It’s all about the balconies
A cringe jolts my gut as the words “love mini epics” spill over my climbing partner’s lips. The worst part is that Brian says them with a smile, almost laughing with his head tilted back, glasses glinting in the morning sun as he sits in his chair sipping coffee, admiring Castleton Tower.Somewhat of a newbie to rock climbing in the remote desert, Brian has never been to Utah’s Castle Valley before. Even as a sponsored gripper of stone, he had no idea what he was saying in this particular case. The technical grade of our objective was moderate, but I knew well that in this place the grade is only a small factor in the total sum of the day. With a shudder, I wondered what my naive friend had just wished upon us.But I also knew what he meant, and felt my own hunger to test myself in whatever situations sat up there, 2,700 vertical feet above us. The clustered 400-foot towers – Castleton, The Rectory and the Priest – poked into the blue January a.m. from the tips of their talus cones like swizzle sticks in the sky and stirred a lust in me for adventure.Clean cracks split the crimson stone, thin passages that would lead us to the fate of our day as we wiggled fingers and toes into the shadowy fissures. What they felt like or how fun or scary they would be was still unknown. We couldn’t even see most of them from the parking lot; we just knew they were up there, waiting like fading hieroglyphics on crumbling monuments.So up we went, chatting and laughing the whole way, eventually plopping ourselves down on top of The Rectory. The sun was going down, but we were prepared for that. In fact, we still planned to do another climb, a harder one, by taking turns rappelling 400 feet to the ground and climbing back up with a self-belay. Brian tied the two 70-meter ropes together and lowered himself out of view into space. I was to hang out and enjoy the view while I waited for my turn. We expected him to be gone a mere 30 minutes. There was an hour of light and we had headlamps. So I relaxed and went for a stroll across the long, flattish summit.Stepping around the snow and brush on slickrock that sloped toward the edge, I pondered my position. At places I could sit on a projected point and look back down the wall, down on the crow circling from its cliffside perch hundreds of feet below, it’s caw barely reverberating up to my ears.Cold crept up on me, and I realized Brian had been out of sight and sound for almost an hour. It also began to dawn on me that this last ray of golden sun on my face would be the final kiss of warmth as winter chill consumed more of my body in shivers. Soon it would be night. I had always known this, but now that it was against my back I longed to escape. I started to worry. I wondered if something might’ve happened to Brian with no way for me to know; I checked the taut rope, which seemed to indicate life dangling from it somewhere in the north-facing void. For the moment, all I could do was make the best of my island.We would indeed “suffer” a “mini-epic” that night. Brian clambered back to our perch at dark, sweaty and thrashed. As he struggled to catch his breath, I opted to forgo my turn in favor of getting off the freakin’ tower. Our ropes immediately got stuck. We pulled and strained from below while dangling from the middle of a blank face that offered not a hope to stand on. Somehow we solved that problem, though – and the one after that and after that. Then we were back on the ground, where we got lost and found our way. And got lost.Brian had had it by the time we reached a dry creek bed. He wanted to go right and I left. We only had to hike over one more ridge … I knew where I was and simply couldn’t follow my dear friend in his wrong direction just because he didn’t believe me. So I went my own way, with Brian following reluctantly most of the way back to the cars … where cheap beer never tasted so nourishing.Maybe it seems funny to tell this story now, since it happened more than five months ago, but it came to mind this weekend at my buddy Rob’s Fourth of July party. I stood on the deck with him, in the middle of the good cheer and good friends, looking out across the speckled lights of the Glenwood valley from our little spot high up on the hill behind the Hotel Colorado. He had been painting this view in several portraits for some time, and expressed his apprehension of one day giving up a home so good to search for something that might be better.”Life is all about finding the best balconies,” he said. I had to raise my glass to that and shout it for the others to hear.Rob’s comment reminded me of my own situation and that day atop The Rectory. The air was so still up there, and watching the long shadows fall down from the towers across the valley as they had for countless human lifetimes and well before that, I felt like a privileged fly on the wall of something so much bigger and greater than any single thing imaginable. And it’s all out there – this very moment – that bigness we’re a part of; I can’t help but think I’ll find a better vantage point if I can only gather enough courage to step out of my comfortable car or apartment and start hiking.So I’m getting ready to leave this amazing town and valley, probably in September. I’ll be hanging out on top of El Capitan in Yosemite, Calif., with Brian. I’m a bit nervous, but feel stirred up inside, like a jar full of butterflies, which always seems to indicate I’m heading in the right direction.The night is falling and I intend to have the best view I can reach by the time it catches me.Come to think of it, I really do love the mini epic my life is becoming.Derek Franz will keep writing installments of Open Space for the meantime, but if you’d like to wish him luck on the road he may be reached at 384-9113 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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