BD employee Andy Anderson reports from the 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell
Tucked away in the rolling, forested hills of the Ozark Mountains, Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, near Jasper, Arkansas, is home to not only a fully operational dude ranch, but one of the biggest concentrations of sandstone sport climbing in the state. For one weekend each fall, HCR is fully invaded by climbers for the 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell, a super-unique, marathon climbing event where competitors climb for 24 hours straight. Black Diamond Content Editor Andy Anderson and Warranty Manager Chris Thomas headed down to the Ranch this year on behalf of BD and got a true taste of what 24HHH is all about. Below is Andy's report from the event, along with excellent photos from photographer Lucas Marshall.
Like most climbers, I've had my fair share of big days, both intentional and unintentional—20-pitch training sessions at Maple Canyon, pre-dawn til dark alpine missions in the Tetons and snafu-riddled mini-epics here in the Wasatch. But when I got the opportunity to travel to Arkansas and climb in the 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell, I was a bit apprehensive. Go cragging for 24 straight hours? On purpose? Eventually though, my curiosity overcame my skepticism—this was something I had to check out.
After flying into Little Rock and meeting up with my climbing partner, BD Warranty Manager Chris Thomas, we stocked up on Red Bull and other necessary supplies (including cleaning out the Little Rock Whole Foods of pre-cooked bacon) before heading north into the heart of the Ozarks.
A few hours later, we arrived at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, a fully functioning dude ranch near Jasper, Arkansas and the home of the 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell. As its name implies, Horseshoe Canyon Ranch sits in the center of a massive horseshoe-shaped sandstone canyon, the walls of which feature over 300 routes from 5.easy to 5.14. With rental cabins, a swimming pool, horseback rides, a Frisbee golf course, a via ferrata and a zipline, HCR is the closest thing to a climbing resort there's ever been.
24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell is the brainchild of Oklahoma photographer and climber Andy Chasteen, who does an amazing job of corralling sponsors, climbers and an incredible crew of over 100 volunteers to make this community event happen each year. The idea of 24HHH is simple—you and a partner climb as many routes as you can in 24 hours, without sleeping. 10am to 10am. To stay in the game you need to climb at least one route per hour, and each grade level coincides with a certain point value. The harder the route, the more points you get. A route must be led clean with no falls or takes to get the points, so unless you've spent time at the Ranch, you're essentially in onsight mode all day long.
By mid-afternoon on Thursday, things were in full swing. Competitors were picking up their scorecards and swag, BD was demoing Spot headlamps and Apollo lanterns, and the 24HHH barber shop was pumping out some of the most insanely amazing haircuts I've ever seen—mohawks, mullets, skunk stripes, I even saw one guy with the imprint of a hand shaved into back of his head. Needless to say, the psyche was high, and after a weenie roast and a great slideshow from BD athlete Jasmin Caton, we all racked out early to get some sleep while we could...
At 10am Friday morning, with a sketchy weather forecast looming, the shotgun blast went off and we made a beeline for the cliff. Soon the crags were covered in ropes and everyone was in high gear trying to make the most of the daylight hours.
Chris and I climbed steadily through the afternoon, but as we approached our 30th pitch, the ominous skies finally unleashed and sent every climber scurrying for the nearest overhang or cave. It rained hard for nearly two hours and waterfalls cascaded down the routes, giving us the opportunity to hydrate and eat as much as we possibly could.
We climbed a few more dry, steep pitches and I battled some epic forearm cramping as it continued to spit rain. In the late afternoon, the downpour let up and a humid cloud of fog enveloped the entire canyon. I fully expected to see hordes of dejected climbers emerging from the dank shadows and bailing on the competition, but it was exactly the opposite. After a quick resupply of food and water for the overnight leg of the comp, we headed for the North Forty, the canyon's biggest and most popular crag. As it grew dark, headlamps began to flicker on, boom boxes were blaring dance tunes, and despite the heinous damp conditions, the energy was off the charts and people were crushing routes left and right. We stopped for a high-five from BD athletes Sonnie Trotter and Tommy Caldwell, who despite the weather continued to put down pitch after pitch of 5.12, sporting nothing but cut-off, tie-dyed booty shorts that Sonnie had bought at some hillbilly's roadside stand the day before.
Climbing onsight by headlamp allows for an interesting experience—as you can't see more than four moves ahead, you have to take each hold (and crux) as it comes, which can put a challenging spin on even a 5.9 jughaul. Chris and I climbed on through the night in a mental blur of knot checking, TAKE, GOT, and LOWER. A barrage of fireworks at midnight set off cheers and hoots from every crag in the canyon and everyone forged on through the darkness.
As the sun slowly illuminated the saturating haze hanging over the canyon, the cliff line looked like the aftermath of a college house party—exhausted climbers sprawled among a yard sale of gear, and groans and cheers echoed down the wall as everyone gritted through their last routes before the shotgun blast marked the 10am finish.
As a team of super-stoked guys next to us crested the 100-route mark, one of them pulled a fifth of tequila from his pack, took a huge pull, and passed his buddy the bottle in celebration. Wide-eyed and exhausted, we all trudged our way back down to the trading post, where we turned in our scorecards and stumbled like zombies toward our sleeping bags.
Five hours later, I awoke suddenly to searing pain in both my hands and feet, like I had set all four appendages down onto a hot griddle. My muscles ached like I had been hit by a car, and I hobbled Quasimodo-style over to the nearest water jug, palming it to avoid having anything touch my battered fingers. Chris let out a guttural groan from the floor.
A fistful of ibuprofen, a gallon of water and a shower later, we shuffled back down the hill for the awards ceremony. A slew of awesome prizes from the event sponsors were raffled off and awarded to categories like Best Haircut, Most Trad Routes Climbed and Furthest Distance Traveled to attend the event. A tasty pasta dinner followed and thanks to reusable plates, sporks and cups given to each competitor, the event produced a miniscule amount of waste over the course of the weekend.
That night, the weary competitors rallied despite the physical exhaustion and sleep deprivation, and kegs of local beer, a dyno competition, female pushup contest and a raging dance party capped off the most unique, painful and downright fun climbing event I've ever participated in.
Despite the competitive format, it's hard to call 24HHH a competition. Whether they climbed 15 routes or 150, 5.7 or 5.12, everyone at Horseshoe Hell was there to have a great time, push their personal limits, and share their passion with the community.
Big thanks to Andy Chasteen and all of the incredible volunteers and competitors who made 24HHH an amazing reminder of what rock climbing is all about—FUN.
The dates are already set for next year's event, so go to www.twofourhell.com for details on how to register or volunteer.