I clicked the electronic lock to our black rental car in the Oak Creek parking lot just before the desert sun faded into the evening’s blackness. It had been twelve hours on the move when we finally were able to heave ourselves onto the tail gate and pop open two of the most delicious brews we could imagine (It’s a well-known fact that beer tastes better after a hard day of climbing). Aside from the crunching of the blue corn tortilla chips we sat in silence gazed back up the canyon at the ethereal memory of the day that now seemed too short.
The night before we had brashly decided to tackle one of our bigger objectives. We were revitalized from a forced rest day and ready to get into some vibrant action. A couple years ago this seemed far from attainable. This climb would be a memorable experience as I would spend the day with one of my best friends and a gentleman who I have shared many years of adventure with since our youthful days romping in the hills of New Mexico. Of course sleep is difficult for me when I get excited about realizing a climbing dream but on days like this, when the alarm rings to bring me from my dreams I exhibit no hesitation in pulling back the covers and firing up the stove for a cup of coffee dark as the predawn night.
A few bleary eyed preparations were made at camp and then we joined the line of cars waiting for the scenic loop road of the Red Rock Canyon to open. When the gate rose we negotiated the curving road as the electronic thump of a Vegas radio station called the drunken pedestrians home from their night on the strip. Downtown Las Vegas is only a few miles away but we may as well have been on another planet.
In a blur of dust we slid into the parking lot, hurriedly threw back some yogurt and then kicked into motion for the long approach. Some people complain about the length and the challenge of difficult approaches like this but the enchantment of the red and yellow canyons in the early morning light allowed us to lose ourselves in introspection. Before long we had surmounted the endless slab and arrived at the base of Eagle Wall.
So much hype had been poured into this climb that the energy surrounding the route and a wall high up in one of the most cherished areas in North America began to gush forth. Nervous but eager for the experience I racked, stretched, yawned, scratched, and set off. The first pitch was good, really good. The movement was the perfect combination between intelligence and power. Jeff followed and we swapped leads until we had strung together the next few pitches to arrive at the technical crux of the route.
We climbed fast and fluid up to this point so with little hesitation I grabbed the rack and checked my psych. Unbelievable moves opened the pitch up to a wide handjam that allowed me to pull into the corner above. Above the buldge a tiny hold felt that felt like a jug compared to the blankness surrounding it provided me with the security to move up try a few things out and then come back and rest. After a few more trial runs I committed to jogging left and throwing to a crimp I thought would unlock the sequence. No dice.
“Shit!” I hollered as I swung back into the corner. I would have to look for something else. Jeff held patiently as I evaluated a better sequence. When I finally started moving again I found one of those moves that is not at all how you had envisioned it and seems improbable in my recollection to this day. With a small crimp for my left hand, I smeared my feet to the left and pushed into the corner with my right arm. Desperate delicate foot placements allowed me to inch slightly higher. Balancing and trying to maintain some shallow breathing, my fingers crawled up the red glass until a crimp materialized that allowed me to connect the sequence. With a whoop and a few more beleaguered moves I hit the next anchor.
The next few pitches held some great climbing but the true aesthetic of the route revealed itself more in the sweeping views down Oak Creek and across at the striated canyons that fell off of Mount Wilson’s summit plateau. The wind picked up and we became isolated to our own thoughts at the belays, but every time we switched leaders we caught eyes and exchanged a smile that showed our mutual exuberance for the challenge we had overcome and the strengthening of our bond as friends.
It was bittersweet to hit the final anchor and rig the rappels for our retreat. This was one of the climbs where you wished the relentless pursuit of darkness would not bring the day to a close. We gave in to the cycle of nature and threw the ropes to return back to the world of the horizontal. Few words needed to be exchanged as we retraced our steps down the slab. We lingered on our way out of the majestic canyon for the desert was rich with pristine swimming holes engorged from a storm a few days before. Eventually, we saw the dark shimmer of our car and we knew that the experience was drawing to a fitting conclusion with those frosty beers awaiting our return.
The transient nature of the climbing experience is what makes it such a profound experience. When you return to your car or your campsite with a story, a couple of pictures, and a sweat stained shirt you have created something memorable. The memories from this day I am proud to have shared with a friend I know will continue to be there for me around every one of life’s turns.