Fear & Loathing in Yosemite, Las Vegas, and Utah

Thumpity, thumpity, thumpity, thumpity...

Huh? For a moment exhaustion rules but slowly my brain starts to work out of the dream state. Hmmm-- "thumpity" is not generally a good sound. Is that me caterwalling down the cliff to a sudden end? Some bit of something raining down from above? As I laconicly contemplate the possibilities it occurs to me to open my eyes.

Thumpity, thumpity, go the tires on the bots dots as we race across the desert at hundred miles an hour. The adrenaline hits about the same time the horn of the oncoming truck blares, I swerve back into my own lane and twitch as the endorphins do their thing. My what a long strange road its been. How did I end up here, near death in a sense, on a lonely Nevada highway?

Every once in a while its good to step back and take stock of things. Hmmm. Lets see what kind of a month its been. Career: Got promoted only to have the project I was to lead get canceled after two weeks. Sports: Got stomped on The Nose, then sprained my ankle and have been fat and slow ever since. Romance: Ha, ha, haaa! At some point I just stopped counting the miss-steps. Is there a Fred Murray school of dating? Finance: I'm totally unliquid in stock that just fully crashed...

Obviously my life needs a quick pick me up, so I grab the phone and start dialing:

"Hey, hows it going? Want to go to France this weekend?"
"Hey, hows it going? Want to do El Cap this weekend?"
"Hey, hows it going? Want to soak in the hot springs this weekend?"

etc... no takers...

Hmm. Time to consult the list of potential stupid things to do alone. Ahhh, number 8: solo an El Cap route. Thats the ticket! So I beg, borrow and cobble together what looks like enough gear for Zodiac and blaze out to Yosemite. Unfortunately Stormin' Norman is in The Valley, and therefore its raining. Sitting around the campfire that sizzles and spits as the rain drops hit, my friends try to dissuade me from my plan.

Their argument is strong, years ago Norman and Brian had been rescued near death from the Zodiac after starting in better weather than this. I crash in the back of Michael's station wagon with a lot on my mind.

Breakfast in the cafeteria, and more haranguing. Finally Brian suggests that he and I go to Zion and try a wall there. I contemplate and waver. I don't know Brian, and I'm really not in the best of moods, my plan was to spend a contemplative week alone, not getting to know a stranger. But, my plan is also looking somewhat fatal so in the span of five minutes the plan is hatched. Brian and I will leave immediately for Zion, we'll get a guide book on the way and pick a route as we drive.

Ten minutes later we have new plan. As we leave the cafeteria two German girls catch Brian's eye. He attempts to talk them into Zion, but they agree only to go as far as Las Vegas. He asks me if thats ok. "Umm sure," I reply in a daze. Its not like I had time to get emotionally attached to the original plan.

We pack my wall gear, Brian's gear, the two tourist's gear and the four of us into my two door Integra and head off across the desert. Brian sits with his knees in his ears, the copious rack occupying the space at his feet. The German's are in the back, separated by a soundproof wall of gear.

Language is the smallest barrier to communication as we scream across the California desert in search of the Nevada desert. But slowly the stories emerge. The women are a bit surprised to find out that Brian and I don't really know each other. They are doing the standard low budget holiday thing flitting all over the western US. Brian's whole life is low budget, despite a degree in psychology his full time profession seems to be "Surfing Bum From Fiji" with some part time work as "Climbing Bum" and "Dive Instructor".

At the first gas stop I make several discoveries. There has been a subtle shift in the plan. Instead of two days of pain and suffering under the blistering Utah sun, Brian's focus now seems to be on getting laid. Oh. The women smoke. A lot. Oh. Hmmm, time to start reevaluating things. We have the stereotypical tall blond German woman, and the stereotypical short fat German woman. Great, I feel like an extra from "Porky's IV (The Inanity Continues)".

Left Yosemite around 10am, we're in Vegas just as night falls. A quick tour of the strip and then we are off to the bivy site. With the glare of the lights from the quarry Hale Bopp can just be made out as Brian sits down to teach us to drink "Fiji style". I don't remember much about drinking Fiji style, I vaguely recall that it involved a lot of clapping, chanting, and of course, drinking.

As the sun pierces my hangover like a wooden stake through a vampires heart I curse my life. Then, as I look around, it becomes clear I'm one of a small number that did not get either sick or naked. Maybe my life's not so bad?

Attempting to maintain the pretense that this is a climbing trip we do two 4 bolt routes in Red Rocks. I managed to fire the 10a, but then take two falls on the 10c. I vow never to drink again, or at least not Fiji style the day before I plan to sport climb.

Climbing pretense in full swing, we make plans to climb the 6 pitch "Prince of Darkness" the next day, but instead end up on the strip till 3 am. Abandoning all pretenses this is a climbing trip Brian is finally laid. We drop the ladies off at the Greyhound station so they can continue to San Diego. We are back on the road to Zion. I'm hoping the climbing to hangover ratio will be better in Mormon country.

Unfortunately we have some of Norman's gear with us, so the rain curse has tracked us to the Desert. Brian still has nerve damage from being stormed on Zodiac, and the weather makes him very very nervous. In addition, this is sandstone, its fragile in the best of conditions and if saturated it gets weak to the point of being unclimbable.

Its not a great nights sleep, but we wake to clear skies, so vow to give "Space Shot" a go. I French the first sandbagged 5.9 pitch and do the 5.6 2nd with no gear. Its around here that I discover that I'm really not going to like climbing in the Desert. The anchors consist of small pitons driven into drilled holds. While Brian jugs I can see the pitons flex and granules of sand spill out the bottom. of the holes. I don't think this is good and as I look up at the blank wall above fear takes a strong grip in my gut.

Brian leads two hard aid pitches and I lead an easy one before it comes times to set up for the night. We are well up into the blank section so we will be sleeping in the hanging ledge we have brought with nothing but 600 ft of air below us. We string together five pitons for the anchor, but even so I have dark visions of the whole thing collapsing after a nights rain. As we dine on cold canned soup and watch the building clouds obscure the stars I wonder how far off my vision is.

Morning comes and I decide that Brian reminds me of my ex-girlfriend. They share a well meaning but infuriating habit of insisting on helping with trivial tasks. "Can I hold that carabiner open for you?" "Let me open that can for you" "Can I clean your sunglasses" I know its the stress of the crappy anchors and not him, but I bite my tongue and vow no more walls with strangers as I fight back the urge to throttle him if he touches my tie in point again.

Fortunately other distractions are brewing in the form of menacing storm clouds. We quickly make the call to bail even though we have done the hardest pitches on the route. As the rain drops begin to fall we congratulate ourselves on the good judgment to go down, but then as soon as we start descending the clouds break and the sun comes out. We curse ourselves for being cowards until we reach then base and are enveloped in a 15 minute squall. Maybe we are heroes again?

Deciding that both the rock and the weather in Utah suck (never mind the political climate) we retreat back to the kinder gentler Vegas. Unfortunately we are greeted by howling winds at our bivy site. We go to bed again mumbling about "Prince of Darkness" but in the morning its clear its not going to happen. Continuing our retreat, with tail between legs we back off to Southern California, and manage to get one day of sport climbing in at the the High Desert area. Reaching a toxic level of frustration we then bail back to the bay area.

I think I hit more bots dots than I clipped bolts.

   Home - Travel - Climbs - Cats - Friends - Links - Resume   
Contact: evan@WhereIsEvan.com
   Text and photographs are copyright 1994-2003 Evan Bigall, all rights reserved.