Wednesday, October 10, 2012

24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell 2012

“It rained.  We climbed. Now we know.” - Logan Wilcoxson

We had been dodging the proverbial “rain bullet” for 6 years. Each year since 2006 there has been rain in the forecast and every year it misses us. But not this year. It came down hard and soaked everything, only hours into the event. But I found out that it didn’t matter because everyone just kept climbing…

My 24HHH 2012 started back in October of 2011, but that is neither here nor there so let’s fast forward to the week of 24HHH. Preparation once arriving to the ranch is busy: sorting product, getting radios ready, stuffing packets, volunteer station supplies, hang sponsor banners on trading post, team meetings, hanging biners on routes, and I think I mentioned LOGISTICS a few times last year. The list goes on and on.
 Wednesday it rained hard. I’d guess at least 2 inches in a one-hour period. And it left the ranch a muddy mess. But it slowly started to dry out. Preparations continued. Thursday was packet pick up at 2 pm. It started off with a rush. I’m not sure if everyone just wanted to get their swag early or they wanted first dibs on the Black Diamond Demo and Evolv Demo, but we got slammed. It was good, cause our team handled it well. We had a small scorecard/miniguide debacle but that was my fault, and we started making arrangements to get it taken care of (which we eventually did). People were hanging out, haircuts were going, tunes were playing, and old friends were hanging out. Cameras were everywhere. The running joke was “there are more photographers/videographers this year than competitors”.


This year we decided to do a Thursday night hot dog roast in the pavilion coupled with a slideshow from Patagonia Ambassador Jasmin Caton. The good people from the ARCC handled the food, and we provided some beverages for the party. Other than having to send a messenger to town (40 minutes away) for a cord to get the projector going, it went great. Again, a great time of reconnecting, eating, laughing and watching a great slideshow of some cool alpine endeavors. Oh, and it rained…
 Friday morning came quickly, and I scrambled down to the Trading Post. My organizational team already had packet pickup going and it felt nice to just chat with competitors and relax for a few minutes. At 9 am I jumped on the back of Barry’s flatbed truck (the ONLY way to do it at 24HHH), and started yelling into the megaphone. It was the climber meeting, and I always enjoy this part of the weekend. Seeing all the costumes, feeling the energy in the air, smiling faces, nervous faces, laughter, the sound of quickdraws clanging together on harnesses. Talking to the crowd, answering questions, doing roll call. Naming ridiculous team names and laughing and being embarrassed at the same time. Watching Jer Collins do the “climbers creed” which is a staple in 24HHH preparedness. Then the shotgun blasted and climbers scattered to their predetermined locations to get started on HELL.

After the shotgun sounded, spectators and boulderers got a chance to go boulder with Lisa Rands and her husband Wills Young.  A great little addition to the festivities at 24HHH courtesy of Petzl.  I tried to relax for a few minutes after the climbers had left, but the energy was too high. I wanted to go see the climbers. So I grabbed a couple of buddies of mine (racing buddies who have never been to 24HHH) and showed them the tour. Right off the bat I noticed the humidity was stifling. Just getting up the hill left us sweating pretty good. We made it to the Titanic and it was hopping. Sonnie and Tommy were there and that seemed to have people kicked in gear (or maybe they were just kicked in gear anyway). Regardless, people were sending and sending fast. It was impressive.

 Then we headed to the new area, the Doomsday Wall, where people were flying up routes as well. I was psyched. We had gotten off to a great start. The North Forty was busy, but not as packed as I had figured it would be. The 40+ new routes that had been put up since last year’s event (thanks to all who had a part) had seemed to thin out the crowds a bit, which from what I was hearing, was helping a little in creating some big route totals already. I ran into friends, familiar faces, and new faces alike during that first trip down the Forty. This is my favorite part of 24HHH. Watching the competitors in their element. Talking to them, seeing how they are doing, getting beta, and encouraging. I love it.

 The humidity continued and it warmed up, creating some tough conditions. Our logistics crew was constantly refilling the water jugs, and from what I hear the bananas at the Backwoods and Eden Guides aid stations were flying off the tables. The conditions flat out sucked, and I was watching some spots of rain on the radar that might, or might not, fly right over Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in the coming hours.

 Then the rain came down. It thundered. And there was lightening. I was bummed and thankful at the same time. Thankful we had escaped this for 6 years prior. Bummed that there were waterfalls flowing down routes. The thunder and lightening didn’t last long but the rain came for quite sometime. We announced over the radios that the 5 pm hour would be a wash, and if climbers didn’t get their 1 climb in during that hour they would still be eligible for the 24 Hour bonus points, and horseshoe, and trucker hat. Then we announced the 6 pm hour was included as well.

I had been back down at the trading post when the rains came. I was in an interesting position. I WANTED everyone to keep climbing. I’ve climbed in the rain at HCR, I know it can be done in a safe manner. The sandstone retains a degree of grit even when wet. But I didn’t want to be the one to condone the action and then an injury occur in the wake. So I decided to head back up to the busiest areas and talk to people. It was still raining when I headed up the hill. It was messy and wonderful. I love rain. I love to run in the rain, climb in the rain, ride my bike in the rain. When I arrived to the North Forty people were climbing, although not everyone. So I did my best to encourage people without outright saying “get to climbing you pansies!!”.

As time went on, I noticed that slowly people were starting to move back onto the rock. I think it was a motivation factor. If I’m sitting under a ledge waiting out the rain and I see groups out climbing in it, I’m much more inclined to get out in it as well. Massive thanks to the people who kept climbing through the worst part of the rain, and thus “encouraging” everyone else to get back out and endure. It was an impressive sight to see. 24HHH was back on. People were gaining psyche, and the energy was back. Rain was continuing to fall in spurt’s, and a fog was rolling into the canyon that would stay thick all into the night.


Rumors are always a part of the action during the day and night. Who’s winning? Who fell? Some guy decked and busted his head? Some dude already has 100 routes? It’s always been this way. Until this year. I contribute it to more serious competitors focused on their own climbing, scores, route tallies. Whatever it was, I encountered no one who was interested in Tommy or Sonnie’s scores, they were only concerned with climbing hard and fast and attaining their goal. It was fantastic…

 The night wore on. The fog socked in. The roar of climbers was heard every hour on the hour. Cold brew coffee was still flowing at the north forty. I was starting to tire, and headed back to the cabin to sit for a few minutes. It was surreal to sit on the cabin porch in the fog. To see headlamps barely piercing through the fog from across the canyon, at 4 am. To hear the primal screams on the top of each hour. To know that suffering, albeit willful, is going on out in the darkness just beyond your sight.
I laid down for 30 minutes trying to catch some sleep. But as exhausted as I was, I just couldn’t drift off. I got back up and did some preparing for the morning to come, paperwork, logistics, writing down thoughts on what needed to get done. Then daylight started to slowly break through the fog. It was morning. We had made it through the 4-6 am period that I like to call the “danger zone”. During this time most people hit a wall. And not a wall like you experience in a marathon where you can’t keep running. The 24HHH wall is much bigger, a towering concrete barrier that keeps you from functioning at all. You can’t think, you can’t climb, some even have a hard time talking. It’s brutal. And during this time is when mistakes are most likely to happen. Our volunteers are instructed to stay vigilant during this time, to talk to climbers, to help them double check each other’s systems...  And now light had come to the ranch, and energy was renewed. It’s an unexplainable phenomena that happens. You’re struggling on 5.7’s and then daylight breaks and you are sending 5.10’s with ease. You feel like you just started climbing that morning, nevermind the fact you’ve been sending straight for 21 hours. It’s another favorite time for me, to see people drilling it after so long. Amazing…
10 am. Scorecards are being turned in. People are smiling again, having fellowship. Celebratory beers are cracked open. People are sharing their stories with fellow competitors. The rain has held off, and it’s a cool morning with the fog slowly lifting. Sonnie’s wife Lydia leads many through a recovery yoga session in the barn. I’m delirious, drinking coffee, and happy to see all my competitor friends back at the Trading Post safe, having conquered another year of HELL.

I’m not sure what happened between the 10 am check in and the awards ceremony at 5 pm. I was awake, but do not recall any of the preparations for it. All I remember is that I had a blast at the awards ceremony. Buddha Rugs set the bar high and provided winner’s trophies that will be used every year to recognize top performers. Women raced for Patagonia jackets. Best haircuts, most routes climbed, best team name, most trad routes climbed, and many more were recognized with swag from BD, Petzl, Osprey, Sportiva, Sanuk, Sterling Rope, Mountain Khakis, Smith Optics, and other fantastic 24HHH sponsors. People ate pasta, drank beer, relaxed in great weather, and smiles were again seen on all faces. Later we headed to the barn loft to watch a slideshow with Jer Collins and Tommy Caldwell, then a competitor-only dyno comp (winners taking home some sweet So Ill gear), followed up by the best afterparty 24HHH has ever seen.

 This is where I thank everyone who made 24HHH the event what it was in 2012. My volunteer coordinator Daniel Demoss, logistics director Nate Borchert, scoring team led by Kendell and Charlie, assistant volunteer coordinator Ben Haan, entire volunteer team, and people who volunteered onsight (without even wanting any of the swag that came with it).  Jason and Rob, medical team directors.  YOU all made things easy on me this year, and you did a fantastic job. I can only hope you ALL want to come back next year. Barry and Amy at the ranch, without you we don’t have a 24HHH. Jeremy Collins for many many things. Lucas Marshall with his untiring work on shooting the best photos anyone could for the event. Dick Dower with scoring software.  Cole Fennel, New Route Insert. Patagonia, who each year ups their commitment and also sends great climbing ambassadors to represent at 24HHH.  Each and every sponsor who stretched their budget for me, to fill competitor swag bags, and put forth the amount of swag that is synonymous with a 24HHH event. Videographers!!! Every person who helped me behind the scenes with the little things and big things, there are hundreds of you. It’s amazing how many people are willing to step up to help with anything they can regardless of what reward they will get from it. I’ve never been a part of anything in my life where there are so many people willing to help with anything you ask of them. THAT is just one more thing that makes 24HHH the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell 2011

I’ve seen 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell grow exponentially each and every year since it’s beginning of 120 climbers in 2006. It’s been a pretty exhilarating endeavor watching the fun multiply each and every year. In 2010 we had around 550 bodies packed onto Horseshoe Canyon Ranch. Little did I know we’d be pushing over 800 people in 2011…
As it does each and every year, the threat of rain infused the minds of everyone as we entered the week of the event. Thursday morning the skies opened up on a dry landscape and dumped multiple inches of rain, even making us push back packet pickup an hour. But the precipitation did finally stop, the breeze started drying things out, and the forecast for Fri and Sat looked SPLITTER! Sponsor banners and tents were up and climbers started arriving to pick up their swag bags, receive the customary haircuts (mullets, mohawks, custom cuts, etc), and get amped for the weekend to come.
After a pretty chill Thursday evening, Friday awoke to cool temps and sunny skies. We finished up the lingering climber packet pickups and prepared for the climber meeting and climber’s creed. As the 10 am shotgun blasted a capacity filled 250 climbers, many decked in ridiculous costumes, galloped across the fields attempting to beat their fellow competitors to the valued crags.
If you’ve ever competed at 24HHH, you know that strategy is very important. But you also know that luck is just as important. Oddly enough this year many of the competitors decided to stay away from the north forty during the day which made it easy to find open routes. The east side, on the other hand, was busy all day long. However, as the sun went down it seemed that every climber on the ranch made their way to the north forty.
The North Forty crag was to be a veritable mass of people, music, and energy. Each and every year “TNF” gains more and more lore as the place to be. This year was no different, and was taken to a whole new level. Patagonia, Petzl and Backwoods had taken their tents up; Bearded Brothers energy bars was there, Elemental Coffee was pouring cold brew, Black Diamond demo lanterns had it looking like Christmas, Evolv chalk bags filled with free shoe cards were strategically hidden, Klean Kanteen stainless steel bottles/pint glasses were everywhere. As one tweet stated, “the north forty resembles Times Square, only the haircuts are more strange @twofourhell”. The 10 pm climber check in was in full effect, and TNF was a mad house of climbers in a hurry to turn in their first half scorecards in return for clean, blank new ones.
As the night wore on, the rumors began to fly. Who already has 100 routes? Team Petzl is trying to break Alex Honnold and Matt Segal’s team record from 2010, has anyone seen them? Who just sent Paying the Rent? How many people have done Cradle of the Deep?
The time period of 4-6 am is the low point for most climbers. It’s a wall. It’s a complete loss of psyche, a struggle to stay awake even while moving, and a time of cramps and many times sickness. By this point, a climber has been vertical for over 18 hours and the body is rejecting everything but closed eyelids. Even the screams that echo off the canyon walls every hour on the hour become weaker and less pronounced. Volunteers are faced with the daunting task of keeping climbers safe, carrying conversations, and reminding them to double and triple check their systems. This is what many call the danger zone. Make it through this period, and when that sun starts to brighten the sky in the east you can bet on an unexplained shot of energy that carries your weary body unknowingly into monster mode again. The last 3 hours of 24HHH is filled with big sends of hard routes, physically unexplainable to all of us.
This year’s new format brought the end of the climbing to Saturday morning at 10 am. As climbers turned in their scorecards, the celebratory beers were cracked by many while others chose instead to retreat to their beds for a long nap before the evening festivities began. Some even chose a cool down yoga class that was offered. It was a nice pause, a recharge of sorts. Everyone was content. All was good.
By 4 pm a large crowd had gathered in the barn for the awards ceremony. Boxes upon boxes of sponsor swag was delivered, and it was time to recognize. Love was shown to those who had just conquered the hardest rock climbing competition in the world. Suffice it to say, everyone who completes 24HHH has won. It’s a test of true guts ; proof of ones desire to push past points of complete fatigue and desperation. To risk it all for a horseshoe.
The night was not over. Pasta dinner. Tallgrass beer. So Ill slideshow. Lucas Marshall slideshow hosted by Jer Collins. Patagonia arm wrestling tourney. Dancing. Music. Afterparty.
Sunday morning awoke to another beautiful day on the ranch. Sore bodies filed into the lodge for one last gathering, a pancake breakfast put on by Horseshoe Canyon Ranch. As climbers lingered, unwilling to get in their cars to drive home, I sat in front of the trading post. It had been another great year of new friends, old friends, and good times.
2011 brought the sustainability initiative to 24HHH. I count it a glowing success. Climbers and spectators were provided the means for sustainability from companies like Patagonia, Klean Kanteen, MSR, Packtowl, Sterling Rope, Nuun and Tallgrass Brewing Company. We are still putting together numbers for the amount of waste saved over the weekend, but I’m very encouraged by the amount of effort put forth by all to live this agenda not only at 24HHH but in our daily lives as well.
24HHH has become so much more than a rock climbing competition. Long lasting friendships have been forged. Passion for this sport has been renewed and rekindled. I could never even begin to thank all the people who make this event possible. My contribution is a mere penny of a dollar’s worth. The behind the scenes work of our sponsors, volunteers, and countless other avenues of workers make 24HHH what it has become. I’m pretty psyched to say that I count you all as my friends, and look forward to the many years to come at 24HHH.
For more images and information on 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell, visit our website at or like us at Many thanks to Lucas Marshall who has been our official photographer since day one in 2006. His iconic images have completely captured the spirit of this event.