Just before Christmas, Jessica and I went on a winter climbing holiday. Our intended destination was to be the Tennessee Wall, near Chattanooga, Tennessee. Jessica had a pair of round trip tickets to anywhere in the lower 48, and I had read several articles in Climbing magazine that sounded very encouraging; warm weather and exciting trad routes. Upon arriving, we found the weather TERRIBLE; a storm was blowing across the midwest, hitting everything from Minnesota to Atlanta with snow, high winds, rain, sleet, freezing rain, plagues of locusts, etc, etc. We debated whether to sit around Tennessee and wait out the weather, or to take our rental car (unlimited miles!), and go in search of sunshine. The next morning we were on the road, headed west and south.
The next morning at 4 am found us at Enchanted Rock state park, about 100 miles west of Austin TX. We found a secondary road with a pull-off that looked promising, and settled in for some shut-eye. Two hours later, a rancher who looked strangly like the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket was tapping on our window, wondering who we were, and what we were doing on his property. We explained that we were looking for the state park, and he silently directed us off his land. The nice lady at the park visitor center extracted an $8 entry fee from us, and explained that the very next day the park was going to be closed for two weeks for a state-sponsered hunt. She also provided us with a handout on rockclimbing in the park. Rock and Road calls Enchanted Rock the best rock climbing in Central Texas. We never figured out exactly what it was we were on, but we did several nice one-pitch crack climbs in the 5.8 or 5.9 or so range. The place was beautiful, amid the Texas Hill country, the weather warm, and the granite clean and grainy. There is a cave there that we wanted to explore, but we ran out of time, and, fearing rednecks with guns, we set out that evening, heading west and south.
Spent the night at a rest area somewhere in Texas. Hueco or Big Bend? Didnt know what access was like at Hueco, so we decided to try Big bend. A few short hours later we were helping the rangers at the Big Bend welcome center with a jigsaw puzzle.
Big Bend is vast and Beautiful, encompassing the Chisos Mountains, and the Rio Grande. It seems to have a potential for a lifetime of exploration. Not exactly a climbing destination; much of the rock is dangerously loose, and the place is largely undeveloped. There seems to be a large potential for new routes, if you dont mind day long bushwacks through the high desert and rotten rock... We got a climbing guide from the park service, written by an ex ranger. The guide was small but helpfull. It warns that the ratings given should be taken with a grain of salt as many of the climbs have seen very few ascents. We camped in the backcountry (free free free!). The weather was generally warm, though cold at night, and breezy. There are showers and laundry available in the park. The first night we explored the hot springs along the Rio Grande. We had the pool to ourselves, and sat under a million stars and soaked in the hot water.
The next day, we did two routes listed as 5.8 in the GrapeVine hills. They were both single pitch, with decent walkoffs. The protection was fair, and the rock quality mostly ok... near the top of one route, I pulled off a couple of bowling ball sized boulders! Later, we went top roping near the lodge in the Chisos Basin. Clean rock, half a dozen little routes from 5.5 to 5.10
We hiked up the Lost Mine trail, a steep 4 mile hike, to the Lost Mine spire. Despite a high wind (40mph?), we did Dutch Boy, a 5.9 finger crack to overhanging hand crack to 7" offwidth. The final 30' of the climb is nothing but offwidth, and having no gear that even comes close to 7", I had to hang out for a while at the overhang before jamming my thigh into the crack and committing. Ran it out on a good red camalot placed under the last overhang, grovelled and swore, resolved to buy at least one piece of offwidth pro, made it to the anchors intact. The rock quality was mostly good, with loose places; a hold broke when Jessica seconded, causing her only fall. There were several other promising lines on the pinnacle, not listed in our guide, but we had had enough adventure for the day.
We visited the Santa Elena canyon, where the Rio Grande has cut through thousands of feet of limestone. It forms a beautiful echoe chamber, and there are fossils to look at, but the rock is WAY to loose for climbing. The mexican side looked a little better...
Saw what we were about 90% sure was a mountain lion cub that night, as well as a great snowy owl. Headed out the next day. Visited our ranger friends at the welcome center, worked on their jigsaw some more. Did the drive back to Chattanooga in one long 23 hour push, except for one stop for tacos in Odessa ("the city of contrasts"). The weather had improved in Tennessee, and we had time to do one pitch at the T Wall. The approach hike took care of the stiffness from sitting in the car, and was a nice little aerobic workout. Easily found "Art" 5.8, and was soon glad I hadnt attempted anything harder. As overhung as the gunks, but clean sandstone with parallel sided cracks demanding crack technique. And the protection, while certainly there, was bold. We were soon at the anchors though, and enjoying the view of the Tennessee River. Then it was a quick drive into town to finish Christmas shopping, then to the airport and back to the frozen northen wastes of Maine.
Edited by webmaster on 2/1/01 10:14 AM.