Trip Report: Climbing Road Trip
“Those are climbers,” I hear the woman say to her hiking companion, not in an effort to describe something that was perhaps too far off in the distance and incomprehensible but rather in the way that David Attenborough narrates a description of a new species on the TV show Planet Earth. In fact, I am only about ten yards from these women, and the canyon I am in echoes to the point that anyone in any part can hear the other. This observation of climbers as “other” is something that I’m sure many climbers have either heard or witnessed. Our methods seem absurd (“how do you get the rope up there?”), our lifestyles balked at (“you live in a VAN?”), and the eternal question for those who climb and those who observe, “Why climb?”
I found myself pondering this very question for several nights leading up to a two-week solo trip I had planned to visit Red Rocks in Las Vegas, Nevada; St. George, Utah; and Joe’s Valley outside Orangeville, Utah for some bouldering. I have been climbing for about three or four years now and have been on many trips but what made this one stand apart was that for the first time, I would not be accompanied by or meeting anyone at any point along my travels. It was me, my two-year-old pitbull Otis, and a Honda CRV with a mattress. So as I lay in bed each night before the trip, I began to do what all Virgo, neurotic, A-type minded people do—worry. I worried that I would crash and die on the long drives, that I would fall awkwardly while bouldering and no one would be around to help, leading me to sever my own arm a la 127 Hours (why my arm would be wedged in a bouldering fall, I couldn’t say). I worried that when I camped out in my car by myself, a strange man might break into my car and rape and murder me. I worried that I would use a highway rest stop alone and a man would rape and murder me. Potential for rapes and murders in my trip abounded in my mind.
But despite these (unfounded) fears, I still went. Which to me begged that eternal question again, “Why climb?” I shoved fears to the back of my mind, drove across several states just to grab onto some rock and pull myself up it? It is no wonder that those who have no climbing experience look at us and shake their heads.
Therefore, for each portion of my trip, I attempted to engage with myself in what had drawn me to these desert climates; traipsing along trails with two crash pads; a messenger bag with chalk, shoes, and snacks aplenty; dog leash in one hand and guidebook in the other, permanently hovering several inches from my face.
My first morning in Red Rocks, I awoke at the manicured “campsite” within the park that I had paid $20/night for, against my better judgment as a dirtbag. The date was February 28th, a little early for climbing season but as I stepped out of my car at 8am, the sun greeted me with 50-degree temperatures that I happily soaked up. For my first day, I headed to the Kraft Boulders, which are “the epicenter of bouldering at Red Rocks” according to the guidebook. As I drove even closer to the mountains, I couldn’t help but gasp at the beauty of these truly red hills, lit by the sun and impossible to capture in photo. Seeing this new stone, Aztec Sandstone, made me realize what a truly different ecosystem I was in, like smiling to myself when I saw the short cactuses spread throughout the desert leading into Las Vegas. Despite beautiful temperatures, I had the boulders practically to myself. I only saw three other people bouldering there the entire day, a truly unique experience if one has ever climbed…well, anywhere of any merit. I slowly made my way from boulder to boulder, sometimes climbing whatever I could regardless of whether the guidebook agreed it was a route; sometimes I climbed a route and surprised myself with my ability to conquer that grade. But with no one to push me to climb faster or better or move to a new area; no one to suggest we go to a new bouldering area entirely, I felt an ease with myself, taking my time to try new things, take breaks on my crash pad and read the “history” part of my guidebook in the sun or simply take photos of my gorgeous dog.
After a few days in Red Rocks, which included more climbing, a visit to the vet for Otis (Conjunctivitis in his eyes), breaking my water jug, sleeping through a rocking night of wind, and accidentally soaking all 4 joints I had brought with me in shampoo, I hit the road for St. George, taking a one night pit stop at the Grand Canyon as I’d never seen it. After taking in all its beautiful glory, I headed to the campsite that I had previously reserved online. The sites were…lackluster to say the least. There was no semblance of privacy, the sites being only about 10 yards from each other. The ground was muddy from a recent snow and the inside of my car was soon covered with muddy Otis paw prints. My site was right next to the entrance which allowed every car driving by to gaze inside my (tint-less) windows although this gave me an unabashed view of the two newbs at the site across from me trying to puzzlingly light a fire and also capture all of their “camping experience” with their selfie stick. The bathroom was far enough that it was an inconvenience and getting there required walking through pure mud but peeing outside the car was a little too exposed for my liking. The site also lacked service meaning that from the time I got in my car at 4pm until I could reasonably go to sleep at 9pm, I was stuck reading, listening to podcasts, and debating driving on to St. George.
But here I struck upon another reason to climb and hit the road. It may be uncomfortable, but there is a pleasure in that unfamiliarity, knowing that, as I approach my 30th birthday this year, these types of trips won’t rank high on my priority list and that I need to enjoy it all, even in all its ridiculousness. So as I sit in my car, Otis snoring at my feet, shirts jerry-
rigged to somewhat block some of my windows, eating three-day-old vegan chocolate cake from Whole Foods, I can’t help but smile and drink it in.