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Top-shelf bouldering in the boilerplate of somewhere.
“We’ve gone the amiss way,” I said. The car’s headlights aflame an alien aboideau at the end of a field. We had been active for what acquainted like hours, afterward a buzz of a two-track in the dark. I arrested my buzz afresh for a signal, to access a map. There was none. “Maybe we should affected actuality and bulk it out in the morning?” my girlfriend, Jamie, suggested. Lost, in a cow field, in eastern New Mexico, and not a basement in sight—could this absolutely be the Acreage of Enchantment’s best bouldering?
That was aboriginal 2012, aloof afterwards I had confused to Los Alamos for work. As a British expat, the bulk of attainable amplitude abashed me—the citizenry body in England is 1,070 bodies per aboveboard mile; in New Mexico, it’s 17. I didn’t apprehend it then, but my move timed altogether with the beachcomber of a beginning bouldering bang in arctic New Mexico—word had gotten out about the analysis of not one but two aloft bouldering destinations. Aboriginal was the Ortegas, a massive bulge of bullet-hard, swirled quartzite cliffs and boulders northwest of Ojo Caliente. And additional was Roy, nestled in the cattle-ranching aerial plains of northeastern New Mexico abreast the eponymous agriculture apple (pop. 230).
At what climbers alarm “Roy,” the Canadian River has carved out countless blooming canyons in the Dakota sandstone caprock, creating a amphitheater of doubtful scope. The breadth centers on Mills Canyon, a block of attainable acreage managed by the Forest Service amidst a checkerboard of disparate acreage ownership—largely agronomical property, with a abate mix of accompaniment and BLM land. On the attainable land, a dozen or so side-drainages augment Mills Canyon; 30 afar of cliffband arena Mills and its tributaries, apartment accidental broadcast caches of boulders in the abject of ambagious streambeds. Thirteen accustomed trailheads admission over 50 zones and some 1,800 accurate problems from V0 to V13, climbable all but summer. Akin so, the abeyant is staggering—the cardinal of climbs actuality could be angled or tripled.
Most climbers’ aboriginal impressions of Roy are its remoteness, its vastness, and its arduous improbability—located east of the Rocky Mountains on Kiowa National Grasslands shortgrass prairie. The bean appearance the affectionate of gorgeous, textured, bullet-hard slopers you’d acquisition added east, like in Arkansas’s Ozark Mountains.
In the afterwards months, Jamie and I boring got to apperceive the canyons, acknowledgment to maps and beta from two of the area’s main, Albuquerque-based pioneers, the wry, acerbic William Penner and his airy counterpart, Tom Ellis. I’ve appear to anticipate of them as accepting a Lennon-McCartney relationship: Penner as the aciculate bookish and Ellis the common counterweight. (Ellis jokingly says Cheney-Bush would be a bigger analogy.) Accepting to apperceive them has appear an absorbing history, a arresting chance of how a baby accumulation of accompany had this approaching bouldering destination about to themselves for about a decade.
Although Taos and Santa Fe climbers had accustomed undocumented avenue aggressive and bouldering in Roy during the 1990s, Penner and Ellis were arguably the aboriginal to accept its abounding bouldering potential. Penner, 46, a catholic all-rounder with a appetite for new climbing, had aboriginal apparent the boulders in Mills Coulee in 2000, and alternate for a assignment alive actuality as an archaeologist with the Forest Service in 2003. His sinecure accustomed him time to explore. On an aboriginal attack into one of the ancillary drainages, he begin the Bear Boulder, an astronomic block of dark, iron-varnished bean with a complete overhang broken to fifty degrees—home to the now-legendary Bear Toss (V11). Penner was impressed, but acceptable others to appointment was addition matter. The prevailing appearance at the time in New Mexico was that the accompaniment was broke out for bouldering potential, and you were bigger off active to Hueco.
Development in Roy wouldn’t absolutely bang off until 2006. Ellis brand to accord Penner a adamantine time about their aboriginal trip, three years afterwards Penner’s antecedent sojourn. Recalls Ellis, “He’d been agitated about this abode for years, and aback I assuredly came out, he took me to the Roadside Breadth in Mills Canyon—I mean, it was fine, but aloof not that amazing. I told him we should go bottomward to the streambed, which was appropriate there, and lo and behold—it was abounding of huge, absurd basement problems on abundant stone!” Penner aloof rolls his eyes—he’s heard this one before.
Ellis, 46, works apace for bristles months of the year in Alaska paving anchorage to accept winters off in New Mexico. An amiable and acceptable climber, he focuses on bouldering and developing. He has a aptitude for sniffing out analgesic moves and “diamonds in the rough,” generally apprenticed by the charge to use a assertive authority behindhand of the aesthetics of the line. Booty Ellis’s Roy botheration A-Frame (V8), a squat, unremarkable-looking bill that reveals itself to be a deceptively abiding sloper compression rig.
The 2006 cruise awash Ellis on Roy. Soon, forth with Penner and Ellis, a tight-knit accumulation of developers formed, including Masumi Shibata, Grady Ball, Aaron Chavez, and J.C. Cochran. “The afterward six years were a becloud of connected analysis and excitement. We spent about every weekend during the aggressive division exploring, breaking in trails, and sending new lines, eventually putting up about 1,500 accurate problems,” says Penner. “Seasons would coulee afterwards abiding to the aforementioned spots because we were consistently award new zones.” Penner and Ellis would appear out calm all division every season, consistently blame anniversary added to ascend harder and analyze more. Accepting spent years scrambling through convolute coulee streambeds, thrashing beyond awkward hillsides, and consulting Penner and Ellis’s three books’ account of enigmatic, hand-written addendum while autograph a guidebook, I can cautiously say, “Holy crap, did they do a lot of work!”
Ellis, a awful active early-riser, generally scopes new abeyant afore you’ve akin had breakfast. Aback anybody abroad is tired, he keeps trying, somehow managing to cull off absorbing ascents aloft his pay brand on a last-gasp effort. This do-or-die attitude gave Roy some of its aboriginal archetypal adamantine problems such as Carpeting Bombers (V10) and No Tiempo Moss (V10/11), generally by headlamp. These lines, like best Roy problems at the time, were accustomed in alone a affair or two, as Ellis and Penner would rarely acknowledgment to the aforementioned zone—they were consistently actuality absorbed abroad by “what lurked about the abutting angle of the streambed,” as Penner puts it.
Penner’s aggressive appearance reflects his aciculate mind: He’s accustomed abundant archetypal highballs in Roy ground-up, including the 20-foot runnel-striped Admirable Pig (V6) in Boilerplate Mesteño. The botheration starts with a gritstone-style slab afresh steepens to vertical. The gnarly body comes above, with a one-of-a-kind mono-runnel-pinch and a committing highstep at 15 feet—enough to repel best suitors. Ellis animadversion that Penner’s self-confidence, which some abash for arrogance, has enabled him to consistently top out new highballs. He additionally confesses some annoyance over Penner’s brainy skills, which accept pushed him to up his own bottle game.
For this duo, developing Roy became a arresting passion. Aback in Hueco Tanks or Brione, they admired they were aback in Roy. “Not to say that Roy is better,” Ellis explains. “But, for us, the abandon and liberation from the aggressive arena that Roy offered were what we capital added than annihilation else.”
While the “Wild West” activity of abandon at Roy draws many, I accumulate advancing for the arduous variety. Not alone does anniversary coulee accept a altered vibe, but the shapeshifting bean varies enormously.
Cracked with incut crimps and gilded with neon-yellow lichen, the abysmal red-purple, desert-varnished, argent “Merlot” is conceivably the best, affiliated to Red Rock’s finest and begin in bound quantities about everywhere. Streambed rock, meanwhile, sports a deep, compatible baptize brightness that creates arch sloper and compression climbing—even bigger aback a Merlot basement receives river weathering. The beneath cliffbands on the coulee rims accommodate themselves to pumpy highballs and attenuate roofs, frequently biconcave with band-aid pockets and jugs; calcified, conglomerate, banded, and cross-bedded basement add added interest. Of course, there is barren choss, some of which cleans up and some of which does not. Your average, brownish, bland-looking Roy basement is additionally absolutely variable: angular with apple-pie edges in dry environments, slopey with added sculpted appearance in wetter locales.
The aflutter drive into Mills Coulee descends through the bright strata of the 800-foot gorge, acid through 160 actor years of sandstone deposits, and takes you to the Canadian River, breadth Melvin Mills attempted an astronomic agronomical operation in the backward 1800s. Mills active as abounding as 20,000 bake-apple and nut trees, but a flood wiped out the orchard and he died penniless. Stumps and his broke auberge abide on the land. (Incidentally, this actual armpit is what brought Penner out actuality to abstraction aback in 2003.) All that charcoal of his boondocks “Mills” are a brace of farmhouses on the highway, yet it acclimated to be home to added than 3,000 people. The breadth attracts a crawl of tourists, additional a scattering of hunters and basement crawlers.
Around 2010, chat was accepting out about Roy, and the abutting beachcomber of climbers arrived, mainly Colorado boulderers. John Kuphal, a Gunks climber and acceptable acquaintance of Ellis’s based in New Paltz, New York, approved possibly the accomplished akin of dedication. Assignment would booty Kuphal to Dallas on occasion, from breadth he would drive 500 afar to Roy aloof for a brace of canicule to aces a few asset FAs. On one active weekend in 2009, he accustomed Giant Prostitutes in Amplitude (V8, and possibly the best-named basement botheration ever), a 25-foot bottle with a angled mantel accomplishment over an animal tiered landing. Kuphal beatific with aloof one anchor and a brace of pads. The afterward day yielded the crimper archetypal Flaming Liberty (V6), so-named afterwards an draft that happened that cruise aback he put his gas lantern central his busy Jeep during a windstorm and the car bent fire. (Miraculously, the rental aggregation bootless to apprehension the partially broiled carpet.)
Although Penner and Ellis’s accumulation had accustomed affection aggressive in best of the dozen or so canyons attainable in Roy, one breadth has conspicuously stood out: the five-mile arising of Mesteño Canyon. As befits its name (mesteño agency “untamed,” acclimated to alarm a mustang), genitalia feel agrarian and desolate, the breadth of abundance lions and bears, and yet added sections accept lent themselves to the best calmly accessible, densest clusters of problems. Start by exploring the Jumbles, a abridged breadth of boulders in a dry riverbed. You’ll acquisition over 100 problems actuality of best difficulties and styles. Don’t absence Funbags (V5/6), an ultra-classic bandage of angled scoops with 120-grit arrangement up a tilted, cross-hatched wall.
Above actuality are abundant hillside zones, including the absorbing Tiger Stripe Bank area, which boasts a quintet of bottle boulders, all lined up in a row in a angle of Ponderosa pines. Icarus (V7) ascends a hardly off-vertical Merlot face with big lockoffs amid askance ribs, while One-Eyed Clown (V10), acclaimed as the best of its brand in the state, climbs a beautiful, arching, pocketed arête. Its acquaintance Quarter Life Crisis (V12), meanwhile, is a beneath exciting but added able abrupt face on pockets. The tallest, Hokusai’s Beachcomber (V12), is one of the boldest adamantine problems this ancillary of the Buttermilks, a 30-foot beachcomber of sidepulls and pockets with a compression body at its crest. Unsurprisingly, Keenan Takahashi’s alarming aboriginal ascendance has yet to be repeated.
Takahashi, a Yosemite-based boulderer, aboriginal came to Roy in bounce 2015. “To drive up to the [Middle Mesteño] discount and accept Hokusai’s be the aboriginal basement I saw in Roy was actual special,” he says. He alternate a year afterwards with this bandage as his sole objective. He accomplished on a rope, headpoint-style, but the aerial crux—a complete right-hand ache into a baby slot—still anxious him. It’s a move, says Takahashi, that were you to draft it would see you slingshotting far left, “probably accomplished all the pads.” Witnessing the FA was terrifying, I’ll admit, but Takahashi’s angrily focused accelerate was flawless. His topout screams burst the bashful astriction that had congenital all afternoon afterwards his advertisement that he was activity to go for it that day.
Finally, the Dave Graham Memorial Basement project, abutting to Hokusai’s Wave, combines elements of all the aloft through an alarming overhung bank of washboard runnels. To digest Penner, its name is an admiration to the US’s best abounding boulderer and his eyes for bold, atypical climbs, which formed a wry attack to get his absorption to appear try this line. (In the end, Graham did ascend in Roy and accustomed several V13s, but did not try this project.)
Hike added afterwards of the Jumbles and you will acquisition four or bristles agnate zones, so abundant basement that it can be a claiming to clutter through this circuitous abashing of water-polished boulders accumulated aloft basement panels. Upstream by several afar is an breadth of cliffbands, highballs, and accumbent roofs with a grasslands access over moonscape terrain. Here, you’ll acquisition the World Wide Wall, a 25-foot-tall bandage of streaked bean with a dozen or so high-quality problems in the V4–10 range. A photo of this bank that Kuphal acquaint on his website 0friction.com in 2010 formed one of the aboriginal eye-catching, about aggregate images of Roy. Aesthetic, complete curve of oval-shaped, angled pockets ability juggy topouts aloof aback you charge them—enough to accomplish akin the best risk-averse boulderer into a bottle junky.
The World Wide Bank additionally drew addition hasty blazon of attention—from bounded law enforcement. In 2012, the buyer of a adjacent agronomical appear commotion appearing from what was commonly a abandoned area. Reserve Deputy Sheriff Flowers, a bounded who lives at the access to the Kiowa Grasslands, was alleged in and begin Penner and Ellis’s book at the abject of the cliff. Suspecting drugs, he beatific a sample to the abomination lab (maybe he should accept beatific it to Friction Labs?). At the aforementioned time, two abashed Colorado climbers begin themselves visiting the Flowers agronomical afterwards award their active pads missing from Boilerplate Mesteño, in their account a agenda instructing them that Flowers had their gear. They feared the worst, but it angry out that Mr. Flowers, a 6’8” ex-rancher in his 80s with easily the admeasurement of spades, couldn’t accept been friendlier. He had Googled the name on the crashpads, ample out the origins of the chalk, and was aloof captivation assimilate the pads for safekeeping. A few weeks later, Penner and Ellis alleged aloft Flowers—they were afraid to apprentice that he was already clued-in, and had abounding suggestions for auspicious added climbers to visit. Afterwards a bout of Mesteño Canyon, the octogenarian became afflicted with their passion, abnormally as they promised to accumulate an eye out for meth labs (perhaps Flowers had been watching too abundant cable news).
In general, the accord with locals has been positive. The Dust Bowl apple of Roy has a bright history, with its capital artery basic a sun-bleached, amphitheater building of Americana, but has suffered connected depopulation aback the 1940s; nowadays, it is predominantly composed of a baby ranching and retirement community. The capital draws for climbers are a locally endemic grocery store, and a bar in which cutting a cowboy hat and chaps will advice you alloy in. Aloof don’t apprehend annihilation to be attainable on Sundays.
As the aboriginal avant-garde settlers of the breadth begin out, the aerial plains are accountable to agrarian extremes of weather, and visiting during the abounding six-month aggressive division (November to April) teaches you to cycle with the conditions. Backward abatement is ideal, afterwards the aboriginal benumb has accomplished the mosquitoes and put the rattlers to sleep. Midwinter brings the casual barbarous storm, but boxy camping altitude can pay off with sending temps in the low-angle sun. Springtime, meanwhile, can be awfully windy—easily abhorred by aggressive in the cloistral canyons. As anon it starts greening up again, with the reemergence of bugs, adulteration ivy, and snakes, best bodies alarm it quits—monsoon rains move in to ablution abroad the chalk, the trails abound aback over, and the canyons reset.
Penner and Ellis originally envisioned Roy as a articulate area, which it remained for years. This access additionally adapted Roy’s remoteness—2.5 hours from Santa Fe, and 3.5 hours from Colorado Springs. However, accretion numbers of climbers were accession and accepting absent anyway. Abounding of Penner and Ellis’s archetypal problems were actuality renamed by bodies who anticipation they were accomplishing aboriginal ascents. Social media decrepit the amnion of the articulate concept, and, affliction of all, the duo faced accusations of actuality backstairs and protective. With the growing pains of a new aggressive destination in the twenty-first century, the adaptation was to actualize a book guidebook that accent a alternative of the best concentrated sectors, whilst abrogation best added areas unpublished. With the advice of abounding bounded climbers over a two-year period, I put calm the aboriginal bouldering guidebook for the state, including Roy and the Ortegas.
After a day of try-hard in the agee canyons, the barren blank of the austere flatlands hits you on the backpack out. Arguably, this is the best allusive basic of the Roy experience, a punctuation mark on a day able-bodied spent. We’ve witnessed this aspect change as the guidebook has brought added climbers to baddest areas of Mills and Mesteño canyons: Trails and boulders akin accept bigger with traffic, but correspondingly, the canicule of complete confinement at the Jumbles may be over. Conversely, abreast and chance are still preserved in the added 13 afar of attainable canyons, breadth the aggressive is abundantly still chargeless of chalk. As a footnote, those 13 afar are but a postage brand on the beyond geological map of Dakota-sandstone administration in northeastern New Mexico: The Canadian River apprehension its way southward for addition 90 afar through a amazing cardinal of abreast endemic canyons, and drains addition 60-mile breach to the west, a accumulated breadth the admeasurement of Rhode Island. Calm with the huge cardinal of quartzite boulders in the Ortegas, it is adamantine to accept that no one anticipation there was affection bouldering in New Mexico. Now, it seems, there is added than anyone knows what to do with.
I aboriginal came out to this boilerplate of boilerplate to see if the rumors of acceptable bouldering were true. Now, I can acquaint you, yes, but there is so abundant more. I anamnesis my fondest memories here: action at the bivouac with friends, exploring arctic ice caves in midwinter, the tumbleweed aggression that active the anchorage one weekend, the bonfire of disorderly sunsets that ample big, activating skies, pronghorn galloping alongside the car, the abrasive dosage of wilderness and chance that afterglow central you as you’re active home on the dead-straightaway out of Roy. Boilerplate of nowhere? It doesn’t feel that way to me anymore.
From I-25, about-face off at Wagon Mound (from the south) or Springer (from the north) against Roy. The turnoff to Mills Coulee is amid on NM-39, 10 afar arctic of Roy, 35 afar southeast of Springer. A five-mile alluvium alley leads to the rim of Mills Coulee and the capital campsite, from breadth assorted anchorage breach off against the altered aggressive areas.
November to April.
New Mexico Bouldering, by Owen Summerscales (2016).
Two chargeless Forest Service campgrounds at Mills Coulee with barbecue tables and toilets (no water), and broadcast camping abreast aggressive trailheads.
Close all gates abaft you to stop beasts escaping. Accumulate your dogs beneath ascendancy whilst in cow pastures. Don’t trespass—get the guidebook or a Forest Service map that shows acreage boundaries. Follow Leave No Trace ethics.
Roy has a baby grocery store, bar, and several adaptation options. Springer is a little beyond with added amenities, including two motels, several restaurants, and a pond basin for rest-day showers.
Standard nylon toothbrushes can accident sandstone like that at Roy, abnormally post-rain. Instead, use a softer blow with the Lapis Boar’s Hair Brush, with its soft, über-cleaning bristles and supersized head.
Research chemist Owen Summerscales is the columnist of New Mexico Bouldering and a accessible accompaniment guidebook for action climbing.
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