Traveling Leg 6: Arkansas Crushing
Leaving Alabama marked the beginning of my true homelessness. The night before my departure, I toiled away trying to prepare my truck for living. I folded down the back seats to make a platform for gear. I put all of my camp cooking essentials, extra sleeping bags and other camp equipment into a giant tub in the back. Next to that went a bag with some pants, undaroos, and socks in it. On the other side of the truck I put Sadey’s kennel next to her dog food and some shoes.
In the bed of the truck, all of my shirts and jackets are hung neatly from a clothes hanger I had installed to the ceiling of my topper. Behind that is another tub full of a lot of climbing gear. Behind that is a box full of easy to make camp food essentials. My dirty hamper sits at the very front of all of that. Just to the right of that is my bed, which is a queen sized memory foam mattress top cut in half, stacked on top of each other and cut to the length of my truck bed. A small shelf above that holds my accessories when I go to sleep. My crash pads slide right in on top of the bed and come out when I’m ready to sleep. To top it all off my roadie sits on top. I’m basically living like a retired rich man with his RV and commuter car being pulled behind it. Only I have no money, no career, no tv, no real bed, ok so I’m not living like that at all.
Sunday morning I went to the hospital one last time and spent a few hours with my grandpa. I was able to help him on his feet one last time and do a few more laps around the hospital so he could harass the nurses again. After that I hopped back into the truck and Sadey and I were on our way once again. I arrived in Russellville, AR around 1:00a.m. too tired to make it the last 90 minutes of windy road driving through the Ozark Mountains. I parked the truck in a Hampton Inn parking lot and snuggled in for the cold night.
The next morning I drove through the iconic Horseshoe Canyon Ranch entryway (you know, the one that’s in every HCR video ever) with sunlight tickling the tops of the cliff bands all around me. The best part of this leg of the trip was the group of climbers I was meeting there. Some old college friends had planned their spring break to HCR and I just decided to invite myself along. None of them were awake yet but before long we were basking in the sun of the North Forty area pulling on steep sandstone features.
Our group was awkward, kind of a hodge podge of rando’s from the midwest. It’s funny, three years ago I took a trip to Hueco with some folks and we invited a “n00b” along named Logan, he was our bro of the trip. The year after that we went to the Red River Gorge, the LRC, and Horse Pens 40, and Logan was no longer the n00b, Jerra was, but Logan was still the bro. This year, Logan was leading the trip (still a bro) Jerra was no longer the n00b but Ozan was.
Logan started climbing 3 or 4 years ago. He was born and raised a down home farm boy with a superheroe’s jaw line and big frame. He was a high school football player for the small town of Clear Lake, SD and graduated with about 20 people. Jerra (pronounced like Sarah with a J) is a girl. She was born and raised in the same town as Logan and was a gymnast there. Ozan, which we deemed the “Big Ass, Bad Ass Turkish Man” is Turkish, if you didn’t gather that already. He’s tall, built like a wrestler and looks like a mountain man. Then there’s the wild card, Cory. Or as I deemed him “Dad.” He’s 34, actually has a real job, and has a fiancé and two kids. So here was our group line-up: Myself, a homeless, unemployed traveling dirtbag with a puppy. A farm raised bro with a jaw line turned climber, a quiet small girl obsessed with harry potter and youtube, a large, super smart, super hairy Turkish man and an old guy with a real job, two kids and the mentality of a 20 year old.
Horseshoe Canyon Ranch was originally established as a dude ranch. Nestled in a shallow valley in Northwest Arkansas, HCR is surrounded by 50-100 foot cliff faces that virtually fence in both sides of the canyon. On the valley floor, boulders are scattered about with perfect problems ranging from techy friction slabs to gymnastic, foot cutting roofs. HCR offers a trifecta of climbing. It doesn’t offer much trad but it does exist. A plethora of sport lines can be found all across the ranch and plenty of boulder problems from V0-v13. We spent the first day doing a few sport lines, and a single trad line. I tried Cradle of The Deep (5.12d) but got crushed on the lower section. It’s a short line, so its bouldery and powerful with virtually no rest. The lower section has a long vertical rail that’s slopey and is tricky to use because you have to bump around your rope. That rail caused my tendonitis to flare up so bad I could barely feel my arm when I clipped the second bolt. I stepped off defeated, realizing that I was no longer as strong as I had been in Utah. The next day we decided to boulder the whole day. I felt strong moving into the day, and was gleefully onsighting everything V5 and under. We blazed through classic problems all morning until I was rightfully wrecked. Of course, I then decided to try Miho, which is a core intensive V6. I couldn’t figure out the beta and everyone else was getting bored watching me so I moved over to one move V4 that others could try. It started on a slopey crimp rail about eye level. A diagonal, really crappy foot was all that was available. Once you were set on the wall, you just rocked up and slam dunk style slapped for the slopey top. It all relied on whether your foot stayed on or not. It’s silly, because if it were indoors I would just never do it, however, I fully enjoyed it.
The next morning we decided to take a rest day and see some sights around the Ozarks. We hiked to Eden falls but took the off-trail approach and found some pretty cool places. We crawled on our hands and knees for a couple hundred yards back into a cave to see the underground Eden Falls. Sadey joined us for her first caving adventure, and her bulging eyes below can tell you how much she enjoyed it.
After that we drove to a little backwoods diner. When I say backwoods, I mean there were no other commercial properties within 30 minutes of this place. Everyone was a little skeptical but I kept saying “places like this are where you find the best food.” Reluctantly, they pulled in. The tables in the diner were made of plywood. The owner then covered the plywood with a finish and called that good enough. There were three other people in the diner when we came in, and we sure didn’t fit in. But then again, our group wouldn’t really fit in anywhere. The menu had about 10 items on it and there were about 10 more on a chalk board that I guess weren’t good enough to make the menu cut. Turns out, I was right. The food was phenomenal and you could tell they actually made everything, instead of just microwaving it. Afterwards we asked the owner lady if she had any dessert. She chuckled and responded with “Oh….I’ve got desserts.” Her dramatic answer was 100% warranted, she brought us all a giant slice of some concoction of regular cake, and cheesecake, and cream cheese and sugar and I don’t know it was good. Some of us ordered multiple desserts, and each one was brought decorated individually for each of us.
While we were all paying our checks, a large, cliche southern mountain man strolled in and assumed we were climbers from HCR. He asked us what we were up to so we explained we were taking a rest day and doing some hiking. He told us we HAD to go to Hawksbill point. He started to give us directions. He turned to face the direction we’d have to go so he could get his bearings and in a voice fit for a concert he said “Well, yer gonna go down the road here and head this way (waves his hands) and go about a mile down teel you git to Boxley. Go right on through Boxley and there’ll be a breedge, right before that breedge you gon make a right and go up a steep ass hill (shows us how steep with his arm). Follow that till you see the trailhead and then you gon hike a while before you sees it.” So we went about five miles until we got to Boxley. We passed about four bridges out of Boxley before we found one with a big hill, but sure enough it lead us straight to the trailhead. The trail out was maybe a mile to a mile and a half, but he was right about Hawksbill point, it was awesome.
Thursday consisted of trad lines and tape gloves. It was good to plug some gear and give the hands a rest with some jamming instead. Friday morning Logan and I woke up at sunrise and went to the North Forty for some bouldering. We got some mileage in, busted through our tips and made our way across canyon to join the rest of the crew. Turns out that was one of the most fruitful days of climbing. After the 6 or 7 moderate boulder problems that morning I climbed 9 sport lines to close out the day. Crushed we decided to leave after a short morning the next day. Saturday we went to a place across canyon that we hadn’t been to yet. After a few moderates everyone was ready to go but I really wanted to try a route coming out of an impressive cave, the Goat Cave. Dubbed so because the floor of the cave is literally a sandbox of goat pellets. It reeked like a petting zoo but the impressive roof above outweighed that for me.
I had my eyes on a 12b. The holds all looked super positive, just a super steep jug haul, I was really only worried about my endurance. The first three bolts worth of climbing were easy and I quickly gained the main roof and the crux. I pulled out onto the long seam that split the roof and my feet cut away from the main wall. I got my feet back on and moved out across the roof without much issue but realized I was in a pickle to clip. I should’ve made a long reaching clip from the jugs at the base of the roof but now that I was out in the middle I had no feet to clip off of and the hold I was on wasn’t big enough for a one armed clip. Gassed I dropped and roped back up. I rested for a few minutes and repositioned and was able to make the clip. I cruxed out to the lip of the roof and tried to make the clip there, but barndoored off. I figured out the foxy clipping beta, you had to flip out and exit feet first getting a super rad toe hook out the lip of the cave. Your other foot was toe cammed with a drop knee in a pocket in the roof. From there I could clip with ease, then I had to flip back round and pull the lip making the clips there. Gassed on the headwall I struggled to the chains and lowered feeling ultra defeated. I could’ve shook out and hopped back on and had a decent fighting chance at the red point, but my ego was hurt at not being stronger on 12b anymore, and everyone looked really ready to head out, so we packed it up and I’ll add it to my long to-do list for the future.
I’m back in South Dakota now. I’m typing this from the comforts of my Aunts house in the tiny town of Huron, SD. I’ll be out in Rapid City this week and will be out there for the rest of the summer, and possibly forever. Sorry this post is so long!