Edging West

Adventure + Culture + Environment

Tag: Rock Climbing

Returning to Red Rocks

 Part II – On Climbing, On Changing

I have always struggled trying to explain rock climbing to non-climbers. The specifics and processes are easy to convey but the “essence of” much harder. It is like trying to explain the reverence of warm sun or Debussy’s Clair de Lune. It just feels right, and you know why. The best of moments, always, are when a zone of comfort melds safely with the ascension of new physical achievements and possibilities on the cliff. The mind then focuses meditatively. It is a place of peace, of calm. It is finding clarity among great friends within wild, divine, transcendent places.

If I walked away from it completely I would also be at peace. I have far from accomplished all that there is to scale. In fact, I have only scratched the surface. I am young but feel a greater sense of responsibility to calculate my risks more acutely than ever before. At times this new reality clouds that very zone of focus and rich enjoyment. The objective instead becomes one of obsessive worry-a biologic quest of survival. My climbing in recent years has drifted more often into this realm, and I sometimes question the purpose.

One short pitch up I again grappled with climbing in the existential. The zone of clarity fleeted to fear and worry. The belay station was less than ideal, the rock quality imperfect, and my own confidence rattled by a tougher section and the possibility of not finding fitting gear later on. This is a common quandary for any climber on lead, but the difference is how the quandary is channeled.

“Goddammit, I don’t know!” I spouted frustrations and repetitively checked the gear I placed. “Yeah, that’ll hold…or will it?” “Fuck!”

This is supposed to be a relaxing vacation, right?

“Fuck it dude, let’s get lunch in Vegas.” George was quick to advocate a retreat. I was frustrated.

Isn’t he supposed to be talking me through this thing?

I had a similar experience on Devils Tower over a year ago. The haunting panic had returned. If I was to retreat I had to do it now. After one more move I’d be past the threshold of normal escape. I had a decision.

I can’t hang on this under-cling in this corner forever!

“We got plenty of good climbing in already,” George offered. He was right. Full days of climbing preceded, along with hours of scrambling through canyons to vibrant cliffs and towers.

It’s easy for you to say, you’re not the one being humbled!

Years ago I would have pulled through, and I would have been fine. But life changes, attitudes change, the zone of clarity shifts. I started a family.

I bailed. I was low, but George was right, and understood, and supportive for the right reasons.  And I was right. I went down. The balance was off.

Getting back down, Pine Creek Canyon


I was not low too long, however. We drown Spanish tapas with sangria in Vegas and reflected on the day, past days, the future, culture, food, music, politics, and family. Life is rich.  I am not ready to box the climbing gear. I’ll go back, but each trip is a reminder of how much I love the pursuit, and a reminder of how much more I love getting back to the ground.


Returning To Red Rocks

Part 1 – The Scene

Las Vegas is a strange place. It is an improbable alien of a city, a post-historic city, a re-conceptualization of space and location. The old conventions (proximity to resources or ports) are no longer relevant. Instead temperature, visual aesthetics, and the idea of isolation and fantasy rule. On a recent flight to this thirsty city I was contemplating this and reminded of the lesser known Neil Young song, Peaceful Valley Boulevard, which is a quite literal history lesson on western expansion:

The wagon train rolled through the dusty canyon
The settlers full of wonder as they crossed
A gentle creek where two old oaks were standing
Before the west was won there was a cost
A rain of fire came down upon the wagons
A mother screamed and every soul was lost.

Change hit the country like a thunderstorm
Ancient rivers soon began to boil
People rushed like water to California
At first they came for gold and then for oil
Fortunes were made and lost in lifetimes

     (Later in the song, Young covers climate change, electric cars, and forewarns-just a hint-of an environmental apocalypse)

But I was not en-route to wander concrete fabrications, study the city, or contemplate Hunter S. Thompson drug fevers, visions, or theories on the American Dream. I was again headed for Red Rocks,  a paradise of sandstone cliffs, canyons and superb rock climbing, and I have been traveling here since 2001. Then the drive from the suburban outskirts was approximately 30 minutes.  Now it is under five. Rows of houses (many still empty, some unfinished) stream right up to the boundary of the Red Rocks Conservation Area, forming an obvious line. A casino (sharing the same name) is near this edge, along with the Desert Sportsman’s Rifle & Pistol Club, a free shooting zone.

With my friend George, I drove out to the climbs and claimed, somewhat cynically, that this place, this city, “Represents a void of American culture”.

George returned, “Or is it representative of everything that is American culture?”

This was getting too deep for a climbing trip! We continued down the road into the afternoon sun. Our plan was simple: a 45 minute hike into First Creek Canyon for a short three pitch climb. I had already intended to pawn the hardest pitches of climbing on to George, and I was sure that George already knew this. We have been climbing together for over 10 years; certain things go without saying.

We found the trail-head and unloaded our gear for sorting. A man in his early 60s drove up to us and rolled down his window. He was tan with silvery hair and glowed of wealth. Retirement was easy on this fellow. “Why are all these cars parked here?” he asked. “Is this a free shooting zone?”.

“No,” I replied, “We are going rock climbing.”

Red Rocks and the haze of Vegas