Rock Climbing – Hueco Tanks Texas
The world-class bouldering at Hueco Tanks dominates rock climbing in Texas. Hueco Tanks is famous for its huecos (holes) and a plethora of overhanging boulder problems on Iron rock. Climbers from all over the world come to enjoy the outstanding bouldering, as well as the pleasant winter weather and Mexican cuisine.
Hueco Tanks is a crag that every mountaineer should visit at least once in their lifetime. It’s the only place like it in the nation. There is essentially something for everyone – slab, vertical, steep, highball, lowball. Hueco is recognized widely for its roof bouldering problems—long roofs, high roofs, low roofs, short roofs—and since I’m a big fan of roofs, you can probably guess why I love this place.
With burning muscles and burning fingers, we sit around the camp stove preparing dinner and talking about our day. We have been here for a week now, and are still craving what this park has to offer. Thirty miles east of El Paso, past the Mexican fast food joints and the adult drive-in, beyond the city lights and run down grocery stores, we eat around our stove at Hueco Tanks State Park.
Named for the large geologic formations in the rock, Hueco offers climbing and world class bouldering for climbers of any ability.
Bouldering is rock climbing with no strings attached, literally. No rope or protection to get in the way, just the climber battling rock with the hopes of earning some personal satisfaction (and a little admiration from bystanders).
Here’s a sample of common bouldering terms:
- Dyno: slang for “dynamic” move. A move that forces the climber to virtually leap from one hold to the next. Sometimes referred to as a “throw.”
- Flapper: a large tear in the skin resulting from abrasion on the rock. They are usually on the fingers and are sometimes deep enough to draw blood.
- The V system: Boulder problems at Hueco (and other areas) are rated using the V system. The system is named for the man who wrote the Hueco guidebook and established many of the parks problems, John “Verman” Sherman. V0 is the easiest problem and the climbs get more difficult as the numbers increase. The hardest problem in the guidebook goes at V13.
The Lure of Hueco
Stories around the “dinner table” fly as my friends and I feast on the black bean burritos we’ve been starving for. A missed dyno on the 45 Degree Wall (V5) or the cactus that somebody kicked while wearing Tevas, every tale is humorous, inspiring and probably exaggerated, but true.
I give an account of my attempt at T-Bone Shuffle, a 20-foot V4 near the warm-up boulder. The last move on the problem left me straining for a hueco and tearing 3 large flappers on my left hand. I was extremely frustrated at the time, but telling the story brings humor to the failed ascent as my friends insist on imitating my reaction to the whole event. All I can do is laugh while my climbing partners give their best impressions of my fit of swearing and whining over the climb.
Hueco is a destination for all types of climbers, creating an interesting scene for meeting a variety of people. Whether it’s the El Paso local who came for the day or the German adventurer who is staying for three months, we are sure to swap stories of the day’s successes and failures. Along with a variety of climbers comes a variety of climbs. Face climb or crack, roof or slab, Hueco is plastered with boulder problems and climbs for any ability.
I first went to Hueco to train and build power. A friend lured me into a 30-hour drive (I am obviously not a local) with the guarantee, “After two weeks in Hueco, you’ll be resting on holds you would never even think of touching.”
After spending some time there, it was not only the famous climbing that drew me back, but the whole scene of friendly people with the common bond that climbers share.
Getting There: Hueco is about 30 miles east of El Paso, Texas. From El Paso, head east on highway 62/180. Follow the signs to Carlsbad and turn left (North) on farm road 2775. About eight miles later you will hit the park gates.
Cost: There is a daily park fee plus another fee to climb. You can also purchase an annual pass. Call (915) 857-1135 for details.
Camping: Campsites in the park are the “Hilton” of campsites. The 17 sites have running water and electricity. The park allows a maximum of eight people and two cars at each site; there is a fee for each additional car. There is also a heated bathroom and hot shower in the center of the campground. The sites are popular so be sure and make reservations by calling (915) 857-1135. You can also choose to camp at Pete’s General Store, located three miles from the park’s gate. Pete will let you pitch a tent in his yard for a couple of bucks a night, and you can still get water and shower in the park. Since alcohol is prohibited in the park, Pete’s is the place to kick back with a beer.
Food: Bring your own food from the grocery stores in town. The park allows only gas or propane stoves, no charcoal or campfires. Pete’s wife serves some good Mexican food if you don’t feel like cooking, or you can choose to make the trek back into El Paso and experience all kinds of restaurants.
When: The best time to go is November through March, but October and April aren’t bad if you are a hot weather lover. The desert and the elevation make for cold nights, so be prepared. Bring warm clothes and a good sleeping bag or you will be miserable. Hueco is most popular at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but don’t worry because you can always lose the crowd in the park’s sea of climbs.
Guidebook: The only guidebook to buy is Hueco Tanks: Climbing and Bouldering Guide, by John Sherman. There are other guidebooks, but I found Sherman’s guide to be the best. Don’t waste your time and money on anything else.
Hueco Tanks Climbing
Hueco Tanks has the best bouldering on the globe, but you have to play the game to get in. Reservations for North Mountain must be made by calling Texas State Parks at (512)389-8911 (be sure to write down your confirmation #s as they tend to lose them). The Hueco Rock Ranch (915-856-7181) no longer provides guiding services but does provide excellent lodging and camping. The best time to visit is from November to March. Windy conditions prevail through the end of March and the beginning of April. After mid-April, it’s scorching. The rock is incredible, bullet-hard and razor-sharp on the digits.