New Year in Hueco!

Happy new year! I can’t quite believe it’s 2012 already. I hope everyone had a good festive period; I certainly did, and that’s what I want to talk about for my first post of the new year…

Around about July-ish last year, we found out that some friends of ours (Matt and Jen, who we also went to South Africa with as well as some other people we know from The Castle) were going to be spending their Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Hueco Tanks. As many of you may know, I’ve been to Hueco Tanks before, and make no secret of my love for the place. I’d been pining to go back after our excellent week spent there in November 2010 and when I heard about Matt and Jen’s plans to head out there, Snoo and I decided, on a whim if I’m honest, that we would join them.

Excited as I was however, I couldn’t help feel a slight apprehension about the trip as it approached. I’m not entirely sure why, but for some reason it just felt slightly under planned which was making me feel slightly uneasy. Anyone who is familiar with Hueco Tanks will know that life isn’t made that easy for climbers there. For the last ten years or so, measures have been put in place in an effort to try and preserve the (relatively small) park from erosion and general wear-and-tear from visitors. There is only now a small section of the park (North Mountain) which open to the public to “self guide” and even that requires formal reservations (which can only be made three months in advance at the earliest) to be made in advance to ensure entry. The end of September came and went, and the batch of available North Mountain spots were snapped up, so when we finally got ourselves organised to try and book places we found they were all gone. Yikes. We knew that the Christmas period is peak season for Hueco, but we’d slightly under estimated quite how busy it was going to be. This wasn’t a total loss, as most of the problems we wanted to try were located in the “back country” (East Mountain, West Mountain and the East Spur) which are only accessible as part of a tour taken out by qualified guides. We did know a few guides who would potentially be able to take us out on tour, but judging by the fact that all of the North Mountain reservations had gone, surely guides would start to become a premium too?! We’d also be hearing conflicting reports about what the weather could be like over that period, which included potentially quite heavy snowfall(!) which would also stop any climbing. Granted this was entirely out of our control, but it was still another issue to add to the list. There was additional concern too that the Hueco Rock Ranch where we’ve stayed previously, and were planning to stay again, seemed to be having some managerial trouble and there was a worrying amount of radio silence from them during the summer months. Fortunately, having stayed there previously, we had some insider knowledge and we managed to get in touch with someone who reassured us that everything would be good to go by the time we arrived. The flights were paid for, so we were committed. There wasn’t really anything we could do other than head out there and hope. So, on Boxing day 2011 we set off on our (delayed) flight from London Heathrow with our fingers crossed that everything was going to be ok…

I think the fact that you’re reading this post at all goes to show that the trip was (eventually) a success, but American Airlines did their best to persuade us otherwise. Our flight out was delayed due to reasons unknown (although the presence of lots of armed police and sniffer dogs at the airport showed that it was something potentially pretty serious). So, we took off late on a plane which looked like it had seen better days (it didn’t even have seat back TV’s! AA are living in the dark ages!*). To the credit of the pilot, we landed in Dallas only ten minutes late, despite being nearly an hour late taking off. However, endless queues at every step of the way through Dallas Fort Worth airport meant we missed our connecting flight to El Paso by a (galling) ten minutes. Our suitcases however, had made the flight. I was very happy for them. My apprehensions about the trip were becoming worryingly real, and as I lay on the floor of Dallas Fort Worth’s Terminal A, staring at the ceiling with my tired and reddened eyes, I was genuinely wishing I was back in London.

Anyway, to cut (what is becoming) a long story short, we couldn’t get on any of the remaining flights to El Paso that day, and despite much stress, jetlag and seemingly going round in circles we managed to get a hotel for the night in Dallas with the promise of being on a flight the following morning. So, with no change of clothes or tolietries we grabbed a few fitful and surprisingly cold hours sleep before arriving back at the terminal at 7am to finish off our journey from hell. Thankfully, everything went well on our second try. By the following lunch time we were in El Paso, reunited with our bags and driving down Montana Avenue in the sunshine en route to Hueco Tanks.

Things improved exponentially from then on. The Rock Ranch was open for business and we were made very welcome by Mogli and Nikias who are/were running the show. Nikias (who is a also a guide, and knows Hueco Tanks inside out) also went out of his way to help us with our not-having-any-reservations problems by taking us out on tours for four of the five climbing days we were there (the fifth day we had some more good fortune fall into our laps and managed to fill a couple of spare spaces on another tour. Thanks, Cat!), despite having a huge amount of work to do organising things for the massive New Years Eve party etc. Unsurprisingly, the tours (which can have a maximum of ten customers on each one) were filled up very quickly by people in a similar situation to us. Subsequently, through this serendipitous piece of good fortune, we got to meet and climb with a huge variety of people we may not otherwise have spent any time with which made the trip even more fun. Below are a few choice highlights from our time spent in the park…

Sunrise over Hueco Tanks

Outside the park...

Mogli on 'El Burro' (V3) Corey on 'Left Donkey Show' (V5)

Al on 'Crash Dummy' (V7)

Al on 'Crash Dummy' (V7)

Pete on 'Crash Dummy' (V7) Cat on 'Jigsaw Puzzle' (V5)

Tedi on 'Tremors' (V6)

Tedi on 'The Flop' (V6)

Britney & Omar at Sunset on East Mountain

Sunset

Nikias on 'Dragonfly' (V5)

Pete on 'The Fin' (V4) Gustavo on 'Full Service' (V10)

Not only did we get a load of climbing in, but we also saw the new year in in style! The Rock Ranch’s New Year’s Eve parties are pretty legendary, and it was really fun to finally attend one. The centre piece, as always was huge bonfire which is possible the hottest thing I’ve ever encountered (not to mention good fun to photograph)! I’m not usually a massive fan of huge, blow out NYE parties but this had a nice, relaxed atmosphere while still being exciting and good way to see in 2012…

Bonfire!

Chrissy Cartwheeling

Mogli

Considering I didn’t really shoot *that* many photos, I’m really pleased with the shots I got. I did think about shooting some more video, but I think it would have been much harder to do on this trip, especially on the guided tours. Anyway, it wouldn’t have been the same without Ben…

Climbing wise, it wasn’t as successful as I’d have liked. The list of projects I created after the last trip remains largely unchanged and unticked. To be fair though, there was only a few of them that I actually got to try again (‘Dragonfly’, ‘Jigsaw Puzzle’ and ‘New Religion’) for a various reasons. The fact that three of the nine are on North Mountain which we couldn’t get on was a pain. I did however tick ‘The Fin’ which I was really happy about and it was as good as I had hoped, and I also made progress on ‘Dragonfly’ (and tore myself to shreds on it in the process)! Nikias also took us right to the end of East Spur on one tour and showed us a load of problems that aren’t in the guidebook. This included a really fun V6 called ‘Tremors’ that I also managed to do! Even if I didn’t get up everything I wanted to, I still had a lot of fun working problems and trying new stuff. I’ll just have to go back again…

If you made it this far, well done you! Sorry for my ramblings, but it feels good to have documented my feelings on the trip, both good and bad (mainly good). Huge thanks to Snoo, Chrissy, Nikias, Tedi, Pete, Matt, Jen, Paul, Al, (Other) Matt, Ty, Mogli, Gustavo, Val, Cat, Tammy, Britney, Omar and everyone else we met, climbed with or just queued outside the park with during the week. It was definitely a new year to remember. I hope the rest of 2012 is as fun!

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(*I do appreciate that this is an incredibly middle class, first world problem, but it was annoying none the less on a long haul flight.)