Horse Pens 40 in Alabama was one of the first places I ever bouldered outside. I remember going there for one of the first Mortal Kombat competitions at least 10 years ago. I still carry an old sock in my chalk bucket that was handed out during that competition for chalking up the bubbly slopers for which Horse Pens is now famous. I always thought the sandstone at Horse Pens was amazing, and after traveling to many other areas around the country and world, I still think Horse Pens has the best sandstone I have ever seen.
Last year I returned to the south to compete in the Horse Pens competition on my 26th birthday. I climbed very well during that comp and ended up winning. It was one of my better days of outdoor climbing ever, looking back on it. When I booked my ticket to return to the comp this year, I was hopeful that I could pull off a similarly good day of bouldering in Horse Pens. The southern sandstone must have sensed my confidence and slight pride in last year’s success, because Horse Pens fought back with a vengeance this year.
To put it nicely, I got a beatdown. It was slightly warmer this year, so a few of the extra slopey problems I had done last year felt understandably harder. But, everything else I had completed last year also felt harder, and I struggled to complete many of the boulders I had done in the past. Kasia Pietras, who had been so gracious as to give me a tour of great problems in 2010, crushed one boulder after another, leaving me in the dust early on. Isabelle Faus also looked incredibly strong and danced up boulders that spit me off.
The most inspirational performance of the comp, however, was delivered by my friend Kate McGinnis. Kate lives in Atlanta and has dominated the Horse Pens comp for many years in the past, and it was only because she was very pregnant last year and not climbing that I didn’t get completely crushed by her. This year, Kate was back, with adorable baby Annie Quinn in tow, and this momma wasn’t messing around. Kate looked very strong, and it was incredibly motivating for me to see her back at it less than a year after giving birth to her first child. I find a lot of inspiration in people like Kate and I felt very lucky to get to climb with her this year.
I left Horse Pens after barely finishing my 10th boulder with raw fingers and a split tip. I felt quite frustrated with my performance, but knew that the beating the sandstone had delivered was good for me. Sure it would have been great to have another day at Horse Pens that ended with a win, but that’s not what the Triple Crown comps are about, and that is why I love them so much. Everyone tries hard and has a blast in a beautiful area. And whether I end up in first or last, I ALWAYS leave the South with a belly full of humble pie.