Mornings at Hueco Rock Ranch begin with informal yoga sessions and coffee in the winter sun.
Women on the Rise
Zoom out, and the boulder field looks like a giant pile of pebbles. Zoom in, and stones that seemed smooth as sand now show lovely texture―pockets, creases, and folds―that reveal infinite paths up the rock. We are programmers, surgeons, product managers, editors, lawyers, and moms, unique in ability, personality, and style. Each one of us finds her own way up as others cheer her on.
"Lock in. Heel up. Smear," Lynn says, crouching on the rock face, dangling from bare fingers. We learn her language, try her techniques. She's teaching us how to fight gravity by using our bodies in mechanically efficient―if counterintuitive―ways. "It's difficult. How do you explain walking?" Lynn says, explaining how movements blend into one fluid motion. "It's like a moving meditation."
Birthplace of Bouldering
They're called "problems"―the routes we take up a boulder. Hueco Tanks has no shortage of them. This austere intrusion of igneous rock is to bouldering what Yosemite is to traditional climbing. "Hueco can be considered the birthplace of bouldering," says Robert Rice, owner of Hueco Rock Ranch, the climbers' outpost where we're staying. "It's one of the most famous bouldering spots on the planet―Fontainebleau in France, Rocklands in South Africa, and Hueco Tanks in Texas.'
Hueco feels as sacred as a church to some. The Mescalero Apache, Kiowa, and Tigua groups hold religious ceremonies here. Named for the huecos, or rock cisterns that gather water year-round, it has served as an oasis throughout history.
Visitors today must arrange for a state-certified guide who can protect the vulnerable desert vegetation. The fragile ecosystem is part of Hueco's mystique, which draws world-class climbers such as Lynn.
At Home With a Master
Lynn is astonishingly tiny for someone who became a giant of her sport. Her 5'1", 100-pound frame and tiny hands would seem a disadvantage on routes where the next handhold lies out of a petite reach. But Lynn, a former gymnast, employs uncanny flexibility, balance, and strength to scurry up routes that defy much taller men. Once able to bench-press nearly twice her weight, she exhibits quiet strength.
We listen as Lynn critiques videos of our climbs. We try our balance on the slack line, a tightrope suspended a foot off the ground. We drink wine, do yoga, tell stories, and laugh like old friends. The few men hanging out in Hueco Rock Ranch watch from a distance, dumbfounded by the shift in estrogen over testosterone. "It's really trippin' me out," says one. "I kind of want to call my mom." As the party unwinds, we head outside to gather around a bonfire, visiting with another group of climbers who are roughing it in tents among the desert scrub.