Brothers reach new heights on Arkansas climbing excursion

UW-Eau Claire students spend their spring break rock climbing at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch

Grey Larson at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Jasper, Arkansas.

Photo by Submitted

Grey Larson at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Jasper, Arkansas.

Story by Anne Sandell, News Editor

For brothers Grey and Dana Larson, a rock climbing trip with UW-Eau Claire’s Environmental Adventure Center (EAC) was the best possible way they could have imagined spending their spring break.

Originally from Eau Claire, it wasn’t until the two brothers came to the university here that they began taking climbing seriously.

They had “dabbled” before, visiting Bozeman, Montana, Dana said, but became serious once they had a constant resource like the rock climbing wall on campus. After getting to know the EAC community, they were hooked.

“The community is really good,” Grey said. “It’s just good people … there’s never any disagreements or drama, everyone is just there because they love doing what they’re doing.”

Grey is a sophomore studying material science, while Dana is an undeclared freshman who is interested in studying renewable energy systems.

Alongside 12 other students from the EAC, two of whom were guides, the Larson brothers spent six days rock climbing at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Jasper, Arkansas.

The ranch had been originally utilized for tourism, horseback riding and the like, until people realized it was meant for climbing, Grey said. It is located within a canyon surrounded by 50 to 70-foot high cliff walls and has over 300 different climbing routes.

The night the group came, the ranch was bustling with campers and climbers from across the country, including a group from UW-Stout and a few other colleges, Dana said.

Their group set up camp, pitching tents and unpacking gear for the coming week. Grey and Dana, however, opted for hammocks atop a hill overlooking the EAC camp.

“We had both hammocks kind of stacked, strung between two trees that gave us a great view of the sunrise in the morning,” Grey said.


Each morning the climbers would wake up with the sun, rolling out of their tents and hammocks for a communal breakfast around the picnic table. After a quick meal, they would pack up all the gear and head out to whichever wall the guides had picked for the day.

Grey said the group did solely sport climbing, where you look for a difficult route and just climb, with the view from the top and sense of achievement as rewards.

“The view from the top of most routes is phenomenal … being able to sit up there and the feeling of accomplishment,” Dana said, “mingling with a beautiful canyon of Arkansas that is really an Eden you didn’t even know was there.”

The team ate lunch on the trail in the afternoon, which often featured tortillas because “you can put basically anything in a tortilla,” Grey said. After a long day of climbing, the group would make the 15-minute hike back to camp to settle in for the night, cook dinner and play music around the campfire.

Each night at camp would also feature a ‘top secret dessert’ served in the dark. The dessert is a long standing EAC tradition, passed around in a frisbee for the group to enjoy.

During their time in Arkansas, Grey and Dana accumulated a number of stories, from rescuing a baby goat they named ‘Tiny,’ to waking up to the sunrise each morning, to a cowboy corralling horses across the ranch.

Dana said the overall experience was “paradise” and he enjoyed having the opportunity to spend time with great people and his brother, all while doing something he loved.

“For me personally, it felt like the one place that I just couldn’t afford not to be,” Dana said. “It was everything I wanted all at once; it was relaxation, it was travel, it was progression in this new passion that we have for climbing, and then I got to do it with my brother.”

Samantha Carney, a junior studying French, has been leading trips with the EAC for a year and a half and co-led this year’s trip to Arkansas. She said the goal of the trip is to get students outdoors experiencing things they love to do or haven’t yet had the opportunity to do.

This year’s group was unique, she said, as everyone knew each other and got along really well. She said Grey and Dana played a role in keeping everyone energetic and upbeat.

“Individually they’re both very fun-loving, energetic people who get along with everyone. We see it every week when they come climb at the wall … and that’s just separate.” Carney said. “Together, it’s the same thing but on a whole other level.”

Following the trip, the brothers plan to continue climbing with hopes of climbing at locations across the Midwest until June, when the two will head to Port Moller, Ala. to work in the commercial salmon industry.  

However, both Grey and Dana agreed they would be going on the trip again next year and encouraged others to get involved as well.

“It’s a lot more fulfilling than I think a lot of the things people tend to do over spring break,” Grey said. “There is celebration, but it’s at the end of a day where you’ve actually achieved something.”

Dana said he shared Grey’s sentiment.
“Bring a healthy sense of adventure and openness and awe towards the unknown, and you will love this.” Dana said. “It is a hell of a climb.”