Overview: Hueco Tanks, Texas
Hueco (pronounced ‘whey-co’) is literally the Spanish translation for hollows, because the area is full of water-holding depressions, or what we as climbers call, huecos in the rock. Hueco Tanks is also the birthplace of the bouldering grade rating system (‘V’) and a bouldering mecca that attracts professional and recreational climbers alike.
Hueco Tanks is a desert syenite paradise for all levels of boulderers, offering four major areas to climb and explore: North Mountain (self-guided), West and East Mountain, and East Spur. The approach to the climbing areas varies: you can encounter anything from obvious flat-graveled trails to crossing swampland and hiking steep inclines. Either way, the effort is worth it.
The inspiration and excitement that Hueco’s vast amount of high quality climbing incites for its visitors can be considered on par with most people’s first experience with Bishop, California. The style of climbing and aesthetic of the routes will linger with you long after you have left, leaving you to promise yourself a return visit.
Specific description of climbing style
Most developed routes in Hueco are boulder problems; however, there are a handful of areas that offer some sport and trad climbing.
Avoid visiting Hueco too long after April, as the temps being to creep well into the 100s during the summer months. The park’s busy season is throughout the winter and holiday weekends, but the best time to go is right before the actual climbing season starts (mid November to mid April). Even on warmer days during this time you will be able to find shaded boulders to climb to avoid the heat. Also, bugs also shouldn’t be a problem. Visitors will notice plenty of large horse lubber grasshoppers in the area, but fear not, they are not a threat despite their somewhat intimidating appearance. Be aware of rattlesnakes though!
Climbing grade range
There’s something for everyone to climb at Hueco Tanks. We’re talking about a plethora of V0 to V12+ boulder problems, with all grades having at least a handful of five star routes to test and explore. You will quickly be able to write up a long ticklist of climbs to try!
Best local spot
There are plenty of cheap Mexican food restaurants, stands, duggouts, etc. of suspect legality at Hueco. If you get a guide they can direct you to their current favorite, or take the plunge and try to guess the health department code before picking any direction and heading into the next inevitable bean, cheese, and tortilla concoction establishment. In all seriousness, there is amazing authentic Mexican food and mole to be had. If you’re looking for a good brewery, stop by The Hoppy Monk located just 15 minutes from the El Paso Airport.
Top climbs in area
You’re going to find a lot of lists suggesting routes to do, but these are some highly recommended routes:
- Nobody Here Gets Out Alive (V2) – Best overhung V2. Large holds on a fully sustained roof climb to a vertical face and topout.
- Warm Up Roof (V4) – Sustained climbing on a overhung diagonal seam with a large, satisfying crux move to the vertical face.
- Dragon Fly (V5) – Amazingly, beautiful climb on a thin diagonal crimp rail to a jug on poor feet (campusing a right hand cross? YES!). Feet cut potential as you move to a vertical face, heel hook right, heal hook left, gaston and finish.
- Hobbit in a Blender (V5) – Not shoulder friendly, but after you make it through the intense first move, you are in the clear.
- Animal Acts (V5) – Grind your way along a series of heal hooks and crimps, while playing ‘floor is lava’ a foot or so from the ground. Despite its lack of vertical gain until the mild top-out, this climb is loads of fun.
- Ides of March (V6) – Positive overhung crimp face with a crux cross move to a 3/4-inch pinch. Very controlled and strong, but it is gorgeous and addicting.
- New Religion (V7) – Steep, powerful (but long) moves, on good holds. Stick the huge crux move and the top-out is a breeze.
- Belly of the Beast (V7) – Positive, hand-friendly crimps/flakes snaking their way through the belly of a cave. This fairly long route finishes by exiting the roof into a crack between two boulders.
- Better Eat Your Wheaties (V8-9) – This one is a real standout. Precise, technical, strong; it is easy to fall in love with these overhung crimps for those of us with masochistic tendencies.
Best kept secret
Every area has something to offer, so don’t worry too much about scheduling your routes. If it’s your first time, don’t be deterred about getting a guide. It is well worth your time and money. It’s hard to put a value on avoiding the lost time of finding your routes in a place you’ve never been to!
How stiff is the grading?
Since this is the birthplace of the V scale bouldering grade rating system, we take the philosophy of it being as close to the true rating system as possible. So if anything, it’s really the standards for the grade. Typically, people climb very well in Hueco for their personal best grades, but the area still reflects the imperfections of a rating system in general.
Where to stay
There are limited campsites within and outside of the park. For a more cozy stay, try the American Alpine Club’s Hueco Rock Ranch. It’s only a couple minutes away from the ranger station and parking area to the crags. For a full hotel style accommodation, you’re going to have to stay in El Paso, but if you’re on a budget there’s a bunch of creative options close to the park.
The entrance fee to the Hueco Tank State Park is $7 daily for adults.
Crash pad rental
American Alpine Club’s Hueco Rock Ranch rents crash pads for $10 to $15 a day, depending on which crash pad style you choose.
North Mountain is the only self-guided area, allowing only 70 total visitors a day. To get a permit, make reservations in advance by calling (512) 389-8911. Or, you can try your luck at getting surrendered permits early in the morning at the station.
East Spur, East and West Mountain: guided and about $20/person/day. Tours can be requested as ‘open’ or ‘private’. Open tours hold up to 10 people in a group. Guides and requests can be found on the Wagon Wheel Coopt website.
For a closer look into Hueco’s climbing, check out this footage from Red Rascal Films:
Now to you
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