Home / by Ray Phung

Tree afire on the drive up to parking and climbing.

In the beginning of November, I took a trip back down to my childhood home in Arkansas to visit my parents.  It had been a couple of years since I had been back to visit, so I figure a trip was overdue.  Normally, I try to visit during this time in lieu of Thanksgiving or Christmas because I have a holiday off work (Veteran's Day) and generally flying to Arkansas is much cheaper at that time.  In addition, I can catch the end of the autumn foliage, as well as get some perfect climbing temperatures.

My parents have some property in Arkansas, as well as a few animals.

A bunch of mother cluckers.

My parents live in a small town in north central Arkansas, near the start of the Ozark Mountains and very close to the Buffalo National River.  The town is fairly rural, with a whopping population just shy of 1500.  There's a grocery store, a smattering of restaurants, churches, banks, and flea markets, and that's about it.  Here, my parent's own property with about 10 acres cleared and have an abundance of animals running around, such as miniature horses, regular horses, goats, chickens, and ducks.  My parents also own a restaurant and motel in town.  Being there for a few days is a welcome relief to my normal urban day-to-day operation.  It's quiet there, other than perhaps the braying of a mangy goat.  And it's beautiful.  Fall brings the beautiful reds, yellows, and oranges of the leaves being shed for the season, a feature that is mostly missing in the rainy Portland autumn.  

Tapestry hanging in my parent's restaurants. America.

A collection of tongs at my mom's restaurant.

About an hour away or so is Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, one of the premier climbing destinations in the southern US.  HCR is a privately owned guest ranch outside Jasper, AR.  Climbers pay a $5 daily fee to climb.  When you descend into the ranch, you are surrounded by sandstone cliff faces, filled with many sport and trad lines.  Along the cliff faces are also large boulders with many excellent problems.  Its a very serene place with tons of climbing, as well as a healthy number of goats running around.  Interestingly enough, where there is an abundance of goats running around, there are also an abundance of goat poop in all the caves where you want to climb.  Oh the joys of backwoods climbing!

The view around HCR.

I was only home for four days, and had every intention of climbing at least two full days.  Off the heels of my trip to Joe's Valley, I had the feel of sandstone etched into my hands and I didn't want it to go away.  Then enter what I like to call the Plight of the Adult Son.  This is when you return home for a visit and find the backlog of chores that are waiting on you.  On the days I planned on getting out early to climb, I ended up having to unload a truck load of hay; load, unload, and stack a bunch of firewood; hang supporting rafters on a shed that was being built; change light bulbs in a sign.  The list goes on.  Despite my other tick list of farm work, I was still able to drive out to HCR to get two half days of climbing in.  

I flew my crash pad out with me in preparation of a solo bouldering trip.  With only one pad and no spotter, finding problems I felt safe on was an interesting task.  I got on a few classic lines, like Leatherface (V6), Memento (V5), and War Bonnet (V5).  I really wanted to revisit a climb I worked on several years ago, but never got - Orbital Mechanics (V7).  I remembered it being very physical, with several intense moves in a roof.  I thought I remembered my beta, but when I got on it, it felt totally foreign.  Rather than waste more time, energy, and skin, I moved on to other problems.  Next door, I tried working out the moves on Kneeling Before Power (V10) and headed over to work Glass Bowl (V10).  Both felt hard.  Really hard. 

Eyeing the Grand Dragon in Horseshoe Canyon Ranch.  I got to get on it the next day i went with some folks from Chattanoga

The 2nd day of climbing I met some nice folks from Chattanooga, and we padded up Grand Dragon, a striking V7 that follows up this unique iron-like seam that perfectly splits the boulder.  Standing on a log (or as I started it, a dynamic jump start), you follow perfect in-cut crimps on the seam higher and higher above a slab.  The last move goes onto the arete where you pull around to top out.  I got to the last move and got super spooked.  Didn't try it again, but it is definitely a cool line.  

Notice how I am on two marginal crimps and a heel hook, and the pad is several feet away from me... 

After that, I headed up to the Black Cave to try Bushido, a stellar V8 along a big horizontal roof that follows a line of the most unique holds.  I am a sucker for cool features and holds, and the sandstone here sure delivered.  With about 14 moves or so, padding this thing with my rinky dink pad was impossible.  I spent about 20 minutes trying to decide where I was most likely to fall on my back, which ended up being two separate places about 10 feet apart.  The few goes I gave it felt really good, except my endurance sucks.  I got to the last big move and gassed out.  But I broke out my camera and set it to self-timer to get some cool shots. 

Cool knobby pinch thing on Bushido, V8

Neat blocky crimp thing on Bushido, V8.

Me working moves on Bushido, V8.  

I did not finish climbing anything particularly hard on my two days of climbing, but it was still good to get out, touch real rocks, and check out some classic problems.  Plus free housing in my childhood home and warm homecooked meals by my mom weren't so bad either.  It was good to visit my family, see some childhood friends, and be in a beautiful and interesting area of the country.  Hopefully I won't let too much time go by before my next visit.  And maybe next time I can convince a cohort of Portland folk to join me so they can help pad up my new projects.  

Last but not least, my mom, in her element.

Climbing photos were take on my Canon 7D.  All others were on my Leica M6 on Kodak Ultramax 400.