A few notes before jumping into the story. Not too many pictures because we were busy but we got a few shots from our friends Corbin and Kurt.
View of the morning meeting for the 24 hours of Horseshoe Hell showing the beautiful ranch and the perfect weather.
The 24 HHH (hours of horseshoe hell) is a climbing competition where teams of two climb for 24 continuous hours and is held at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Jasper Arkansas (HCR). Each team member climbs as many routes as he/she can and each route is assigned points based on its level of difficulty. All climbs are lead only and if you fall, you must return to the ground and start again. In other words, to score points on a route you must lead it clean, no hangs, no takes, no falls. Each route can be climbed twice for points and traditional climbs are bumped up one level for points. If each member of the team climbs at least one route per hour, both members are awarded bonus points. If on member does not complete at least on route per hour, niether team member gets the bonus. The bonus is the equivelant to climbing the hardest route in the canyon, a Chris Sharma route called "The Prophet" (5.14a) and is worth 790 points. To put the points in perspective, a 5.7 is worth 70 points, a 5.8+ 100 points, a 5.10d 200 points, a 5.12a 350 points, a 5.12d 490 points. You can see that the points move up quickly at the higher levels but that climbers can still score well if they are willing to climb a lot of routes. The competition has four divisions based on your consistent onsight ability, Recreational (5.9- and below), Intermediate( 5.10d and below), Advanced (anything), Womens (all women regardless of division). You are not allowed to climb routes above your division for points. Previous years allowed you to climb 5 routes above your division which lead to rampant sandbagging in the lower levels with Rec climbers sending 5.10d and 5.11's and Intermediates sending 5.12's for points. The new rules leveled the playing field. This year Patagonia was the major sponser and they brought in Sonny Trotter and Brittany Griffith to compete.
This is our third year doing this competition together. The first year we were in the Rec division, climbed 36 routes each and didn't climb anything harder than 5.8+. Last year we were in the Intermediate division, climbed 60 routes each and climbed only one 5.10. Natalie finished as the second female both years. We we again in Intermediate to along with 97 others in that division (most of which seemed to be 20 something testosterone filled males).
The team - Leather and Lace
Each year the point totals and total routes have really gone up. We knew it was going to be a real challenge this year. Our original goal for the competition this year was 72 routes, or 3 routes per hour each. Our first year we averaged 1.5, our second year 2.5, so going to 3 per hour seemed within our grasp. THEN, about 4 weeks out we did a 12 hour test. We concentrated on our hardest routes and sent 40 routes each in 12 hours including 5 5.10's and 9 5.9's. It was time to re-evaluate! Nat and I both decided to try to up our game from that point on. We agreed that this year we would suffer, not stop, try to not wait in any line for routes, and send as many hard routes as we could. Nat also stepped up and agreed to lead some trad routes, some of which were rated R. Nowwe just to make it to the comp without injury or sickness and to keep our fingertips hard and our weight down. No small feat, I might add!
We arrived at HCR on Thursday evening with our trusty drivers Kurt and Corbin. I had reserved a cabin for the weekend so we were going to avoid the circus up at the upper camp ground and hopefully get some good sleep before the comp. Friday we went up and climbed one 5.10 and 3 5.9's that had been a little problematic. WE WERE READY.
Saturday dawned with PERFECT weather. I made pancakes and eggs for breakfast and we all slept like babies. We loaded our packs into the truck and drove through the mass of climbers at the start so we could park the truck closer to the North Forty. Stashing gear and other trick are a big part of the HHH strategy used by those wanting to really optimize their performance.
10am on the dot the gun goes off and Nat starts RUNNING down the hill. Of course what can I do but run after her. We are the only ones running I was told later. We reach our packs and start humping up to the North Forty. We have a specific route as our target and we get there first. Others are right on our heals but it seems odd that we ran, they strolled and we barely beat them (some people hang in the campground to avoid the hill at the start). Nerves are high, I am unbelievably hyper. I start up our first route, Count Chocula, a 5.10a with a short tricky start. As I reach up to slot my fingers in a pocket there is a slight commotion at the base. As I turn my head to see, my foot slips and I hit the rope!!!! My only fall in 3 years and my only fall ever on this route! Quickly I compose myself and head back up. "THERE WILL BE NO MORE FALLS", I tell myself.
Very early on Nat heading over the roof on Frankenberry 5.9+.
Nat cruises "More Better" 5.10bI get my turn too.
We jump from route to route trying to get on all our targetted 5.10s and pumpy 5.9's as early as we can. We get lucky on early on and are able to get on a 5.8+R trad route and a 5.9- trad route that share anchors with very popular sport routes. Trad route are great vehicles for avoiding lines, especially at night. We took a while to finish off our 5 targetted 10's and the hard 9's but we were in pretty good shape going into the night. We were mixing trad and sport more and targetting the remaining 9's and a few 8's.
Our only food for the entire comp was: two separate meals of tuna and crackers, 2 bagels with peanut butter (one for each of us) 2 peanut butter and jelly Mojo bars, one power bar, and a zip bag full of trail mix. We each had one 5 hour energy and shared an amazing nalgene full of Electric Juice. THAT STUFF IS AMAZING! Maybe just antedotal but I did not get pumped and recovered quickly from route to route. Seriously we both felt amazing all night! (http://www.myspace.com/drinkyergreens)
About 3 or 4 in the morning Andy Chasteen shows up with his computer. Hmmmm, not a good sign since I wrote the scoring software and we really didn't have an easy way to test much before the event. Andy allowed Nat to have a surrogate belayer while I tweaked the database so he could produce some reports. They had collected score cards at 10 pm and were busy inputting the sheets to get a head start on results. The tech support didn't last long and before Nat was on her second lap, I got back into competiton mode and grabbed the cinch to resume my role.
As dawn broke (it took forever for the sun to break through) we were running out of routes. There were lines on routes we hadn't done and we still had 2 hours or so to climb. We were faced with a dilema. Go East fot a bunch of routes but waste 20 minutes at least to cross the canyon? Go South to fewer choices but maybe run into lines again? Stay in the North Forty and WAIT in lines. Orrrrrrrrrrr do CRIMP SCAMPI 5.10d with over 80 routes each under our belts. I was up for a try. I actually felt great. Just so I could be called a real poser I took off my shirt, got focused and started up. For some reason, at the crux 4th bolt clip, I saw I could easily reach it from below! I have no idea why I hadn't noticed that the other couple of times I had sent it. After that, no hesitation, no resting, and it was over! I as amazed. It went so smooth that from the anchors, I told Nat I would try another lap. When I hit the ground Nat said "I want to try". I was ecstatic! She didn't want to risk leaving draws so with the draws up and me going a second time there was no issue with the draws. She started up and took FOREVER to move through the bottom crux. It was making me verym very nervous. Then, at the 4th bolt I gave her the beta to clip from below and she was able to also, even though she is height challenged :). She moved quickly to the main crux and did the "short person" variation flawlessly! Leather and Lace made Crimp Scampi their b$#@ch! I was fired up and quickly finished off my second lap. Nat didn't think she had it in her to do another lap so we moved on. There were still lines on most of the routes we needed but we were fired up now!!! The rest was all a bonus.
Finally with only about 15 or 20 minutes left before the 9:45 cutoff, we ended up below the easy trad, guide routes. We quickly got both our laps in on the first and to even out our route count, I agreed to only do one lap on the second guide route. We both ran up our final route and as I was coiling the rope, the gun went off to signal the end of the competition. We were both relieve and frustrated. We had more in us and were a bit frustrated that lines had kept us from getting a few more routes. But, that is the nature of this event. It is not just about physical ability, it is about strategy and optimizing your time. On that front I don't think we could have done much better this year.
We did the best we could and all that remained was to get in a shower and WAIT! As expected, Sonny Trotter won the Advanced division with an amazing 118 routes and a high level of difficulty. Surprisingly though, his team got squeezed into second to local talent Cole Fennel and Stark Ligon. As Andy was ready to announce Intermediate results he softly said "This is huge". I was amazed to have my name called first. Then as I got to the award table Andy told me to wait a second as he announced second NATALIE. After the divisions were announced they moved on to the Women's division. As expected, Brittany Griffith was first. THEN, Natalie was announced as SECOND! There was some satisfaction to see that Natalie climbed 9 more routes than the winner since we knew she couldn't match the difficulty that Brittany would send. btw: We met Brittany the evening before the competition and she is great. What a great ambassador for Patagonia.
My age: 59
Nat's age: 43
Combined age: 102
Routes lead: 91
Hardest send: 5.10d
5.10's 6 different
5.9's 11 different
5.8's 14 different
5.7's 11 different
5.6's 2 different
5.5's 2 different
Trad 13 different
Sport 33 different
My Score 10,090.
Nat's Score 9,900
Team Score 19,990
Places in Intermediate Division (99 athletes) First and Second
Nat's place in Female Division Second.
Overall team place out of 92 teams - 14th
Overall individual places with all competitors out of 184, 30th and 32nd
Routes per hour 3.8 we tied for 8th out of 184