Wednesday, January 6, 2010
As soon as we got our official school year schedule last August, I called Texas State Parks to get North Mountain Reservations for our Winter Break at Hueco Tanks. But I couldn't get reservations. North Mountain was already full. I called a few more times to see if there had been cancelations, but eventually I gave up trying.
Then winter hit us in October, and it hit me that we could still get into Hueco by reserving commercial tours through the Hueco Rock Ranch. I called and reserved three days of tours for myself and Ashley by depositing $75.00 which is half of the total tour price for three days. We had enough airline points earned up for two free tickets. So we decided to fly this year from Colorado Springs to El Paso. Ashley's parents agreed to watch the girls.
We wanted to make sure we had at least one good pad, but didn't want to pay any crazy baggage fees, so we ordered a custom AirPad from Organic. It's slightly smaller than the standard pad, and is just small enough not to be considered oversized baggage.
We asked Josh for colors that our daughters would like. When we aren't flying somewhere, it will be their bouldering and hangout pad. The girls are very happy with it. Josh does good work.
With the crazy holiday flight delays this year, it took us nine hours to get to El Paso by air. It would have been easier to drive. Lesson learned.
I woke up early on our first day. Psyched to soon be climbing at Hueco.
Early sunrise from the west side of the Franklin Mountains.
Once again, we stayed at the Casa de Suenos. They won us over last year.
The breakfasts alone are worth the drive.
Not to mention the quiet environment, nice bed, and warm showers before heading out into the frosty desert.
We got to the Rock Ranch at 9:40 and waited for 40 minutes for the other climbers on our tour to gather. I must admit that my motivation level, and my career as a public school teacher, where everything is planned down to the minute, made the waiting pretty uncomfortable for me. I have trouble waiting for friends, much less complete strangers. The other climbers on the board never did show up, so Ashley and I were the only climbers on the tour. We followed our guide Neil to the gate, and then the really painful waiting began.
This waiting we didn't expect. We were under the impression that if you reserved a commercial tour you were let straight in. This isn't the case on the busiest days. We had to wait our turn with everyone else who didn't have a North Mountain reservation. First come first serve. Here's what I know about the situation in bullet form.
-Texas State Park Pass holders can make North Mountain Reservations with no money down. They can make more reservations than they plan to use. If they don't show up, they lose nothing. No wonder we couldn't get reservations last August.
-The park is now letting people take reservation spots at ten in the morning, instead of noon, when people who have made reservations don't show up. This is a good thing, and probably is in response to the large numbers of reservation no shows caused by the policy described above.
-The line waiting at the gate begins to get into the park at ten. They fill up the office, and the parking. The office radios out to hold everyone at the gate. Cars are let in individually as the front office processes the climbers in line.
-Tours leave the Rock Ranch at ten. Guides and even most climbers at the Rock Ranch seem reluctant to try getting a tour out before ten.
-So tours arrive at the gate at 10:15 and have to wait in line.
We didn't get into the park until 11:15. That's the situation during the college winter break. The waits will be shorter when the park isn't so busy.
Neil is a good guide. He did his best to get us everywhere we wanted to go. Though he did seem to enjoy sandbagging us on "The Hourglass." Possibly the the trickiest, though not most difficult, V3 in the park.
We worked on "Uncut Yogi." I climbed "That Hi-Pro Glow" on my second attempt, and then we both did "Animal Acts." Known as "the Slashface of V5."
Ashley climbing "Animal Acts."
We ended the day by working on "Ultramega." On the hike out we saw a tour group admiring the real "Slashface" at sunset.
We learned that snow was predicted, so we moved our reservation forward and climbed two days in a row. Steven was our friendly mathematician and guide for the second day. We went back to "Uncut Yogi" and this time I was able to make the heel stick, and I climbed it.
A strong and entertaining climber named Frank made a very quick ascent in his scarf and Abercrombie.
The next stop on the tour was the East Spur Maze. We repeated some problems there, and I spent some more time on "Slim Pickins."
Once again I couldn't get my feet to stick. Maybe someday I'll learn the beta on this line.
Frank working "Better Eat Your Wheaties."
And we ended the day at the Sausage Factory. A great area that I hadn't visited before.
That night I had a bad case of what I've named "Hueco Fever." Waking up sore and feverish as my body burned energy trying to recover from the physical stress of two consecutive days of Hueco bouldering. I couldn't get a good night's sleep.
We rested and did school work for the next two days as it snowed and then cleared up. Then it was time to end the year in the park.
The Rock Ranch was prepared for the party on New Year's Eve.
We went back out with Neil with a full tour group that Thursday. We got on "Ultramega" early in the session, and both of us managed to send it. I think our training on Lander's dolomite helped us climb the pocketed line. We also climbed in the Dark Heart where Ashley almost did "Something Different," and we finished the day by climbing "Moonshine Roof." A great day, but the pictures didn't turn out.
So to wrap up, We got full climbing sessions for three days of the trip, just as we had planned. We got to the problems that we wanted to climb, though that seemed tenuous at times. It would have been nice to get in earlier, so we could have spent more time simply appreciating the beauty of Hueco. But it still was a great trip. We'll just try to get our reservations a full 11 months in advance next time.
As annoying as all the regulatory hoops, travel, and waits can be, Hueco is worth it.