Getting Rad on Trad at 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell
By Ian King
My partner’s name is Ryan Kempf. He’s an accountant at The Spot Bouldering Gym in Boulder and really psyched on trad, like me. Our team name was Protect Ya Hex, which is a Wu-Tang Clan reference. It was both of ours first 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell and our intention was to take home the “Most Trad Routes” award for the 24HHH as a team. To keep each other psyched and climbing for 24 grueling hours we decided to compete against each other for the most trad routes individual award.
On Tuesday we drove 13 hours from Boulder. On Wednesday we scouted out the trad lines on the Upper 40 and westside and climbed 4 pitches or so of harder stuff. On Thursday we stashed 12 gallons of water throughout the canyon and scouted routes out on the eastside. The comp rules allows each climber to climb a route twice, so essentially we were gunning for 4 sends on each route. Our plan was to climb about 40 routes each on the eastside first. We knew it would get some shade from 10am – 1pm which would help us stay cool in the high temps. We didn’t know how long it would take us to do those routes, but we wanted to tick them first because there were 40 routes there that we knew we could tick and then head to the North 40 and the westside for for another 140ish potential ticks.
Friday morning when the gun sounded at 10am we rushed to The Middle East crag where we climbed 20 trad routes from left to right. This gave us 40 routes each and 80 as a team. I pulled off a block and decked on our second route, Oh Yeah, before I got a piece in. Luckily I escaped with only a few scratches and a bruised left heel. Some of these trad routes don’t get climbed often and have spider webs in the cracks. Anyways, we finished up those 40 routes each on the eastside around 5:00pm which was longer than we expected. We only stashed 2 gallons of water there because we didn’t expect to be there as long. By the time we finished our water was gone and some of the routes’ holds were literally burning our hands. It was really hot weather and we were gushing sweat.
On our way across the canyon we stopped by my truck and got some sandwiches, then headed up to North 40 where it was a f’ing party. North 40 has a lot of short moderate routes and we started out at a good pace. To speed up the process we used a 40m rope tied to a locker with a fisherman knot and used a Gri-Gri. We didn’t place much gear. Sometimes we only placed one piece. When the leader got lowered the partner would take the Gri-Gri off and start pulling the rope as the leader started leading again, not on belay until halfway up and we often got slapped by our own rope being pulled as we were leading the route the second time.
It was a party at the North 40 at night with glow sticks and music and crowds. We tried to avoid lines and some people let us climb through when they saw the pace we were maintaining. This lasted until midnight or so when we started to bonk and Ryan started feeling nauseous. We started moving slower and things started to hurt. Sometime around 2am – 4am Ryan started supporting me more and sometimes skipped routes I was doing as I was still going for 5.10s on 00 metolius cams and 5.10Rs on friable rock, because I wanted to do everything at North 40 before heading the the westside. There were only 4 trad routes in the North 40 I didn’t climb because of being too pumped by 4am.
Around 6am Ryan was fried and he supported me fully. I dragged my way up a 5.8 crack two times and then struggled on a 20-foot 5.11 crack. Probably did it 7 times to tick it twice – relentless and crazy. At this point I realized our plan was kinda f’ed. In an effort to climb out the North 40 I was going to be climbing the westside in the sun.
The sun gave me a little energy, but we were moving slow. I had to get clever and only picked routes I could send because the westside was longer and the trad routes were more spaced out, which required more walking. I ticked off a 5.6 and two 5.9s twice, each at Ren and Stimpy Wall, then moved over to the highest rated cracks in the guide. This ended up being a good strategy. I was exhausted and beat having climbed over 100 other lower quality trad routes and I was running out of time and juice. But I had these 3 and 4 star cracks described in the guide as “the most sought after cracks in Arkansas.” I used that to keep my psych up even though I was sweating balls at this point.
I knew I had to keep trying until time was out. I was playing music and just stumbling between climbs and climbing slowly at this point. I did WMA the 4-star 5.9+, “the most sought after moderate crack climb in the state,” and finally squeezed in one long 5.7 #5 crack and time was up we had to run and turn in our cards.
Our efforts paid off and Ryan and I won the most trad routes as a team category and took 1st and 2nd place for the individual category.