24 Horseshoe Hell – Competition Report – Cody Goodwin
If you’re going to Hell, best bring a guide. This year, I was that guide.
I realize that it is best that I try to recount this past weekend’s events as soon as possible, before they were replaced with hyperbolic facsimiles of actual accounts. I think one of the most common phrases I said to Jim as we were training for Horseshoe Hell was, “…at least that’s how I remember it from last year.” Whether these were rose-colored recollections or not, we’ll never know.
It is safe to say that 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell is a one-of-a-kind event. The people, the vibe, the event, the area, everything, makes this one of my favorite events of all time. To summarize the concept, two person teams endeavor to climb pitch-after-pitch of bolted sandstone routes for 24 hours straight. Lead a route, pull the rope, lead again, and repeat. Pretty simple concept. Routes are graded on difficultly, and each competitor can send each route twice.
Early this year, after losing my former partner, Nathan O’Brien, to residency, I convinced Jim Giordano, local strongman and endurance hero, to take a little trip to Hell with me. Honestly, it took little convincing, as this type of event is right in his wheelhouse. We set the modest goal of capturing 100 pitches each over the 24 hour period, which is a little over 4 pitches per hour, per person. For the past few months we dedicated countless hours and sent thousands of pitches to train for this event.
I think it is important to outline training to put things into perspective. Last year, I took the high volume approach, training roughly five days a week. I find this unnecessary, counterproductive, and to produce significantly diminishing returns. This year, Jim and I spent 4 hours each Tuesday trying to reach an often predetermined goal, and 3 hours on Thursday leading overhung gym routes. If we could, we’d get out during the weekend, which happened twice….twice. So, with the exception of one epic day out at Foster Falls where Jim hung 46 pitches and I managed 40, we climbed real rock twice. Of those two times, it down-poured on us once and the second time was great training for Hell, since I got both carsick and stung by a wasp by the third pitch.
With this training done, we set out for Arkansas the Thursday before the event, scouted the crag, which stirred fond memories, and set into Jasper to grab some grub on the local food monopoly.
Also competing this year were Josh Johann, John Hardin Gary Owen, and Blake Salmony. Fortunately, I also roped in Mary Ellen and Beverly as support, with the lovable Tripp for comic relief. Their presence made the event even more enjoyable, and I feel we represented Tennessee well.
Each year, the event starts with a climber’s oath and a shotgun start. I can’t do this justice, so please watch here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gSw92TZvuk. We bolted up to the Land Beyond, an area ripe with 5.10s to put quick points on the board. Jim and I were cruising at a nice, sustainable pace, knocking out line after line. At 4:30PM, about six and a half hours into the competition, the bottom dropped out of the blackened clouds, and a deluge ensued. I was about half-way up a 5.9 when lightening started cracking, and we made the game-time decision to hang out under a rock outcropping for a bit to let the storm blow over. At this point, we had 52 pitches done, well on our way, but now face with the undeniable fact that this would change our strategy significantly. This pace of 8 pitches per hour was cut drastically with the onset of rain and the loss of light. We were able to start again around 5:20, and by 10PM, we checked in for the half-way mark at 68 pitches. During this period we were revitalized by some greasy grub that Mary Ellen and Beverly brought us, sketched by sloppy 5.7 stemming, and relieved that we were able to get underway toward the goal at hand. The next few hours led to a number of dicey calls as darkness fell. I considered it a good idea to get on a trad line that I thought had anchors. With two slings on chicken-head holds, the last of which being about 20 feet below, I realized this route, in fact, did not have anchors. This led to a down-climb and traverse to the adjacent line, whose anchors I lower off. Jim decided it looked so fun, he’d try as well. One bout of miscommunication led to Jim taking a 20 foot drop from the anchors, as I was feeding rope as he was letting go from the top. This emphasizes the dangerous nature of complacency. The rain, dirt, and rugged wear on the rope led to significant swelling, and by midnight, we were having significant trouble feeding slack. Luckily, Mary Ellen and Beverly came to the rescue with a fresh line, which lasted at least another couple hours before becoming trashed.
The night at this point begins to blend into an amalgamation of fortunate decisions and beautiful sandstone climbs, with a cyclic flow of excitement for a fresh pitch, and relief in removing binding shoes from sore feet. We found ourselves picking up our final pitch at 6AM, on a route made even more stunning by the fact it was capstone of our progress. At this point, we kicked it into an even lower gear, and cruised some classic routes for the area. We finished our journey on Season of the Storm, a 5.10a with incredible movement. We turned in our scorecard with 107 pitches lead, went to Jasper Café (again), and caught some much needed shut-eye.
The event ends with a pasta dinner, award ceremony, a slideshow from the ever inspiring Jeremy Collins and Tommy Caldwell, and a ridiculous after party with some of the best/worst dancing you’ll ever see. John Hardin, who was apprehensive coming into the event, crushed the recreational division (5.9- and below) and secured third place overall. Jim and I managed to win overall team high points for intermediate (5.10d and below) and tied each other for first as individual intermediate overall. Our average route climbed was a 5.9-. This was followed by chaotic dancing with some of my favorite people.
When we turned in for the night, I felt a great sense of accomplishment, warmth and peace. It is a bitter-sweet moment, with the countless hours of training leading to a brilliant crescendo, capped with a long drive home. During the 8 hour trek back to Nashville, we had already begun to discuss next year’s strategy.
Many thanks to the many folks who put their hearts and souls into the event. The director, Andy Chasteen, is one of the kindest individuals I’ve had the pleasure of encountering, and has taken this event and molded it to the desires of the climbers, in addition to getting the best swag out there. Dick Dower also deserves a shout out, along with the many others, because without these passionate individuals, this event would not happen. So thanks, and I can’t wait until next time!
Upcoming races: The Merrell Oyster Urban Adventure Race! Then, the Fig 12 hour adventure race and the following week is the Upchuck 50k.