IT’S RIGHT in front of my face.
I’d been concentrating so hard on my feet, preparing to make the next move, that I hadn’t even noticed the anchor. This bolt, drilled directly into the rock, is both what’s kept me safe and what I’ve been climbing toward.
I’ve done it, I realize. I’ve reached the top of the K Wall, my first climb of the day out at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Jasper.
Hands and feet securely gripping the sandstone wall—a “bloyd formation”—I turn my attention back toward the ground from whence I came. A jolt of nerves shoots through me when I see how small my climbing guide, Jason Roy, looks from this vantage point. I hadn’t realized how high I’d actually climbed: about 35 feet up.
“Ready to come down?” Jason yells up, his voice bouncing off the various formations in the North Forty section of the ranch where we’re climbing today. He’s at the bottom of the wall, holding onto my lifeline—literally. I’m harnessed in, and Jason is “belaying” me up and down the rock face, using his gear to handle the rope that’ll keep me from plummeting back down to the ground should something go wrong.
“Just lean back off the wall, and start taking baby steps,” he says. “I’ll do the rest.”
Feet securely on the ground, I’m feeling like a rock-climbing pro—that is, until I find out the name of this wall. “It’s called the K Wall,” Jason tells me. “We used to call it the Kindergarten Wall, but people didn’t seem to like the sound of that.”
I think I understand why.
THIS ISN’T technically my first time rock climbing, but it might as well be. In high school, I’d visited an indoor climbing gym a handful of times. But while a lot of the technical aspects are the same, there are no perfectly placed polyurethane handholds here, no padded floors below me. It’s just me, the rock and the rope.
I’m in good hands with Jason. As the head climbing guide at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, he’s not only an experienced climber and instructor, he’s been teaching and bolting new routes at the ranch for about 15 seasons. And as Jason will tell you, the ranch—and Arkansas, in general—is a great place for climbing thanks to its abundance of Arkansas sandstone. Its coarse surface is perfect for creating the sort of friction that allows the climber to better connect to the rock and establish a strong hold.
I think I’m ready to take things up just a notch with the next route, a relatively easy one called “Kids Stuff,” on the main cliff. It’s a little steeper and a little taller, but Jason tells me this route is practically made for rock climbing, and I quickly find that he’s right. There are plenty of spots within reach to place my hands and feet, and once again, I’ve scrambled to the top before I even have time to realize it.
On our third climb of the day, Jason’s belaying me from the top of the wall instead of the bottom. On his way up to set the route for me, he’d warned me about a tough spot about 10 or 15 feet up, where I now find myself. I stretch about as far as can reach, but now I’m on my tiptoes, and to pull myself up to the next ledge, I have to put practically my whole body weight on my arms. I start and stop a couple of times, trying to figure out the best way to approach it. I’m quickly tiring my arms out. My palms get sweaty.
“I think I’m gonna fall,” I shout. And before I know it, I no longer feel the rock under my fingers, no longer feel the wall against my feet.
This is it. I’m falling.
The whole thing lasts only a second, maybe even a fraction of that, but it feels much longer. The rope catches me almost immediately, and I just dangle there for a moment before pulling myself back to the wall.
“You can do this, Wyndham! I know you can!” Jason yells down, and I really want to believe him. I try again, but my arms are trashed. I strain as hard as I can to get up over the precipice, but I just don’t have the strength. Again, I fall.
If we had more time, if the sun wasn’t going down on us, I certainly would have tried. But instead, I have to close out this day on a failure. I’m honestly a little embarrassed and disappointed in myself, and I tell Jason as much when we get back to the equipment room to put our stuff away.
“Failure is a huge part of the rock climbing experience,” he says assuringly. “There have been plenty of routes that have absolutely destroyed me.”
Earlier, at the base of the rock as I was nursing my broken pride, I asked Jason the name of the route that’d just taken me down.
“Paul’s Redemption,” he says.
Maybe next time, I think, I’ll get my redemption too.
Don’t delay. Belay! If you want to make an ascent with Jason Roy, visit the ranch’s website at horseshoecanyonduderanch.com, or give them a call at (870) 446-2577.
Take A Crack At It
Don’t have time to make it out to Horseshoe Canyon Ranch for the weekend, but still ready to get your climb on? Satisfy your climber craving with these bits of rock candy.
If You’re More A Fan of the Great Indoors
Little Rock Climbing Center, Little Rock
So maybe you’re not ready to take on that Arkansas sandstone just yet. Lucky for you, Arkansas has several indoor climbing gyms where you can learn the basics, rent equipment and get a feel for the sport. The LRCC offers 4,000 square feet of climbable terrain with routes perfect for beginners. (12120 Colonel Glenn Road #7000; littlerockclimbingcenter.com)
If You Want to Try Before You Buy
Lewis & Clark Outfitters, Rogers and Springdale
These outdoor supply shops have a climbing wall in the store! That way you can put your gear to the test before you lay down the cash. Or if you just like a little adrenaline rush when you go shopping. (multiple locations; gooutandplay.com)
If You Like to Do Your Research
Rock Climbing Arkansas, Second Edition by Cole Fennel
This is the book when it comes to rock climbing in Arkansas. Comprehensive and detailed with route descriptions, difficulty grades and starred ratings, this is a must-have for exploring Arkansas’ climbing options. (fixedpin.com/products/rock-climbing-arkansas)