Every single tap on the keyboard stings.
I do not consider myself a true alpinist. Thus, in between the crushing hug of 4am freezing temps and the very real possibility of sliding off a cliff whilst attempting to traverse frictionless wet slab descents in the dark, I found myself browbeaten into submission by a seemingly harmless Red Rocks climb, Black Orpheus. It was my first ever long multi-pitch route and perhaps (*cough*definitely) the wrong choice for someone who had never done either multi-pitch or trad before, but I believe my partner secretly craved the seductive beckon of the bivvy cave. This thirst for adventure is one I recognize in many of my fellow climbers, but that day as I recall a desperate rappel in the dark and terrifying wet slabs, we got much more than a healthy quenching.
(On the approach)
We went MLK weekend. Our day began at 3:45AM. Clothes, drive, harnesses, gear, and we were off.
For an hour we hiked easily towards Oak Creek Canyon, and we arrived at the mouth with an hour before the sun rose. After passing Solar Slab Gully, the trail merged into the wash where we had to scramble up large boulders. The further we went into the wash, the more difficult the scramble. I imagine the approach (and the descent) would have been much easier if it hadn’t just rained the day before.
Our early start in darkness may have caused us to miss the white boulder signaling the cairned approach, so after half an hour of failing to find a reasonable way up, we bushwhacked our way to the slabs. At this point, the entire face of Black Orpheus was blanketed in a beautiful red-orange glow.
Halfway up, I tripped over a rock right into the side of a cactus. Luckily, I only grazed it, and we stopped for a few minutes so I could remove my pants and extract the spines. Oh those goddamn cacti. I was traumatized for the rest of that climb and paranoid that every step I took would land me knee deep in pins and needles.
When we finally reached the start of the climb, 3 hours later, it was 7:30am. We were already behind schedule. We took a quick bathroom break, pulled out the rope, and started getting ready. Andy was on the wall shortly after 8am. The first pitch was a 5.8 corner with relatively sparse gear in the first 50 feet. He reached the anchors quickly, and I followed. At this point, I was grateful for our ‘practice’ trad multipitch the previous day, when I got to first experience removing trad gear and learn the process for following.
Part 2 to come
Credit where credit is due. Based off climbing notes by my partner Andy Cao