If you’re making regular trips up to Horseshoe Canyon Ranch and are looking for a new crag in Arkansas to add some spice to your life look no further than Cowell. Let me preface by saying that I LOVE HCR. The ranch is very large and has 100’s of routes and boulders, so it’s not as though I’ve climbed everything there, by a long shot. But, occasionally you want a taste of something completely brand spanking new.
Enter Cowell. There are several pockets of climbing in the Cowell area. Last weekend, Danny and I stopped in at Fountain Red and the famous Fred’s Cave.
Rock Quality: The rock is sandstone–my favorite! Nothing gets polished, like the Texas limestone, and you won’t tear up your skin like you will when climbing on granite. This place receives plenty of traffic, so there’s not much choss to speak of.
Bouldering Quality: There’s an amazing collection of quality climbs in quite a small area. It’s definitely worth the trip to check out some of the classics: Rings of Uranus V3, Le Beak V4, and Eat Your Oatmeal V5.
There are over 50 climbs with plenty graded V3 and below, around fifteen V4-V5 climbs, ten V6-V7 climbs, and five climbs V8 and up.
The guidebook we used is Cole Fennel’s Rock Climbing Arkansas. It is currently out of print and impossible to find ANYWHERE. Seriously. We checked Amazon, Google, REI, the publisher’s site, local outdoor retailers in Arkansas, even Craigslist. Your best bet is to hope you know someone that owns the book! Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that a new guide will be published soon!
Getting there: This is the biggest downside of Fountain Red. The place is located in exactly the middle of nowhere. It makes for much smaller crowds than a weekend at HCR, but a much more difficult “approach”. It’s about 30 miles away from HCR, but it took us almost an hour to drive there because of all the dirt roads.The coordinates for Fountain Red’s parking are (N 35°52.716′) (W 93°07.259′).
I dissuade anyone from trying to enter from Mt. Judea, unless they have a four-wheel drive. Danny and I accidentally made a wrong turn and ended up going down a hill that we couldn’t get back up. Lucky for us the forest service drove up after our 5th attempt up the hill and helped us get out! It’s easy to make mistakes on those roads, since very little is marked. Be careful!
Camping: You can camp here for free, but it is primitive (ie-no water or bathrooms). You definitely won’t see as many people camping here as at HCR. If you’re looking for some peace and quiet and don’t mind roughing it, this might be the place for you!
Overall, this is a great place to go if you want to try out some quality boulders and avoid the crowds at Horseshoe. There are many fantastic climbs packed close together. So, if you have a group of climbers with a wide variety in ability you can all find something to work without venturing far from one another!
Check out this video of Danny and I sending some of the classics here!
This area is NOT for beginners. The main area is a beautifully overhang cave with climbs in the double digits. There are a small handful of warm up climbs, but you might be better served by warming up at the nearby Fountain Red.
Bouldering Quality: There are five climbs in the V4-V5 range (though, not located in the main cave) and three climbs in the V7-V8 range (one of which is in the main cave). The guidebook for this area may be outdated because there appears to be many chalked lines not listed in the book and a great potential for more lines or connecting lines.
This area has been visited by many professional climbers including Fred Nicole and Daniel Woods and is featured in the climbing film Dosage V.
One downside here is that climbs tend to seep water and are often damp. Definitely bring a chalk and brush for this area!
Getting there: Park at Fountain Red and make a short hike out to the cave. See above for directions.
There is a lot left for me to explore at Cowell. Aside from the walls mentioned there are numerous other caves, boulders and even sport climbing. Hopefully I’ll have more opportunities to climb in this amazing area.