Inform and Inspire

Welcome to Upstate Bouldering, designed around bouldering in the Upstate region of South Carolina. This website is intended to inform the reader of local spots in SC, Western NC and Northeast GA, as well as a blog of my experiences climbing at these great spots. I hope everyone learns of a new place to climb or is inspired to climb somewhere close to them. If you have any comments, please send me an e-mail.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Horse Pens 40 Bouldering Review and Give Away!

I have to admit, at first I didn't like the book...entirely because some of my favorite climbs had been downgraded:) But after thumbing through and staring at all of the sweet pictures and incredibly useful info for a day or two, I started to realize that this really was one of the best presented bouldering guidebooks I have ever seen. When the Rumbling Bald Bouldering Guidebook came out a few years ago, I was blown away by the full color photo topo's and how easy it was to get around such an expansive boulderfield. I almost thought it couldn't get much better, but this guidebook proved me wrong. With most of the features of the Bald Guide, and many additional perks, the Horse Pens 40 Bouldering guide may have just set the standard that all guidebooks should shoot for!

If you know anything about bouldering in the Southeast, then you are already familiar with Horse Pens 40. An access success story in the early 2000’s, Horse Pens 40 became well known for its impeccable sandstone slopers pretty quickly. Almost instantly the area was compared to Fonatainebleau, the planet’s bouldering Mecca in France, and this helped to turn Horse Pens, and the southeast for that matter, into a legit bouldering destination. No longer were the stories of hidden boulders in the hillsides of the southern Appalachians just myths, only the lucky few could sample and was now possible for everyone to get in on the world class action. Since then, grades have changed, projects and testpieces have been sent and beta has been shared in major magazines and basic topo’s online. Horse Pens is also part of the biggest yearly outdoor bouldering competitions in the US...The Triple Crown Bouldering Competition. Now, finally, the new guidebook “Horse Pens 40 Bouldering” by Adam Henry and Greener Grass Publishing has given these inanimate rock formations their due respects.

I have been lucky to be able to travel to several different states and countries and experience bouldering in many different ways. Along the way I have relied heavily on any information source I could get my hands on, but mainly the use of a well respected and informative guidebook. I’ve seen the spectrum of guidebooks…used some of the most world renowned guidebooks to get around Fontainebleau and I’ve also used a few drunkenly scribbled beer napkin topo’s that weren’t so hot too. Up until the Rumbling Bald Bouldering Guide, there have been very few guidebooks to southeastern boulderfields. Southeastern boulder crags are sometimes mentioned in other guidebooks (like Horse Pens was mentioned in the Alabama & Georgia edition of “The Dixie Cragger’s Atlas”) but instead have mainly stayed in the realm of a .pdf file from Dr Topo (RIP). The new “Horse Pens 40 Bouldering” adds a vital tome to possibly the most well known southern boulderfield.

As soon as I picked up the book, I couldn't help but notice that the layout and design of the book is clean, vivid, and sharp. Brilliantly detailed color pictures pop out of every page, as I thumbed through, looking for my favorite sends. I skip past all of the words in the front to get to the topo’s and problem descriptions, the real meat of any guidebook. Almost every page is laid out differently, so it reads less as a textbook and more as an informative magazine. Also on almost every page are problem descriptions, a traditional topo, a photo topo, and a great action shot of a local legend or famous climber on that area’s classic...makes the book very appealing to thumb through and look at the pictures, even if you’re not looking at the topo’s or problems. If you haven't seen the sample pages yet, you really should check them out...and they didn't just use the best pages for the sample, the whole guide looks like this! The multiple photo sequences of the FA’s of Eric Pittman on Trick or Treat and James Litz (one of my all time favorite boulderers) on God Module were a really nice touch. I picked up quickly that there is a color coding to the problems on the topo’s; green for V3 and under, yellow for V4 to V7, and red for V8 and up...similar to color coding circuits at Fontainebleau. This makes it easy to glance at the traditional or photo topo and see what’s around in your grade range or which line out of the bunch you should climb. The topo’s are easy to read and navigating between areas is pretty easy...especially compared to topo’s of the past. At the beginning of each area, there is a description of the area, an overview of the area in comparison to the big map, a bar graph of different grades and the number of routes in that area, and a great little feature called “Not To Be Missed”. If you only get to visit Horse Pens for a few days, you want to climb the classics and cant misses in your grade range. ”Not To Be Missed” will tell you what the best routes to hit, in whichever grade range you climb, for the best Horse Pens experience. To top this off, in the front of the guide section is a list of the “Best Of The Best”, or the absolute best problems in the park at each grade. If you can only send a few...send these!

Alright, alright...I finished geeking out and gawking at the problems I had sent or wanted to send, so it was time to read this like a normal book, from cover to cover. Usually I skip over much of the introductory information provided in many guidebooks, too many times its just fluff, but the 30-40 intro pages is a pretty nice read. After the Forward from the Verm himself, the Brief History of Alabama bouldering takes you from John Gill’s experiences at Shades Crest/Moss Rock to those pushing the limits more recently. Adam’s reputation for being opinionated and polarizing show’s up in The Southern Way, more so than his recent interview in Climbing Magazine, but I understand his need to share his mantra and what has been a driving force in developing not only this guidebook, but the entire boulderfield. Grades are always debatable and Adam makes it clear that you can call it whatever you want and it wont hurt his feelings...with that being said, many of the traditional grades of many of the classics have been dropped and sandbagged, even compared to Font itself. Bumboy, Centerpede and Millipede have all seen a drop, and so have many more of the area classics...but he does qualify it by saying that these are the grades with perfect conditions and with intimate knowledge of the line based on previous ascents. The Alabama Beta is crucial for planning a trip and the articles by Bob Cormany and Brad McLeod provide an inside primer on deep south access and bouldering. Mike Shultz’s History of Horse Pens provides a glimpse into the past of Horse Pens and its many uses...although opinionated (come on…”War of Northern Aggression”) and debatable, its informative and sets a great background for bouldering in the area.

Luckily, the book came out before I took a recent, late season road trip. This wasn’t my first trip to Horse Pens, but I still wasn’t exactly familiar with the entire area, so the guidebook really helped me find my way around. It was much easier than the old Dr Topo to use, it covered more areas and problems, and helped me to maximize my time while I was there. I was able to pick which problems I wanted to send, walk straight to them without any navigation problems, and the photo topo’s made sure I was on route once I got there. It wasn't difficult to navigate through the labyrinth and make my way from area to area also.

As if the Horse Pens 40 beta wasn’t on point and enough, Adam also provides some info for 2 other areas nearby. I haven’t had the chance to climb at Palisades Park, but I was able to compete in Chalky Dreams at Moss Rock Preserve last year. If you’re down in Birmingham, there’s plenty there to keep you busy for a few days. The article “Shades Crest” by John Gill was a nice addition too! In comparing the topo and info I was given at the comp last year, there has been some changes to some of the names and grades, but overall the classics are still there and the boulderfield was represented better than I've ever seen it.

Overall, I thought this was one of the best bouldering guidebooks I have used. If the only gripe I have is that Bumboy was downgraded to a V3, I still think it’s a V4:), then I’d say the book was a success. As if Horse Pens 40 wasn’t already one of the best bouldering destinations in the southeast, now there is an equally impressive guidebook to lead you through the maze of impeccable problems! If you're planning that Alabama bouldering getaway, the first stop for info should be Greener Grass's website or your local outfitter to pick up a copy of this invaluable book. I am certain that the guidebook will make your trip more worth while and more enjoyable!


Alright, with that are the rules of the Guidebook Give Away Contest!
Post a comment right on this page or send an e-mail to with your name and address and the name of your favorite Southeastern (mainly AL, GA, TN, NC & SC), bouldering route. If you have a picture of you on that route, send that in too and I'll post it up in a future blog so everyone can see. If you havent been to the southeast to boulder, send me the name of the southeastern route that you dream of road tripping and climbing instead. All entries will be used in a random drawing on June 1st to give away 2 new copies of the guidebook. I will make a weekly post including the names and routes of all that have entered that week...that way you can see if I received your e-mail/comment entry or not and if you are entered in the contest. Please only submit 1 entry, multiple entries will be thrown out. I will not sale or use any e-mail or physical address for anything except this contest. Once again, this is all possible by the gracious guys at Greener Grass Publishing...keep an eye on them for new guidebooks coming out in the future. Good Luck and send those entries in!


  1. The Snake Eyes Sit Start at Shaking Rock.

  2. Splash back at Rocktown. Super classic and a standard for the grade.

  3. This may come as a shocker...hah! Grind of Sound Mind in the good old Burrfields. Sent a still from video to your e-mail.

  4. So Hard to choose just one! From Tn, Al, Ga it would probablly be Harvest Moon at word : classic!

  5. Patio Roof at Rumbling Bald N.C...

  6. Croc Bloc (center line) at Rock Town. Great angle, variety of holds, good height to add in the head factor. Classic!