My eyes are bleary. Early starts have never really been my thing, yet here I am, waiting. After three long days spent pushing a trailer cross country at a blistering max speed of fifty five miles an hour, there is almost nothing I want more than to sleep in. However, the jumbled mess of iron red syenite erupting out of the bleak West Texan desert known as Hueco Tanks is worth waking early for. If you want to climb in Hueco, you have four options. The first is to have oracle like foresight and reserve one of the ninety available spots on North Mountain three months ahead of time. Option B is to be lucky enough to get a spot on a two dollar volunteer run tour of Hueco's back country or to be rich enough to afford the twenty five dollar hit for a commercial guided tour of the same. The final strategy, which I was now employing, is to get up early, get in line at the park gate, and hope that enough of those ninety mega planners do not show up to let my poor ass into the park.
And so I wait. After twelve years of waiting, another four or five hours should be nothing, but this is Mecca we are talking about here. Since the day I put on my first pair of crusty rental shoes, I have been assaulted by the legend of Hueco. Now, I am so close I could throw a rock at it, but I have no idea if I am getting in. I know that just beyond that gate are problems that have reached near mythic proportions in the aether of climbing culture, Full Service, Slashface, Esperanza, Terramer, the list goes on and on. After four hours spent fantasizing, a ranger steps up and offers an available spot on a volunteer tour. I giddily accept, and he waves me through the gates.
I check in at the office and rush to meet up with my tour group, a multinational melange formed primarily of Swiss crushers. After a quick spray down of the rules in the Hueco back country, we head off towards East Mountain. The beauty of the park is shocking. What appears to be a martian landscape devoid of life from the outside is in actuality teeming with greenery, at least by high desert standards. The Huecos, or holes, that give the park its name act as natural cisterns and store life sustaining water allowing a delicate but thriving ecosystem to exist where it otherwise could not. Shrimp, Bobcats, Moutain Goats, and wild pigs called Javelinas are just a few of the animals which call Hueco home. It is incredibly important that climbers maintain a low profile to ensure their continued existence in an environment that is otherwise inhospitable.
After a twenty minute walk through what seems to be a maze of rock, our guide instructs us to drop our pads. I grab my shoes, squeeze through a small corridor and instantly realize that it was all worth it. The hype is real. Hueco really is the center of the bouldering universe. In front of me is a thirty degree overhang peppered with deep buckets. The options are endless, and I immediately get to work. Deadpoints, drop knees, toe hooks, knee bars, the rock begs to be climbed but not only that; the rock begs to be climbed creatively. No where else in my climbing journey have I encountered rock so demanding. The V0s might be easy relatively, but that does not mean for a second they aren't challenging. Any climb in Hueco attempted without respect will end the same way, back on the pad where you started.
With my fingers warm I grab my pad and move on to the next climb, the daunting Dragonfly. The members of my tour tell me it is the best V5 on East Mountain, but I need little encouragement. The traversing line of perfect incuts makes its own argument. After a failed first attempt, I shock myself by sending my second go. Standing back at the base of the boulder I have a strong sense of deja vu. Suddenly, I have a gut feeling that I need to turn the corner. When I do, I find myself face to face with Full Service, Hueco's ultimate V10 and a large part of why I came here in the first place. I didn't send Full Service that day or any day since, but the pure joy of gripping its artfully sculpted holds and the challenge of moving between them cannot be replicated anywhere else.
That is the magic of Hueco. You may be climbing on a boulder that simply defies the imagination, but all you have to do is turn the corner to have your expectations once again shattered. The South has higher quality Rock. The lines and scenery in Bishop are far more majestic. The pure gymnastic bliss of Rocklands cannot be replicated, but nowhere pushes you like Hueco. So try that new beta, hike your pads through that narrow slot, and wake up early to get in line - Hueco is worthy.
Traveling photographer chasing the endless climbing season, Anywhere, USA