Spring break trip with a purpose: Horseshoe Canyon Ranch

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Isabelle Tavares

First came the chilling temperatures that settled into the rock. Then came the climbers, willing to return to the rock formations that have been gripped by hundreds of NMU climbers before. Just shy of 1,000 miles and 16 hours from Marquette, Horseshoe Canyon Ranch (HCR) is nestled in northern Arkansas and is home to multiple NMU spring break trips. Organized by the South Superior Climbing Club each year, 22 climbers, seasoned and fresh, spent their break camping, climbing and dirtbagging.

Patrick Humphries – junior environmental studies major

Why Horseshoe Canyon Ranch?
We decided to brave the cold and maintain tradition. It’s such a good climbing spot — you camp right in the middle of the climbs and in a 10 minute walk you’re at a climb. There’s stuff for people who haven’t ever climbed before and people who had been climbing for years.

What were the rock formations like?
There were huge overhanging walls, trad and sport routes, and you can set up a top-rope on any of that stuff. The cold and porousness of the sandstone rock made it easy for people to grip the rock. It was really cool to see people who had never climbed outside before, climbing way outside of their range.

Who is one person that exemplified this?
Tatem Scheibler had climbed once outside before the trip and ended up leading a 5.10 route. It was insane. There’s a right and wrong way to climb a route when you’re inside because all the holds are colored and taped. When you’re outside, you can grab anything that’s there. If you made it to the top you sent the route. It’s a little more of a forgiving experience.

What was one climb you’re really proud of?
I onsighted Cinterion on the Roman Wall, which is a 5.10 a. I had a lot of adrenaline and stoke going after the climb. There was a lot of sloper holds, which is my greatest weakness. It was a 15 minute hike into the canyon, through a field of horses and a lot of sustained uphill hiking. I was burning up by the time we got to the hike and climbed in just my base layer.

What was a typical day like?
We would wake up freezing, make a fire to warm up to and cook breakfast on and plan where everyone was going to climb for the day. While you were waiting to climb you’d be swinging your arms trying to get the blood flow to stay warm. When it was your turn to go you’d hurry up and change into you shoes, climb up to the top and lower back down. You’d immediately jump back into your socks, shoes and jacket. Rinse and repeat. Everyone would be back at camp around the same time for dinner. We played “‘Wonderwall”’ on the guitar and discussed out pits and peaks of the day.

Do you anticipate returning to HCR next year?
It’s my first time at HCR and my first year with the club, although I feel pretty at home now. I’ve been thinking about going somewhere else, but the benefit of HCR is there’s literally something for every level to climb. We had super seasoned climbers with full trad gear and had people who just bought chalk bag and shoes a week before. Every single person got to climb their heart out, and other places that might not have been possible. The location of the trip is a group decision, but we have been going to HCR for many years now.

Group dynamic?
Everyone would hang around the fire every night, and the only time people grouped off was when they went to a different wall. We’d meet for lunch and no one stuck to the same group. I heard that smaller groups broke off in the past, but this time we had 22 people at one wall for a day. We were one big happy family.

Funniest story
Me and my friend climbed to the first and second anchor station on a multi-pitch climb, no problem. It started to get really cold so we tried to hydrate. We’re 100 feet in the air, and my friend is starting to rush because he has to pee really bad. As soon as he gets to the anchor station he turns around and says ‘dude i’m sorry I can’t wait’, and pees down the side of the rock. Unfortunately it got on my rope and we had to rappel down the rope.

Goals for the club
To be more inclusive, get more people involved and bridge the connection between the Marquette Housing Cooperative, Hangdog Climbing and the SSCC. Some people enjoy the way the club is set up now where nothing is official, just a big group of friends that go out to climb together. The goal is to be a more legitimate club and secure more things through NMU, like the Reel Rock film festival and bringing climbers like Lyn Hill.

Tatem Scheibler – junior outdoor recreation and management major

Why did you decide to go on the trip?
It was a last minute decision, I really wanted to go but wasn’t planning on it. I went to Ice Fest which was where everyone convinced me to go. Plus, I’ve wanted to get into [rock climbing] more and this was the perfect opportunity.

How did it feel to climb outside again?
Being in climbing gyms for the past couple months, it was really nice to get out and climb outside. The setting is a lot less controlled. The conditions outside can change at all times. The first few days were really cold. I felt nervous the first time I lead climbed — after clipping into the first bolt about ten feet up, I had pretty bad elvis leg. But it also felt really good to get to the top.

Did you have any mantras you told yourself?
It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun. I took an ice-climbing class earlier this year and that’s what they told us on the first day. If it’s super hard you look at it a few days later and think, oh, that was actually pretty cool, I’m glad that kind of sucked a little.

What was the group atmosphere like?
I drove down with a few friends, but met everyone there for the most part. It was really cool to meet a bunch of new people who are really motivating and cheer you on when you climb. The group was so positive and energetic, it was great.

What was a high and low of the trip?
My high was completing a 5.10 a. For the low, I sprained my ankle on a 7 foot lead fall, about 7 feet. I still climbed on it, which probably wasn’t the best thing but I wanted to finish the trip. There wasn’t really any lows besides getting stuck in Cuba, Missouri for 24 hours when our car broke down. The name of the town was ironic because it was so cold.

What was the biggest takeaway?
The trip motivated me to get better and climb more often. I’m going to throw myself into it, more than I ever have before. This summer I have an internship in Auckland, New Zealand where I’ll be co-guiding rock climbing trips.