A Climbing Trip: Red Rocks and No Job
My first climbing trip to Black Corridor in Red Rocks National Park
It was warm for January in Las Vegas.
Going into this trip, it had been six months since I quit my job. I decided I wanted to spend more time doing what I loved, which was climbing. Would I regret the decision? It felt right to take time off to pursue my passion but also wrong and indulgent at the same time. Uncertainty still hung in my mind, but this morning I wasn’t thinking about that at all.
As we entered the park, the sun was hardly up and the air was crisp. My friends and I start hiking towards Black Corridor, a popular crag for climbers.
The trail to our destination weaved through mounds and piles of sandstone. The hills, with their cracks and wrinkles, climbed and dipped gently; some leveled out into plateaus — others gained momentum and eventually rose into cliffs. Shrubs and bushes grew in the rock’s gashes and nooks, etched by the elements. The only things within view were rock and sky.
At first glance, the rock appeared to be a singular shade of terracotta. The rock’s color varied though, depending on how much sunlight it received, ranging from light cantaloupe to rich amber. Thin wavy lines of pastel pink ran across entire sections, highlighting the sedimentary nature of the rock. Large sections were painted with desert varnish, dark splotches that looked like streaks of oil paint. Red Rocks looked more like the surface of Mars than the Mojave desert.
After hiking for a bit, I’m greeted by the familiar desert plants that looked as if mother nature had violence in mind as she created them: Joshua trees, Mojave yucca, and honey mesquite. Their bayonet leaves and thorns added drama to the landscape. Lizards skittered lightning fast across the rock, like terrestrial shooting stars. I was lucky and saw a chuckwalla inflate itself rigid into a rock’s crevice, strange and amusing at the same time. Truly an alien terrain.
We took a sudden turn and arrived at Black Corridor, and I felt I had stumbled into a secret, elusive spot, a climbing haven. The contrasting dimensions of the slot canyon drew me in first. Sandstone walls towered on either side, revealing only a narrow slice of sky above. The path between the walls would have barely been enough space for an elephant to walk through.
As if to compete with the rock’s many shades, the walls boasted a variety of features: gently sloping arêtes, huge hollowed depressions, and cracks and gashes that sometimes intersected to resemble palm lines. Numerous pockmarks made it seem as though small animals had burrowed into the stone. The beautiful striations emphasized the sandstone layers, some protruding more than others to form ledges. Bulges and rock slabs jutted out to form overhangs. It was a climber’s paradise.
So far, my friends and I were the only climbers in the slot canyon. I savored the solitude; it helped me tune in. As I poised myself on the rock, it was silent other than my breathing.
The first fifteen to twenty feet of the climb were important; I wanted to climb and clip carefully to avoid a mistake. A misplaced foot could result in hitting the ground. I moved at a gentle pace at first, taking my time to read the rock, and placed my feet thoughtfully. After clipping the third quickdraw, I relaxed a bit, now protected from a ground fall.
The sequence of moves then began to come with ease and my body found its natural tempo. Feet up, lock off, exhale. Muscles tighten and relax in the right portions, not too much and not too little. I moved on instincts and allowed my body to decide the next movement.
A tricky move broke my flow and I found myself at the crux of the climb. The next move required delicate positioning and trusting my weight onto a small edge. If I fall, I fall. These are the moments I just need to go for it. I knew it would hurt more to back down than to try and fail. I mentally rehearsed the move, then went. It worked out — always a pleasant surprise.
I clipped the anchor shortly after and the climb was over. The rest of the climbs that day more or less followed the same rhythm: a fairly easy section and then a notable crux before the finish. It’s funny how I usually don’t remember the majority of a climb, except for the crux. The thrill of doing the crux moves always lingered even long after the climb.
Half a year has passed since this trip, and I find myself booking flights for another visit later this year. I also start reminiscing. The routes are hazy, but the cruxes play out vividly in my head. I can remember my shallow breathing and the sharpness of the moment. I remember how I felt like a child, both scared and daring at the same time. I remember the happiness of conquering the crux, but actually conquering yourself.
One memory leads to another and I start thinking about other fond moments. I remember the late-night gym sessions and laughing with my friends. I remember being cheered on by climbers I’d never met before. I remember cheering on other climbers I’d never met before. I remember the delight of sticking a move I thought wouldn’t stick — always a pleasant surprise. I remember revisiting old climbs and smiling inwardly when they felt easier. I remember the ache in my fingers after a good session. I remember the solace climbing provides. I remember how climbing helped me cope with a breakup, how it pulled me from the depths of depression.
I remember this is why I quit my job, and why my only regret was not quitting sooner.