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Socorro Bouldering Guide - The Wayback Machine

Stone Knives and Vacuum Tubes

It is likely that various ancient peoples used the tops of the boulders for hunting, and mammoth polish is evident on some sharp corners from the last ice age. In the 1950's, several parties climbed the classic and obvious traditional route Redwall, but their identities remain ambiguous and the deed fogged by the mists of time. New Mexico Tech students toproped several climbs on Waterfall Wall starting around 1976. These climbs included Diamond Clutch, Little Overhang, and Little Red Wall.

Bert Arrives

Socorroans Erik Hugnagel, Philip Simon, and others did a lot of bouldering in the early 80s, but then Bertrand Gramont showed up on the scene in 1983 and distracted them from the true path. Bertrand had climbed in Europe, and did not have any qualms about bolting, unlike most americans at the time. He bolted some existing topropes at Box to claim "FA"s (Bert did not consider a route "climbed" until it had been led, which explains why Waterfall Wall, under 30 feet tall, was grid-bolted at one point). Nonetheless, his energy, drive, and hard work also opened up a lot of new rock for roped climbing that was not good to top-rope and did not have trad gear placements. By 1986, there were over 40 leadable routes at Box.

The first guide to the Socorro area that I am aware of was a photocopied, hand drawn leaflet by Erik Hufnagel and Bertrand Gramont. This had a few pages containing the routes they had established in Box Canyon. You could swing by the Capitol Bar and pick one up for a few bucks, or browse through it in the New Mexico Tech (NMT) Library for free (but not take it with you).

Lots of Pebbles

Due to the lack of tall cliffs and propensity of boulders, bouldering has always been an important part of the climbing experience around Socorro. A Climbing magazine article from June 1986 specifically mentions the bouldering. Bob Murray did serious bouldering here, and his usual style was not to name anything or record it, just enjoy the rock as presented. His most famous problem here is the Left Roof at Streambed. The proximity to Hueco Tanks also perverted the locals to sample the fine boulders.

Spud spots Cliff while the ladies look on in Hueco Tanks

The Tower

By 1987, the Socorro crew had bolted most of the best lines at Box, and they started to explore the surrounding area. Notable finds from this era include East Red Canyon with the spectacular and easy highball wall called "Honey", Warm Springs Wall, Granite in the Quebradas, and Bianchi canyon.

The biggest find, of course, was the Enchanted Tower, as described by Philip Simon here. This outstanding mushroom-shaped formation seized Bert, Philip, and Erik, who established many routes there. They were soon joined by others and it was time for a new guide. In 1993, NMT funded the Maestas and Jones "black book". This was a tidy and slick volume that included annotated photographs, some bouldering, and most importantly for the time, The Enchanted Tower. A few magazine articles mostly rehashed this book.

Bert and Cooch on Zee Wicked Witch

The Bouldering Experience

Meanwhile, in 1989 I was climbing at Waterfall with the NMT climbing class. The instructor, Steve Dyker, noticed my impatience and energy while I was waiting for a turn at either climbing or belaying. He sent me and some of the more adventurous students over to the Ultimate Boulder. The rock was so solid, the moves so powerful, and the convenience so seductive that I started bouldering at Box in earnest.

Though he may have had an agenda with hard bolted lines, Bert also loved to boulder. He would set beers along Waterfall Wall, and people would traverse around taking sips as they went. Bert would also say "Streambed will make you strong!"

It didn't take long bouldering in that era to meet up with a group of young, intense locals. These thrashers were mostly raised in Socorro. I have always been a poor climber, so I wasn't able to keep up with these seemingly impossibly strong boulderers. Jake Rothfork, Will Evelyth, Dylan Etschorn and others were doing insane-looking lines, most of which I was unable to repeat for many years and some that I have never sent. Jake would cruise laps on Streambed with a diving belt, or do hours of traversing without getting off the rock. He would do full body length dynos or campus Left Roof. They would climb unprotected on Waterfall and try to pull each other off, or if one got scared the others would throw large rocks at them until they finished the climb. The young Box Masters discovered and solved many superb problems on Unbeatable, Edges, Dylan's Secret Garden, Spinach Wall, Handlebar Willy, Cowshit Roof, and Spook. They worked out the roof of La Cueva Angela all the way to the lip. They were going to bolt out the headwall and create a route but the bouldering spirit prevailed.

Look at that hair! Peck and Jake encourage Will

Fifteen Minutes

In 1991 the Wilderness Centre in Albuquerque sponsored the second Rock Shoe Demo Day.

I remember lots of bouldering at this event, which suprised me at the time because I didn't think that these famous climbers would goof off on the boulders.

Monster Island

The aging but still young Box Masters wandered around a bit from the Tower and soon found a cluster of wonderful bouldering in the Sawtooth Mountains, which they dubbed Monster Island. These boulders were of similar rock to the Tower, but more solid and with fewer holds.

Frankenstien Wall at Monster Island

The next wave

From the mid to late 90's some very dedicated, strong, and motivated boulderers came on the scene.

Andy Mayer essentially lived at Box. He would go out almost every day, and climbed most everything in the Black Book. He then went exploring and filled in a lot of the interesting, but previously overlooked problems. Notable Andy problems include Madame Guillotine, Bankruptcy Traverse, Sangre de Lizard, and Graffiti Dwellers.

Andy demonstrates early crashpad technology

Eric Heatwole, or "Peck", was one of the most prolific boulderers in the Socorro area. A short, foul-mouthed, extremely bold, often drunk, very strong and imaginative boulderer, Peck will usually forego the use of a rope well into what many would deem free solo heights. Peck has a very good eye for an excellent boulder problem but also a dogged determination to climb some horrific crap. The cliche is true in this case: Peck has forgotten about more first ascents than most poeple ever put up (but some are best left forgotten). Opie and Peck had the vision to develop such areas as Spedville and Harmonica Convention. Notable Peck problems include Rubber Walrus Protector, Milking the Billy Goat, Project Mayhem, The Colon Blows, The Smell of Beer, Calm Horizons, I Fudged your Mama, and Better than Life. Peck occasionally returns to Socorro and suprises us with such recent gems as The Sound of Rushing Feces and Perfect Hair Forever.

Peck moments before soloing an icy couloir on Ladron Peak

Nathaniel came to Socorro from Rifle Colorado for a few years. Peck's roomate, he was almost as foul but was blessed with otherworldly endurance. Nathaniel and Peck did a lot of new boulder problems at Upper Spook, Alf Rig, the Magdalenas, and Hueco Tanks. Nathaniel did such wicked problems as Leviathan, The Brown Noise, and Red Dwarf.

Scott Roberts has a great eye for good lines, a constant urge to explore, and enormous talent and skill to apply to the problems. Scott readily climbed almost everything, and then put up some of the best lines: American Beauty, Pinche Way, Jump for Joy, Mello Mushroom, Highway 395 Meth Hos, The Slopes, Stoned Camp Counselor, Titus, Sofa King, and Eskimo Walrus Love Song.

updated May 13th, 2008
Bob Broilo