Chris Sharma was in town for the Horse Pens 40 competition, and many of the competitors had seen his slideshow in Raleigh and Boone just a few days before the comp. So the mood was set by inspiration from his stories, and many climbers had dreams of 5.15b and V16 as they taped up their fingers and laced up their shoes. But when they first touched the gritty and super slopey stone that Horse Pens offers, they were all snapped back to the reality that V8 is still wicked hard and we should leave the 220 ft long 5.15b’s to the master himself.

Photos by Cirque Productions:
Brian Burnham & Leon Godwin

Not constrained by the country club regulations of Hound Ears, Horse Pens 40 boasted numbers of roughly 400 competitors and about 200 spectators. This increased number of people was emphasized by how quickly we went through the free kegs of beer during the Friday night pre-competition party.

On Saturday morning, the sun crept up the mountain to bask the climbers and boulders in sunshine and promised not only a clear and crisp day, but also one much warmer than in years past. Climbers made their way to the large pavilion that the Horse Pens park boasts and perused the aisle of vendor tents in hopes of free breakfast. As the crowd began to grow, Kurt Smith called the Triple Crooooooowwwwn to order and sent the sea of bouldering pads out in the field of rock perched oddly atop the random mountain in northwest Alabama.

Battles from the previous Hound Ears comp instantly fired back up between Jimmy Webb and Jon Glassburg. Both worked on the classic V11 God Module early in the day, but the holds proved a bit to slimy for either one to get the send. They moved quickly through the boulder field racking up points on No Tranquility V9, Lawdog V8, Slider V9, and Cadillac Thrills V9. In the end Jimmy Webb prevailed and took the Men’s Open Crown with Joshua Reyes close behind. With Glasburg and Webb each having a crown, the final will be determined next month at Little Rock City.

The women also continued to duke it out with Alex Johnson trying to defend her Hound Ears victory and Kate McGinnis trying to re-establish her long time dominance in the Triple Crown Series. In her casual and nonchalant manner, Kate roamed from the Slider boulder to Mulletino, spent some time at American Pie, and in the end racked up 8891 points on the day which was enough to secure a Horse Pens victory.

Drama reigned supreme in the Junior category as Calvin Wagner showed up with blistered fingers from an unfortunate mishap with a hot glue gun on a middle school project gone array. As luck would have it Horse Pens slopers allow you to still send some hard problems even if your fingertips are smothered in tape. With the help of a couple painkillers and frequent tape re-application Calvin strung together a series of V5s and V4s which was enough to give him his second crown en route to earning the Triple Crown.

Out of town hands don’t last long on the gumdrop boulders of HP40, and in early afternoon climbers began to emerge from the vibrantly colored forest with pink and raw tips, or dripping blood in some more exciting cases. On their way across the field climbers stopped at the various slacklines to show off their jumps, tricks, and skills in hopes of earning some of the excessive swag that event organizers Jim Horton and Chad Wykle had to hand out. The man himself, Chris Sharma emerged from the boulder field later that day. He didn’t turn in a scorecard, but simply enjoyed browsing the classic test piece problems that Horse Pens had to offer him.

The evening awards ceremony had all the normal elements that we climbers live for; lots of food off the grill, plenty of beer, a slideshow, music, free stuff being chucked into the crowd, and of course plenty of camaraderie. Campfires spread out across the field as climbers retired for the evening. Long drives lay ahead of most climbers to get out of the middle of wherever Horse Pens is, but not before stopping at the newly added Huddle House that’s now in ‘downtown’ Ashville, Alabama. Just one more month left for training before everyone returns to Chattanooga for the grand finale of Triple Crown 2008.