Saturday, March 31, 2012

NOT AN EPIC : Part 3

By the time we reached the top I was running on pure adrenaline, my body was a corpse, animated by a sheer desire to find my way back to my wagon-bed at the Red Rocks Campground. The thick blanket of night was useful for forgetting the exposure of some of these moves. Knowing only that if I fell, I could be pulling my two friends off the mountain side with me, I moved quick, in time with the pull of the rope in front of me.  It is called symoclimbing. The idea is that the leader places gear that the follower takes out on the fly. Both parties are moving and if one falls, the others bodyweight catches it. This was the method we used for the last 700 feet of the climb, in favor of speed and efficiency. About 60 ft ahead of me was C, and in front of her, W. Every once and again I would call to C that I was at a crux and hear C yelling for W to slow down, or I would find myself waiting, holding coils of rope that had forming in front of me... wait for it to pull tight. At one section, while I waited for C to ascend a steep crux section, I turned to look around, behind me, Vegas had finally woken up.

We met up on a plateau, gasping for breath and quickly disarming ourselves of ropes and harnesses. A dark wash had covered our trails and the silent stress of a long day lingered in our thoughts. It was time to get off the mountain. W kept the lead, as myself and C followed, careful to test our footing on the loose rock that could easily shift and cause a fall into the abyss below. Cairns became beacons of hope as we continued to march upward towards an elusive summit. After circumnavigating our way round the peaks what seems like a few times over, we had lost the trail. My feet and hands kept slipping and I could feel my attention doing the same. Sitting down, I told Claire that I was getting drowsy and unstable, but I was aware of it and would monitor it as we continued. She nodded and switched up the weight in the packs. Wolfgang went on a mission to find cairns while we sat and discussed our options, distributing rations and sharing what we had to refuel. Should we continue wandering the summit and its adjoining gullies in the dark? or sleep till daylight without half a litre of water to share? Eventually, Wolfgang’s persistence found us a hole that led 20 feet below to what seemed to be a trail. C and I were skeptical “ was there a Cairn?” we asked. “There was a rock… I added two more” came the reply. We ambled down, bum sliding slabs and down climbing chimneys to what we were hoping would be the canyon floor.

We scrambled down another steep gully, joyful that we seemed to be a) going down b) following a path of least resistence. Sitting for a rest, Wolfgang turned to me and said “ SO do you still think we shouldn’t have rushed??”. “ If we had, one of us might be dead” was what came from my mouth. This is something I believed. Taking the time to double check and clear our heads is how we avoided error, how we stayed safe all day and as unfortunate as a night descent might be, as long as it is accounted for and diligent, it is a far better option then hurrying your team.

After another 2 hours. We found ourselves on another plateau. The moon had risen high and in its nearly full form, illuminated the curves and streaks of our steep terrain. What was seemingly our  cage, seemed soft and magical in the indigo light. “ I think we rap here!” said Wolfgang, having found a boulder slung with someone else’s gear. I threw a rock past the ledge as a test. It took a few seconds before we heard anything but then the splash and a deep plunge was audible. We had somehow found the only deep, natural water in the desert, it could only be a pit of doom. “ Fuck that!"  I yelled, frustrated that this oasis of hope was gone.

Words of climbing guides and legends rang through my head, thinking of mistakes and accidents, contributing factors were always nightfall and exhaustion. Here we were, coming up on 10pm. We have been in the rocks for 16 hours now. We were no closer to a descent trail and we were out of water.

“ Take me home girls, I cant lead anymore” W pleaded as he sat down, staring out our illuminated landscape. I walked off to think. I heard myself begging saint Anthony, my mothers most utilized saint, for a cairn, for a sign, for a path… We needed to get out. That is when I saw it… up the left side of the canyon was a switchback train with 3 rocks piled half way up. I called back to the others, and led them up one cliff side that seemed to lead to a saddle high above us. In minutes we were there, with a clear view of Las Vegas again. Ecstatic and choicefully ignorant to the remaining distance between us and ground level, we started ambling down another steep slope. Eventually we lost the trail again and sat, lost in the bushes. Cactuses tore at our clothes and skin while holly bushes administered a strict assault for our off-trail habits. Why can’t we see the car? I thought.

C walked ahead, following a trail of goat poop until once again our confidence was renewed by a cairn. We seemed to be on something resembling a trail or at least a path that another lost traveler had taken at somepoint in time. The goats knew the way and we found our angle shifting, flattening, allowing our steps to widen and quicken. We eventually found ourselves on a bike path, which could only lead home.

We reached the car at 12:30am.

By all stretches of the imagination this should have deemed an epic. It was definitely the longest day I have ever spent on a mountain. But with the company of C and W, I have never felt more secure, more confident. The leadership roles were passed around as burdened minds and bodies failed. We kept each other safe all day, checking knots and minds and carrying each others moral on our shoulders when necessary. It might have been the longest climb any of us have ever undertaken. It also might seem a recipe for an epic. But in that company, with the skill and support of great climbing partners, I would call it a pretty good day.

 Photos all courtesy of W.

Me in my second chimney pitch. solving riddles of climbing negative space.

big rack!

C negotiating the climb with her pack trailing.

another fun chimney... this time 'froggy legs' were the way to go.
slightly loopy me... coming up to pitch 10

Climbing on cordalettes!

Vegas waking up.


  1. That picture of Vegas waking up is stunning!

    1. Thanks Marine!
      It looks like you have been having some amazing adventures of your own!!
      We will have to share the stories in person sometime... maybe between pitches on the Chief?:P

  2. Awesome adventure and entertaining writing!