By Sara Aranda
When I arrived to the Las Vegas airport, it was nearly midnight and the ground was wet. I was also four days too early for the annual Red Rock Rendezvous climbing festival. The next few days would be a blend of boredom and casual adventure. I’d either be stranded, waiting, at the whim of friends and their cars. I ventured into Pine Creek Canyon after ample time for the rock to dry, was amazed to find such lush creeks and trees in the desert. The canyon was suddenly an oasis, with dark varnish baked into the walls.
The Red Rock Conservation Area is a sandstone mecca, and very much fragile and nuanced, especially when wet. The rock becomes a sponge. Sponges bend and give way. Even when the outer layers look dry, it can still be wet underneath, in a crack, in a pocket. Having self-awareness as a climber also extends to your awareness of the rock. Having this sensibility will only ensure greater safety for you and longevity for the rock itself. My ego isn’t worth ripping stone away and falling farther because of it. So when it rained again we found some nearby limestone. An indoor gym. Another friend wanted to get “swole,” so I joined her for an at-home hangboarding session. I’d never done one, honestly, so it was an interesting array of desperation and surprising endurance. Afterward, she took me to a boxing class at TruFusion—talk about cardio and limp arms. She’s a beast, maybe a little crazy, but I loved it all.
I napped and read the entire day preceding the start of the festival, practiced the patience of being stranded in a campground (and of being a lovely introvert). The wind was starting to pick up violently. I woke to miniature sand dunes in my tent and a dusting of grit across my face. Welcome back to the desert.
When the festival began at the Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, I pitched my tent into a corner of the designated grass field, near the barbed-wire fence, so strangers couldn’t flank me on all sides (pro-tip?). I’m glad I did so; when the crowds arrived, tents were stacked next to each other like dominoes—and domino pieces are exactly what I thought of that very night. At 2:45 a.m., I woke to my tent pressed against my face. The wind was an avalanche, a roaring rush of rage. I’d hear it off in the distance, harshly flicking every tent as it grazed towards me, toppling the cheapest of synthetic domes, and snapping poles. I’d brace my feet against mine, nervous that everything would just explode—and this was the dance I engaged in for the next two hours. Welcome to the Rendezvous.
I didn’t partake in any of the clinics; my time at the festival was very much for eating and poking my head into booths. I also found myself volunteering one evening to aid in the making a gigantic salad—as in, we poured boxes and bags of mixed greens and spinach into two fresh garbage bags, then “tossed” in the other ingredients (I might just have to use this technique if I ever throw an absurd salad-party).
Overall, the vibe of the festival was super casual, well-organized. Too, with the purpose of having a wide variety of clinics, the festival seemed to cater to the budding climber; and I really liked the idea of organizations providing these services and opportunities for education, if one can actually afford it. Nonetheless, I ran into random people I knew from Yosemite and easily made new friends with Vegas locals.
The social highlight was Saturday evening, because: dancing! And BBQ. The climbing games were a hit: the fastest rope coil (backpack with a square knot), longest hang on the hangboard, the longest pinch of a hefty stone, and the most inverted sit-ups (which my beast, lady friend totally crushed with 61 sit-ups). I tried them, but could only laugh my way to five.
That night, Alex Honnold stood on stage and chatted with the audience for a while. Sanni, his girlfriend, expressed to a few of us that he’s going through a rut in regards to yet another friend passing away in Alaska. Alex talked about the differing paths professional climbers take, one being quite social and full of sponsorships, and the other being very much under the radar. It’s hard to say which path is the right choice; the gist of Alex’s speech was: no matter the perceptions and stigmas, we choose what we choose for our own needs and wants. There is no right path, just make your path yours.
As quickly as the festival began, so did it seem to end. Being that I didn’t have any commitments, I was yet again at the whim of wind. I stayed a couple days after the festival ended, visited Mt. Charleston, maybe ate too much sugar at the lodge up there (brownie a la mode, s’mores, hot chocolate, ugh). What amazed me during the whole week was the expanse of climbing the Vegas area holds, and it all made sense that such a tight-knit climbing community resides there.
Too, with all the waiting time I had, I was able to take the initiative to learn more about the land. The region was once the home to the Southern Paiute, Ancestral Puebloans, and others. I went into the Conservation Area’s Visitor Center for the first time, learned more about the desert tortoise and refreshed my knowledge of the sandstone itself. The desert never fails to instill a sense of wonder and awe in me, but the multi-colored sandstone that makes up Red Rock was nearly pious—and somewhere, to someone, it is. It’s easy to forget that land is a symbiotic place of origin for us humans.
In the end, what I gleaned from the Rendezvous itself wasn’t very much, but that’s not the point. The festival was a starting place. It was a reason to be out that way, to see what happens, go with the flow, open new doors. Seeking experience for the sake of experience is something I tend to welcome and recommend these days. I think this is why I like the idea of festivals so much. They gather people, and things happen, sometimes wild things, sometimes necessary and catalytic things. This is, of course, a lesson on entering the unknown. Except, these festivals typically mean like-minded people; like-minded people catch you, keep you company, share the joys and pains of the unknown—and maybe they’ll so happen to lead you elsewhere, to the silence of patience, to the ruddy stone of hallowed canyons.