The Perfect Storm: A Red Rocks Rain Out
In the history of my climbing excursions, rain has never defeated the best laid plans. Don’t get me wrong, it’s rained. It’s also snowed.The winds have whipped so hard that I believed my relatively sturdy frame was going to uproot from the rock and fly away like Mary Poppins with a chalk bag for an umbrella, but it’d never sent us home. When someone casually mentioned after my yoga class that the forecast had shifted from sunny to showers in Red Rocks Canyon National Park, I simply brushed it off as unlikely. Luck had always favored us in the past, surely the Climbing Gods would smile on my coming adventure. Furthermore, this was our yearly October trip! Our October climbing trip must happen. It’s tradition!
The forecast was fifty percent chance of precipitation. It was a gamble we had to take. The car ride smelled of optimism and freshly washed bodies. There was too much excitement to hold still, so we bounced from topic to topic touching on missteps and uncharted territory and hopes for what might come next. We rolled down the windows. We blasted the music. We laughed in the face of uncertainty.
We arrived in time to snag a campsite, but fortune smiled on us further when Bob, a retired prison guard with a aging pup named Princess invited us to join him and his trailer in a “big site.” so that we could secure the more luxurious location for the rest of our stay. Instead of packing into a twenty foot by twenty foot space, we now had a pavilion, a fire ring with built in seating, and space from the neighboring campers. Bob was a gracious host, offering not only his space but also his off color jokes and tales of his new found freedom, both from his ex-wives and from a lifestyle he never much cared for and didn’t have an inch of a desire to go back to. We sang for our site, literally but also with praise and a listening ear. We lavished our affections on princess and ate the homemade fudge Bob offered us after dinner. The force was strong in us. Surely, it wouldn’t rain.
Thursday morning, I awoke with the sunrise, opening my eyes just in time to see the splash of color crest the mountains. I wasn’t even tired. I was ready. My friend, Alex is
our fearless leader. He is in charge. He’s the rope gun, coordinator, slave driver, and route selector. He also lacks any degree of patience. This means mornings are a time to hustle. Everyone needs to be dressed, caffeinated, fed, and off the can by the time Alex has his gear sorted or it’s highly probable those still lollygagging will be left behind. Since he is our most skilled climber and navigator, we indulge him. This is why when I awoke at the crack of dawn, instead of staying nestled in my sleeping bag catching a few extra winks, I launched into getting us ahead in the morning schedule. Coffee brewing, oatmeal made, and magically the whole camp rose shortly after me. We were the first group to arrive at the usually crowded premier wall, and not a single camp mate got left in the dust.
The next eight hours were climbing magic. After a climb or two of sloppier steps, we fell into a rhythm of unprecedented climbing flow. Alex led. Chris cleaned. Whoever was left not climbing wrapped ropes and snapped photos. This dance continued seamlessly, until our arms gave out and a few of the dancers took to the sidelines. The rock was stunning. It shone red with flecks of dark shadow. It had grit but forgiveness. Whenever I get my hands on real rock, I never fail to be humbled. It’s a little bit like life. Even though you can see the marking of where someone else may have gone, you still have to solve the puzzle of figuring it out yourself. Sometimes you can’t even see what’s above you and you have to feel around in the dark, hoping it’ll save you from falling. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t. Other times something that clearly worked for the person before, doesn’t happen for your body. Furthermore, the rock always feels a bit more alive, as though I’m interacting with something that has its own breath, it’s own wisdom, and it’s own temper.
When the red dust settled on the day, we’d made more ascents than we ever had in a single day. We touched some beautiful and interested climbs. We’d worked as a unit. It was a sweet victory. Instead of being exhausted, we were renewed by the day’s success. The campsite was full of revelry that night as we walked out to stare long and thoughtfully at the lingering sunset and it’s array of colors. The lights of the campsites below understood our passions. They shared them. We bounced between laughing at the absurdities of our day to day lives and reminiscing about the glory of our climbing success. We visualized the next day’s ascents.
Meanwhile, the winds picked up speed and we couldn’t help but smell rain on the air that blew through camp. It made me think of the yogic practice of aparigraha. Aparigraha is interpreted “non-grasping” I have definitely held on to things very tightly, even if it was something or someone that wasn’t helping me create joy. I’ve clung to concepts that no longer rang true. I’ve held onto things I didn’t even want, but perhaps I’ve held most tightly to the things I did want. I’ve desperately clung to love, story-lines that left me without fault, and quick fixes. I’ve gripped the rock so tightly that letting go seemed impossible, but slowly and against my will I’ve learned the tighter my grip, the more likely I am to run out of strength. Plus, so often things happen that are completely out of our control. Sometimes, it rains.
The following morning the clouds on the horizon hung heavy and black. I didn’t jump from my sleeping bag to greet the day with anticipation. Instead, I was reticent, unsure. This might not happen. Before we finished breakfast the rain sent down a steady stream of water. Not a deluge, but just enough to steal our dreams of climbing the soft rock in good conscience. It was better to clear out and let the non-climbers (weirdos) enjoy the nature. The drive home had less revelry, if anything we were a little muted, a little withdrawn. That’s the things with expectations, they can take something beautiful and steal it’s luster. Yet even as I felt that prick of pain at an opportunity lost, I was also aware that if we‘d been sure before we left that it was absolutely going to rain, we wouldn’t have come. We wouldn’t have experienced that one perfect day where everything fell into place. Where the tribulations that normally accompany a climb, like getting turned around on the walk up or slamming your knee on a swing, were completely absent. We had one absolutely perfect day on the rock. Then it rained.