Pick up any publication pertaining to the sport of rock climbing, and chances are, you will see a smattering of descriptive chronicles highlighting the travels and adventures of the prolific scribe Abbey Smith. A climber and writer for over 10 years, Abbey travels extensively, financing her jet set lifestyle though her writing, allowing her more opportunities to pursue her love of adventure. Abbey has reported on a myriad of topics. From the exclusive hobby of vintage motor racing, to sassy, healthy-savvy posts on BeThree.com, to being on the editorial staff of the independent green publication elephant journal, a quarterly magazine devoted to living the "mindful life" through conscious consumerism, sustainability, eco-fashion and non new-aged spirituality.
Abbey's energy for writing is ravenous. When she speaks of it, her article ideas roll out of mouth in constant barrage without commas, periods, or other punctuation, but when placed in front of a computer, the word stream subsides into descriptive prose reminiscent of Joanne Harris. Dead Point Magazine is privileged to have her as a contributing blogger.
People always hate on Hueco Tanks for its strict regulations that hinder your freedom to climb wherever and whenever with your friends. Yes, there are restrictions and governing bodies limiting the numbers and access to the park. But, despite what horror stories you may have heard, there’s always a way to climb. You just need to know your options. Like anywhere you gotta learn the ropes. Once you master navigating the system, the regulations are no longer a thorn in one’s side. However, at some point, expect to freak out about the rules. It could be the result of not enough coffee, or being forced to wait for over an hour to enter the front gate. Whatever you do, don’t rush the gate:
Here are a few insider tips for your next Hueco climbing vacation:
•Be prepared: If you’re able to predict your future, and plan to visit Hueco Tanks, then book your North Mountain reservations now.
•North Mountain: For the freedom to roam, North Mountain offers self-guided climbing. Each day, there are 70 reservations available. Ten passes are reserved for the campground and can be redeemed when the park opens. The other 60 passes are up for grabs. As of now, you can reserve 10 spots per day, three days in a row, with no money down, 330 days in advance by calling the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in Austin, Texas at 512.389.8900. Passes must be claimed by 10 am, otherwise the reservations will be released to people waiting. If you call HQ and they tell you North Mountain is booked, there is still a chance you can get on. Simply ask around or wait for no-shows.
Note: Don’t reserve 10 spots everyday, when you don’t have 10 friends. Reserve as many North Mountain days and spots as you can use, realistically. Also, if your plans change, then cancel your reservations. Otherwise, heeps of demoralized climbers will wait for hours at the front gate for the park to process and release the no-shows.
•Backcountry: To access East, East Spur and West Mountain, you need a certified volunteer or commercial guide. Volunteer tours are offered from Wednesday - Sunday and must be booked at least 24 hours in advance through Hueco Tanks Headquarters (cost = $1 + recommended tip). One draw back: if the tour doesn’t have a guide, then the tour won’t go out. For private, commercial tours, there are several concessions and guides to choose from, which cost up to $25/day and have space for 10 clients per tour.
•Guide Training: If you spend long amounts of time in Hueco Tanks, take the three-day guide training course to gain full access of the park. Guide training is open to 15 people max, twice a year in June and November. It’s highly competitive to get into, but the freedom is worth the hassle.
•TCP: If you expect to climb on North Mountain 12 or more days in a year, then purchase the annual Texas State Park pass for $60 (one-card membership), or split the two-card membership (same household residents) for $75.
•Peak season: In my experience, the park is busiest from Christmas thru mid-January. During this time expect to wait at the gate and take commercial or volunteer tours because North Mountain passes can be hard to find.
•Projecting: Since you’re at the mercy of the group in the backcountry, it’s best to have projects on each mountain, so there’s always something you’re psyched to climb on. Also, the right crew is everything -- pair up with people who have similar goals, styles and temperaments.
•Energy snacks: Always pack more savory and sweet snacks then you think you’ll ever need. During long days in the park, you’ll find yourself grazing to maintain energy.
•Resting: Seasonal resident Vanessa Compton recommends climbing day on day off for longevity. For rest days, bring something you love to do, like art supplies, musical instruments, knitting, hula hoops, reading material, yoga mat, etc.
•Accomodations: Hueco Rock Ranch (basic camping + lodging); Hueco Tanks park (closest camping with electrical hookups and warm showers/915.857.1135); Tlaloc Ranch (fully-stocked luxury living, directly across from North Mountain’s frontside).
•Tent Camping: Think twice about that cheap tent. The Hueco winds are fierce, so bring a burly tent and stake it down.
•Groceries: Stock up on your basics at the Montana Vista Mercado (closest market to Hueco Tanks at 14700 Montana Avenue), organic goods at Sun Harvest (6100 North Mesa Street), and get your asian ingredients from Wan Jia Le Supermarket (9501 Gateway West).
•Local grub: Pick up a tasty burrito at El Pasito, which neighbors the Montana Vista. For a meal not wrapped in a tortilla, check out the Vietnamese restaurant Pho Tre Bien (6946 Gateway Boulevard East). For a good steak, make the 45-minute drive to the world-renowned Cattleman's Steakhouse in Fabens. Best breakfast: Ensenada Restaurant (14281 Montana).
•What you can get for a buck: Three ripe avocados, 20 juicy key limes, 10 sweet oranges, volunteer bouldering tour, and a big-screen movie on Tuesdays at Starplex East Pointe Movies 12 (8300 Gateway Boulevard East). Don’t be fooled by the Dollar Stores -- everything is not a dollar.
•Water: For drinking water, there are spigots littered around the park.
•Wireless Internet: Get connected at the Hueco Tanks Headquarters, Primos Coffee Shop (1757 George Dieter Drive), El Rancho Escondido (14261 Montana Avenue) and the Hueco Rock Ranch.
•Laundry: Check out the 24-hour Lone Star Laundry (10968 Montwood Drive) for quick machines and free Internet.
•Look beyond the well-trod classics. There are hundreds of quality lines that see little traffic and are worth doing. Don’t be afraid to hike and explore.
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