by Dominic Rickicki and Brady Robinson
I stood at a comfortable stance about forty feet off the ground. The golden color of the cliff, and the concave feature in which I was resting created the feeling of being lost in a large bright room. The desert sun was beating on my back as the morning waned, it was hot. I stuffed some climbing gear into the crack in front of me, the only fault in an otherwise clean and sculpted piece of rock. I clipped my rope into the gear to help keep myself safe in case I were to fall. Above, the crack split its way through a steep overhanging section of the cliff and then relaxed back to vertical. I took a little more time to contemplate the moves above. The higher up I would climb the further the gear would be below me, everything was calculated. I jammed my hands into the crack, flexed the muscles in my palm to fill the space and climbed up like this through the steep rock. Sweating and struggling I continued to fight for each inch of ground gained. Soon the overhang was cleared and I stood insecure on the face above. I stuffed more gear into the crack as my leg shook on a dime-sized edge. I pulled the rope up slowly and tried to clip the piece of gear. Just as I brought the rope to the carabiner the shaking of my legs became so violent I blew off the foothold and took the ride down the wall.
The desert is an unforgiving place, but it is also magical. The climbing is hard, the air is dry and the sun beats down on you, uninterrupted by the leaves of hardwood forests like I am so accustomed to in the northeast. But, the colors of the red sandstone mesas and bright blue western skies create panoramas so brilliant it is no mystery why photographers and artists alike frequent the area. The landscape feels alien to those who first arrive, as if you were the mars rover strolling around on some unknown planetary surface. Rivers have eroded the valleys, faults have lifted the bedrock, and wind has shaped the brilliant arches. It is unfamiliar, while at the same time able to call upon something primal within yourself. As if you were meant to be in this place.
As our ancestors roamed this country thousands of years ago in search of food and resources, so do you roam the desert in search of views, adventure and yourself. Being that the landscape is bereft of the forests, like those I am used to in New York, you can see for miles without ever hiking up a hill or climbing up a cliff. I find that much of the magic of the desert comes from the ability to look out across a vast landscape, point to something, and go there. Careful to not harm the fragile cryptobiotic soils of the region I often scramble along rocks and follow any marked trails that exist as I foray into the unknown. The deeper you travel the more you discover that every cliff has a canyon to hide, and within that canyon are unimaginable numbers of passages to walk through, or cliffs to climb.
Of course it is not all just frolicking through the cacti out here. You can get lost, storms can blow in fast, and dead ends abound as you stumble upon a cavern into the earth that you cannot descend. If you do not have enough water the sun can suck you dry in hours, leaving you to search desperately for a water source. The desert will challenge you, but if you rise to its demand it will reward you.
I hung in the air, still attached to my rope and still alive. The fall was bigger than many I have taken, but it was safe. I climbed backed up to my last piece of connected gear. Above me the piece of gear that I was not able to clip hung tauntingly. I was not prepared to climb that hard section again to reach the gear above. So I put more pieces of protection into the rock and pulled on them up to the dangling one above me. As I reached my last high point the dark clouds that loomed in the distance earlier that morning hade made their way to my location. Rain dumped out of the sky, soaking me and the soft sandstone I hung from. I pulled on more gear to the top of the cliff, clipped into the anchors that were permanently left there and lowered back down to the ground, dripping wet. As I touched back to planet earth the clouds had cleared and the sky was a deep blue again. The sun now lit up the water soaked cliffs, which made them glisten more brilliantly than I had ever seen before. In about thirty minutes time, from when I left the ground to when I came back, I had experienced all of the harshness and the beauty of the desert, and I still had two days left of my visit.
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