Fresh on the heels of Mark and Josh’s trip, Brian “Cuz” Hedrick left San Francisco for a week-long bouldering sojourn in Hueco Tanks State Park. Stopping only to bivy in Joshua Tree since time was precious and he was determined to make the most of the short trip. Arriving just in time for the annual Hueco Rock Rodeo, an outdoor bouldering competition drawing some of the biggest names in the sport, his trip got off to a running start.
video by James Lucas
“We got in at 7:30 the night before. I was definitely car lagged,” recalls Hedrick, “It was mostly a way to climb since we were already out there.” The Rodeo, drawing hundreds of competitors from across the nation and from overseas, is one of the rare days where park regulations are relaxed and travel through the park is less restricted. Climbing in the park if you’re not competing, however, isn’t possible, hence Brian’s attitude toward making the most of the day. “You can explore the mountain as much as you want without a specific guide. Runners take you from problem to problem, allowing you to see a lot in a short amount of time.”
Sensing that the marathon drive left him a little off the pace of those coming specifically to compete, Brian approached the day as an opportunity to suss out some beta and decide which of the myriad problems littering the area warranted further investigation. “I tried to have a positive attitude, but not sending a single problem all day was demoralizing. You have to squash the ego and push ahead. I started to enjoy the challenge of the problem itself, not just grade chasing.”
The trip represented a concerted shift in Brian’s approach to climbing. “I went for fun and didn’t have high expectations.” Laughing, Brian adds, “I started training two weeks before I left.” After taking 9 months off to focus on Trad climbing, Brian explains the change of direction. “It’s more about having fun and getting on great problems than getting worked up and chasing numbers. You go in waves of being psyched to try and push yourself, physically and mentally.”
Thinking back on the Rodeo, Brian shows us how even a tough, frustrating climbing day can be transformed into a valuable experience. “Climbing with Jimmy [Webb] and Paul [Robinson] helped me see how to get things done before trying any moves.” Picking up insightful time and skin saving beta was but one way the day came together for Brian. “I only had 2 problems in mind before the trip and I ended the day with 14 new problems I hadn’t seen before. The one that really caught my attention was Blood of the Young Wolf (V14). It was magnificent, super simple with a need for constant focus and precision. It’s what I think of as a perfect boulder problem.” Brian explains. “Most people prefer powerful compression. For me it’s about being precise and having a low margin of error.”
Coming into the trip with Espearanza (V13) and Crown of Aragorn (V13) on the agenda, projects eroded away as the Rodeo ebbed on. “I went with the intention of projecting, but things changed after the Rodeo.” With so many new problems on the horizon, Brian was finding it difficult to commit valuable time to a single one. “I didn’t project. Nothing I did took longer than 45 minutes,” he states without an ounce of bravado. “It was great being able to do a couple hard problems each day, a great experience.”
True to his philosophy, the high points of Brian’s trip were less centered on the difficult ascents and more on the process and the experience itself. Still in the afterglow of finishing Alma Blanca (V13), a problem established decades earlier and one of the first of the grade, Brian stared into the eyes of the visionary who first unlocked the line. Shaking Fred Nicole’s hand with the reverence of a pilgrim handling a holy relic, Brian experienced one of those moments that remain indelible on our consciousness, a moment that drives the desire to embark on journeys such as this one. “It sounds cheesy, but he’s the reason we can climb as hard as we do. He was pushing the boundaries long before everybody else. He made bouldering what it is today and without him there’s no way I’d be able to climb as hard as I do. And he put up these lines 20 years ago,” exclaims Brian, with a contagious fervor and excitement. “It’s always easy to follow somebody,” he adds, “it’s hard to be a leader. You have to acknowledge their abilities and the time they spent to develop it.”
Brian, still no slouch on the wall despite the 9-month hiatus, also came away with a flash of the beautiful, gymnastic problem Tequila Sunrise (V12), which represented a milestone in his return to bouldering form. “I hadn’t flashed anything remotely difficult for the past year,” Brian states flatly. “You can’t beat flashing or onsighting, it’s the best way to do a problem. It’s the greatest challenge, you numb out on a problem when you start projecting,” he shares, comparing the differing tactics involved with each approach. “The flash is hard, difficult, you have to think on the fly. It incorporates mental, physical, instantaneous problems solving. You constantly have to assess the situation while keeping power in reserve.”
When asked what about the trip he would want to share with anyone heading out on their own, Brian enlightens us with some sage wisdom, “Crave has REALLY big waffles, share it for 3.” He says this with the mischievous grin of a pre-teen adolescent. Shifting gears, he becomes ever so slightly more serious, “If you anyone is hesitating about going to Hueco because of the restrictions know they’re a blessing and a curse. It’s tough to get onto tours but when you do it feels like you have the place to yourself, just you and your friends.”
Written by Chris Sinatra (Askew). Chris has been climbing for over 15 years and has traveled extensively to pursue his passion for the sport. He now calls San Francisco home while planning out the next big adventure. Follow Chris on Twitter @AcutelyAskew.