Author Topic: Prose and Conns (Big Bend NP, TX)  (Read 1597 times)

Offline Gunkswest

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Prose and Conns (Big Bend NP, TX)
« on: October 25, 2015, 11:00:42 am »
Part 1 (October 2015):
I recently had the opportunity to visit Big Bend National Park in West Texas. The park encompasses over 800,000 acres and has oodles of cliffs, some hundreds of feet tall. While much of the rock is loose, there are sections that are of good quality. Climbing in the park began at least as early the late-1940s, when Herb and Jan Conn spent two winters there.

The Conns are well known to climbers from the northeastern U.S. as well as to those that have visited the Needles in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The Conns started climbing in the early 1940s and in 1945, established a bold new route on Cannon Cliff in New Hampshire that was aptly named Conn Course (5.8; 7 pitches). At Carderock, just outside of Washington, DC, Herb Conn did the first ascent of Herbie’s Horror (5.9) in 1942 and then the first lead of Leonard’s Lunacy (5.10) in 1945! They later did an early ascent of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming and shortly thereafter, in 1952, Jan and Jane Showacre completed the first female ascent of the tower. The Conns then moved to the Needles in South Dakota, where they established over 200 new routes and explored over 60 miles of Jewel Cave.

Big Bend is where the Conns spent two winters in the late 1940s. They are credited in the Climbers Guide to Big Bend National Park (David Horne, July 1999) with a handful of first ascents. Given how motivated they were, it is my guess they did many more routes over the course of those two winters that weren’t documented.

On my recent trip to Big Bend, a friend and I decided to repeat Dutch Girl (5.8+) on the Lost Mine Pinnacle. The Conns established this route in 1948 (yes, 5.8+ in 1948). It is about an hour uphill hike to the pinnacle, which is located high in the Chisos Mountains within the park. The route climbs a crack system on the pinnacle, the crux of which is a five-inch wide section near the top. Certainly, the Conns did not have a large cam to protect this wide portion of the route in 1948, but we were glad that we did!

As my friend, Peter, and I stood atop the pinnacle, we thought about the Conns standing in the same spot nearly 60 years earlier. They climbed the route in sneakers (I had a pair of M5s from Mad Rock) and were armed only with a few pitons and a braided nylon rope (we had a full rack of cams).

We also did a great nearby hand crack (Dutch Crack, 5.11) that was established in the 90s (now seemingly a long time ago!).

Long may the Conns’ spirit of adventure and exploration live on!


« Last Edit: October 15, 2017, 04:42:35 pm by Gunkswest »

Offline strandman

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Re: Prose and Conns (Big Bend NP, TX)
« Reply #1 on: October 25, 2015, 05:12:47 pm »
I'm hoping to head down to BB in march or so.......The Conn's wintered here and then summer in wind cave ?right ???

Offline Nick Grant

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Re: Prose and Conns (Big Bend NP, TX)
« Reply #2 on: October 25, 2015, 09:56:02 pm »
Great stuff about the Conns—I'd never heard of them before.  I look forward to reading up on them.

Offline Admin Al

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Re: Prose and Conns (Big Bend NP, TX)
« Reply #3 on: October 26, 2015, 08:26:02 am »
Great trip report. I know of them but didn't know they spent time in Big Bend.
Al Hospers
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Offline strandman

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Re: Prose and Conns (Big Bend NP, TX)
« Reply #4 on: October 26, 2015, 10:50:24 am »
Great stuff about the Conns—I'd never heard of them before.  I look forward to reading up on them.
They spent  years at wind cave south dakota..I remember kevin bein talking about them just before his death....legendary stuff

Offline IOMeara

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Re: Prose and Conns (Big Bend NP, TX)
« Reply #5 on: November 27, 2015, 11:45:08 am »

Hey, so where did you get info about the climbing? I might be heading out there in the winter and although my girlfriend wants to mostly hike, I'd love to do some climbing as well. It is hard to find any specific beta about any climbs. I saw that the park has a pamphlet but I'd like to be able to see what its like before we go.... Dutch Girl sounds sweet.
Thanks
Ira

Offline Gunkswest

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Prose and Conns Redux (Big Bend NP, TX [Trip 2])
« Reply #6 on: November 27, 2015, 08:06:37 pm »
Part 2 (November 2015):
Just returned from another week in West Texas and Big Bend NP. Did some more climbing and exploring on this trip with my better half and our friend, Peter.

We did two very good, new routes on an easily accessible crag in Pine Canyon. Both routes climbed cracks and the rock quality was as good as almost any we have been on (what a surprise, especially for Big Bend). One route was 5.10; the other 5.9 (pic below). Both protected well and now have rap anchors atop them. Reportedly, at least three other routes had previously been done on the crag (one being a 5.8+ crack with anchors at the top).

We also did a foray to the Mule Ears, desert towers within the park that were first climbed by the Conns in the late 1940s. We went up the south tower, which was quite loose and unappealing. The formations are very cool to look at and the surrounding terrain is amazing, but I doubt we will be going back to do the north tower anytime soon (pic attached on the descent from the tower).

Our best guess at the moment is that there are probably 50 or so routes in and around Big Bend NP from 5.1 to 5.11. Supposedly, the longest rock climb in Texas is on Pulliam Peak in the Chisos Mountains within the park (3-5 pitches & scrambling; loose 5.7). Of what we have seen thus far, Dutch Girl on the Lost Mine Spire is probably the best outing if you want to say you've climbed at Big Bend. The hike is pretty, the route historic, and you end up on top of a free-standing pinnacle that has a commanding view. 

Also checked out a few other areas on this trip (Santa Elena Canyon and Indian Head to name but two). If you haven't been to this part of West Texas before, the scenery will amaze you (it's nothing like you are imagining).

The full West Texas tour should include Alpine (eat at El Patio), Big Bend NP, Fort Davis (the Limpia Inn is a cool old hotel to stay at and the old fort/NPS site is worth a visit too), MacDonald Observatory (home of "Star Date" on NPR), Marfa, and the drive along the border between Terlingua and Presidio.

Yeehaw! 
« Last Edit: December 17, 2015, 09:51:34 am by Gunkswest »

Offline Admin Al

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Re: Prose and Conns Part 1 (Big Bend NP, TX)
« Reply #7 on: November 28, 2015, 01:33:05 pm »
Great stuff Gunkswest. thanks for the info
Al Hospers
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my music
 http://www.soundsclever.com