On Sunday, we climbed a route called “Crimson Chrysalis”. This climb is a very popular, very beautiful route that goes up the side of a sandstone formation named Cloud Tower. It is nine pitches long, almost completely vertical, and very exposed. The route itself ascends a distance of roughly 1000 feet, but begins at the top of a ramp that is already the same distance above the valley floor. When I have told my parents about climbs at Joshua tree, and said they were about 100 feet high, my mother has compared that to the height of a ten story building. Following that analogy, looking down from the top of Crimson Chrysalis is much like looking down from the roof of the Sears Tower or the Empire State Building. The difficulty rating of the climb is only 5.8+, which is pretty easy as far as I'm concerned. So for me, one of the few things about this climb that would be new, and perhaps challenging, was to be the height, primarily a psychological challenge. I've never had any problem with fear of heights when climbing single pitch climbs, but there is a big difference between 100 feet and 1000 feet. You never really know how you will handle that kind of height until you try it, so I must admit I was a bit nervous about this. As it turned out, I had no problems with this at all. When Aaron arrived at the top of the sixth pitch to find me leaning out from the wall (clipped securely to the belay anchor of course,) looking straight down at him and the six or seven hundred feet of air beneath him, the first thing he said was, “Well, obviously you're not having any trouble with the exposure up here.”
I think I could probably describe Sunday most succinctly by just calling it a perfect day. On Sunday morning, we awoke at 5:30 AM to begin our all-day ascent of Crimson Chrysalis. The weather was a bit chilly, just as the previous day had been, and knowing that we would be climbing in the shade for the whole day, we made sure to dress warmly and bring gloves and wool hats. We arrived at the parking lot just after 6:00 AM, and were pleased to find that we were the first ones there. The previous night, we had carefully packed exactly what we would need, so we were able to set out immediately on the approach trail. But the approach hike took an hour and a half, partly because we got on the wrong trail at one point, and another party beat us to the base of the climb by fifteen minutes or so. When we arrived, they were just getting ready to begin climbing, so we would have to wait until they finished the first pitch before we started. This was a bit unfortunate, but it ended up being kind of nice in the end. They were moving a bit slower than us, so we were able to just take our time and enjoy the climb, rather than rushing through it. And having another party on the rock ahead of us was a bit comforting, knowing that there was someone close by in case of an emergency. We got to talk to them a little at each belay, and we learned that their names were Ingrid and Collin, and they were from Arizona.
Aaron and I started the climb at about 9:00 that morning, reached the summit at about 4:30 in the afternoon, and didn't get back to the ground until about 7:00 that night. We swung leads the whole day: he led the odd-numbered pitches, and I led the even ones. According to the ratings in the guidebook, he got the hardest pitches, but most of them seemed about equivalent. (They were all pretty easy.) Ironically, the one that seemed the hardest, we both agreed, was one of the pitches I led near the top, even though it was rated only 5.6+. The first several pitches followed a fairly wide crack system, which made the exposure seem less significant during the actual climbing. After about the fifth pitch, the cracks disappeared almost completely, and the rest of the route consisted of beautiful, super-exposed face climbing. (Face climbing is what most people think of when they think of rock climbing. It relies upon hand- and foot-holds that protrude from or are cut into the rock, whereas crack climbing follows a deep vertical crack, sometimes with no other holds around it.) Along the entire route, there were perfect, positive holds for the hands and feet at almost every move. It seemed as if God had placed that rock there just so that we could have the pleasure of climbing it. As I said, it was a perfect day.
After we reached the summit, took a few pictures, and ate some food, we began our descent. This involved rappelling straight down the route, by doing a series of nine rappels in a row. We knew it would get dark soon, so we tried to move quickly. Fortunately, and partly thanks to some information from Collin and Ingrid who went down before us, we were able to combine the top two rappels and the bottom two, so we only needed to do seven. Even so, after about the third rappel, it was already completely dark, so we strapped on our headlamps. We had a few minor rope snags, but for the most part, the descent was uneventful. The view of Las Vegas at night, from that altitude, was awesome. When we hit the ground, we quickly packed up our things and hiked back to the parking lot, arriving there at just after 8:00. And as if the day hadn't just been sublime enough already, Collin and Ingrid were waiting for us there with a couple of cold beers. Good beer, in fact, not cheap stuff: Mendocino Brewing Company's Black Hawk Stout. Didn't I tell you how nice the climbing community can be? We thanked them profusely, and talked for a few minutes before they hit the road. Then Aaron and I hopped in his truck, and headed to Vegas for an all-you-can-eat meal at one of the casinos. We chose the buffet at Treasure Island, mainly because it was pretty cheap, and we had our fill of crab legs, shrimp, prime rib, veal, and cheesecake, among other things. A perfect ending to a perfect day. Originally, we had planned to climb the following day as well. But after such a draining day, and after waking up so early two days in a row, getting to bed around midnight each night, and now stuffing ourselves at the buffet, we decided to sleep in a little, then head home.