tldr; battle scars and haircuts.
After a somewhat stressful work week in El Paso suburbia, we found welcome respite camping and climbing at Hueco Tanks over two weekends.
The piling mass of boulders rising out of the desert is known for world-class climbing, pictographs, and petroglyphs and is popular among climbers, birders, and hikers, alike. With limited cell signal and only 70 people allowed on the mountain each day, the state park feels much more off-grid than it really is, at just 30 minutes outside of El Paso.
Hueco Tanks is one of the first places that I climbed outside and it will always hold a special place in my heart. We almost didn’t come here, since it caused us to have a somewhat zig-zagging route through the Southwest. But at the last minute, we reminded ourselves that the whole point of living in a van is to have the freedom to go where we want. We wanted (especially I wanted) to go to Hueco Tanks, so off we went!
We arrived to the park for our first weekend on Friday afternoon. It was already pretty late in the day so we didn’t have time to climb. Instead, we spent about an hour hiking around, exploring new areas we hadn’t seen before and taking a peek at some of our favorite climbs we’d be working on that weekend.
We climbed all day Saturday and Sunday, making progress on some of our old projects, and I even got in a Sunday send of Girls of Texas (V5), a crimpy (tiny holds) problem that I had just started working on in earnest that weekend.
After climbing on Saturday, we used the last bit of sunlight we had for haircuts. I’ve been cutting Choi’s hair off and on since the beginning of the pandemic but Choi has only given me one small trim in the past year. I was getting tired of my hair blowing all over the place so I told him to just cut it off. What we discussed was a bob that came to my chin. The result was a bit shorter as Choi confidently chopped off about 3 inches of my hair. He did a great job though, and I’m enjoying a short cut that I haven’t had since I was little!
On Sunday morning, as we stood outside of the park visitor center to get our day passes, we got to chat with a few of our fellow campers. We met a woman and her two fluffy white dogs, Jesse and Henry, who was visiting Hueco with her husband as one destination on their “bird tour” of Texas. Throughout the year, they are hoping to identify 300 or so birds throughout the state. Jesse and Henry’s parents (we didn’t learn their names) have lived some form of van or RV-life since the 1970s, sometimes full-time, and at other times just for shorter vacations.
We also met a young family with twin girls who were traveling around the US in their Winnebago View, a smaller camper van. They were boulderers too and we enjoyed trading tips on places to visit along our travels. It’s always inspiring to see young families traveling full-time, a little glimpse into our (distant) future.
We love seeing how different people approach the nomadic lifestyle. Some live large in fancy converted Sprinter vans or huge RVs and spend all of their time camping at established campsites with amenities. Others live much more simply, living out of the back of SUVs, minivans, or smaller vans and camping in the middle of the desert on public land or stealth camping in cities. We seem to be somewhere in-between, the perfect spot to meet all types of fellow nomads.
We ended our first weekend with thin fingertips and a few more scrapes and bruises than before, but replenished by the fresh outdoor air and stoked to come back the next weekend.
The next week, we took off work Thursday and Friday and climbed Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Knowing that we had three full days of hard climbing ahead of us, we took our days a little bit more slowly. We also bought a guidebook so that we could find new areas of the park and a knee pad to protect our legs from getting more banged up.
While the knee pad helped protect our legs, it didn’t prevent Choi from finishing the weekend looking like he’d come out of a fight, with bloody knuckles and a split lip. The weather our second weekend was sunny but super windy. Most of the time this wasn’t an issue, but it did make some of the taller climbs we tried, like Sign of the Cross (V3), a bit spooky. We didn’t end up sending this one and will have to come back on a future trip.
We did however, send a couple of our other projects, most exciting being Lobster Claw (V5). Lobster Claw is a climb that I first tried on my first trip to Hueco back in May 2018. Back then, it felt impossible but on every trip since I, and now Choi, have made slow but steady progress.
We found ourselves in the cool cave-like area of Lobster Claw around lunch time on Saturday. After finding some new beta (a new way of climbing the boulder) Choi finally sent it! I followed up with a send about 45 minutes and 3 or 4 attempts later, a slightly delayed send train (check out the video on our instagram)
Friday evening wasn’t quite as windy as the other days so we rewarded ourselves by baking cinnamon rolls over our camp stove in our Omnia Oven and playing cards outside.
We spent Saturday morning climbing in the Girls of Texas area and Choi finally got in his send, cheered on by a squawking flock of quail and some friendly beginner climbers who were on their first outdoor bouldering trip. It’s always feels great to finish a climb you’ve put so much work into and it was awesome to cheer Choi on as he got in a morning send on our last day!
Tired but accomplished, we packed up the van and hit the road towards Utah, a new state for me and where we’ll spend the rest of the month.
Hueco Tanks, we love your fiery sunsets, your friendly campers, and your amazing climbs. Along We Go!