Climb on

Adventure writing in non-specialty media tends to be of the gushy, breathy, “can-you-believe-it” type. Tomorrow’s story in the New York Times, about climbing in Red Rocks outside of Las Vegas, is a pretty nice departure from that standard. The author, Stepehen Regenold, nicely describes some of the routines of climbing over rock—the arrangement of gear and the setup of anchors and belays. It’s a somewhat businesslike presentation, but that’s the way the routine sometimes feels, even if Regenold has to throw in awkward phrases like “in situ” now and then:

For the next six hours, the two were tethered together, each tied into a respective end of the rope as they climbed the cliff one pitch at a time. Ms. Brock led every section, placing cam anchors, clipping the occasional in-situ bolt and jamming metal chocks into cracks for protection in case of a fall; Ms. Wicks climbed second, removing the anchors as her guide reeled in rope from a ledge above.

Gear was reorganized methodically at each belay ledge. Ms. Brock kept cam anchors up front on harness gear loops; carabiners were stacked farther back on her hips. The rope was coiled and flaked out a dozen times throughout the day to keep it tangle free. Knots were double-checked at every ledge.

Each new pitch began with a compulsory and singsong canting between climber and belayer — “on-belay; belay-on; climbing; climb-on” — to ensure both partners were ready, system in sync.

I like that Regenold’s writing doesn’t assign great mystery to the process: It’s a series of episodes of organizing gear, tying into anchors, placing protection and balancing risk with physical effort—things that quickly become methodical, rhythmic, rewarding in a tactile, immediately appreciable sense of moving and thinking. I spent a handful of days climbing at Red Rocks a number of years ago. It’s like a climbing gym 30 minutes from the Vegas strip, quite a study in contrasts—depending on how much neon spandex your buddies are wearing.