Having been gone for a few days to Red Rocks, outside of Las Vegas, NV, I return a stronger person. I have been out hiking, scrambling rocks, and climbing up them. Last Wednesday I left St. Louis and today I return a different person. First, I should start with how beautiful the country is there, all the reds and brown striations and black varnish overlay. It is really something to marvel at in amazement, how small I am in comparison and how lucky I am to be in this hot, arid landscape. Then you see the plant life-yes things actually grow here! So many cactus varieties, and even some fall wildflowers blooming. It is funny though, almost everything that grows here is pointy and wants to poke you…lessons learned. The scrub oak bushes, with all their ten pointy edged leaves, seem to have liked my clothing so much they have made it back to St. Louis 🙂 Another lovely surprise was an actual creek running through one of the gully’s. I could definitely hear it before I could see it, which was much later after scrambling some rocks to get to the base of our climb on day two.
This blog is about change-so when I say I am different you may wonder what I mean. The mountains I think always “change” me. I find myself so happy hear, always a bit teary to leave them no matter what range I am visiting. The real difference this trip though was in the climbing. I have been climbing indoors for about a year, with one day trip to a local area. I would call this trip a real outdoor climbing adventure. Two full days in Red Rocks doing so many things that I have heard of but could not relate to until I was in the actual situation. The first half of day one were some “easier” climbs-similar to what I have done in a gym setting in the sense of difficulty and type of climbing (single pitch 5.6-5.8 for any climbing buffs out there). That said it was double the height, 80-90 feet, compared to my gym climbs of 40-50 feet.
At this point I should mention two things: we have an excellent guide, Doug, with American Alpine Institute to lead the way AND my crazy fear of heights. I remember my first climb in the gym-lets just say there were almost tears! This fear is something that has occurred as an adult, and after this trip I certainly want to explore how and why this happened, and focus more on moving beyond this fear…but I digress. Back to the trip.
Second half of day 1 was a climb called Physical Graffiti . Now I was prepared for an “approach”, which is the hike to the actual base of the climb. I was not prepared for the uphill scrambling rocks for 40 min battle. I am a fairly fit person, trying to be more fit, but holy smokes! By the time we reached the base of the climb I was feeling a little winded! Then I was promptly reminded that we are at 3500-4000ft above sea level, so I think I will go ahead and push my sucking air on that 🙂 This next climb is going to be 300 plus feet and well beyond my gym climbing experience on so many levels. For those who climb: it is 3 pitches with hanging belays with some natural pro. What does this mean for the non climber…imagine climbing something in three segments. As you climb to each segment instead of having a ledge to stand on you are now anchored in to the wall but hanging and at one point instead of having bolts in the rock our guide had set an anchor with a few pieces of gear. Safe? Yes. Terrifying? Yes. Exposed? Yes. This was new to me and beyond terrifying. At one point, Doug had to remind me to breathe and then to breathe slowly. One might say I was having a freak out! That said, the wall was beautiful. Lovely colors and holds to cling to, along with a crack, which was also new to me. This requires a little different technique to climbing-which I wish I could say I mastered but alas I definitely have a lot of room to improve. We all made it to the top and felt so relived and excited! I was told this was a hike off climb, meaning that when you get to the top you hike down-which sounded great and not so scary. FALSE! When looking down I thought, there is NO WAY we can hike down this, it’s steep and all over the place. Of course, we made it down, moving slowly and cautiously one foot in front of the other. When we made it to the bottom I couldn’t believe what I had just accomplished. I had been so scared-approaching this mountain was petrifying. My mind had been racing on the way up and throughout of all the things that could go wrong or why I couldn’t do this climb. At points it weakened me-I know I am a better climber than what I actually did out there that day. But I DID IT! I faced the fears, tried new things, all without having to change my drawers, so I would call it a huge success. Plus there was always the next day and I felt like I was stronger and could tackle the new challenge. That night I slept about 10 hours-I was physically and mentally exhausted and I knew that I would need that energy for the next day.
The next morning we met Doug at 6AM and the sun was just starting to come up. It was beautiful driving in and seeing the mountains take on their morning color. A jackrabbit also made a quick appearance-so cute with its tall ears pointing upwards. Today our challenge was a classic climb-Cat in the Hat. It is at least double the height of yesterday-which had me nervous, but I was feeling strong. The approach was about 45 minutes in and not as killer as the previous day. It was a bit more flat and in a gully (where the water and greenery were). Another interesting plant we encountered all over was the manzanita tree with its reddish branches and its rebar-like strength. As we approached I looked up thinking, “WOW”. Why wow? Well, Mescalito is massive compared to anything I’ve done-cue fear, wonder at it’s beauty and my smallness, and excitement because we are going up this. This climb is 6 pitches traditional climbing-meaning we are setting all our own gear and anchors. I felt great, moved up the first 3 pitches with my confident mindset. Even saw a little hummingbird buzz by checking us out! Then we hit the fourth leg and I got scared….again. This is when it gets more exposed and I now had to traverse across under a roof and continue upward. Even though I was nervous, I succeeded. This was probably my favorite pitch of the climb. The black varnish is just beautiful. I thought I had really tested my skills and mental focus. At this point I was starting to feel a bit drained.
The last legs were the most difficult for me, both mentally and physically. I was getting tired and on the last part there was a new technique I had not encountered much before in my climbing: smearing! All this means is that you have not as many places for your feet so you plant them and “smear” across the rock. Not having many hand holds nor foot holds set my head into a really dark place. I felt scared and exposed and yet there I was 700 feet off the ground making my way to the top, one foot after another. When I got to the top Doug could see that I was really frightened. No need for words at that point. Although I was scared, I made sure to take in the view. It was magnificent being that high up and really seeing things from a new viewpoint. I was ready to come down though-thinking maybe this trip had been a bit more aggressive than anticipated. How did we get down you may wonder? Oh well we rappelled of course! Another new and scary technique to learn. Nothing like leaning back over the rock with the rope (my life!) in my hands slowly lowering myself down. We had to do this four times in a row-but each time it was easier, and I improved on my technique as I descended. When we reached the bottom I must admit it was awesome to be on the ground—mostly to get the climbing shoes off!!! If you have never worn them just think about hiking around in shoes too small for 6 hours. OUCH! After a quick snack we started our hike out. We were fortunate to have shade a good part of the day, but the hike out we were unlucky. It was 90 and sunny….the kind of weather you want for a pool day….which is exactly where we headed when we returned to the hotel.
So why do I feel stronger, different? Well as I have mentioned before, when I am outside of my comfort zone I am growing. I didn’t stop or turn around when I was afraid, not that I didn’t think about it. But I pushed forward. Part of this was external-Doug was amazing, always making me feel like I could do it and that I was safe. He provided pointers when I was trying something new and was really professional and comforting even when I was struggling. The other part was internal-on some level I know that focusing my mind and rising above the fear was the answer. I knew I didn’t need to be scared, even though I was. I also knew that in quitting I was succumbing to the fear and I know that would have crushed me. Moving forward was the best option and because of that I look back on an amazing trip and truly feel like a BadAss, or at least a baby BadAss. I think about what I accomplished and feel grateful to have had these experiences with a great friend and an awesome guide, or I guess I should say a new friend. I learned to trust not just the other members of my team, but mostly myself. When I focused my mind of my movements, my feet and hands, and breathing I was able to power through. Don’t get me wrong, when I think about some of these instances I still feel a little bit of panic, but I know that I did it, so there is nothing to fear. The experience has prompted me to get educated as well-on new climbing techniques, but also on Fear. Why it sneaks in and how we can overcome it. On this I will be sure to blog more as I learn more.
In the end Red Rocks, NV, inspired me with wonder, beauty, and humility. I truly look forward to my next climbing adventure at Red Rocks in NV…and to seeing my new friend Doug again!