Starting to plan your next climbing trip? If you’re thinking of Hueco Tanks for this winter season, you need to be ready to rock. Hueco Tanks is the birthplace of modern bouldering. For our next travel interview we asked Krystal Chin, pebble wrestler and returning Hueco visitor, to provide us with the low-down on this special place.
Hueco Tanks Overview
Hueco Tanks is a huge volcanic outcrop located in a high-altitude desert outside El Paso, TX. Hueco Tanks has also served as an important site for paleo-indians and early inhabitants, housing one of the highest density of pictographs from as early as 6000 BC. In earlier times, they came for the rainwater pooled in natural rock basins, or huecos (“whey-coes”). With its unique rock features, it has some of the most historic and iconic boulder problems in the world. Hueco Tanks plays a vital role and is often regarded as the birthplace of modern bouldering; it is the birthplace of V-grade system by John “Vermin” Sherman and it houses some of the most enduring test-pieces in bouldering.
As the number of travelers and visitors grow, restrictions and rules were placed to limit potential damage to such a fragile environment. Despite these restrictions, Hueco Tanks remains a world-class destination and hundreds of climbers from all over the world make the pilgrimage to pit themselves against the perfect reddish, brown rock of Hueco Tanks.
PC: What makes Hueco your Christmas tradition?
KC: We took our first trip together down to Hueco in 2011. Our families both live in very cold places and we’ve grown soft with age. So like most Canadian snowbirds, we travel south where we spend our “winter” in the sunny desert.
PC: Fly or drive?
KC: We mostly fly now, so some might not consider it a “real” road trip. Nevertheless Hueco is amazing, it has been our Christmas tradition for more than six years now but it never gets old. I can climb all the warmups in the Small Potatoes boulder indefinitely.
PC: Can you share your favourite problems with us?
KC: Nobody Here Gets Out Alive (V2) - it is the BEST and has some of the funnest holds and moves in the world. I have probably climbed it 500 times and will climb it 500 more times. This boulder is one of many reasons why Hueco Tanks is the best.
Mexican Chicken (V6) - it’s right across from Nobody Here Gets Out Alive, and has one of the most epic topouts after a series of fun roof climbing with flat landing. It is the low start to the classic 100 Proof Roof (V3) so you hit two awesome birds with one burn. It is a sun spot but the holds stay in the shade. It really doesn’t get better than that.
See Spot Run (V6) - A series of perfect crimps on an overhanging highball (low crux). Also this was my first V6 and no one is ever going downgrade it.
Adjust Your Attitude (V8) - I’ve learnt to love this problem over the years and it got closed before I could send it. The Climber of Hueco Tanks Coalition is working on trying to reopen this boulder, but in the meantime this funky roof is really the one that got away. I still go back to stare at it from time to time to run the beta through my head.
Moonshine Roof (V4) - this is debatably the most aesthetic roof problem. God must be a rock climber.
PC: Inspire us with a typical bouldering day at Hueco.
KC: A typical day starts off with a chorizo burrito made with fresh tortillas and salsa straight from the one and only Vista. El Paso used to have an Old School Rap radio station where I would blast Eminem/Biggie all morning (mantra music) while making more burritos for lunch, sadly that station is no more so I settle for mariachi music. Then we climb, eat more burritos, send something so we can get doughnuts, then head to El Pasito (now El Durangito) for some barbacoa burritos and a Mexican Coca Cola. Then we go next door to the Vista to get said send doughnuts and more freshly made tortillas for more burritos...but they are so fresh and delicious they barely make it back to the hotel so now we buy two packs. Did I mention burritos?
PC: What about Christmas Day?
KC: On Christmas Day we climb and watch Jurassic Park. For some reason it’s been on TV on Christmas Day for the last three years.
PC: Have you set any goals for your next trip (assuming you’ll be a returning climber)?
KC: Mark’s (my husband) goal is a secret, but it’s not really a secret because we all know what he’s up to, but let’s keep things suspenseful…
As for me, I have a life goal of sending a V10 since I started climbing - so I’m going to slowly chip away at that and have fun along the way (and earn some send doughnuts). As for boulder problems, I always have a rotating hit list but I like keeping an open mind. There are just so much out there!
Sibyl (our daughter) just got her first climbing shoes so she might even dabble a bit this year!
PC: What’s your favourite food spot in El Paso?
KC: El Cometa. Best. Flautas. Ever.
PC: What to do on your rest day?
KC: I think everyone needs to see the Carlsbad Cavern in New Mexico. I am a geomorphology nerd so I’ve been three times. Still, if the subject of what to do on a rest day come up, I will shout “CARLSBAD CAVERN”.
Locally I think the Mission Trail is worth visiting - it really is fantastic. If you have an iphone there is even an app for a self-guided tour!
PC: What’s on your packing list?
KC: The essentials are...
- Flashed Drifter Crash Pads
- Flashed Top Out Boulder bucket with lots of pockets
- An arsenal array of brushes
- Pullboard Travel
- Climb Skin
- Down skirt (you make fun of me now, but you’re going to be so jealous of how warm I’m going to be)
- Mittens and handwarmers
- Insulated packable blanket (like the Kelty Bestie Blanket) for staying warm while heckling
- Good approach shoes for the backcountry
- Krazy glue, climbing tape, nail clips, warm clothes, hiking shoes, climbing shoes
PC: And, if you do forget, is there a good place for supplies or gear?
KC: Oof, that’s a hard one because there isn’t much. There is a small climbing shop on the way to the park but best to come prepared. Thus a bouldering bucket with lots of pockets!
Hueco Rules - What you should know
When to go - For climbers, November through March is an ideal time to go. The temperatures are cooler which make for the best sending temps! We’ve pulled the historical weather from the National Weather Service from November through to March for El Paso to give you an idea of what to expect for daytime highs and evening lows. Temperatures will be ~5-degrees cooler in the state park with the difference in elevation. It’s always the trade-off - slightly cooler weather makes for better bouldering.
Park hours: The park is open daily. October to April: 8 a.m. – 6 p.m
Park fees: Entrance Fees Adult - $7 Daily; Child 12 Years and Under - Free
Getting there: Hueco Tanks is 30-45 minutes east of El Paso, which is on the west border of Texas, New Mexico and Mexico. There is an international airport in El Paso (ELP) for those that are flying in.
Where to stay: Hueco Tanks is mainly a day-use park. However, there are 20 campsites. For state park camping information, visit this link. There are many hotel, motel and AirBnb options in El Paso. Staying on the edge of town closest to the park will be about a 30-minute drive to the park.
Closures: To protect resources, the state park has closures on North Mountain, East Mountain, East Spur and West Mountain. North Mountain is the only area you can go self-guided.
Reservations: Understanding the reservation system is key. Each day there are 70 spots available for reservation to access the North Mountain each day (60 reserved permits, 10 walk-in permits). This requires planning 90-days before your trip so like many good things in life, be ready to jump on the phones to book.
Pets: Pets are allowed in the park but only in designated areas such as paved trails or picnic area trails. Which pretty much limits you to any exploring so don’t bring the pup unless you want to look for doggie daycares in the area.
About Krystal Chin
Krystal really, really loves pebble wrestling. She first got bitten by the bouldering bug in Squamish back in 2008, and has not recovered since. She lives in Squamish, B.C. with her dream team: husband and powerhouse Mark Fraser, and the newest addition and slabmaster, Sibyl (24 pounds of little human). Krystal works full-time as a hydrologist, but with the forest being seven minutes from her house and zero approach to endless boulders, the work-life balance is pretty good.