This time we were about fifth or sixth in line at the entrance gate, but we managed to be the first ones at the base of this route, albeit barely. When we got to the base, a party of three was already headed up Johnny Vegas, and a couple showed up right behind us as we were gearing up. They seemed bummed that we had beat them there, but I assured them we would move fast, and then made good on my promise by flying up the first pitch in just a few minutes, placing only about three pieces of gear in about 150 feet.
At the end of the second pitch, I got a chance to converse a little with the party of three on Johnny Vegas. When I asked where they were from, the girl following the route said that she and her husband were from upstate New York and were celebrating their one year anniversary. The leader of the party, an older guy, said he was a local, and almost immediately I could tell that he was somewhat of a hardman, from back in the day. I love running into guys like this and hearing their stories and their sage bits of wisdom or craziness. I've had experiences like this several times in Yosemite and at Tahquitz, but never before at Red Rocks. I asked about rappelling from the top of Solar Slab (I'd done it before, but I couldn't remember the details, and something in the guidebook had confused me) and right away he chastised me for wanting to rappel down rather than hike off. I assured him that I almost always prefer to top out and hike off a climb, rather than rappel, but that Oak Creek Canyon was an exception. I've done the hike before, and it is absolutely beautiful, but it is also awfully long. Furthermore, I knew that my partner wasn't up for a long hike that day, so we had left our shoes at the base. He told the girl from New York, “I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt, because of that peculiar fleshy tone in his fingers.” It took me a second to figure out what he meant, but then I laughed out loud and assured him that, while I did have chalk with me, I hadn't used it at all in the last two days. We chatted a bit more as Danielle finished the pitch, and I found out his name was Larry. I remembered seeing the name Larry in various places in various guidebooks for Red Rocks, and figured he was one of these guys.
Though we reached the base of Solar Slab before Larry and his party did, we still weren't quite the first ones on the route. Larry suggested we do Going Nuts instead, to pass the party ahead of us, and to keep the first few pitches of Solar Slab less crowded. But the party ahead was moving fast enough that we didn't pass them, and in fact we just barely stayed ahead of Larry and his couple from New York, meeting up with them again at the top of pitch two, where Going Nuts rejoined Solar Slab. It was at this point that I got to talk to him some more, and got to see some of his climbing techniques in action. He tied in with an overhand follow-through rather than a figure-eight. He was belaying both of his followers with a hip belay (“best belay there is,” he said.) He also was carrying, in addition to the New York couple's shiny new nuts and hexes, an old Forrest titon, the only time I've ever seen one in real life.
A pitch or two later, when Danielle rejoined me at a belay, she told me she'd talked to Larry a little more. She had found out he wrote a book called Red Rock Odyssey. I'd heard of the book, and thought it sounded like something I'd love to read. Now I definitely want to, having met Mr. DeAngelo in person. Oddly, after she left him and his two partners at the top of pitch 3, we didn't see them again. For whatever reason, they decided to bail, and apparently so did all the half dozen or so other parties behind them. It was a bit weird for us when we were rapping later that day. For the whole day, the lower part of the wall had been sunny and teeming with climbers, and the air had been filled with voices. Then after we finished the first two rappels and that part of the wall came into view again, it was in the shade, completely empty, and eerily silent. It made me feel like we were really late getting down, but I checked my watch and found that it was only 4:00.