I was somewhere near Mesquite on the edge of the desert when the stoke began to take hold. I push down on the accelerator and turn up the tunes -- only an hour to go.
Even rolling into Las Vegas in the middle of the afternoon, the flash of the strip rivals the blaring desert sun, all of it reflecting harshly off my dashboard. Flashing lights, 400-foot fountains, monstrous mazes full of debauchery… I can’t stop here. This is bat country!
I bank west, away from the mayhem and what we really came for finally comes into view -- Red Rock Canyon. In my opinion, it puts on a show far superior to anything Vegas has to offer. This nearly 200,000 acre rainbow-colored sandstone paradise is chocked full of massive canyons, towers, and cliffs loaded with a seemingly endless amount of incredible climbs -- many of them taking you hundreds of feet off the ground. This is a place for high adventure and I felt high just thinking about it.
The short time I spent in Vegas was transformative for me as a climber and as a general human being and felt far too rich with experience to try and condense into a single piece of writing. With this in mind, I hope you enjoy this short recount of three of the experiences that have truly impacted me. It’s safe to say that, at least in this instance, what happened in Vegas will certainly not be staying there.
Laughter is the best medicine.
It’s 7pm. The only light in the sky now is coming from the Vegas strip, but I feel like I’m glowing after watching the sun set in an explosion of color on our first day of climbing in Red Rock. The only hitch? We’re still about 500 feet off the ground.
Backing up a tick, we had set off up Birdland, a mega-classic, 600 foot, 5.7, around 5pm. This climb’s easy grade, short approach, and incredibly fun climbing make it a popular choice for newer climbers, but the party that we found ourselves stuck behind at the top clearly lacked even the base-level of experience needed for this climb. It became clear as the sun disappeared behind the cliffs that getting down was going to take a while.
Now, we weren’t in any real danger at this point, but when you’re making multiple rappels, the dark has the opportunity to really complicate the situation. With just a headlamp for light, finding that next anchor on the way down can get challenging, and if you think getting a rope stuck in broad daylight is an issue, well…
“Guess we shouldn’t have done that last pitch!”, Susan yells down sarcastically before starting her first rappel. I can’t tell if she’s making a joke or kind of pissed -- probably both, honestly. I’m about 100 feet below her, clipped into the anchors right next to the slow party’s leader and I can feel him cringe at the implications of her comment. “HA!” I holler back. “I wasn’t gonna settle for just any sunset!” Susan laughs and I get a tepid chuckle out of our mortified friend.
As we descend and accept our reality our mood begins to improve. We make up songs and dance like happy fools as we wait on the belay ledges in between rappels, our cackles cutting through the darkness of the canyons. I’m grateful for our high spirits -- not everyone in our shoes would be laughing right now.
The rest of our descent, though painfully slow, all went smoothly. We bid farewell to our new friends and set off hiking back to the car, still chuckling about what had just transpired. Sure we had just had a mini-epic, but laughing our way through it was exactly the medicine we needed.