There was a viral photo last week, showing what appeared to be hundreds of people waiting in line on the summit ridge of Mount Everest.
I won’t share that photo here, as I haven’t paid for it. A quick Google search will turn it up if you haven’t seen it yet.
The man that took that photo was Nirmal Purja, a.k.a. Nims. Nims is a Nepalese climber who served in the British Gurkhas, and has been awarded the Member of the British Empire by the Queen of England for his accomplishments in high altitude mountaineering.
You may have seen his picture. But you don’t know Nims’ name.
It was the final day of our climbing trip. Three weeks of
uninterrupted time together: me y mi hermano
I had introduced Jose to bigger, more complex forms of climbing, while he had mentored me in Spanish, my second language. We had shared a soggy tent, shivered through a few cold January nights, spent half our budget on alcohol, eaten like dirtbags. Laughing, learning. We had made a strong memory.
I had pushed for Vegas. I wanted Jose to get a taste of real multipitch climbing. I wanted to get high — something you can’t really do in Joshua Tree.
In the end, I’d won. We drove to Vegas for a few days.
Our final day, we slept late and headed in to climb Birdland around noon. We stopped at the First Pullout in the Red Rock Loop Road, to look at some of the beautiful rock formations, and see if we could glimpse some of the sport climbing crags — shorter, bolted cliffs.
The rock at the Calico Hills in Red Rock Canyon is filled with swerving lines: undulating waves of red, white, and shades in between. Without hurry, Jose and I walked the trails off the pullout, breathing in cool, fresh air. Despite being so close to Las Vegas, a major city with plenty of pollution, Red Rock feels crisp.
Walking back to la camioneta (our truck), three people around a small folding table waved us over. “Free food?!” they yelled. Dead broke after three weeks of too many cervezas, we swerved right over.
Two of the group were ambassadors for Climbstuff.com. The third, a guy in his late twenties or early thirties, was looking for people to climb with. We chatted for a bit while we ate bananas and tortillas.
“Well,” I say, “we were going to go climb Birdland, if you want to tag along. Multipitch.”
His face lights up, he thinks about it for a sec, and he says: “Yeah, that would be great! You guys got wheels? Just let me grab my stuff.”
No lo permitiremos para quedar, I tell my climbing partner, Jose. We’re not going to let him stay.
He nods, voices his assent in Spanish as we pull up to our site in Hidden Valley Campground, in Joshua Tree National Park. Hidden Valley Campground is the center of the Joshua Tree climbing scene, and on a Friday night, the place is swamped with after-work weekend warriors heading out from Los Angeles and San Diego.
Twenty-four million people live in Southern California. The 42 camping sites in Hidden Valley aren’t nearly enough to handle the demand. Luckily, Jose and I had arrived early and staked our claim.
Still, when we returned from town, we found a minivan parked in our campsite. The campsite could accommodate two vehicles, and we had only one. Graciously, the interloper had left space for us to park. Still, I wasn’t in the mood for company. We’re not going to let him stay, I told Jose.
Immediately after we’d parked, a young man walked up to the driver’s side window, and started to plead his case. Before he had time to get two sentences out, Jose interrupted him: “Yeah man, you can stay.”
Awesome! he said. Thanks guys. I’m gonna run off and try this boulder!
Colorado weather being what it is, we had 70 degrees (21C) and sun that January, despite the fact that it was the middle of winter. Suffering from the usual post-travel depression, I met up with my friends for a day of sport climbing in Boulder Canyon as quickly as I could. My friend Ben, a Buddhist scholar at Naropa University, told me “I’m inviting a few classmates along. You’ll like them.”
Ironically, neither climbed at all. One was a monk; his order didn’t permit him. The other was Meg, who let us all know, loudly: “I’m going ice climbing tomorrow and I need to save my strength.”
That was the beginning of the end.
Over the next two years, Meg and I climbed some mountains and built a friendship. I found my way into her friend group of serious climbers, and I was slowly sucked more and more towards alpinism, mountains, and ice.
For the past six years, that friend group has taken an annual Super Bowl trip to the Ouray Ice Park, in Ouray, Colorado. I was invited last year, but I was in Italy at the time.
This year, I finally joined the fun. And let me tell you:
Ouray is cool.
There can’t be many places like this in the world. Learn why, below the jump.