The cases for the day have not yet been scheduled, so we watch 1980's civil duty propaganda films on a VHS projector for two hours until my soul feels utterly depleted and my nose can take the warm stench of the sweaty fellow beside me no longer. I am a caged animal...I must escape....I eyeball the frumpy guard at the door and wonder if I can take him before the alarm sounds. I make a mental plan to distract him with a muffin then reach for his taser, but before I can implement my plan my name is called for release. There will be no cases for today! I am a free man.
And by free I mean free. Emancipated. In every sense of the word. My office is closed for the day, my wife and kids think I'm in court till dinner time and my staff has another doctor on call. The day is my oyster. My car has a t-shirt, a pair of rock-shoes and a chalkbag and a tank full of gas. A warm wind blows from the north, reminding me of a scrappy hillside strewn with toughened boulders waiting for first ascents just miles out of town.
I grab a carne asada burrito from the taco truck on the courthouse lawn and am soon barrelin' north on 41 toward my destiny. A day alone among the stone and sage and western wind.
In fourteen minutes my car is parked and I'm standing at this gate next to a sign that says "NO TRESPASSING" and another that says "NO LOITERING." A patient of mine owns this land and with loose permission I fully intend to loiter, and loiter hard.
You see, I have been in quite a funk this past year. I wrecked my knee attempting Lurking Fear last year and have been truly unable to climb much since then. I'm still having pain one year out of surgery and I can't really weight it on anything much harder than 5.7. I have been out of sorts, my climbing goals and dreams and to-do lists sidelined until I see the surgeon again next week and discuss re-cutting it. I know, its just a knee, not a life changer, but not being able to climb has stifled my soul just a bit. I plan to treat today as a gift, a day of wandering and exploring and spending time in the wild. Just what the doctor ordered.
I cross the threshold and make haste southward to avoid any confrontation with the local ranchers and am soon walking free-hearted and full of anticipation across golden soil baked by years of drought. I come across signs of my ancestors. The air is thick with their history in this land.
I clamber up a dusty wash strewn with cobble rock, evidence of the great river that once flowed through this now arid plain.
I head toward a patch of handsome 20 foot stones near a shady tree, an oasis in the hotter than expected October day.
The smells of the Valley drift up the sandy corridor, filling the day with a sense of nostalgia and purpose. I am a pioneer in this place, a stranger but yet fully at home. I take off my running shoes and for a moment sit with my bare feet in the creosote sand, soaking up the place.
A fantastic pinto colored boulder sits above me, the sun on its back, beconing me for a ride. "Whoa girl...steady...steady now...lets just get to know each-other now...." The rock is warm to the touch and I place a foot in the stirrups and start upwards. Lift-off feels heavenly. There's something about stepping off the horizontal, into the vertical, feeling the weight of my entire carcass transferred onto just fingertips tips and toes that brings joy to my soul.
Its about V1 and it is perfect in every way.
The crux moves included a selfie while on two footsy nubbins and a sidepull and before I know it I'm on top, sitting on a 20 foot summit with nothing around but the "caw" of a solo crow and a lone windmill creaking out a lonesome harmony in the distance.
Back on terra firma again I spy a promising formation slightly uphill about one click away.
My shoes make sooty footprints in the earth, the wind picking up as I leave the shelter of the dry gulch and cast out into more open land.
The land begins to resist me. The temperature rises. The wind scrapes at my flesh and emptiness howls across the divide between me and my query. it has to be nearly 100 degrees. Sweat burns my eyes, stink rises from my shirt, but press on I do. Words from a Cormack McCarthy novel swirl in my subconscience.
The land bakes and sizzles and simmers around me. Bleached bones of unlucky creatures dot the landscape.
I weave through a corridor of druid stones, the magic of the desert filling the void between past, present and future.
A lone sailor, an apparent vagabond himself, greets me on the ground at my feet.
"how long have you been here old friend...how did you arrive here in this gyre of sand and mustard weed and tumblebrush? What waters brought you here and how long ago?"
I wander drunkardly uphill toward what looks to be a nice batch rocks with plenty of first ascents lying in wait.
And soon find myself at the base of a 25 foot tower, its countenance that of a massive tooth from some prehistoric fanged beast.
This thing must be climbed. This tall thing with a blood red North face full of gemstone conglomerate knobs begs to be climbed. I shoe up quickly before the warning signs of "don't do this" or "the knee isn't ready for this" or "you know knobs like these break all the time" cannot be ignored.
In an instant I am lashed to its back. No way down, no way out, committed to the ride.
The rock is a wonderful Jackson Pollack combination of cambrian cobble and total shite.
I tiptoe and finesse and cuss my way up the aręte. Taking selfies while in harm's way is a skill I am proud of. And I flaunt my selfieskillz while transitioning off the aręte onto the face about 20feet off the arid turf.
A few rockovers while thoroughly in the coffin-zone and I am gleefully scampering up to the summit.
And behold....why do mine eyes see? A relic. A shiny metallurgical talisman of the vertical pioneers of yesteryear!
Ah, you sneaky old men. Who hath passed this way hence? Beckey? Robbins? Harding? Haymond? I find comfort in their passing and connect with their legacy, if only briefly on this lonely pointy capstone.
My catharsis complete, I carefully downclamber and downscamper the west ridge and move onwards, upwards. a strange force pulling me south across sullen terrain, beyond bleached bones and stark branches lying dead where they once lived a life of green next to a creekbed that once flowed nearby bringing life and liquid but now only the breeze and the boulders whisper of its passing. I will aim for the crest of the mesa, where a series of ochre laser cut corners of bullet hard stone await.
A screetch from above...a lonely cry from a winged beast that is nowhere to be found. The sun....the relentless sun.....it seems to know I have brought no water to slake my thirst.
I am beyond dehydrated, my tongue swollen, prying itself from the roof of my mouth for hard earned swallows. New routes will surely quench the dryness, they must. They must.
My mind starts to spin in a peyote-like fever dream surely intensified by my lack of water and the strangeness of my surroundings.
Upward I scwander....that's scramble/wander by the way.....and this is where things start to get strange.
I make it to the top of the mesa and collapse under a shade tree. I crawl a bit back into a small cave, seeking shelter from the furnace sun. But the cave stinks of death and an uncomfortableness settles over me like a chill.
Looking up toward a promising little face climb out the roof I spy a white object clinging to the smooth rock wall. As I look closer this is what I see.
Its an elementary school I.D. of a ten year old boy. With the words "The One" scribbled into the rock next to it. I have no idea how or why this would be here, so far away from a road and so far off the beaten path in the middle of no man's land. It really creeps me out, so after holding it for a bit I place it back and log the name in my mind so I can Google search the name later. Unhealthy visions of kidnappings and worse start to dance around in my mind so I high tail it out of there and press onward toward the actual summit of the mountain above me.
Strange things are afoot so I 5.8 myself out of there up a crusty, guano filled slot.
Reaching the "summit" gives me an unimpeded view of the landscape and miles of boulders in every direction.
The magnitude of my alone-ness overwhelms me. My car seems miles away. The reality of getting hurt out here sinks in and suddenly I want to go down. So go down I will. My eyes alight on what appears to be a little spire standing alone down on the valley floor and I make that my mark.
I wander downwards, shedding the heaviness that sat upon my breast up there in the cave. The air is cleaner here and I begin to again find beauty around me.
I hit the flats and find myself at a crossroads. One will lead to the car. The other toward towards adventure. In the words of ol' Bobby Frost I'll take the "road less traveled." And that will make all the difference.
As I get closer, the little pile of lone formations grows before my eyes. What a grand and fortunate trick of the eyes it is when what one thinks to be small is in reality quite big. 12-25 feet tall these things are, and I plan to plunder the goods.
I strike gold here in the cool shade of a perfect offwidth. Jaybro would be proud of me. I style the thing with with minimal skin loss while still managing two selfies. One from the outside....
and one from within. Like I said, mad selfie skillz.
With the last of my reserves I walk slowly down to the massive slender tower just thirty feet away and take in its grandeur and beauty. This land is full of surprises, and here, at the end of the day, beyond the barbed wire and Comanche hardpan, beyond the thirst and dirt and eerie silence I find what I have come for.
It is a thing of beauty. A dagger, flint hard and full of terrible symetrty. So perfect a boulder in this land has my eyes have not seen. A shard from middle earth itself so begotten in its beauty that I scarcely beg pardon an ascent. But have my way with it I will. This is the West, a land of pillage and plunder and opportunity and I will stake my claim on this dusty and derelict plain and I shall fear not pain nor failure nor death itself in my attempt.
I climb up three moves, get gripped, and bail.
I'm hot, thirsty and scared. I have to be home in an hour for dinner and I'm about a half mile from the car. So I take a shadowselfie and start the long journey back.
In fifteen minutes I'm back at my rig and fully sated with adventure. It's been a long day that started auspiciously but has ended with a belly full of good memories and an eye opening look at a beautiful landscape rife with potential. I scurry over the fence, crank the AC and point the bow homeward. In the distance, I swear I hear the lone cry of a coyote out in the hinterlands yonder. A lone coyote with its siren call, beckoning me back this way soon again.