Vin, Nelson and I aren’t the type of doods that you see around Palm Springs. There’s some classy guys and dolls out there and we’re just a few hairball dirtbags. They picked me up in front of the fancy hotel and we caused quite the scene breaking down my bicycle and loading it and all my bags into Nelson’s already cramped Saturn Vue. No one could ride shotgun cause that’s where their 2-burner propane stove sits.
I avoided the 35 mile bike ride into town and the 10 mile ride to the campground, all uphill. That’s okay, I don’t feel like I cheated. I hit 7,000 miles yesterday, I can take a car ride. We stopped at the climbing store before the park, I quickly got a harness and a pair of shoes and before I could let all the breathtaking scenery sink into my eyes Vinny was already scaling a wall and I was soon to follow. I didn’t know anything about rock climbing at this point. I still kind of don’t. All I know is I trust Vinny and Nelson. I trust science, and I guess I trust the people manufacturing the gear we’re trusting our lives with. Between my first climb and second climb on Tuesday, there was a point on each wall where I didn’t think I could go on, I felt too tired and didn’t know where I could put my hands and my feet to advance myself upwards. But, with the motivation from friends, both above and below, I made it up my first 2 climbs.
The very first, The Flake, the 3 of us made it to the very top, about 110 feet, just in time to watch the sun set, streaking the sky with pink and gold. We rested in a little alcove, protected from the wind as the shroud of night fell over all the piles of rock and over all the funky Joshua Trees and we rolled and smoked a spliff by the light of our headlamps. Now stoned, we rappelled over the side into the shadow of intersection rock.
Once back on solid ground, the adrenaline began to fade and I had the realization I’m sure all rock climbers have after make it off the ground, this real intense metaphor for life: trusting in the people holding the rope, trusting the gear and trusting your own movements; taking it slow one move at a time but, also knowing no system is perfect, failure and death always seem close by but that’s no excuse to avoid danger, avoid the journey, avoid the rewards. What is the reward? I’m not so sure yet, besides the adrenaline rush and the beautiful views.
Day 2, the 3 of us set out with another climber, Heather. After everyones’ warmup and my major workout, we scrambled across the wilderness, through the perfectly manicured gardens of trees and cacti, and boulders, up and down piles of rock, laid out like a prehistoric playground onto the next climb. A perfectly straight crack, very thin at the bottom that opens up a bit more at the top. The journey to this climb was enough for me but, it was pure beauty watching Heather lead this one, figuring out the puzzle one limb at a time, finding ways to place gear and move herself up.
There’s an amazing difference in leading a climb vs. following someone else. Leading, you are going up to the unknown, carrying what you can around your waist, climbing and little, setting a piece, going further and hoping you set your gear right. It’s beautiful watching people push themselves mentally and physically, coming down breathing heavily, excitement exuding, thankful to be on the ground but already looking forward to the next ascent.