Hueco Medicine

New Mexico spread out from either side of the highway as an expanse of desert punctuated by sagebrush, juniper trees, and the roll of tumbleweeds. We passed ghost village after ghost village. Wooden houses, ceilings caved in, looked blindly upon the highways with boarded windows.

Twentieth hour in the car we roll into El Paso city and stay the night. The next day we reach our final destination with a whoop: Hueco Tanks State Park. Ancient watering hole. Modern day climbing mecca.

Hueco Tanks is an oasis amid desert; the name comes from water pools in small and large hollows within the rock, attracting humans and wildlife for centuries. Pictographs decorate many cave walls throughout the area. Throughout the nights, coyotes sing an eerie chorus. Throughout the days, we sample some of the world-class boulders piled up on the small mountains within the park.

What I love most about climbing trips is the slowing down, moving with the pace of the season, being immersed in awesome landscapes. And of course, sitting atop a hunk of rock that proved challenging--mentally, physically, or both--and relishing the pure joy of "topping out."

Jarred crushed our entire trip, flashing classics and pulling through strenuous moves on red-point-goes. He climbs as if his mass of muscle and bone is made of lighter things.

Hueco taught me to love the struggle a v1 may pose—the humor in trying to get your ass off the ground on a “warm-up.” Bouldering is tough; bouldering in Hueco is extraordinarily difficult. The rock is rough, the grades stiff. The wind can be wild, the temperatures extreme. It's desert climbing, after all. Pack layers. Bring hand salve. Be ready to grapple. 

I’m taking home humble ticks in the actual climbing aspect of the climbing trip, but many memorable moments stacked up throughout my time here. Like watching the full-moon rise over the black undulating silhouette of the hills—the horizon like the profile of a voluptuous woman.  

After meeting the climbers in a neighboring campsite, we formed easy and laugh-infused friendships. One night, over a potluck dinner of duck, mashed sweet potatoes, and kale salad, we talked about what all climbers tend to talk about.

“Climbing,” Alan said, “is medicine.”

A statement as true as it is contradictory. For even though climbing can cause injury, pain, extreme discomfort, it is also extremely fun and provides a way to completely remove the self from the stresses of life. Just as I am continuously reminded that climbing is a series of lessons in humility and patience, I am also continuously reminded that the climbing lifestyle is a series of encounters with good people and remarkable landscapes.

Photos from the Trip