“It’s a damn good thing I know Japanese”, Lee exclaimed as he hoped back in the driver seat of our tow truck. The truck sat saddled on a curb dangling into a lane and a half of traffic in a way that only delivery, trucks and moving vans seem to get away with.
Somewhere in the middle of his tale of handcuffing himself to his teenager for a week of classes to teach him a lesson about skipping class I caught myself drifting. I was tired. The night before I sat in the bus watching nervously through our curtains as a guy screamed at his telephone as if it was a noise meter on the jumbo-tron at Cowboys Stadium. Broken down in a Walmart parking lot in Orem, UT we had little choice but to crack a Mirror Pond and laugh at our citation.
A week later and we are headed back to Salt Lake City in a rental car. Wayne at “Wayne’s Vee Double U Repair” (no joke) took a look and determined that Vincent “ran beautifully!” I’m not so sure if that is good news or not but regardless we are headed back to the beehive state for the second time in as many weeks.
One of the great perks of working for the school district are the built in week long vacations. Last week Robyn and I took advantage of spring break and drove Vincent all the way to St. George, UT in one long 10 hour push, arriving delirious at a windy camp on the edge of town. When we awoke, palm trees lined manicured retirement communities and red rock cliffs speckled the surrounding hillsides.
Ben, Jeremy and Dana combined with us and several other SLC affiliated crews to descend upon the Turtle Wall, a short walk past the ever-popular Chuckawalla Wall. At one point it felt as if someone we knew was on every route the small wall had to offer, a great feeling after a long and lonely 2 years of climbing in Alaska. Jeremy and Matt pushed each other on The Actual Parchments (5.13a) making impressive progress, as Robyn redpointed Director of Human Affairs (5.11a) and Ben sent a wildly overhanging route called Banana Dance (5.11d). Toward the end of the day we were even treated to a tortoise sighting, a first for both Robyn and I.
After a full day on soft red sandstone we made the stunning drive through the Virgin River Gorge (worth a weekend of exploring in its own right) to Mesquite, NV and out a long gravel climb back into the desert wilderness of Arizona. Here we circled the crew (now also including Steve who met us from Red Rocks) and had a late dinner and fire that lasted till early morning. As the sun rose over the hills to our east, a rugged limestone mountainside appeared, breakfast was made, and we carpooled to the trailhead of The Grail. The approach was lined with cactus and blooming desert flowers, and our first view of the crag after a steep winding trail was breathtaking. The valley before us was lined with towering limestone walls streaked yellow and grey up to 600 feet tall. For the next two days and nights we explored, climbed, camped, and laughed over hearty meals and around blazing campfires.
By Tuesday we were looking to rest, refuel and find a new camp for the remainder of the week. Since we got to St. George we had loosely followed Ben’s recommended tick list of areas and climbs with growing confidence and excitement. One place he always raved about was Sunset Alley, and it looked like the weather for Wednesday would be perfect.
Leaving St. George through the quaint main street of Santa Clara, Steve, Apollo, Robyn and I climbed through a beautiful canyon lined with blocky basalt cliffs and a lazy river dotted with ruins of Mormon homesteads. On the horizon red rock blazed in the late afternoon sun and we wound our way up a gravel road via a hand drawn map supplied by Ben. With little effort we found our camp, ample firewood and a flat place for the bus overlooking a juniper lined wash. The next two days we spent ticking line after line of incredibly high quality limestone. Each route seemed better than the last and it led Steve into a euphoric state of giggling as he ascended what he described upon lowering as the “best 5.10 I’ve ever done”.
Our finger tips seeping and pink we were determined to make one last stop on the finger friendly sandstone cliffs near town before heading back north. Chuckawalla Wall is home to Ben’s first 5.12a send Second Coming, a must do route that moves through some slopey crimps down low before launching into a raucous jug haul up an overhanging prow. Chasing shade we wasted little time warming up before Steve hoped on to give it a go. It’s fun climbing routes that are meaningful to your climbing buddies, and sending Second Coming felt kinda like re-watching a movie you’ve seen a hundred times just to see the reaction of your friends. As I pulled the final move I wasn’t just excited for me. I felt like I shared the ascent with the hundreds of other climbers that fought their way to the top and stood proud, huffing and puffing as they clipped the chains.
“And you hope to hell they don’t swallow 100 gallons of water after you shoot em or they weigh about 1,200 pounds when you’re trying to haul them in the boat.” “What do you bait them with?” I asked. “Whole chickens, gators only feed at night, so I’d go out there in my boat, pull em up with one hand and shoot em in the head. I can make $90,000 in three months.” Lee said. “Anyway, here is your stop.” Robyn and I got out at the front of the car rental section at the Salt Lake City International Airport and walked in to pick up our rental, immediately aware of how dirty we were after a week of camping. It didn’t help that the chipper young suited chap showing us the features of our Nissan Versa appeared to be wearing eye liner…
Some people ask if having Vincent is worth the effort. Even my folks were nervous gifting him back to Robyn and I at our wedding, knowing that trips with him can take some sharp unexpected turns. But in a way there is something enticing about the unexpected twists and turns of travel with Vince that adds excitement. Do I want to spend another night at Walmart in Orem, UT – hell no. I am certain that I can live without charging my phone next to the bathroom in Del Taco while the power tripping night manager rips into his new employee for not having slip resistant rubber on his shoes. And what about the cost? Isn’t it expensive? Tow trucks, rental cars, low gas mileage.. Well the answer is yes but hey, there’s always gator huntin’.