I made my first trip out to Horse Pens (HP40) in Alabama, USA back in December of 2010. This was a very special trip for me because it was our first official family climbing trip. My husband Dan and I had been on some climbing trips together before, but this was the first one where my daughter, Alejandra, was going to join us.
We left the day after Christmas and stayed for about a week. We were also meeting a bunch of our friends down there who had already made the trip to HP40 several times in the past, so that was also pretty exciting. I love climbing with friends, it one of my favorite things to do. Plus they’d be able to give us a big tour and show us all the classics!
Usually climbers from around our area (southern Ontario) make the 15 hour drive to Horse Pens, but since we only had one week total and wanted to get as much climbing in as possible, we opted out for the luxury and convenience of flying. But, what first seemed like an awesome decision quickly seemed to go downhill on our departure day. Let’s just say our trip to Horse Pens was nothing short of eventful.
It started off as a relatively mild day up in Canada. We had no snow, and perhaps due to my extreme excitement for this trip, I never checked what the weather would be like in Alabama for the upcoming week. I figured it’d be warmer than home since I was going south. This was mistake #1.
We left early on a Sunday morning to catch our first flight from Buffalo to Cleveland only to find ourselves stuck in the middle of blizzard that seemed to be sweeping the entire eastern side of the United States. What!? A blizzard? I thought I was escaping the cold for a week not going right into the middle of it!
So, we were in Cleveland waiting for our next flight to Atlanta where we’d then drive the rest of the way to Horse Pens. But, next thing we know all flights are getting cancelled because of the storm! No damit!! WHY TODAY!?
Thankfully though, we were quickly relieved when they notified us that our flight would be the last one making it out to Atlanta that day before all the cancellations. SCORE!
However, that feeling was short lived.
A couple minutes later our names were being called through the intercom, and the news they had in store for us was not good. Turns out our super smart airline thought it would be an excellent idea to overbook our flight and as a result they didn’t have seats for us on the plane. Perfect. It was the last flight getting out before the storm and we weren’t going to get on it.
The plane was about to depart the gate and I had basically lost hope, when out of nowhere I see some people walking back out of the gate. Apparently the airline employee had gone on the plane and managed to find three people who didn’t need to fly out that day and who were willing to give up their seats for us. Looks like all my begging and crying worked out after all! So, after many big thank you’s to the generous folks who gave us their seats for us, we were finally on our way to Atlanta.
Although I was grateful to have made it there, I was definitely not happy when I stepped out to see the ground covered in snow! What was happening!? I was not prepared for snow! I thought I was escaping to warmer temperatures, which we should have, but of course we travelled during the one winter where they were experiencing the most abnormal weather. Lucky me.
Well, there wasn’t anything we could do about it, so we got our rental car and started making the last stretch to Alabama and just 2 hours later we driving under the Horse Pens 40 sign as we reached our destination.
The whole drive I was wishing that there would be no snow in Horse Pens, but that wish was clearly not heard. I hate climbing in the cold, so I was obviously not happy about the weather. However, I was glad that we opted out for cabins instead of camping. That could have been terrible.
We met up with our friends right away, and despite my low psych level to climb, we planned to meet up with them the next day to check out the boulders. Luckily, they were much more prepared than we were. They had heaters and warm booties to put over your shoes to stay warm. This made it a bit more tolerable, but I was still freezing in my 3 layers of sweaters, 2 layers of pants and numbingly cold feet as I tried to climb on ice cold boulders with a decent layer of snow on the ground. This is not what I signed up for. Although we toughed through the first day, I would not continue climbing in those temperatures. It was just not fun for me.
Thankfully though, this is when our luck started to turn around. Every day that went by just got better and better. We started on our first day with temperatures below 0ºC(32ºF) and ended on our last day with temperatures at a perfect sunny and 15ºC (59ºF). By the second day all the snow had already melted and I was one super happy camper (or cabiner, technically).
All three of us climbed super hard the second day. Horse Pens is known for it’s slopey sandstone boulders so you bet that we managed to shred through our skin by the end of the second day. Blood was actually seeping through the tips of my fingers. Thankfully, we had some miracle climbing salve with us that healed up our skin enough to allow us to keep on crushing the next day. We only had 5 days to climb so we took no rest days, and thanks to the salve, we were able to keep climbing everyday.
Horse Pens quickly became one of my favorite places I’ve ever climbed. Life was so simple there. There is no need for a car when you’re there because you literally sleep beside the boulders. Everyday our schedule was just wake up, eat, and climb.
Dan had made a rough tick list at home before our trip, but that quickly got thrown out the window when we realized that we were getting thrown off V3’s! That was an eye opener! We scrapped the tick list and just had fun slapping as many slopers as our skin would allow us to in a day. 🙂
Alejandra also got on her fair share of climbs. Since it was our first climbing trip together with her, I wasn’t sure exactly how much she’d enjoy it since she’s not into climbing as much as Dan and I are. She ended up having a blast and maybe fell a bit in love with outdoor climbing. How couldn’t she to be honest. Because of this trip she now only likes to climb outdoors; rarely can I pull her into a climbing gym! I think that’s pretty awesome though. 🙂
She was a great sport. She toughed through the cold weather better than I did and I loved the fact that she wanted to climb till her tips were pink like ours.
She also acted as our guide on some days, taking charge of the guidebook and leading us to climbs of her choice. Then during her breaks you would always find her in self made tent watching one of the many Harry Potter movies she brought on her DVD player.
By the end of the trip we managed to climb a bunch of the classics and our egos got a good check along the way. Despite the many bumps we hit on the way, this was for sure one of my favorite and most memorable climbing trips. I will for sure be back. Bum Boy and I have some unfinished business…