24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell

Jasper Climbing Ranch Hosts Yearly Festival

By Bob Robinson 
Photography by Novo Studio

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It’s been called the Lollapalooza of rock climbing.

Outside magazine referred to it as “the wildest rock climbing event in the world.” Climbing magazine rated it as one of the most difficult endurance events in the nation. But founder Andy Chasteen said it best when naming it “24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell.”

Part agony, part reunion, part costume party, this international annual scene entices climbers from the likes of Australia, Sweden, Canada and states all across America to a dude ranch nestled in the heart of Arkansas’s Ozark Mountains. Positioned in a horseshoe-shaped canyon floor, lined on three sides by sheer rock walls bejeweled with over 400 bolted climbing routes, the ranch is the only climbing venue in the country equipped to host such a competition.

September 26-30, 2018 marked the 13th year climbers came together to “climb for glory,” as Gordo the Great (aka Jeremy Collins) phrases it. Standing in the bed of a pickup truck, it is tradition for a wildly costumed Collins to kick off the event by shouting to a crowd of near 300 participants the “climbers’ creed.” In response, standing face to face with their climbing partner, each will repeat his words, in equally rambunctious yells, to their cohort for the coming 24 hours of shared suffering. The creed is a light-hearted yet serious reminder that partners hold one another’s lives in their hands.

The spirit of the creed pretty much exemplifies the event itself. With brightly-painted-muscular bodies and colorful costumes, the climbers join the loud raucous festivities, knowing they are about to begin both a physically demanding and potentially dangerous competition. These athletes have come from afar, if not to compete against other climbers then to push themselves to sleep-deprived, inconceivably punishing limits, and to have a great deal of fun in the process.    

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The rules remain basically the same as in 2006 when Chasteen and a few buddies were climbing the ranch’s rock walls, and one of them wondered aloud how many routes a pair of climbers could climb if they kept at it all day and all night. 

From its initial year, when 120 climbers signed up with only three months’ notice, the event has continued to grow in popularity. Concerned over the environmental impact, organizers decided to cap the number of competitors at under 300. Online registration usually fills the quota within minutes after opening.

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In recent years, the 24HHH event has been preceded by a 12 Hours of Horseshoe Hell (12HHH). And there are those who, after completing the 12HHH, take a short nap, then accept the challenge of the 24HHH.

If you are not a rock climbing machine, you too are welcome to join the fun as a volunteer or spectator by going to the twofourhell.com website to register. With camping, food trucks, climbing gear vendor tents, socializing with fellow climbers, fun, games and live music this is a very spectator-friendly event.

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 At the completion of the creed yell, as it has been on 12 previous occasions, someone stepped onto the bed of the pickup truck and fired a shotgun to announce the beginning of another 24HHH. Before the gun’s loud explosion had finished reverberating off the canyon walls, teams had scattered in all directions, each following their own unique strategy. With some teams preferring to attack the more difficult rated climbs while still fresh and rested while others prefer knocking out as many less-challenging routes as possible in the early hours.

The festive atmosphere continues throughout the entire competition, with climbers’ shouts, whoops and hollers echoing across the canyon at the top of each hour, celebrating another hour of climbing in the books.

During the 2017 competition, David McGee and Jordan Homer of Climbing for Crappers climbed a combined 342 routes to win most team routes climbed. In the process they raised over $3,000 to help build latrines in El Salvador (thus the team name). That amounted to over 14 routes per hour, or another way to look at it, a little over four minutes per climb. If you have ever been rock climbing, you realize just how incredible this is. It takes me that long just to plot my line up the rock.

Also in 2017, Jeremy Collins broke the cumulative All-Time Points Record during the competition’s 12-year history. In the process Collins, with 202, also won the most individual routes climbed. And he accomplished this climbing only trad’ routes. Totally insane!