Staring down from the top of the Arkansas Bluffs, I was reminded of my fear of heights. Trying to ignore my doubts in my ability to rappel, I start strapping on my helmet and consolidating my gear. I leaned over the top ledge and felt the weight of my backpack pull me away from the wall.
As I hung 50-plus feet in the air with my camera and climbing gear, I began feeling weak and small.
Hearing my friends supporting me from the base of the cliff, the weakness shifted: I felt strong and empowered.
Even as a new rock climber, it didn’t take me long to understand why the sport is growing in popularity. It’s the energy of a welcoming community and the sport’s multiple layers of mental and physical strength that fascinated and hooked me.
Although I live in Kansas City, Missouri, it wasn’t long before I heard about the crags in Arkansas. One of the areas was Horseshoe Canyon Ranch. We planned a weekend climbing trip and, through my organization The Wild Creatives, signed up a group of 10 people. But because the “24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell,” another popular event, was held during our weekend, we diverted to Sam’s Throne, a spot around 4.5 hours from Kansas City.
Sam’s Throne is primarily Ozark sandstone, packed with trad and sport routes ranging from 5.6 to 5.13. Up until this point, I didn’t know much about the crag besides a few recommendations and the limited routes I could find on Mountain Project. Surprisingly, it was difficult to find good information on camping in the area.
Nonetheless, we ended up locating a campground. After running into another Outdoor Women’s Alliance member Kieley Parker, I got recommendations for routes in the area. Following a steep, windy road into the Arkansas hills, we arrived late in the night.
Waking up the next day, I smelt coffee brewing and the saw climbers packing gear. The campground was full of conversations as people swapped beta and routes.
Driving south on Arkansas Highway-123 for a little over three miles, we found Cave Creek crag. We started out on the trailhead to reach our first route, “Red Faced Lizard.”
Our hike led us to the top of the bluffs, where we started spotting routes. Most of the climbing at Sam’s Throne requires rappelling to the bottom before climbing. After my harrowing first rappel, we warmed up by top-roping a 5.9.
The entire afternoon was spent laughing and wearing ourselves out as we explored Cave Creek’s 30-plus sport routes and 17 trad climbs.
Near the end of the day, I sat exhausted, my hands battered and scraped, and wondered how on earth I got myself into this sport. I watched Kailey and my friend Kelsey belaying each other and noticed how they encouraged each other on the wall. There was never any judgment or criticism.
As we went on a final hike to watch the sun set over the Buffalo River, I realized the positivity — both from my partners and from the community of climbers, including those at Sam’s Throne — is the reason I keep choosing to climb.
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