I Survived Hell: 24 Hours of Climbing, Insanity, and Fun
Bring your best. That was the mantra the staff coordinator, Daniel, preached to us on the morning of arguably the most insane climbing competition on the face of this planet. For all of you that don’t know what I am talking about, I am referring to the 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell (or 24HH for short). Taking place in Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, 24HH is an endurance climbing competition developed by Andy Chassten with one simple objective: climb as many routes as you can in 24 hours. Seems simple enough. While I was only a volunteer for this epic event, this weekend will hype you up, beat you down, and make you crap your pants
At sunrise on September 23rd, volunteers and climbers crawl out of their tents, hammocks, and vans to begin prepping. As the sun continues to rise, the conglomerate of people continues to grow. Looking at the group, many people would think it was a Halloween party. With David Bowies, vikings, and even a shark and Big Bird, I was even questioning what month it was. Roll call begins for the event. With each team name that is rattled off, the number of bad puns increased exponentially.
Upon the collective of climbers finally getting checked in, Jeremy Collins stands up in a truck bed surrounded by a cloud of fog to deliver the sacred 24HH oath. Of the entire weekend, this was by far the most intense. Unlike the pledge of allegiance or the Boy Scout oath, you scream this at the top of your lungs. Staring into your partner’s soul, you swear your life to them. You swear to keep them safe. You swear to support each other through the 24 hours. You swear to go have fun. The harmonious screaming of the oath echoes off the sides of the canyon walls. Once the last words of the oath are screamed, everything falls silent. This moment lingers until the shotgun shot breaks it, and everyone scatters in all directions.
As we make our way to one of the crags, teams are flying past us with jugs of water, ropes, carabiners, and other essentials. This trend didn’t stop once the climbers got to the wall. Clipping in became a second priority. Sometimes, it wasn’t even a priority, until you got to the anchors. Using only one anchor carabiner became a common site. Having someone belay you also was put on the back burner. At one point we watch a climber get lowered, and by the time he removed the knot and went on belay for his partner, his partner was already clipped into the two anchor carabiners.
With darkness slowly overtaking the canyon, the tempo switches from full out sprint to marathon pace. People begin to slow down. Most of the climbers are congregated at one crag. With the first 12 hours completed the mandatory climber check ins begin. Each team slowly shuffles their way to us to make sure they are still alive. Each pair that came past was clearly tired. After surviving the hottest day in competition’s history, the climbers were caked in sweat. Even though they are tired and sore, they still are in high spirit.
As the night continues, the climbers keep chugging away. Routes keep getting climbed and checked off the list. By the time we began our 4am check ins, the fatigue is blatantly obvious to see. Going through all the climbers who checked in, they fall into three different categories. The first is extremely positive. They may be absolutely exhausted and covered in cuts, but talking to them would make you think they won the lottery. The second is the what you would expect group. This group is what you expect people to look like after climbing 16 hours in 90 degree heat for most of the day. Finally there are the robots. This is the smallest group of the three. These few individuals are so tired they are basically on autopilot. They look like they are sleep walking, but they are still functional and keep going.
By the time the sun rises to illuminate the canyon, it brings with it a new life to the climbers. With only a few hours left, the climbers embrace the second wind and make their final push to get the last few climbs in. Once 10am comes around, the same shotgun that started the 24 hours of chaos ends it. As the teams shuffle in hand in their scorecards, celebratory beers are cracked open and much deserved naps occur. The scoring team begins the tedious job of calculating all the scores for the teams. Everyone else begins to prep for the craziest part of the entire weekend, the after party. While I won’t describe the after party because it could be its own novel, I will write a quote I heard the following morning. “Basically everyone got really drunk, really quick... And then, it was like a bunch of British teenagers going to the club.”
With Sunday finally upon us and a 12 hour drive ahead of us, it was time for my friend Anton and I to return back to Wisconsin. As we drove away, we marked our calendar for next year’s dates to be reunited with our new family. And, we locked in our next weekend in Hell.
For more information on 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell and volunteering, please visit http://www.twofourhell.com/
Written by: Alex Perronne