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Recap: 2018 Hueco Rock Rodeo

The climbing community is close. When you mix the nation’s biggest outdoor bouldering competition with free tacos and a thunderstorm, you learn just how close we are willing to get. Inside the barn at the American Alpine Club’s Rock Ranch in Hueco Tanks, Texas, a soggy mix of climbers are drinking, dancing and reuniting at the 25th annual Hueco Rock Rodeo. Earlier that day, Friday, February 16, the competition was rescheduled due to inclement weather.

Keenan Takahashi—the winner of at Open Division at the 2018 Hueco Rock Rodeo, in Hueco Tanks, Texas—stays calm and fights off the pump on  Chupacabra Right  (V11). Photo:  Levi Harrell. 

Keenan Takahashi—the winner of at Open Division at the 2018 Hueco Rock Rodeo, in Hueco Tanks, Texas—stays calm and fights off the pump on Chupacabra Right (V11). Photo: Levi Harrell. 

Despite the rain, competitors, spectators, and all those people that “camped with you, that one time, with a guy named Nick” are rallying around the artist market and open kegs. Around 8:30PM the crowd is shuffled to one side of the room for presentations by Chris Schulte, Keenan Takahashi, Shelma Jun, and Jason Kehl.

Chris opens with a slideshow of brick red boulders scattered beneath the iconic towers of Indian Creek. His stories of first ascents and perceived first ascents are spliced with tips on how to tread lightly and respect sensitive climbing areas. “You wouldn’t throw a pad on top that Spanish Dagger,” he says pointing to an alert Yucca ready to spear the climber above it, “because you’re better than that.” Schulte gets a drunken applause because he’s down for the cause.

Keenan Takahashi steps up with a slideshow on what gets him psyched. In short: highballs and beautiful lines. His slides globetrot from Bishop “…where it all began” to South Africa, France, New Mexico, Nevada, and “finally, Yosemite,” the place that Takahashi says inspires him most; where the potential for new lines is “overwhelming in the best way.”

Shelma Jun presents some of her work with Hey Flash Foxy, the group behind the all-women’s climbing festivals in Bishop and Chattanooga, and Never Not Collective, an all-ladies media company. She ties it into a slideshow on “7 ways men (and everyone) can be allies in the women’s movement in climbing.”

Then Jason Kehl takes the floor armed with a survival guide to Hueco Tanks. It’s rife with tips ranging from the Texas State Parks approved “don’t step in the huecos” to the climber-approved “erase someone else’s tick marks” to the kind of thing only Jason Kehl could recommend, “stuff a baby in a hueco, real or fake, doesn’t matter.”

After an extra rest day that nobody asked for, Sunday finally arrives. The vans take off at 9 am and competitors eagerly plume across the Park. This year masters and intermediate competitors will climb on North Mountain; advanced competitors will climb on East Mountain; and recreational and open competitors will climb on the East Spur.

Keenan Takahashi working through the start of Phantom Limb, (V12) on the East Spur. Photo:  Levi Harrell.

Keenan Takahashi working through the start of Phantom Limb, (V12) on the East Spur. Photo: Levi Harrell.

Some, like last year’s open second-place finisher Keenan Takahashi, carefully think through their day: “Start at the FlameFlamingon, then head to Phantom Limb,” he recites, when asked. Others are ready for whatever: “Follow Keenan around and climb a lot,” Ben Hanna, who placed third last year, answers.

By the time everyone reaches the base of the boulders around 10:30, there is nothing left to hold back. Rodeo day is different like that. An already high-energy event has the added excitement of anticipation, and throughout the day indiscernible screams can be heard coming from caves, mingling with the pounding drums of a Native American ceremony taking place elsewhere in the Park.

Lunch consists of anything that fits in a pad and gets you up a boulder. Chocolate croissants, donut holes, tuna packets and goldfish are all popular options. Near the end of the day Hanna takes out a can of peaches and drinks the juice. He reports that his stomach hurts, and then proceeds to send Scream, a V11 with a campus start.

As high energy as the day is, the awards ceremony reflects the stale enthusiasm of what has turned into a four-day festival—three parts party, one part climbing. Those who have made it this far gather around the still-burning bonfire. The beer station is now self-serve and Al Smith, the designated MC, has abandoned the mic. Hardly even raising his voice, he summons everyone toward the stage for the results (see below).

Onlookers watch the Dyno Comp at the Hueco Rock Ranch. Photo:  Levi Harrell.

Onlookers watch the Dyno Comp at the Hueco Rock Ranch. Photo: Levi Harrell.

The women’s advanced category has a five-way tie for first, so the prizes are determined by an on-stage pull-up contest. The night ends with the curious absence of the Women’s open category (no one turned in score cards), and a congratulations to the Men’s 0pen winners. Ben Hanna comes in third again, having sent The Flame (V11), Phantom Limb (V12), The Ugh (V11), El Chupacabra Left (V10), High Scream (V10) and Scream (V11). Toshi Takeuchi, having never climbed on the East Spur before, manages second place with sends of The FlameFlamignon (V13), The UghHigh Scream , Scream andIce Cream (V12). And Keenan Takahashi wins with a ticklist of The FlameFlamignonPhantom LimbThe UghEl Chupacabra Right (V11) and Scream.

Gravel crunches under tires as we exchange future plans and projects lists, roadmaps to where we might meet up again some other time. We all chase the seasons and hope for good weather, knowing that some things are out of our control and that we’re going to make the best of it anyway.



1. Keenan Takahashi

2. Toshi Takeuchi

3. Ben Hanna

Advanced Men

1. Jason Petty

2. Jacob Croft

3. Kevin Book

Advanced Women

1. Ariel Chilton (19 pull-ups)

2. Jamie Robison (12.5 pull-ups)

3. Jaclyn Remsing, Jodi Chambers, Yvette Foose (tied)

Intermediate Men

1. Jamieson P

2. David Tran

3. Bryce Beishin

Intermediate Women

1. Sophia Hoerman

2. Crystal Shei

3. Stevie Imperatrice

Recreational Men

1. Ross Johnston

2. Cody Hanson

3. Evan Dover

Recreational Women

1. Jessica Wilkerson

2. Rachelle Macrea

3. Kayla Simmons


1. Jason Syesta

2. Cindy Becker

3. Marco Fiori

Originally published on RockAndIce.com.