A Very Special Christmas Climb

“So I was thinking,” I said to Dustin in front of his house in Phoenix, “you can be either Santa or the elf, but I think the elf should lead all the pitches, because trying to see footholds over a huge Santa belly and beard is going to be tough.”


And then:

‘Twas the Saturday before Christmas, when up Camelback Mountain trail,

Dozens headed for the summit to much avail.

The hikers stepped over the rocks with caution and care,

Without knowing that St. Nicholas soon would be there.



Out on the Echo Canyon parking lot there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from my car to see what was the matter.

Away to the trailhead I flew like a flash,

Knocked over my sports drink and spilled it all in a splash.

The desert sun put on a late-afternoon show

Gave the red glow of sandstone to hikers below,

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But an elf in a Subaru without tiny reindeer,

The elf’s companion was so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the trail

The clanking of carabiners as the leading elf quickly prevailed



As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

Up the 5.7 East Face of the Praying Monk St. Nicholas came in a bound. And pulling on quickdraws like a total amateur.



He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were slightly tarnished with desert, ahem, soot;

His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

And he wondered why the costume shop couldn’t make Santa’s damn eyeglasses big enough to fit over the ears of a normal adult. I mean, it was bad enough that Santa couldn’t see any of his footholds over his giant belly, and when he pushed that down, his big white beard flopped into the way. Then the glasses would slide down his nose. Anyway.

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;

He had a broad face and a little round belly,

That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly. But mostly was an obstacle to actually freeing most of the moves on a 5.7 sport route. Which, I believe, leaves open the possibility of the FFSA (First Free Santa Ascent) of the East Face of the Monk.



He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf.

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And rigged a rappel; then turned with a jerk,

Laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, down the north face he rappelled without a headlamp as the moon rose;


Down the trail he sprang to his Subaru wagon, the elf gave a whistle,

And away they flew like the down of a thistle.

Partly because they were late for dinner plans with the elf’s in-laws.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove down 44th Street and out of sight,

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”


Thanks to Matt Rood for all the photos!


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