26th Birthday Challenge | How I Climbed 26 Routes in a Day

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to to do a birthday challenge. In the past I’d be confined to the climbing gym on my birthday, relegated to bagging the amount of V Point in boulder routes for the age I was turning. It was fun, but it wasn’t climbing outside. Living on the road this year afforded me the opportunity to do something I’ve never done: have a climbing birthday challenge outside and in a new place to me (Video of the birthday challenge is below!).Justin Fricke The Weekend Warrior on his birthday challenge at Hueco Tanks State Park

Photo: Adam Fricke

What’s a birthday challenge?

The way I interpret it to be is anything you want it to be. Turning 23 and want to climb 23 sport routes in a day? Go for it! Turning 50 and you want to run a 50 mile ultra on, or around, your birthday? Hell yea! That’s what’s fun about the birthday challenge, you turn it into whatever you want and you make the rules. As long as you’re doing what you love with people you like being around, you’re winning.

What was my birthday challenge?

Go to Hueco Tanks State Park in West Texas and climb 26 boulder routes in one day. I wanted to only count climbs with a V2 grade or higher, but my body had other plans for me.

How’d it go?

Terrible, awful, awesome, so much fun, and everything in between. I’ve never been to Hueco Tanks State Park to climb, so Adam and I agreed to hire a climbing guide. That was a key to success. Rather than spending lots of my time looking for boulders in an outdated guide book, our guide was able to show me great routes to climb.

Now I’m not in climbing shape. I’ve only climbed a handful of times since hitting the road two months ago and it showed. After a couple V0’s and a V1, my body told me that anything and everything would count as a climbed route. For some reason I thought it’d be a great idea to try and bag a V4. Don’t get me wrong, Moonshine was awesome. It’s got great flow to it, but that overhanging roof climb killed my arms and core for the rest of the day. After I was done screwing around on Moonshine, I only had 6 climbs under my belt and it was almost noon.

Our group went to a spot that’s tough to get to, but was loaded with Vo’s. Within an hour I had bagged another 7 routes and was halfway to my goal of 26. On our hike to our last spot I was contemplating whether I’d realistically be able to finish my challenge or not. As I was flailing on some V0’s and V1’s, it became a real thing that I’d have to suck up my pride and start repeating some climbs, and that’s what I did.

I think I climbed one route a total of 7 times to get my route count up to 22. Tired, dehydrated, hungry, and ready for the day to be over, we approached our last climbing area for the day. I only needed 4 more climbs and it was a slab wall we came to. I hate climbing slab. It’s my nemesis and ironically what stood between me and finishing up my birthday challenge.

As I pulled the lip on my last climb, I was elated to see the golden hour sun setting over the desert of West Texas. It took 9 hours for me to barely heave my way up 26 boulder routes and almost quit numerous times, but it was all worth it. I got to do something I’ve never done, celebrate my birthday with my brother and new friends in a place unfamiliar to me and learn some things along the way.

Never give up. If something’s worth fighting for, then never quit. I wanted to quit on myself numerous times, but I also hate to quit and lose. That’s half of the fight. The other half is fighting pride. I came in with a way big ego and this birthday challenge crushed me. I never sent a V2 that day and I ended up having to repeat routes in order to bag the 26 I wanted. It’s totally cool to change a strategy to make something work, and I think it’s necessary. It helps to keep things in check and it made me grateful to be doing what I was doing.

In the end, it was the best 26th birthday ever.