I was already looking at my hand as I squeezed a little too hard on a hold, as the required grip meant really engaging my ring finger (bad pun), when I heard the snapping sound (which was too reminiscent of the noise made when separating a chicken leg into drumstick and thigh portions). My ring finger immediately straightened even though my forearm had not let go one little bit. I immediately felt sick, partly due to my stupidity, partly due to the pain, but mostly because I knew that I would be doing very little climbing in Hueco.
With my finger really sore, and with our inability to book a single reservation for North Mountain, we were both starting to think that the trip might be a bad idea.
Well, three weeks later Anna and I finally arrived in El Paso after a rather arduous series of connecting flights, security gates, biometric data collection and finally reporting our crash-pad as missing at the baggage desk. The next morning (17th December) we were able to head to Walmart to stock up on provisions, then to the airport as our mondo had arrived safely, before finally driving out East to Hueco Tanks.
Hueco in the Snow
We got to the park office at midday and managed to sort ourselves out for camping inside the park (this is a necessity if you don't have reservations, as it allows you to be among the first in line for any walk-in spots or cancellations). Without even having to ask, Gary (the office manager) asked if we wanted to get out climbing on North mountain that day. We immediately said "yes, but we don't have any reservations", to which he kind of laughed and said it was no problem. It would seem that our concerns about getting out climbing might have been for nothing.
Our Camping Spot (with free boulder)
After setting up camp we wanted our first taste of the bouldering at Hueco, so we headed up to the first boulders that you come to (the upper lost boulders). To our dismay, we couldn't even manage some of the V1s on these boulders and we weren't flashing the V0s. Still, at least we had a nice warm tent to sleep in that night.
Spending the entire 12 hours of darknes trying to sleep, whilst both fully clothed and shivering, makes it a lot easier to get up in the morning. Campers in the park are allowed to start their engines at 6am to drive to the park office and queue (the office opens at 8am). We were still trying to sleep when we heard the first cars roll past so we leapt into action (well, kinda crawled a bit), scraping the ice from the car and setting off, hoping that we hadn't left it too late to get in. It was totally fine, we were the third vehicle there and were within the first ten people so were given our back-country permit so that we could go out climbing. We headed back to camp to have our breakfast and wait for the sun to restore some heat to us. At about 10am, washed and fed and warming in the sun we headed up again to explore the boulders and hopefully get up something. This day went a little better, we found more aesthetic lines to climb, got up a V2 or two and actually felt a litle bit like we were climbing.
This pretty much formed the pattern for the trip. Always thinking that we had got up to late, racing to the office, always actually getting one of the first ten place, then breakfasting, showering and finally climbing. After a few more days, we really started to get a feel for both the place and for the style of the bouldering. Hueco really is a fantastic and unique place.
We finally started to seek out the classic problems at the grades and hiked for a very long way (we got lost a bit) to find Ghetto Simulator, which looked (from the photograph in the guidebook at least) to be a long roof problem. I was completely wrong, it is in fact a very safe 10ish meter highball (see photo below), where another boulder follows you at your back so that you (okay me) can step off if you get too gripped or too pumped. I like to think that I got too pumped, but that's just not true. I actually ended up having to work the crux (which is the top few moves on small crimps) after blowing the flash. Anna had an almost identical experience on this problem and thankfully put herself through it enough to successfully redpoint it (redpoint genuinely feels the correct term on this occasion).
After Bailing out on Ghetto Simulator
On Christmas Eve (one week in to the trip), I managed to do a low roof problem called El Techo de los Tres B (made famous by Dave Graham in Dosage IV, but actually a Fred Nicole problem), the footage for this is very bad and is at the bottom of the page. I believe that it has beenm a bit of a trade-route this season (pardon the pun), due to the non-aggresive holds and it being distinctively low-ball. The main reason for me trying it was that not only had a hold improved (not by chipping, just a little piece fell out), but that hold didn't hurt my injured finger. Oh yeah, and the fact that it was a V11/12 and I'm a grade-whore.
El Techo de los Tres B
This was just a blip though, as up to this point I had managed nothing harder than V7. It took another full week before we both got the hang of the style properly and felt like we were starting to get a workout.
To cut this long story a little shorter, we took a couple of commercial tours out to East Mountain and East Spur, took the odd reat day due to snow or general broken-ness and then suddenly felt like we were running out of time.
We only had a couple of days left, so went out on North again where Anna managed to despatch King Cobra, which was not her first V6 in Hueco, but was the one that I was most proud of her for doing, due to the convoluted nature of the problem.
Anna on King Cobra
The very next day (our last proper day out climbing), Anna managed her first Hueco V7 by doing Daily Dick Dose. She had been close on several other days so I had always expected that she would get it done. I hoped that this would pave the way for me to do my final project for the trip.
Anna on Daily Dick Dose
All I had left to try (that wasn't either too hard, or too tweaky, or too technical, or.......) was a problem called Anal Intruder #10. It climbs way better than its name. Anyway, here's the failure footage (needless to say, I didn't do it).
Anal Intruder #10
To sum up, Hueco is an amazing place that exudes a very similar energy as Fontainebleau does for me and was well worth all the hassle. I would absolutely love to return in shape, but geography always makes it a little bit difficult to go somewhere so far away regularly.
Here is the bad (due in the most part to me being a wimp and needing the pad moved) El Techo footage
El Techo de los Tres B