Travel – Checking out Horse Pens 40, Alabama

My son Elijah working a fun problem near the lookout.

My son Elijah working a fun problem near the lookout.

A couple of weeks ago I headed south to visit Family in New Orleans and Alabama.  I’ve been hearing about the quality of southeast bouldering for a while now, so I was pretty excited to check it out.  As this was mainly a family trip, and not a climbing trip, I was hoping to get out twice if possible, and make the best of what time I could get.

My first opportunity was a late night session at Horse Pens 40.  I showed up after dark, without a guidebook, and no one to climb with.  Not the ideal way to explore a new area, but if I wanted to get two days in, this was my chance.  I checked in at the HP 40 general store, rented a pad, and headed out to see what I could find.  I’d seen quite a few pictures of the area over the years and took a brief look at the guidebook at the store, so I thought I’d just look around and get on stuff that looked fun , but safe and doable.  I also asked the owner’s son to come out and check on me every 20-30 minutes to see that I wasn’t dead…

I had a headlamp and a lantern and set out exploring. As I left the store, I walked across a nice green lawn, past a stage, and down some steps and into a narrow gap.  The sandstone walls reared up around me and I couldn’t help but think how incredible this would look in the daytime, but also how easy it could be to get turned around or lost in the maze of boulders.  Everywhere I looked were incredible sculpted sandstone blocs.  As it happened one of the first boulders I ran into was the Millipede and Bumboy boulder.  I dropped the pad, and started warming up on Bumboy.

My wife trying a stout v2. Millipede is just behind her in the sun.

My wife trying a stout v2. Millipede is just behind her in the sun.

I have to admit, I got spanked at first.  Bumboy is a v3, which should be a warmup for me and a grade I can’t even remember falling off of for well over a decade, but I was spit off over and over.  After about 5-6 failures, I decided to try my luck on Millipede.  It felt pretty well impossible for the first 3-4 goes.  I sat down and wondered what the heck was going on.  I normally have pretty good technique and have never really had any weaknesses, but these were completely shutting me down.

I rested and meditated for a bit and got back on.  This time I quit pulling and instead just held on.  I quickly walked up Millipede, and then went back and ran up Bumboy next go.  I realized two things: 1) I was used to crimping and to climb on these slopers, you don’t hold on with your fingertips, you hold on with your whole hand. 2)  You don’t pull on these holds, you hang on, and propel with you feet and body.  From that moment the rest of the night went much better.  I ended up climbing about 25-26 problems that night including many classics such as Slider, Mullitino, the Beach, Popeye, Boomslang, and more.

A couple of days later I headed back to Horse Pens with my wife, son, father in law and brother in law.  This time it was daytime, and it was truly incredible to see it in the light.  We warmed up in the area near Millipede and just climbed everything that looked interesting.  We still had no guidebook, so we just wandered around trying stuff that looked fun and had cool features.

 After the Millipede area, we hit the roadside area, then up to the area by the lookout, then back to the areas right next to the General store(Ten Pins, etc…).  Everyone climbed and everyone had a good time. The features and friction and aesthetics of the area were fantastic, and it would be hard to not enjoy the area. I tried almost everything I could find and ended up climbing about 30 more problems in total, doing quite a few stellar lines along the way.  In the end I was just wandering around without a pad or spotter just climbing lines that looked fun.  I’ve no idea how hard most of them were, and it didn’t matter.  They were fun, and I was out climbing in the sun…..

I’d love to come back later in the fall when the leaves are changing colors and it’s a bit cooler (it was in the 70’s while we were there).  I can only imagine the friction gets even better, and I would love to climb in the area when there are more people about.  I know there are a ton of small areas scattered around the south, and from what I’ve read/seen/heard, It seems like an area every climber should check out and spend some time.

Topping out on Hammerhead-v5

Topping out on Hammerhead-v5

Some DWS near my In-laws place.

Some DWS near my In-laws place.