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  • Writer's pictureMatt Carter

Climbing for 24 Hours (Horseshoe Hell)

Last September I rock climbed for 24 hours straight, and it was hell --Horseshoe Hell (HH). Every September, Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Jasper, AR hosts a lead climbing competition that brings together climbers from all across the country who try to climb competitively for either 12 or 24 hours straight. It's as physically and mentally draining as you'd imagine, and I'd do it all over again.

This year, my buddy Josh and I won the lottery for a chance to compete in the 2018 HH. Neither of us had done HH before, and we were excited to put ourselves to the test. We made the 15 hour road trip from New York to Arkansas, with a stop over in Kentucky's Red River Gorge for some extra climbing time. And while there was torrential rain the entire time we were in Kentucky, we were happy to have incredible weather as soon as we got to Arkansas. The conditions were mild, dry and perfect for climbing. We were so lucky - other years HH has had rain or extreme heat conditions, not ideal for climbing, let alone 24 hours of straight climbing.

With one rest day before the competition, we scouted out the area, stashing water and food around places we planned to climb the following day, and enjoyed some free swag from the competition's sponsors. That night the ranch projected the movie Mountain of Storms for the climbers and we laid out on the lawn, drinking beer, relaxing our minds and getting psyched up for the next day. On game day, we woke up at 7AM and joined hundreds of climbers, many of whom were dressed in all sorts of costumes, ready to climb for 24 hours.

Surrounded by eager climbers and fueled up on cold brew coffee, we were super energized to get going. For the next few hours we went from route to route, keeping track of each route we climbed (HH uses an honor system to record your own climbs either via paper or app), refueling every so often with another granola bar or peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Every route is given a certain number of points based on difficulty, length and type (ie. sport or trad), the more points you accrue the higher your score. There's an individual and team score, with different tiers (beginners, intermediate and elite) and you find out the following morning who's won with the most points as well who climbed the most total routes. The rules are that you can only do each climb twice and you can only climb on lead without falling or taking for it to count.

My goal was to climb for all 24 hours and to complete 100 routes total. Initially, I tried to stick with 5.10s but throughout the night began climbing easier routes if they were available. Surprisingly, I felt fine almost the entire night. The hardest part was when it first started getting dark. Your mind thinks it's time to call it quits when really the competition is just getting started, it's not even halfway through at this point.

By 5AM my partner was tuckered out but kind enough to continue belaying me, so that I could reach my goal of 100 routes in 24 hours. By 10AM, we were done - 100 routes completed in 24 hours; the competition was over but funny enough I felt like I could keep climbing. We walked back to camp and went straight to sleep. I woke up at 4PM with hands so raw that I couldn't even unzip the tent. Groggy and out of it, we realized we'd woken too late for the early dinner that was provided to climbers by the ranch. Luckily we were able to get pizza, drink a beer and watch the award ceremony. Multiple records were broken this year, including Alex Honnold's individual points record, as well the team record, and the most climbs ever climbed by both an individual female and male. It was a great year for the "lions in a field of lions."

Just 48 hours in Jasper, AR and we were on our way back home.

If you're interested in applying for this year's HH, the lottery goes live on April 22, 2019 for both the 12 and 24 hour events (the lottery closes on May 3rd).  

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