Over the summer of 2006, several climbers from the Oklahoma City area decided that it would be a good idea to develop an endurance based climbing competition. The venue was set as Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Arkansas because it offers close to 200 mostly overprotected sport routes that are moderately short. The challenge: climb as many routes as possible within a 24 hour period. The competition was named:
24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell
If you have read my trip report "Three for Three," then you know that even though I think competitions defeat the point of climbing, Ryan and I could not resist such a thing. The rules were fairly straight forward.
1. The same route would count for points only twice per person
2. Routes were awarded points based on difficulty
3. Each party to have both members climb a route every hour for the whole time received a bonus
4. All climbs had to be ground up no falls to count for points
Things didn't really start the way we had hoped. We arrived at the ranch at about 1:30am the morning of without a tent or sleeping bag. I had brought a blanket because it was warm outside and Ryan had forgotten his tent and bag at home in our rush to leave. We were told there was an air mattress on the floor inside the cabin where our friends were. We went in in the shorts we were wearing and froze. We ended up nearly cuddling sharing the one blanket we had; not exactly how we wanted to start a 24 endurance fest. We shivered out about 2 hours of sleep.
The next day appeared to start off all right. We were in high spirits, unusual for us. We were enjoying our fancy shirts and the odd looks we received. The competition began at noon as people scattered to get to different areas. Ryan and I had chosen the turtle method of slow and steady, opting to warm up easy into some 5.9s and then decline as we got tired, trying to get the one route an hour down.
For those who have never been there, the climbing on the easier routes is very Seasame Street like: J is for Jug. Chicken-heads abound and difficulty relaxes the higher you go. The rock is coarse, like any sandstone variant. This proved to be a factor later on. But in the beginning we were hanging out and having fun with our friends.
Six hours into the competition we crossed the canyon to change areas and reenergize. We stopped along the way and ate a sandwich at the car. Trying to get a route in an hour meant that we left early during the 6th hour after a route, ate at the car, crossed the canyon, found a route, and completed it by late in the 7th hour. The effects of the heat and humidity were beginning to take effect. We had tried to stay on top of our water and food plan, but were starting to go astray. Night set in, and with it came tiredness. At this point we had been up over 12 hours already even though we had been climbing for only 8. After failing on some harder 5.9's we stuck to some 5.6's can tried to stay awake. Eventually we knew waiting to get the routes was making us slip into slumber, so we packed up and crossed the canyon again.
Crossing the canyon rejuvinated us, for while. Starting at midnight, with 12 hours of climbing behind us, we climbed fairly steady for the next several hours. We were repeating routes we had done earlier at this point, hoping familiar ground would prove easier. Around 3AM we had to head into new territory; on-sighting 5.8+ in the dark was a new experience, but a good one to have. Around 5AM I started to notice that I was outside of myself and had to maintain pacing to stay awake at the belays. I figured this would go away when the sun came up, but my hands never let me get there. A summer of training for the mountains (i.e. biking and running) had left our hands unconditioned to the rough rock. At 6AM, 18 hours into the competition, we called it. We returned to the cabin, but unwilling to face the cold inside of it, passed out on the wooden porch. We had been awake for 23 hours on 2 hours of sleep.
More sleep was definately needed here. Our hands being out of shape was our own problem. had we actually been climbing more it would have been a non-issue, or we could have just sucked it up. We plan on doing it again this year and we plan on doing it better. Our first strategy didn't work, and neither did many others. It was impressive to watch the ones that did succeed. Several groups climbed over 100 routes between the team! We learned what we could from that, modified it to fit our style, and are going to incorporate that into this year. What are we going to do? That's our secret.