A Tale of Two Boulder Problems

Bouldering at Hueco Tanks means experiencing climbing history. While it is certainly not the birthplace of bouldering, it has played a critical role in the development of the spot for a very long time, from the early hard ascents done by Bob Murray and John Sherman, to the cutting edge problems established by Fred Nicole and others. To fondle the holds on problems like Crown of Aragorn, Diapaheous Sea, Shaken Not Stirred, and Better Eat Your Wheaties is to touch a bit of climbing history.

Few problems at Hueco are as iconic as See Spot Run, a tall, clean line sitting high on North Mountain on the Big Time boulder, visible from main parking area. Initially established on toprope by Bob Murray (who often roped up for his hardest ascents), it was later properly done without a rope by John Sherman, and has stood as one of Hueco’s best problems since. Its clean, flat landing, and low crux (more on that) make it a popular introduction to the world of Hueco Tanks highballing.

In two previous trips to Hueco, I had avoided See Spot. I knew I could do it (a funky cross-through move opens the difficulties, then the problems follows a series nicely spaced, positive iron-rock edges to a reasonable, though long, move to the lip of the boulder at 30 feet), but I struggled with the confidence to pull on. At V6, it was something that I should be able to do first try, but what of the height? Could I focus enough to ignore the distance between the top of the boulder and the ground? I never thought so.

This year, we found ourselves warming up at Small Potatoes, a collection of satellite blocks around See Spot Run. The trip had gone reasonably well for me to this point, having done V8 second try, and V9 in an hour or so. I watched a few people try See Spot as I warmed up, and it was at that point that I decided that, yeah, I could do that problem. After watching several folks try (and do) the problem, we dragged our pads to the base, and I booted up.

After climbing up and down through the opening moves (the technical crux), I committed to the moves and began to move up the face. The holds felt big, and I moved casually between edges, even cutting my feet at one point. I never looked down, and didn’t feel any hesitation. I paused about halfway up the wall, at two good edges, to chalk up. Two easy crimp moves would lead to the final, large move to the lip. My fingers were cold, bordering on numb, thanks to the shade and breeze, and over-gripping the holds a bit. I moved into position for the last move, and didn’t quite like the final crimp. It was positive, but small. For a moment, I paused, and began to rethink the final move, considering skipping the edge. Quickly deciding that would be a bad idea, I switched feet, and fired for the jug at the lip. After slowly moving through the slab moves at the top, it was over. I had flashed an iconic problem, and it felt great.

About a week later, we found ourselves at the East Spur Maze. Prior to the trip, I was idly considering doing Jingus Bells, a “modern” V5 highball first done by Dean Potter in the late 1990s (I think). Unlike See Spot, Jingus Bells has it’s hardest move at the very top, a jump to the lip from a good edge. Adding a bit of spice to the problem is the boulder that across from the problem. It is still relatively “safe,” as a controlled fall from the crux will simply deposit the climber on the top of the other boulder, where a spotter can guide them to a pad. The lower moves are more “dangerous,” as you could fall into the side of the adjacent boulder, but they are also relatively easy. After flashing a few handfuls of other classic Hueco problems, I felt mostly confident enough to try Jingus Bells.


I wasn’t 100% confident. Maybe I was forcing this problem. It was only V5, but, boy, that last move is long, and the crimps aren’t that good. But, still, V5. I could do that. So, we dragged pads over from Better Eat Your Wheaties, and I put on my shoes. I wasn’t nervous, but just felt off. I cast off, and wobbled my way up the problem. Unlike the controlled nature of See Spot Run, this problem felt out of control, like driving a car on ice. I got to the final crimps, took one look at the jump to the lip, said “nope” and hopped on to the adjacent boulder.

I apologized to everyone for the work of dragging the pads for an aborted effort, and we moved on. I was disappointed (and I guess I still am), but I couldn’t wrap my mind around the problem. I’ve learned that climbing is very much a mental game for me. If I’m “on” mentally, focused, I climb very well. But if I’m not, oh boy, look out. I’d be lucky to climb a ladder. That day didn’t ruin the trip (I slugged out a hard-fought ascent of McBain on our last day, and flashed two East Mountain classics, Hector in a Blender and Ides of March). Climbing is truly a mental game, and that is my biggest weakness. At least I have something to work on for next year.