Sunday, February 24, 2008

Grand Canyon

Saturday, February 23. Due to a combination of weather and my injured left calf muscle, which is healing a lot more slowly than I had hoped, I have done no climbing since Monday’s ascent of Rawlpindi (sic). Grrrrr! I am having a pretty good time, nonetheless. I’ve had a chance to learn more about Red Rock Canyons, and to see a bit of the Southwest, a part of the country in which I have spent very little time.

On Wednesday evening I went to the meeting of the Las Vegas climbers’ coalition, a group of local climbers who are working to protect and improve climbing opportunities in the area. Most of the discussion focused on how the upcoming Red Rock Rendezvous, which will attract perhaps a thousand climbers over a long weekend in late March, can be used to educate climbers as to the importance of “leaving no trace” or at least minimizing their impact on the Red Rock environment. In particular, human waste (urine and feces) has become a problem in some very popular areas. The coalition plans to organize removal efforts and to conduct an education effort at its Rendezvous booth. The discussion was a good reminder to me to make sure to leave as little trace as possible as I pass through climbing areas.

The meeting also gave me a chance to meet in the flesh some of the local climbers I have gotten to know through the internet. Johnny Ray and Matt McMurray were there. I have plans to climb with both. I met and talked to several others, including Killis, who has created a bit of a stir on the internet with his opposition to the practice of leaving draws on sport routes being “worked.” I was glad of the chance to meet these folks and to get some sense of the climbing community here.

I decided to use Thursday and Friday to rest my leg and make a trip to the Grand Canyon, something I had never seen. At Johnny Ray’s urging I visited Christmas Tree Pass on the way, a side trip that required Ezzy to carry me over about 40 miles of rough but passable dirt roads. It was quite an adventure; the only other vehicles we saw were off road jeeps and ATV’s. But Ezzy handled the washboards, rocks and pot holes like a Hummer. The pass itself is a beautiful pocket of evergreen trees in this desert landscape.

We arrived at the Grand Canyon about an hour before dark: just time enough to find the South rim and scurry from one vantage point to the next snapping photos. None, however, do justice to the immensity and grandeur of the “big ditch.” Standing on the rim, I found it hard to believe it was real. Nothing I had previously seen comes close, not even Yosemite Valley: the depth of the empty space in front of my feet, the colors (reds, oranges, yellows, grays, black), the fantastic shapes of the rocks carved by the river, and the incomprehensible size. To complete the effect, the sun shone through small holes in the cloud cover, illuminating first one buttress and then another.

As dark fell I found a camp ground and figured out how to use my credit card to pay for a night’s stay ($15). Never paid that way before. There were a few inches of snow on the ground, due no doubt to the 7000 ft. elevation, and the storm clouds were thickening, so I picked a site near the plowed road. From there, if it snowed during the night, Ezzy would have less distance through which to struggle. I had left my stove at my Red Rock campground (the “Hosts” told me I had to leave something if I wanted to retain my site while I was away), so dinner was ham, cheese and salami sandwiches made from stuff purchased at the Grand Canyon Village.

I awoke to several inches of new white stuff. The clouds and falling snow obscured the canyon almost completely. The overlooks that yesterday had revealed thousand-foot drops and miles of sculpted cliffs now showed me only a few feet of rock disappearing into the mist. After being warned by a couple of Rangers that the South Rim road would be slippery and dangerous, Ezzy and I decided to take it. Being unable to climb, we needed some kind of an adventure. Ezzy handled the 20 miles of twisty, snow-covered road with aplomb, even passing some four wheel drive vehicles along the way.

We headed North-West over more snowy roads to Zion National Park. For many miles there were only two vehicles on the road: Ezzy and an 18 wheeler that followed us at a steady 300 yards behind for over hour. I think the driver figured that if there were a patch of particularly icy road ahead, we would slide off first, giving him a chance to slow and avoid a wreck. His concern was misplaced; we got to Zion without mishap. Given the weather and late hour, we drove through without stopping. I need to go back and really see the place properly. There is said to be terrific crack climbing there. The images I took away from yesterday’s quick look are of a narrow, sharply twisting road weaving among tall, red cliffs of cleanly fractured rock reaching up to a dark gray sky.

The surprise of the day came as we followed Interstate 15 back to Las Vegas from St.George, Utah. It runs through the Virgin River canyon, composed of mesas, ravines and cliffs of crumbly gray rock. Not much for climbing, but spectacular in their own way. I don’t think it is part of any National or even State park; it’s just there.

Toady was mostly sunny, an apparently perfect day for climbing. I had a plan to climb Dark Shadows, a very cool looking 5.8 in Pine Creek canyon, with Marc and Johnny. But it had rained a lot in the canyons yesterday and we adhered to the advice not to climb on the RR sandstone immediately after rain. The water weakens the rock, making holds liable to break. But it was frustrating to sit here in the sunshine not climbing. Maybe we were too conservative. I saw others climbing.

My next day to climb is Monday. I really want to have an ascent to report on Tuesday.

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