall again where I did Sybarite (5.9) and then lead Commodus since I top roped it the day before. Mina was feeling strong and so she led and almost onsighted Boronocus which was awesome. We headed over to Middle East area where I go on Nipple Stimulation (5.10a) simply because of the name.
We then headed to Titanic Boulder on the other side of the canyon and got herded by the dog and also saw a whole bunch of goats (including one with obscenely big testicles).
While passing by campsite we saw a bunch of trash and realized that the last group to leave did not clear up and left some food stuff and a load of garbage out. Not cool. Especially since the goats were so near our campsites they could have easily raided it and attracted other animals too. Plus it's a huge no-go for simply have bad camping etiquette so we cleaned it up and gave the group a lil trash talk that night.
Now for the highlight of the trip. Eric, Dylan and Logan got on Cradle of the Deep (5.13a) which was this crazy problem up this fin on the side of the free-standing Titanic Boulder. If you're wondering why it's called that, the next picture should do a good job explaining.
Watching the big boys get on Cradle of the Deep was pretty intense. It looked like it was way out of my reach but I'd be up to try it sometime in the future once I get stronger. If you're intending to do it, bring a stick clip because the belay ledge has a 15 foot drop off and it's not gonna be fun to fall off on lead. Logan and I managed to rodeo backclip the first bolt so we gave up. Also listening to Logan climb and get angry/excited on a climb is hilarious and I highly recommend everyone to climb with him just to listen to it.
In the mean time, Mina and I also got on two easier climbs, Ship of Fools (5.10a) and Portside (5.10d). Ship of Fools was a straightforward climb with a bouldery start, while Portside was probably the coolest climb I did the entire trip.
To end off the day, we went to Prophecy Wall which is where the only 5.14a of the canyon is found (The Prophet, FA by Chris Sharma in 2005). I jumped on Taliban Soup (5.11b) and managed to bump my hardest onsight grade which really made my day. Eric did Egyptian Airbus (5.12c). Both climbs were slabby up to the roof and had some pretty big moves, but nothing too difficult. Apparently Egyptian Airbus had a huge dyno move which Eric clearly didn't do so it was rather disappointing. Mina and Dylan also got on Learning to Fly (5.10c) which was a sustained slight overhung route and we finished that climb which was a great way to end the day.
We got back to campsite for dinner, and after some convincing from Logan about the best boulder problem he ever did in his life, a bunch of us decided to join him for late night bouldering at Idaho Boulders. Logan brought us to this problem called Make You Cuss (V2) that features super cool layback smearing which is great on a high friction day like ours. He then began to describe this incredible process of sending the problem after many attempts and how it will forever be his favorite route, making a bold statement that if someone flashes it he will start walking home.
Eric then flashed the problem.
Okay so Logan stayed but still it was one of the funniest things we ever saw (the title of this trip report also came from a conversation that night). I never got up Make You Cuss cause I suck at smearing but I think I'd like to try it if my fingers are in better shape. We also tried a couple of V0s around before moving on to another area, stopping by some classics along the way such as Grand Dragon (V7) and other boulder problems that are pretty much impossible.
Towards the end we were all pretty pooped from just climbing so much, but we all tried The Crescent (V3) which was a cool slabby problem with a huge crescent sidepull thing on the right. Eric made quick work of it and the rest of us struggled quite a bit. Logan eventually sent it but that involved saying "One Last Time" like 15 times and every attempt at a different beta was actually the same beta we were telling him. But it was still great that he finally got the send. Also throughout this Mihail was just sleeping on a root and didn't even care that he became a crash pad.
The last day was a slow one cause of the bouldering plus we had to pack up the site and that we had an 8 hour drive back. We packed up and left for Mullet Buttress near the north side of the crag where Eric and I got on Business in the Front (5.10b) for warming up and I hopped on Mixed Max (5.11c) which is pretty cool and I'd recommend Mixed Max if you're hitting up the area.
But the real highlight for the last day was Goat Cave, an area of overhung routes that due to low popularity, has been overrun by goats and since there are no plants on the ground in the cave, the sea of goat shit has been there forever. FYI this extends to free standing boulders being covered in poop it was horrible. But to make up for this, Goat Cave had some pretty amazing climbs. Huge plus points that they're all permadraws for convenience.
Mina got the ball rolling with Anal Sac Expression (5.10c) which is the easiest climb in the cave. This one starts on top of the boulder and you'd want to stick clip it to prevent some serious falls if you miss the first clip. Eric did some crazy stuff on Austrian Ass Attack (5.12a) which starts off with some serious hand jamming and leads up to a big roof, which Dylan also finished afterwards. I did Mexican Sac Pull (5.11b) that was rather straightforward overhang stuff too.
Eric's car had to run off afterwards so I belayed Dylan on what I believe was Man Junk (5.12b) and it involved a lot of climber-belayer love entanglement. The crux was definitely down low and it seemed like an intense start. Dylan then convinced me to do Ride the Short Bus (5.11d). This climb starts on the tip of a sharp boulder so stick clipping the first bolt is a yes. It was kind of frustrating because at the edge on my tip toes I barely reached the crimps before I have to campus to a jug and I was not able to do it, so I instead had to dyno for the jug, whereas Dylan kinda just reached for it. But once I got the first jug, it was pretty smooth sailing from there getting through the low crux and eventually the sweetest roof I've done so far into a nice juggy finish. Dylan hopped on after to send the route and it was dope.
With the climbing done we got some final pictures of HCR and set sail back to Champaign. Sketchy van stopped by El Sombrero in Lebanon, Missouri which I'd dare say had as good salsa and food as El Tequila in Vienna, and at almost a dollar or two cheaper. If Mexican food sounds good after 4 days of climbing, this is the place.
And that concluded my virgin trip to HCR! It was definitely an eye opening experience and I am grateful to have had great weather on some quality climbs with fantastic company. Kind of crazy looking back at my first trip report last year in the Red and realizing how much I've improved. I'm nowhere near being the strongest climber in my community (however I define that) but it's amazing to know that I have improved both physically and mentally. Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible and I can't wait to see what the next trip has in store for us.
What is up boys and girls apparently when I took up the role of tech chair and started doing trip reports to encourage people to write about adventures it actually meant I'm the only one who's actually gonna bother writing them but well here we go.
How in the damn world did I not visit this freaking amazing place for the raddest day of climbing and partying ever. Note that this trip report is gonna be about the competition (The Fifth Testament) but if you're looking for more beta on the climbing and camping etc I'm sure mountain project has more info.
So a bit on the history:
This past weekend I was down at the Holies for my very first time (but most certainly not my last) reppin the U of I with club members past and present. Along with Reuven, Lance, Conor and Paige, we loaded up sketchy van with 5 crash pads and drove down Friday night. The path in is much better paved than Jackson but take note of animals at night that like to live life on the edge by moving into the path of a 1 ton vehicle (we almost hit a hawk I say again a FLYING BIRD not some deer imagine having the ability to soar hundreds of feet in the sky and almost die on the road getting hit by a sketchy van). Note that the competition venue is not the same as the normal access so follow directions in accordingly. Had dinner along the way and got into the campsite around 11 to set up our tents. Fun fact sketchy van's rear tires got mud stuck in the threads and couldn't back out from the little slope on the grass so 7 guys had to push her back out to the straight path. Fun stuff. I hung out by the campfire to chat with a couple of people from Columbia, Missouri for a bit and went to sleep after I decided I smelled of enough burnt wood.
First thing I woke up at 7.30am and was confused why I ended up in Silent Hill but it was just a mist that was passing through. Quite the bummer for my first time at the Holy Boulders but still we didn't let that get in our way. Bagels were provided by First Ascent and coffee by Steam Shovel. After the registration admin and welcome speech, we were off to start the competition!
Some competition deets:
As per Reuven's recommendation I did Circuitmaster with him and it was awesome. Unlike the other categories, we got to try out a lot more problems (albeit easy ones) and still we barely got around half of the places we intended to do. Reuven got 24 and I got 27 total, mostly V0s and a few V1-3s. It's much less than expected but fair enough conditions were far from ideal and we ended up spending more time on easy problems than we wanted to. Highlights for me were Mollusk (V2), Lowrider (V3) and Sukha (V3, which I unfortunately could not send but will be back for). I believe Paige was doing beginner while Lance and Conor were doing intermediate/advanced on some crazier problems.
A cool thing about the comp is that there are so many people working on problems in the area so there was no lack of crash pads; everyone was super friendly and chill about sharing, not to mention very supportive to give encouragement and proper spotting for fellow climbers. A thing to note however is that if you are doing Circuitmaster, it's ideal for you and a partner to move together and each bring a crash pad, cause if you're moving around quickly, the less popular problems may not have people there and you'll need your own pads.
Around 4pm we got back and tallied up our scores and submitted them, then got ourselves some tasty dinner (pulled pork sandwich with sides ~$10). Everyone gathered around the stage area as prize presentation took place. For reference, Reuven and I scored ~4000 points, and the first place of Circuitmaster was 80 climbs with 15,000 points, so we were not remotely close. Next was the sweet raffling/schwagiving's where Lois snagged a stray bag of loose chalk while I managed to deadpoint the dyno for a Prana chalk bag.
Now for the best part - the after party. I am still disappointed that so many club members didn't come for the comp or at the least for the party but well they're the ones missing out cause it was dope. Won't say too much but there may have been:
A lot happened that night and I couldn't remember too much other than waking up like 4 times throughout the night to take a leak, but I reckon it was a wild party.
Next morning the rain began to roll in so we decided to bail and head home early. Driving out in the day was a treat though, with the road out looking like a yellow tunnel with the lovely fall colors at its peak. We stopped by Carbondale for some brunch at Harbaugh's Cafe and I highly recommend it. There's good reason why it was a full house; fantastic food and great service at a reasonable price. Highly recommend it if you're passing through (they're only open till 2pm though).
And that's a wrap! My first time to the Holy Boulders was fantastic and I can't wati to come back. I just want to end off with something that really stood out for me the night of the party (in my potentially less than sober state that I still remember). I was talking to Doug from the ICA board and he mentioned that more than a fund raiser, this is really just an event to get the tribe together and have a good time. And that word really struck me - 'tribe'.
Jackson and Holy Boulders aren't really premier climbing destinations; it certainly isn't up there with places like the Red or Yosemite. Yet there is that sense of attachment to these places beyond it's rock quality and familiar roads for me. The people who make up this climbing tribe here in Illinois, whether they still live here or have moved on, still continue to care deeply for this place that we treasure, and for the people who they share it with. At the Holies, it didn't seem like a gathering of a few hundred strangers who came to climb and win. Rather it seemed almost like a reunion of this massive extended family, who are all connected to one another in some way. This feeling of inclusiveness from the tribe, and at the same time, exclusiveness of being part of this unique tribe, is something that I have never really felt before, and I am thankful to have been a part of this.
A huge shoutout to the ICA for organizing this amazing competition and beyond that, for the effective management and preservation of our climbing areas that we sometimes take for granted. Thanks to Philip and Kate for allowing all of us to access their private property and hosting hundreds of people for such a great event. And of course, thank you to the U of I fam, past and present, for continuing to support the Holy Boulders.
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