I’m hanging sideways from the rope going through my belay device, body completely parallel to the ground, one Chacoed foot pushing on a knob out to my left as I reach a full body length trying to flick the rope free all the way out to my right. All I want is for the rope to drop all the way to the ground, which I can’t see below in the darkness. That’s all I want. And a sandwich, and a hug, and a pillow.
Several hours ago, my friend Teresa and I were walking in to the base of the Mescalito, cracking jokes in the afternoon sun, light packs, not at all concerned about getting to the summit and back down the involved descent before dark. I believe it was my idea to not take a tag line to rappel the route, and instead just romp up the “several hundred feet of 3rd and 4th class with a few moves of 5th class” to the top of the Mescalito. I think I read a few sentences about the descent while I was sitting at a coffee shop in Vegas earlier that day, but all I really remembered about it was “hike west.”
Then we climbed the three pitches of The Cookie Monster, and I combined the last two pitches of Cat in the Hat to keep us moving. Then. Oh, by the way, there’s kind of an exposed traverse just below the summit, and then a roped pitch up a dirty, sandy, loose chimney with questionable rock, under a roof, might be nice if you have a big piece to protect it if you didn’t leave it in the car. Then it was dark, and we weren’t on the summit yet. So we squinted, fumbling down slabs and gullies looking for cairns all the way down the north side of the peak.
Now, all I can think is I Am Out Of Adrenaline. I flick the rope free, and watch over my right shoulder as it swings down. As I lower myself slowly, my headlamp beam finally reaches the end of the rope, almost, is it, yes, touching the sandbar on the side of Pine Creek. Then I look over my left shoulder and my light bounces off of two eyes looking straight up at me from the creek. For one second, I am sure it is a mountain lion, and for a full minute, I believe I can take it if it comes after me. My feet finally finally finally touch the ground, I’m sure it’s probably just a coyote, but I pick up a rock the size of a softball and chuck it over there just in case. A mere 10 hours after we started, we get back to the truck and deliriously mumble and giggle as we drive the last 2.5 miles of the loop road out of Red Rock NCA.
Would You Call That An Epic, Teresa says in the truck. I say I don’t think so, it was just a long day. I mean, neither of us were injured, besides a few cuts and bruises. We didn’t spend an unplanned night out. We didn’t need a rescue. But yeah. That was kind of huge. Like I will not be exercising tomorrow. At all.
Ever have a day out like this? Bite off a little more than you can chew, make a couple bad decisions, forget a headlamp, or just realize about halfway into it that wow, this was a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be?
I have a lot of them. They’re what some people would call Type 2 Fun — fun that is really not that fun. There is something about surviving a big, big day out that makes the rest of your life better â€“ the next day when you can’t figure out why you have cuts on your hands, or why your hip feels like someone hit it with a hammer, or you have that creaky, still-dehydrated feeling in your body well into the next evening, or you have to eat 5,000 calories the following day just to catch up with everything you burned on your climb, bike ride, run or ski tour. Maybe the best way I’ve heard it said is “I don’t really like it, but I love it.” Which is paraphrasing Jason Wood in this film — “I don’t really like riding in the rain, but I love it. It’s kind of like a bad relationship.”
I don’t really like rappelling in the dark, and I don’t like stumbling down the trail for hours after my reserves have long run out and I got lazy re-packing my pack and now all kinds of stuff is poking me in the back or causing everything to lean to one side. I don’t like running out of water and then getting so dehydrated that I start coughing every few minutes, and my contacts dry out and I can’t really see.
But I love standing in a convenience store at midnight, looking down at my blistered, dirty toes in my sandals, stalking the beverage cooler and already eating a bag of potato chips I haven’t paid for yet, hands are black with rope dust, holding an ice cream bar under my arm, wondering where that blood stain on my jacket came from. And then dumping $12 worth of junk food on the counter and feeling like I need to explain to the cashier that I’m not high — I just had a long day out climbing. And descending. In the dark.
Maybe you know what I’m talking about.