Review:  Bouldering Guide To Horse Pens 40 (HP40), Moss Rock & Palisades Park

Review: Bouldering Guide To Horse Pens 40 (HP40), Moss Rock & Palisades Park

At this point it is no secret that the boulderfields of Horse Pens 40 (HP40) in Alabama hold one of the best concentrations of quality boulder problems in the country.  Featuring great rock, insane features and incredible slopers in one compact area, HP40 has grown into an international destination.

The one thing that has been lacking over the years though is a quality guidebook.  Other than a guidebook passed out at the Triple Crown comp each year, the free topo provided by the now defunct Dr. Topo has been the de facto guidebook to the area.  While this free topo was more than adequate for many climbers (myself included), a more official guidebook was something I’d long hoped for.  After a long wait, Greener Grass Publishing will release the first official guidebook to the bouldering at HP40 later this month.

Written by longtime local Adam Henry, the 184 page Horse Pens 40 Bouldering has everything one would expect from a guidebook in 2010 including full color maps, picture topos for many boulders and action photos all in an easy-to-read layout, and an exhaustive list of problems (including variations for many of them).  Instead of being superfluous or hard to follow, Henry draws on his vast knowledge of the area to carefully explain every problem (perhaps a little too well if you like figuring things out on your own).  Be forewarned though:  the grades given out are sandbagged not forgiving of any excuses about conditions weaknesses one might have when it comes to climbing on slopers and many problems have lower grades than what was shown in the Dr. Topo guide.  Go back and adjust your scorecards accordingly…

Sample page from the HP40 Bouldering Guidebook

HP40 Guidebook Sample Page

No guidebook would be complete these days without a few historical essays and the HP40 book does not disappoint in this regard either with essays from the likes of John Sherman, John Gill, Lee Payne, Cooper Roberts and of course landowner Mike Shultz.  Since many people think that HP40 was discovered in the past 10 years, Henry’s historical piece on the area is very interesting to read.  It is hard to believe that it was all the way back in 1994 that Henry first heard about the potential for bouldering at HP40.  Unfortunately, a combination of “ownership that was not psyched on climbers” and the perception that there were “no holds” beneath the layers of moss and lichen on the boulders kept climbers at bay until the early 2000’s.

One thing that cannot be ignored when reading the book is the infusion of Henry’s personality into all aspects of the guidebook.  Whether it is his take on the previously mentioned stiff grades (“Please feel free to whiteout whatever is written and put whatever you want”) or his fight to keep “The Southern Way” alive amidst today’s “cloud of internet spray, rankings, and the pursuit of menial level shoe sponsorship”, Henry is sure to let you know how he feels.  Despite living with my head in the aforementioned cloud of internet spray, and contributing to it on a near daily basis, I didn’t really find Henry’s point of view overwhelming nor did it detract from the overall quality of the book.  To each his own I guess.

In addition to detailing the bouldering at HP40, the book also includes bonus guides to the boulderfields of Moss Rock Preserve and Palisades Park.
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 Though not quite the destination areas that HP40 is, Moss Rock and Palisades Park look like nice diversions if you get tired of climbing at HP40.

You can pre-order a copy of the new HP40 guidebook at Greener Grass Publishing’s website for a special pre-sale price of $21.95.  Once the book is officially released later this month the price goes up to $24.95.  Even if you already have the free Dr. Topo guide, I think it is well worth it to “upgrade” to this guidebook.  Not only does it give much more complete and accurate information, it also makes for a nice coffee table book with its high quality color format.
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 As an added bonus, 20% of all proceeds will be donated to the newly created Alabama Bouldering Fund.  Though I was lucky enough to receive a personal copy for contribution of a photo and this review, I’m strongly considering ordering a second copy to keep at home where it will not get ruined.

In related Alabama bouldering news, there are two comps coming up at areas featured in this guidebook.  The first is Shades Crest Showdown at Moss Rock Preserve on Saturday February 27th.  The other is HP40 Rocks on Saturday March 6th.  Both competitions will be raising money for the Alabama Bouldering Fund.
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10 Responses to Review: Bouldering Guide To Horse Pens 40 (HP40), Moss Rock & Palisades Park

  1. anthony February 3, 2010 at 8:11 am #

    Will this guide include a true consensus of grades or just more of the same absurd downgrading from HIS truly Mr. Adam Henry? (Who apparently seems it necessary to base his grading scale on how a problem feels after climbing it 5 to 600 times!!)

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    • Narc February 3, 2010 at 8:16 am #

      He says in the book that the grades are based on consensus of those that have climbed the problems in perfect conditions, had knowledge of how to do the problem, and the given problem suited their strengths. When in doubt, he definitely errs on the low side which is another tenet of the “Southern Way”.

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  2. Tony February 3, 2010 at 8:40 am #

    Looks good, though I liked that the Dr. Topo guide had FA info listed

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  3. anthony February 3, 2010 at 10:02 am #

    Sounds good! Being from the Southeast, I take a certain pride in the “Southern way”; however, the downgrading that has taken place in the last few years (compared to when the Dr. Topo first appeared) has seemed a bit pretentious. I’m not trying to sound like a d-bag, just merely verbalizing what seems to be common frustration overheard throughout the field. Btw, thanks for keeping us to date on all of the going ons around the globe!

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  4. Blue Alpine February 3, 2010 at 4:20 pm #

    It’s amazing these boulders weren’t climbed until the early 2000s. I didn’t know that.

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  5. peter b February 3, 2010 at 4:41 pm #

    From the Intro:

    “Horse Pens is the Fontainebleau of the South, without the arrogance and the stench.”

    Not exactly the friendliest tone here. I have never had a bad time at Font, except for the nutjob who told me to stop using chalk. And there is always Paris, Chartres and enough classic problems to fill a 1000 page book, let alone a 184 page book.

    The comments about “the West” are not exactly nice either. Sounds kind of defensive to me. But hey, anyone’s welcome to come to Colorado and see for themselves.

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  6. anthony February 4, 2010 at 9:24 am #

    “without the arrogance” ??? Southern pride (ignorance) is still considered arrogance to the rest of the world!! And the only “stench” you get here is the smell of Meth cooking and halitosis!! That being said, HP40 is an amazing, dream-like place to visit, despite the paranoid conspiracies of its proprietor. Even the great Frenchman Tony Lamiche had only positive remarks during his visit several years ago; “It’s like Font, but with better friction.”

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  7. Narc February 4, 2010 at 11:50 am #

    A book filled with only stories from Mike would be an interesting read, that’s for sure.

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  8. dachoppera February 4, 2010 at 12:23 pm #

    It’s surprising that several people have mentioned Adam’s tone in the guidebook. I think JE referenced his disconnect with the progressive bouldering community. I don’t “know” Adam, but i have spent some time around him…he is one of the nicest guys out there. I am not from the south either but I think we could all learn a lot from the “southern way,” as it has more to do with respect than pretension. HP40 has been one of the premier destinations in the U.S. over the last decade and yet southerners recognized that Adam was the only person capable of writing a guidebook. Westerners would be wise to note the difference between this situation and that of the front range guide situation of late.

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  1. Horse Pens 40 Bouldering Reviews | Greener Grass Publishing - February 4, 2010

    […] has received a couple of reviews on the web. The first one comes from Brian Runnells who runs Amongst other things, he says about the book: Written by longtime local Adam Henry, the 184 […]

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