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Dirtbag Beta: Climbing at Hueco Tanks without a Reservation

It’s no secret that Hueco Tanks State Park is home to one of the best bouldering areas in the United States (and arguably the world) – which means that a lot of people want to come and climb. The evidence of past overuse is abundant throughout the park, and to combat the influx of visitors, Hueco Tanks designed something called the Public Use Plan.

Only 70 climbers are allowed into the park each day.

Of those spots, 60 are available through pre-registration. During the peak climbing season, these spots fill up fast – so what’s a climber to do?

The remaining 10 spots may seem like a long shot, but Niko and I didn’t have a single reservation during our trip to Hueco Tanks, and were able to get in every single day we were there.

The park opens up the 10 walk-on spots at 8:00 on a first-come, first-served basis – with a twist. If you’re camping inside the park, you can line up directly at the headquarters, but if you’re camping at the ranch, you line up at the entrance gate 2 miles away. And the folks inside the park get first dibs. Another issue is that if the climbing reservations are full, the campground likely is too. But you can still get in!

There’s a fairly simple sequence of events you have to unlock to get in, and it goes a little something like this:

1. Wake up EARLY.

Whether you’re camping inside the park or at the Hueco Rock Ranch, the most crucial part of snagging one of those elusive 10 walk-on spots is getting yer ass up, and I mean early.

Niko and I woke up every day at 5:45 to make the 10-minute drive from the ranch to the front gates. On the first two days, we were first in line, but as the weekend drew closer, we found ourselves beat by one or two cars on the final days.

The Craggin' Wagon lined up at the gate at Hueco Tanks State Park, ready for a day of climbing.

NOTE: Depending on who you ask, some rangers may tell you that folks get in the line at the gate the night before – but this is NOT allowed. There’s a cop who lives in the area, and is not so thrilled with all the climbers, so he’ll gladly issue you a ticket. Do not sleep at the gate overnight!

2. Bring breakfast.

Once you roll into the queue at the gate (or at headquarters), you’ve got a couple hours to kill before the rangers open the gates and let you know the status. We went back to sleep in the van a few mornings, but the best days where when we cooked breakfast and brewed coffee in line. If you’re lined up directly at headquarters, bring a laptop and take advantage of the free wi-fi.

3. Consider buying a Texas State Parks pass.

We calculated the costs, and if you’re staying at the park for more than five days with two or more people in your car, or 10 days by yourself, you are better off buying a park pass than paying the 7$ entry fee each day. And you make the process a bit easier on the rangers each morning.

Hueco Tanks State Park, a true mecca for American bouldering.4. Be patience and think positive.

If you don’t get one of the initial 10 spots during the morning, don’t worry. You’ll be put on a waitlist, and at 10:00, the park releases any reservations for people who haven’t shown up. While you’re waiting, don’t hover around inside the park office – go hang out in your car, make some coffee, and wait for the rangers to let you know the status.

If all else fails, you can hop on a paid tour to get you to one of the other mountains. Some are professional guide services, and some are held by volunteers – but they all cost a pretty penny. You can pay up to $25 per person to get on these tours, so it’s really a last resort for the true dirtbag.

If you want to climb anywhere beside North Mountain, you’ll need to book a tour – but there is more than enough climbing on the main mountain to keep anyone occupied for weeks.

Additional advice on Hueco Tanks:

–       If you can, visit the park on weekdays. You have a much higher chance of getting reservations and walk-ons.

–       Keep calling the park to check for reservations (in a kind and respectful manner, of course). Niko and I called every day leading up to our visit to check for spots, and a few randomly opened up through cancellations.

–       For a tasty and cheap taco dinner, head to El Pasito’s on Montana. The burritos cost us $2.69 each, and tacos are equally inexpensive. You can get everything from menudo to carnitas – and beer.

–       The nearest grocery store to Hueco Tanks is Vista Mercado on Montana, but on the way in through El Paso off I-10, you can stock up on the cheapest produce I’ve ever purchased at Pro’s Ranch Market. It’s huge, loaded with Mexican food (both grocery and ready-to-eat), and outrageously affordable. Get a churro and some freshly squeezed orange juice!

Got additional advice for getting into Hueco Tanks?
Leave your thoughts in the comments!

A Week of Bouldering at Hueco Tanks State Park

As we entered a barren landscape from the urban wasteland of El Paso, Niko and I quickly realized what we had just gotten ourselves into: a week of true desert living while bouldering at Hueco Tanks State Park.

We arrived late on Sunday afternoon, and I totally got a little giddy as Jason Khel checked us into the Hueco Rock Ranch. We paid for four nights, then scoped out a prime parking spot close to the main climber’s barn. (For more on the Hueco Rock Ranch, stay tuned for my review tomorrow!)

Our first day of climbing was brutal, in the most enjoyable way possible. A southeastern gal, I’m used to forest trails winding to boulders scattered along a field. At Hueco Tanks, the approach is an often epic hike straight up enormous granite slabs. I was admittedly wrecked within the first few hours, and spent the majority of the day watching Niko crush hard problems. At one point, Paul Robinson walked up and asked Niko for beta – pretty incredible to have spent our time at Hueco climbing amongst some of the world’s strongest boulderers, like when Niko projected a V10 with Anna Stohr and Melissa Le Neve.

Niko and I out at Hueco Tanks State Park during the Simply Adventure trip.

The next few days really picked up, and we got into a nice groove. We woke up every morning at 5:45, drove out to the gate to wait in line for a walk-on spot, made breakfast, then climbed on North Mountain for the rest of the day. In the evenings, we ate dinner in the ranch barn while I caught up on work, then promptly passed out in the van not long after the sunset.

One the third day, I found my muse: Lobsterclaw (V5). Easily my favorite route at Hueco Tanks, this Hueco-filled line sat in a small cave area secluded from everything else around it. While climbing it, we met a great couple from Minnesota, Emily and Zach, who were on a three-month trip. We instantly connected, and spent the next few days climbing together. Zach and Niko are on the same level, as are Emily and I, so it created a perfect group dynamic.

Emily cranks out of the tricky cave section on Lobsterclaw (V5) at Hueco Tanks.

The boys led the next day, egging each other on during burly climbs and crushing incredible routes. Zach shared my sentiments about Hueco being a bit polished, which was slightly disappointing but to be expected at such a popular destination. Once we started hitting more obscure climbs, the rock quality was superb.

Niko working Adjust Your Attitude (V8) at Hueco Tanks State Park during the Simply Adventure trip.Niko falls into the sweet undercling move on Adjust Your Attitude (V8) at Hueco Tanks State Park.

After days of projecting Lobsterclaw, I found myself on our final day at Hueco Tanks with less than an hour before we had to leave the park. Emily and I made a lot of progress on the crux, and I finally stuck the hardest move just as time ran out.

It wasn’t a send, but I felt fairly satisfied having at least broken through the seemingly impossible crux – I honestly hadn’t believed I’d be able to stick the move.

Moving towards the crux move on Lobsterclaw (V5) at Hueco Tanks State Park.

We celebrated the last night of our trip, which happened to be on Valentine’s Day, with authentic Mexican food at El Pasito’s Meat Market. The meal was shared with our newfound climbing couple friends, and a dude we met in line at the gate one morning, who happened to have gone to the same high school in Miami as me!

Niko and I considered a quick morning session the next day before heading to Phoenix, but when our alarm went off at 5:45 the next morning, we shut it off and went right back to sleep.

Hueco, we’ll be back.

And when I go back, I’m going to crush Lobsterclaw. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Trekking through the desert landscape at Hueco Tanks State Park during the Simply Adventure trip.

Stay tuned for more Hueco Tanks blog posts this week!

I’ll be publishing the first post in my new series “Dirtbag Beta” – the inaugural piece will give climbers the beta on how to get into Hueco Tanks without a reservation. I’ll also have a review on the Hueco Rock Ranch comin’ up soon.

Caught Red-Handed in a J-Tree Parking Lot: The First Simply Adventure Video

I still owe you a ton of updates from our time in Hueco Tanks and Arizona, but I couldn’t resist sharing this ridiculous video of Niko and I. Before you watch, here’s a backstory on how this little film came to be:

So after a very windy day of climbing at Joshua Tree National Park, Niko and I retreated back to van in a relatively deserted parking lot. As we were packing up, a curious chick came clamoring towards the van with all sorts of questions about who we were, what we were doing, and how we had outfitted our van. After a few quick introductions, we ended up spending over an hour cooped in the van talking about our trip.

This photo by Alexandra Klos (KlosUpPictures.com) perfectly captures the essence of my dirtbaggery.

The chick ended up being this awesome photographer who was visiting two friends in Los Angeles hoping to discover exactly what she wanted to do with her life. She had spent the entire week raving to her two friends about the idea of buying a vehicle to live in while she traveled the country to photograph the outdoors – and totally took our chance encounter as a sign. By the end of our little chat, she was convinced that fate was telling her to just do it.

Stoked on our trip, she asked if she could film a little and take some photos of the van – and this is what she ended up with:

*Warning: I look like a TOTAL dirtbag bum. It ain’t pretty, folks.

Big thanks to Alexandra Klos for putting this sweet video together on the fly, it was definitely a much appreciated ego-boost to hear y’all tell us we were “iconic,” however untrue that may be! If you want to check out more from Klos Up Pictures, visit her Vimeo page, or head over to the Klos Up Pictures website , which is currently under construction, but I’m sure will soon be exploding with incredible photography.

But seriously. I look like such a bum. If it makes anyone feel better, the day after this photo, Niko and I rented a cheap motel room and I totally showered. I promise.

PS: Alexandra, we better see you out on the road living in your own van soon!
You’ve go the spirit and the guts to make it happen, and we hope you follow your dreams!

Exploring Texas’ Best Outdoor Spots: Reimer’s Ranch, Pace Bend Park, and Hamilton Pool

After a short detour in Austin, we planned to meet our climbing buddy, Teresa, out at Reimer’s Ranch on a Friday morning – so Niko and I took a few rest days at Pace Bend Park during the week. This friendly slice of exceptional Texas landscape is a miniature peninsula that sits on a steep cliff line above the water. Folks kept referring to it as Lake Austin, but it looked much more like a river if you ask me.

When Teresa finally escaped Houston to join us for a weekend of climbing, we set off towards stunning, and short, sport climbing. The Reimer’s Ranch climbing crag is located about 30 minutes away from Pace Bend Park, but it’s the nearest campground to the climbing – and the drive isn’t bad. Another great aspect is that once you pay for your camping ($5/night) and day use ($10/day), your parks pass is valid for Pace Bend, Reimer’s Ranch, and Hamilton Pool.

After less than awesome bouldering at Bull Creek Run in Austin, I wasn’t expecting very much from the climbing at Milton Reimer’s Ranch Park – but I was instantly blown away. You pull up to a rather dry parking lot area, which is equipped with immaculate rest room facilities. A few yards down the trail, the scenery switches: suddenly, you’re knee-deep in what can only be described as Fern Gully. The approach to the crag takes you skipping along a little creek, which opens up into a lush area alive with ferns and thick tree trunks. I was in heaven.

Niko climbing at Reimer's Ranch park in Texas during the Simply Adventure trip.

The climbing compliments the dreamy surroundings with pleasurable routes, unbelievably well maintained bolts and anchors, and a great climbing community. The only foreseeable compliant is in regards to the length of the routes – most are only about 40 feet tall, with four or five bolts. As a big chicken when it comes to lead climbing, I was totally content with the short climbs.

Teresa throws for a jug at Reimer's Ranch in Texas.

We hopped on a number of routes ranging from 5.7 to 5.12a throughout the two days we were able to climb, and I had a blast on every line I touched, including a great 5.10 b/c/d (?) called Prototype – which I top-roped twice, “red-pointed” the second go, and really regret not leading.

The most memorable route was a 5.10a called Fat Chicks Trying To Look Sexy. It was Teresa’s unfinished project, so we both worked it until she snagged the red-point. We also gave a go at a sweet 5.12a Niko was working, named Yertle the Turtle. Neither of us ladies made it past the third bolt, but it was a nice challenge.

Most importantly, I took my first lead falls, ever. Yes, that’s right, I had never taken a fall while sport climbing before. I had a pretty good run of on-sighting every 5.10a (and below) I got my hands on, but the time came for me to put on my big girl panties and take a fall. And you know what? It ain’t so bad, y’all!

This is me, not taking a lead fall, but rather successfully climbing at Reimer's Ranch in Texas during the Simply Adventure trip.

The plan originally included three days of climbing, but our final day was rained out, so we packed up early on Saturday evening and finished our adventure with dinner at Emcee’s Eatery – which was good, but took way too long. Fortunately, I was pretty down to have some extra time hanging out with Teresa, so I didn’t mind the monstrous wait to get my spaghetti. (If you eat there, get the burgers, so good!)

This incredible cave at Hamilton Pool Park in Texas is mind-blowing. How does it not collapse?!If you’re ever in the Austin area, Riemer’s Ranch is a must. Right up the road, you’ll find Hamilton Pool, one of Texas’ magnificent wonders. Comprised of a looming cave that hovers over an emerald pool, this destination is a popular spot during the summertime. When we visited, the water was a balmy 53º, but I was filthy so I took a quick dip to rinse my oily hair anyways.

Once again, Texas surprised us with an unexpected adventure. We weren’t very fond of our few days spent in Austin, so it was especially pleasant to discover a rolling hill country with classic climbing just outside the city.

Extra Beta: We’d highly suggest paying a visit to Bump ‘n Grindz coffee shop. A hospitable man, Marco, who welcomes you into his café with open arms, runs the joint where you can fuel up on everything from homemade soup to gelato. The coffee is strong, the outlets are plentiful, and the wi-fi is free.

Satisfying my Inner Latina at Houston’s Finest Mexican Markets

I’ve been in Texas before – too many times, if you ask me. My visits to the Lonestar State are usually long stretches of driving during hauls across the country, most noteably my May journey where I struck a black bear with my hatchback at 2:30 AM while driving in the middle of nowhere.

Really, Texas and I don’t historically get along.

The first leg of the Simply Adventure trip called for a few weeks traversing new parts of Texas, but my excitement for places like Hueco Tanks was combated by the bad taste Texas tends to leave in my mouth.

And then I got to Houston.

Niko and I stopped in the city for a day on our way out to Reimer’s Ranch near Austin. We weren’t expecting much from the day, but ended up knee-deep in an incredible culinary journey.

The first stop: Canino Produce Co.

Brightly colored fruits and vegetables at Canino Produce market in Houston, Texas.

This bustling Houston hotspot is an absolute must for anyone into farmers markets. I haven’t been to all of the farmers markets in Houston, but I’d be willing to bet that this one is the best. Crowded rows of merchants line a narrow corridor where you can find everything from prickly cactus pears to thick bundles of fresh cilantro.

The best part? I didn’t speak a lick of English during my encounters with the farmers and veggie peddlers. I somehow summoned up my inner Cuban, and discussed everything from corn prices, avocado readiness, and pepper sizes entirely in Spanish.

We loaded up on multi-colored bell peppers, tall stalks of green onions, fat cherry tomatoes, and a wealth of vegetable before heading over to our next stop, which sits conveniently across the street.

My tray of goodies from El Bolillo Bakery in Houston, Texas.

El Bolillo Bakery is the kind of place that makes you question whether you’ve been teleported into the heart of Mexico.

Picture this: You walk into a cute bakery, pick up a giant metal tray, arm yourself with a pair of tongs, then wander through a maze of cabinets, displays, and countertops littered with a dizzying amount of freshly baked goods. It is absolutely incredible.

I felt like a little girl visiting my family in Mexico City as I explored the rows of skinny churros, plump bollilo rolls, and hundreds of unidentifiable treats. While I attempted to seek out familiar confections, Niko let his curiosity take control, and loaded up on whatever items tempted his appetite. We filled our tray with a heap of sweets, and grabbed a bag fullTeresa and I show off our goodies from El Bolillo Bakery in Houston, Texas. of the best tortillas I have ever eaten.

And it all came out to just $8.25 (including my gigantic bottle of Mexican cola). Culturally-rich, loaded with flavor, freshly baked, AND budget-friendly? Yes, please!

Afterwards, we retreated to Teresa’s house, where she cooked up an incredible taco dinner unlike any taco concoction you could imagine: I’m talkin’ tortillas filled with butternut squash, whole roasted beets, quinoa, kale, fresh arugula from her garden, and shredded queso blanco. Needless to say, I was a very happy camper after that meal.

While our stop in Houston was short, and focused largely around these two destinations, my experiences exploring the culture and food of the city’s Latino community totally changed my attitude towards Texas – an perspective that has only grown more favorable as I spent more time in this state.

The (Ever-Evolving) Official Beginning Itinerary for Simply Adventure

You’ve all been pressing me for details about our route, our planned stops, what climbing areas we’ll be hitting up, and what our map looks like thus far. We can’t make any promises, and we are certain that things will inevitably change, but it’s about time I gave you some insight about where we’re heading in the upcoming weeks and months.

So here’s what the Simply Adventure road trip route looks like so far:

This is what we KNOW is going to happen.

Since I’m a Miami gal, I’d like to think that the route officially began at our southernmost point in 2013: Miami, Florida. We also visited Tampa and Tallahassee before finally leaving the state on February 1st. After a pit stop at a Mississippi rest stop, and filling cajun fare in Lake Charles in Louisiana, we paused for a day in Houston, Texas (more on that later – who knew Houston was so cool?).

We’re currently holed up at Spin City Washateria in Austin, Texas, and are scoping out some nearby climbing to fill the next few days until we head to Reimer’s Ranch for the weekend with our friend Teresa. Afterwards, we’ll jet across the remainder of Texas to Hueco Tanks State Park near El Paso. Once we get our fill of Lonestar State climbing, the plans get a little hazier, but we’ll be heading to Joshua Tree, then up to Utah around March 8th to meet some climbing buddies for a week or so in Moab. Next, we’ll drive north for a few days in Salt Lake City, then regroup as we plan our next moves.

Here’s a very vague, and totally-going-to-change look at what our journey (kinda, sorta, maybe) will look like through August:

A very rough map of our trip outline so far.

 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in these first few days of van-dwelling, it’s that plans are always changing, you can’t really count on anything, and making plans more than a week in advance are really just a pain in the arse. We have a lot to learn still, but we haven’t killed each other (yet), so I think we’re on the right path.

Cheers, everyone – and stay tuned for more dates and upcoming plans (that will probably end up changing, ha)! 

Farewell, Florida – Missing our departure date, and (finally) beginning the Simply Adventure journey

For over a year, I’ve talked about this yearlong climbing trip, schemed up some hype around the Simply Adventure idea, and dreamt about the day I’d finally hit the road – and that day is today.

We were actually supposed to depart last night, but a series of unfortunate van mishaps kept us up all evening working on the interior of our new “home.” Nearing midnight, we decided to throw in the towel and abandon our goal of hitting the road before the sun rose. At first, I felt kind of guilty about not leaving; so many people have been eagerly awaiting my official departure. Ultimately, a friend offered wise advice that soothed my apprehensions about leaving a day late:

“A year of adventure can wait a day.”

And he was right. After giving ourselves a few extra hours to put the finishing touches on the van to make sure everything was perfect (and a quick pitstop to grab my last pint of corn nuggets from Lindy’s Chicken), we hit the road feeling 100% ready. Had we rushed through the night and attempted to leave “on time,” we would have woken up miserable with ourselves. I think we made the right choice, do you?

Right now we’re cooped up in a Mississippi rest stop with free wi-fi, scoping out our plan for tomorrow and catching up on e-mails. We drove through the Florida Panhandle and picked up a new bike rack, paused at a Walmart in Alabama, and crossed over into Mississippi – all in a fairly relaxing day. Tomorrow, we’ll continue on through Louisiana, and plan to make it out to Houston, Texas by Sunday!

Beginning this newfound van-dwelling lifestyle has been an oddly calming experience. I was expecting some big epiphany, some momentous occasion when we finally hit the road – but it’s all just peaceful. This is all really happening, and I think I am ready for it all. We’ll see how it all evolves, ha.

Want to know where we’re headed?
Stay tuned for the full itinerary (through March) on Monday! 

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