430 AM DOESN'T FEEL LIKE IT'S THAT EARLY when you haven't slept in two days. Wait, that's hyperbolic- when you can squeeze in a few winks on a red eye flight and in between a tent collapsing on your face in a high desert wind storm - you've kind of slept. This was my first trip to Red Rocks, just outside of Las Vegas, so that just seems like a part of the deal.
"The gate opens at 6," Christina said over a loaded pack, explaining the lore of the early morning starts needed for Red Rock's most classic lines. "We need to be at the gate by 530. Maybe earlier. And then we need to haul ass across the approach so no one passes us. NO ONE can pass us."
And no one would pass us. We were the second car at the gate; when a third car made a move to squeeze by us at a wide spot on the road, Christina wheeled our little rental like it had the soul of a formula one car and blocked that poor, greedy bastard. This was our first 1:1 climbing trip together - taken on a whim ("hey flights to Vegas are like $200, wanna go?") and now here we were, careening down the one-way park road just after sunrise at questionably legal speeds. Did I mention that I had just quit my job, and the Tuesday morning we got back to Denver Christina would be my new boss at my new job? Yeah, my life is weird. And awesome. But mostly weird.
At the trail head, we loaded up our heavy packs and started trekking across the desert. I thought I knew what a desert felt like, smelled like. I'd spent a lot of time in them in Colorado and Utah, but this was Nevada - LAS VEGAS - where nothing is half assed. There were real life flowering cacti. Scorpions. Allegedly, desert tortoises. And it was a certain level of dry that has you sucking the life out of your hydration hose as you sprint across the flats towards the steep scree field at the base of the mountain.
'We're...crap...the turn...this isn't...there's another group headed up!' Christina puffed when she realized we had missed a turn. Making our way across goat paths, we desperately moved as quickly as we could so as not to lose our coveted spot. It was safe to assume that every human being we saw out there on the flats had the same objective we did: Crimson Chrysalis, a 10 pitch Grade IV 5.8 that on three other occasions Christina had gotten turned around by too many parties on route. This would not be that time.
We hit the scree field as the sun started cooking the landscape. Our pace slowed, I could feel every nut, every inch of rope and every ounce of water sinking its weight into the soles of my feet. The hill steepened but we were getting closer, and it seemed like the first spot was ours. On a SUNDAY during peak season. Unbelievable. I stopped to rest, turning around to check on Christina who had started to slow. She rounded a corner and looked up at me with panic in her eyes: 'RUN. There's a party of three right behind me!'
No further encouragement needed. My heart felt like it was going to explode but I'd be damned if we didn't keep our spot. The last 200 yards of trail wore on, but finally I slid over the last boulder like Jim Abbott* sliding into home plate. Panting and stumbling, I pulled our rope off of my pack and ceremoniously draped it across the start of the climb, marking our spot.
'Dibs!' I gasped, '...after you guys?'
Two older gentleman were racking up at the base of the climb and stared at me like I was a crazy lady who had just sprinted two miles through the desert at 6 am. 'Hey,' I struggled to say nonchalantly, sweat dripping out of every pore. 'I hear this is supposed to be a sweet climb.'
How the hell did they beat me there? Did they cheat and get into the park before the gate was open? Did they pass us while we were turned around in the scrub? How can I be so thirsty yet have to pee so bad? How am I going to not pee for ten pitches? I didn't know, and it didn't matter. Second party it was.
IT TURNS OUT, it wasn't our day regardless. The party of three and the party after that skeered off after they saw there were two groups queued already. But the party of the older guys was too slow. They took a long time on the first pitch, so we waited for the follower to launch off the start of the second before we even started to head up. Christina got to the top of the first pitch only to have the guy's ropes drop on her - they were bailing after two due to a forecast of high winds. Not wanting to be the only party on a route where ropes notoriously get eaten (an ironic position given our race to BE the only party on route, or at least the first) we also decided to bail. Something felt off, and the weather looked sketchy. Stranded, cold, benighted and full of pee 1,000 feet off of the deck is not something I felt like working into my first Red Rocks trip.
The next day it rained, and we caught our 8PM flight out after a day of cruising the strip, exploring other climbing areas, and trying to blend in with the crowd at the Bellagio. Friday night to Monday night. I crammed in as much mileage as I could - turns out with the weather, there wasn't a lot of mileage to be had.
Is it weird that my most memorable few hours of the trip was not the stellar climbing we did squeeze in between bad weather, but the toiling miserable hike to a failed objective? Maybe. Probably. Insert uplifting metaphor and deep, meaningful words about failure here - whatever, I'll be heading back to Vegas soon to do it all again.
*Jim Abbot was a one armed baseball player. See what I did there?