Trip Beta - Horse Pens 40 in Alabama
This past week I was fortunate enough to get some time off to go on a climbing trip. I decided to go to Horse Pens 40 (HP40) in Alabama. The trip was awesome and I was pumped to come home with a personal HP40 best of a V7. I kept thinking to myself about how great it would be to have new climbers experience the same trip that I had, so without further ado here is some clutch trip beta for HP40.
Type of Rock
The type of rock in this area is sandstone, which gives the rock amazing friction when climbing. This sandstone lends well to the curvature of the rock, which is heavily comprised of slopers. This allows for climbing on steep sloped angles that would otherwise not be climbable. Within the sandstone there are also iron ridges that intermix some painful crimps in the middle of the sloping climbs.
The best part about HP40 is the fact that you can camp 30 feet from the boulders, which makes it one of the most accessible places to access for all climbing areas. The options are tenting which costs $20USD a night, or $15 if you pay for 7 or more days in a row. There is also the option of renting a cabin, though it is $40 a person and the cabins only have beds with no linens. Personally, unless the weather is really poor, I would just camp. Also there is a small covered area at the very back with a tin roof that you can pitch your tent under. I usually camp there so I don’t need to worry about rain.
HP40 does have a little convenience store that sells non-perishables, though I would highly recommend purchasing food at the “Piggly Wiggly”. I am not joking… that is the name of the closest grocery store located in Ashville. This store has a very small selection of produce, and a very large selection of spam. This store sells beer as well and there is a liquor store next door. This county is a little different from Ontario, and they cannot sell alcohol on Sundays and Holidays, so make sure to stock up.
The best restaurant to eat out at is a Mexican restaurant called Mi Casita’s in Ashville. The food is great and they serve free tortilla chips and salsa to start. We have a tradition that must be followed for any first-time HP40 climbers: when going to Mi Casita’s, you have to order the “special dinner.” It is $10 USD and contains enough calories to fuel you for 2 weeks. The other restaurants in town are nothing to write home about but feel free to give them a try.
If you have a portable kettle that plugs in, I would recommend bringing it. There are a bunch of plugs scattered around the camping area and it is very convenient to not have to waste fuel and water on your camp stove.
HP40 is a private establishment, so it is up to the owner's discretion to upgrade the facilities, and sadly they do not ever invest in improvements. In the last 10 years of going to HP40 I have seen nothing change — though this does mean that they are consistent. You can count on the bathrooms to be working, running water to fill up your water bottles, free showers that are actually warm, and some awesome decor in the lounge area.
There is a nice extension to the family house that is a covered heated area to hang out and read in. There are lots of tables as well as some board games to choose from. The bad side is that this room is sometimes locked or they kick you out midday because they are closing up. You also cannot bring food inside. The other covered area is outdoors and exposed so it is a little colder, though at least it keeps off the rain. Again, they are a little crazy and state with many posted signs that you cannot cook or camp under the area.
Another negative thing for Canadian travelers is that there is NO INTERNET so you have to pay for some US data plan if you want to update your Instagram story. This isn’t as big of a deal, sometimes I feel a week without my phone is quite refreshing.
If you need an extra pad, they also rent them at the front desk. There are only 2 available so make sure you get them before they disappear!
This area is known for being the mecca of sandstone sloper bouldering in the USA. After many trips I have some top climbs that I would recommend to anyone who visits. Please note that this area is very sandbagged and the grades are established assuming you know the beta, conditions are perfect, and they fit your style.
V0 - Grove 2, and Grove 3. (Fun warm ups)
V2 - Bridge Arete
V2 - Eight Ball
V2 - Wasp
V3 - Earth Wind Fire
V3 - Spirit
V3 - Grove Rider
V3 - Bum Boy (Most classic climb in HP40)
V4 - Low Down
V4 - Mortal Kombat (Very sketchy so have lots of pads and spotters)
V5 - Popeye
V5 - Cuts like a knife
V6 - Moon Arete
V6 - Redneck
V7 - Great White
V8 - Skywalker
Rest Day Ideas
With every trip, you have to have rest days in order to heal your skin. Unfortunately, HP40 is located in the middle of nowhere. Birmingham is the closest big city and it is only an hour’s drive away. There is a movie theater and a couple gyms. High Point is the biggest gym in the area if you are looking for somewhere to climb. Bringing a good book, as well as some board games, is a great way to pass time when not climbing.
When should I go?
Even though you are traveling to Alabama, don’t get fooled and think it is a warm place to go all year round. Since the type of rock is sandstone, the best conditions are in cooler temperatures. Personally less than 10 degrees Celsius is the best time to climb. Late October through mid March are the best times for climbing. Don’t bother to go during the summer since it is too hot to climb.
Since you are going during the cold season, the temperatures can fluctuate pretty heavily. Anywhere from +20 Celsius during the day to -10 Celsius at night is typical. Bring winter clothing and a really good sleeping bag and Thermarest. One year I forgot my long john’s and had to purchase them from Goodwill…. Safe to say I did not forget them again.
There is a major climbing festival that takes place usually in November called the Triple Crown. It is really busy, so check before your trip to make sure you are not going during the competition. Or maybe sign up for the competition, I hear it is a lot of fun!
Even though I have pointed out some flaws of HP40, I would still recommend it to anyone looking for a unique boulder trip. The rock is fantastic, the camping is on site, and the temperatures are better than in Ontario during the winter. If you do end up going, shoot your way over to Toprock Climbing — I would love to hear about your adventures!
Written by: Kevin Allen @kallenclimber