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|TR: Climbing in banjo country
Be warned. . . a sport climbing trip report follows . . . (apologies in advance for the photo quality) . . .
. . . on realising I was going to be the beneficiary of a two week paid work trip to Kansas, my first port of call was Google to check out the climbing options in the US mid west. Not surprisingly, in an area famous for corn fields and twisters there was little rock; however, further south in Arkansas was Horseshoe Canyon Ranch - a working dude ranch graced with excellent single pitch sport (and some trad) climbing and bouldering on high quality sandstone. I had a destination, a partner and fellow work-mate (thanks Ken) and good weather. We gave ourselves an early knock-off on the Fri, collected Paul our US mate and ‘interpreter’, and loaded up the world's biggest car - a Chevy Suburban - for the 6 hour trip into the Ozark mountains.
Road trips in the US are a must do experience - a culinary and cultural rollercoaster of freeways, burgers, crap coffee and cheap donuts. Like Australia, the scenery and culture both get more interesting the further from a freeway you are.
Our instructions had us collecting keys at the Trading Post - a store and hire shop on the ranch which turned out to be a pretty decent climbing store with everything from crash mats to cams to ropes ($78 for a BD #4 cam!).
Any plans for a relatively quiet night were shelved when - as we sat on the porch having a beer - we discovered that each of the five remaining cabins were booked out by a wedding party and tonight was the eve of the big day. So on down to the lodge we headed! The groom turned out to be a prominent local climber and most of the party were probably fitter and certainly younger than us. Our credibility was further blown when Paul (our non-climber) was asked . . . ‘so, what d’ y’all climb . . .?’ Paul gave due consideration to the question, before replying ‘. . . rock’.
OK - to the climbing. After handicapping ourselves with a massive breakfast of pancakes and coffee we were ready to climb. All climbing on the ranch is within a short walk of the cabins and being lazy and new to the ranch, we headed to the North 40 - the most popular area. The plan was for me or Ken to lead a route then Paul would climb top-roped. Selecting a climb from the guide was a pleasant challenge as they nearly all had three or more stars and a good write up. For the fist route we settled on Around the Fur a short, four star 5.8 with four bolts (shiny stainless with FHs). The rock had features reminiscent of Summer Day Valley but with less scope to place gear as many of the seams and holds didn’t open out or weren’t deep enough - hence the decision by the land owners to make the ranch a dedicated sport climbing venue. To this end they’ve certainly achieved their aim; routes are equipped with stainless hardware and double ring lower offs. Some of the harders routes even have fixed ‘draws. As an aside, the ranch has a live-on guide and route equipper - Jason - who obviously takes pride in his work and knows the place intimately. Around the Fur was completed with no fuss and my new 5.10 VMiles felt better than they did climbing the hotel room wall a few days earlier.
Cobwebs blown out, it was time to tick one of HCRs classics - Green Goblin a 9 bolt 5.9 and one of the longer routes at HCR. The climbing was fantastic and flowing up an orange and black vertical, pocketed face split by horizontal breaks and culminating in a slight overhang before the anchors. The realisation that bouldering does little for endurance fitness dawned on me at around bolt 8.
Next stop was a nice 5.6, Cotton Candy, before I tried my hand at a ‘harder’ 5.9 called Controversy, seven bolts up a beautiful aręte with the crux - pulling over a small roof onto the aręte - at the second bolt. At the second bolt, the feeling of free-fall as my stumpy fingers failed to penetrate a seam was, thanks to Ken’s attentiveness, short lived. Another bonus was my face avoiding the overhang as I swung back into the cliff! This set back aside, Controversy was completed and I lowered off.
Our final successfully completed climb was The Bulb, a short 5.8 with a nice sequence of side pulls and crimps to the top. At this stage we had sweated out most of the water we’d bought due to the high humidity so we called it a day. However, on the walk back to the car (yes, the car got us a whole 400m closer to the cliff!) I did have a rush of blood to the head when I attempted a 5.10 with fixed gear immediately adjacent to the track. I failed after the first bolt and quickly bailed.
The last image shows a V3 problem on the beautiful Honeycomb boulder and although it was raining the problems on this wall remained dry. Bouldering at the ranch would keep you occupied for a week or two depending on your ability - the guidebook covers the main areas and problems. I’d suggest heading there later in fall or early winter to strike better conditions.
Overall, HCR was a fantastic destination, not only for the opportunity to climb at a high tempo on great rock but for the facilities and unique environment. Accommodation options are camping ($5 per person per day) or cabins (roughly $70) with a $5 day use fee. Either option gives you access to the lodge with TV, internet, pool table, pool and spa. Check out their website at www.gohcr.
Now, back to the reality of bouldering in Canberra . . .
Nice TR. Sounds like a great spot :)
Yes, a great trip report.
It is always interesting to see how others live, especially in the context of the climbing scene/s in different countries/cultures.
I guess it is only a matter of time before a similar enterprise to that described above becomes common in our fair land? ... ~> though I doubt we are likely to hear the equivalent of Ozark Mountain Daredevils playing banjos while climbing here!
I've seen this place before....in Dosage IV I think it is. Chris Sharma and some other strong lunatics spent some time doing HARD boulder problems there. Looks fantastic!
Edit: I've got some weekends free in Canberra until the end of the year if you want to share a rope. Current favourite is Mt Coree.
Not IV, dosage III and V. Number three is the sharma one i think ? and V is dave graham.
Nice TR, and cool pics.
I was there for a long weekend in 2008.
One word of warning for anyone planning a road trip there: HCR is in a 'dry' county - meaning if you run out of beer, you're looking at at 40 mile drive across the boarder into Missouri!
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