Letter to the Editor - Rock and Ice Magazine
Thanks for publishing Jeff Jackson's beautifully photographed article on Hueco. I was not only impressed with the photos, which captured perfectly the subtle color of Hueco rock, but also with the accurate beta and topos of old and new climbs on North Mountain. However, I must offer some clarifications, corrections and gentle criticisms.
Please don't bring your dog to Hueco. Fido must be attached to a leash that is held by a human, and can't be left alone in your car, unless it is an RV-class vehicle that qualifies as a "home" and is parked in a designated camping site. Dogs can't go on "tours", and can't go on trails or to the base of boulders. This means that you will have to designate someone to hang out with the dog at the side of the road while everyone else climbs.
When I saw the photo of the climber on 3-Star Arête, I picked up the phone in excitement to call the Park, hoping that the TPWD had finally canceled the silly closure on the Bimbo Boulders. The Ranger confirmed that the Bimbo's were still closed. Research revealed that the photo was taken prior to 2000, but climbers need to know that 3-Star, one of the best V2s in the Universe, is still forbidden.
The phone number listed for Pete's was incorrect. Pete's health problems have gotten worse, and his place has been closed for most of the summer. After several attempts to contact him, I finally spoke to Queta last weekend. She will be trying to open up for the season, but they are really struggling and need all the help we can give them. You can try to reach them at 915-857-5467. If you choose to camp at Pete's, be aware that sanitation is a big problem - pack out all solid waste.
All camping and North Mountain access during the busy season will now require a refundable reservation fee of $4.00/day, even if you have a Texas Conservation Passport. Three days is the maximum length of any reservation block. While camping, you will not be able climb or access the Park at night, including North Mountain. One of the best experiences at Hueco in the "good old days" was night climbing/wandering - that joy has been taken away from us.
Jeff leaves readers with the impression that everything is cool at Hueco, it used to be trashed, chipped and glued, now it is wonderful, clean and spiritual - come on out! The reports of trash and vandalism prior to the Public Use Restriction Plan (PURP) have been wildly exaggerated; I speak from personal experience of over 25 years, while living, working and paying property taxes in El Paso. Traveling climbers who value climbing more than freedom may love the new rules, but the PURP is almost universally despised by the long-time local climbers in El Paso, who are packing up and moving away because they are so disgusted and frustrated with the TPWD. The new reservation fee rule is a perfect example. I recently spent ~$300.00 for reservations this season even though I will only be able to use about half of the days I reserved. The reservation system is not as big a problem for traveling climbers, be they trustafarians, sponsored or dirtbags (we love dirtbags!), because they can either afford it or just avoid North Mountain altogether and do nothing but bouldering tours.
Jeff chooses not to interview local climbers and former EPCC members in his articles about Hueco, preferring to quote tourist climbers like Ty Foose. If he had spoken to James Robertson, who's property adjoining Hueco Ty Foose is thinking of buying, he might not have concluded that Hueco is such a wonderful place for climbers. I remember when James, a lifetime resident, volunteer guide (aka "guard") and former president of the EPCC was building his "dream Casa" in 1996. The spectacular view of North Mountain from his front porch that used to thrill him each morning now only serves to tantalize. He feels shame every time he submits and leads a "tour" at Hueco. He plans to move away as soon as he can sell his pad and get a job somewhere else, closer to decent climbing.
The dirty little secret about the VG system? It's popular with traveling/tourist climbers because they know the stupid rules are broken all the time on volunteer led tours. VGs climb while leading tours, they let the climbers climb on closed problems and generally everyone has a great time while the rangers are not watching - the watchword is "don't get caught", unlike the unfortunate group that was busted for consuming Evil Weed a few months ago. The Park does not have enough staff to watch all the tours, and the VGs know this and are willing to risk it. The worst that will happen to a traveling climber who breaks the rules is he will be banned from the Park - no problem, just head for Bishop, eh? Unfortunately, resident climbers can't risk being banned from the only decent climbing within a day's drive of El Paso.
The TPWD's hypocrisy regarding environmental impact was vividly illustrated on 10.20.02, during the ridiculous Red Bull RockJam concert held in the Laguna Prieta area of North Mountain. They apparently have no problem with hundreds of people tramping about, the deafening noise, the glaring lights, the electrical cables strung all over the rocks and through the vegetation, "support" vehicles and staff everywhere - but it is still "too risky" to allow me to wander over the rocks in the backcountry without being guarded.
It has now been four years since the PURP was forced on us in spite of our efforts to work with the TPWD to craft a reasonable system. Visitors at Hueco are now either those that never objected to mindless rules and regulations, or are a new generation of climbers who never experienced true freedom at Hueco. That both groups are willing to tolerate the restrictions says only that the new system self-selects those who will go along with it. Someday, the complacency and submission of the current crop of Hueco climbers will betray them also, as more and more restrictions are put in place - and they will only have themselves to blame.