Aid Climbing and Red Rocks (mostly)
The last two weeks have felt longer than the final two months that I spent working in Flagstaff. Time seems heavier when traveling to new places and seeing old friends, packed with long conversations and amazing views, both of which slowly push your soul into a different shape than it was before. Staying in one places and spending a lot of time by myself allows me to get comfortable, and makes me spend a lot of time in my own head. The best way to stop over-thinking things, I think, is to give myself something else to think about. Perspective is everything.
Here’s a bit of what’s happened so far:
In Red Rocks I met up with my very dearest friend, Shahmeer, and we taught ourselves how to aid climb. The processes and systems behind aid climbing were (surprisingly) very straightforward once we replicated them for ourselves. Leading, following, building anchors, and hauling all follow the same basic rules that I’ve been learning over and over again during the past few years since I started climbing. The processes are methodical - to lead: place a piece, clip, clip, test, move up the ladder, hook into the piece, then unclip from the previous piece and clip it into the rope, and repeat ad nauseum (or until you get to the top of a pitch). Moving up is excruciatingly slow compared to free climbing, but I was thrilled at how easy it was to lead and how all of the things that are considered “cheating” in free climbing (like pulling on gear) were not only fair game, but exactly what you’re supposed to do! Following was my least favorite part to learn. Jumaring up a rope is, at best, boring (on a vertical wall) but fast and, at worst, a herculean feat (on a bulge/roof/overhang) requiring skills in strength and balance that I haven’t found yet. And hauling only seems confusing until you set up your haul anchor, after which it becomes the most straightforward process in the world. I think the biggest challenge in big wall climbing will probably be not getting sick of doing the same thing over and over and over and over again. And again.
We practiced these skills on single-pitch routes a few days in Red Rocks, then climbed a two-pitch route to test ourselves in a multi-pitch situation. That day involved a 4 hour (at least) round-trip hike to base of the climb, 6 hours on the wall, and some creative problem solving to prevent what promised to be a horrifying pendulum swing. The temperature was a soothing 104 degrees and by the end of this very long day, I was happy to leave the verdant desert valley. Lying on the floor of Shahmeer’s aunt’s house, we both lamented about how we had never been so exhausted in our entire lives.
Unfortunately for us, rain was threatening to soak the desert for the next few days, so our plans to put these skills to use on longer routes in Red Rocks and Zion were shot unless we wanted to wait around. So instead we headed west, away from the rain, to Death Valley. During the very long drive I saw some absolutely beautiful views and experienced heat that made the temperatures of Red Rocks seem sultry and appealing in comparison. The highlight of the drive (for me, at least) was Shahmeer carving into a watermelon and spoon-feeding me while I drove us over the road through the valley that seemed like it would go on forever.
[to be continued…]