The last time I was at Horse Pens 40 for a competition was about 10 years ago when the comp was still called Mortal Combat. Despite the freezing rain that fell that day, it was the most fun I had ever had climbing up that that point in my life. Horse Pens is still at the top of my list of favorite areas for sentimental reasons and because the rock is simply unrivaled. So, when I found out that the Horse Pens comp was scheduled for my birthday this year, I knew I just had to go.
I flew into Chattanooga a few days before the comp and met up with my friends Jimmy Webb and Kasia Pietras. The day of the comp was nearly perfect weather for climbing in Horse Pens. It was cold but sunny, with a high in the mid 50’s. I have spent the equivalent of a few weeks climbing at Horse Pens, but I didn’t have a very detailed game plan laid out for the comp. I figured that I would be lucky to be able to repeat anything I had done in the past, let alone climb anything new. Usually it takes me a few days to get used to the style of climbing in the South, so I didn’t have high expectations. I just figured that throwing myself at amazing problems on perfect sandstone would be a fun way to spend my birthday, no matter how badly I got stomped.
Luckily, Kasia was kind enough to let me climb with her, which was awesome. She is familiar with the area and showed me some great problems I hadn’t climbed before. Plus she’s just fun to be around. The comp started around 9 a.m. Kasia thought that heading to Landslide first would give us the best temps for this quintessential Southern sloper problem. I was ready for the beatdown to begin, but surprised myself by repeating the problem (I had first managed to flop my way up it a few years back). That was a motivating way to start my day, and we headed off to climb on superb problems for the rest of the day.
I could list all the problems I climbed and their grades, point values, beta, etc., but that would be missing the point of the Triple Crown entirely. The reason this series is so amazing is because it epitomizes everything I love about the South. Tons of people gather to spend a day climbing on amazing rock in the company of motivated friends. And at the end of the day, no one really cares what numbers you climbed. What is more important is that you threw yourself at that amazingly bubbly sandstone over and over again and had a damn good time doing it. And once you’ve beat yourself to a pulp, Jimmy comes up and asks if you’re ready for more as he runs off to climb more before the awards ceremony. So you go back out and try to eek out a few desperate moves on another gorgeous piece of rock, until you’re sure that your tips are all going to spontaneously combust. Then you eat chili and drink beer while catching up with people you haven’t seen in a long time. And the next morning when you wake up, you’re sure that you must have had a wrestling match with a bear at some point in the middle of the night because you haven’t been this sore in a looooong time. >THAT is why the South is amazing. And that is why I’ll happily come back anytime for a butt kicking on fine Southern sandstone.