Red Rocks, 10/17-10/20

Other colors, too.

It was late and my cab driver was from Cuba, by way of the OC. He had Ira Glass-es and a lovely Caribbean lilt and he said, over his shoulder at a red,

“Think about your closest friend. The person you know best in the world.” I was gaping at the beam cast from the top of the pyramid at the Luxor, trying to source the glitter swirling in the light.

“Now take that person to Las Vegas,” the cab driver continued. Traffic began to pull away, but he held my gaze. “You will find you don’t know that person as well as you thought.”

With a start I realized all the shining specks were insects.

* * * * *

Of course, there’s more than one way to do this town.

I’m green. Obviously.

I did it … haphazardly. This year, I’ve made a project of accepting that imperfectly arranged travel is preferable to perfectly arranged travel that never actually happens. Winging it worked well enough in Chattanooga and Boulder, but I’ll concede that my first time in Red Rocks might have benefited from some prep.

I finished packing on the way to the airport—on BART, under the gaze of a drooling toddler delighted at the clink of quickdraws and entranced by the arc of my hands as I coiled the rope. That thing was my first mistake: one of several key details I might have gleaned from a few minutes of research is that “winging it” in Red Rocks really requires a 70-meter. More importantly, it requires skill. There are only so many routes easy enough for a baby leader, and they’re  crowded: on one occasion, I arrived at the end of a 90-minute approach into a canyon—chosen specifically for the odds of solitude—to the sight of a 30-person NOLS class convened at the base of the wall.

On the other hand:

Sin city's good side.
Sin city’s good side.

I love the desert. To be here at all is a privilege; to be here and climb—for me, still an experience entirely on the limit-line of fear—to do that against a backdrop of such stark stillness, the emptiest, most indifferent skies and the most serene and tenacious little forms of life … doesn’t, obviously, make it any easier. But it makes it something else.

* * * * *

Concluding props to my trip buddy Elenita, a good sport (and great sport climber) who managed to tolerate three straight days of trad in the jittery, fretful company of a “5.6 leader with 5.12 OCD.” If early mornings, long hikes, mosquito-infested canyons and sketchy, tall-person moves above dubious gear were not what she signed up for, she never once complained. Far from that, she even tried to find me some wild burros. Rock star.

They’re out there somewhere …