This Fourth of July instead of a traditional celebration with fireworks and beer and a big BBQ, I went climbing. But not just any regular climb – this one was very special. Some friends from the climbing gym invited Ryan and I on an overnight trip to Enchanted Rock (some of the best climbing in the area, remember?), on July 3rd, for a night of climbing under the moon and camping under the stars. All of the photos I took are night shots – which oddly make the moon look a lot like the sun – with varying long shutter speeds and some considerable shake.
This was my first night climb, my first multi-pitch climb, and my first time on slab granite. I was nervous and excited. We met at the grocery store close to sundown and caravaned out to the Frontier Outpost campground near Enchanted Rock. Then we set up our tents and zoomed down the road to the State Park, knowing that the gates would be open and our entry would be free.
On the way I read the Declaration of Independence. Sort of to get in the mood, but also to add a little context to the holiday–the time off, the reason we celebrate every year. The section about abolishing government (in the Preamble) really stood out to me, I think because our adventure was taking place under the cover of darkness and no one would guess that we’d ever come, climbed, and gone, as we’d be back in camp before sunrise.
Climbing at Enchanted Rock is unique, to say the least. The place has a historical record going back long before western settlements, to plenty of native folklore and remains that indicate the area was settled as much as 12,000 years ago. The rock itself is the largest granite outcropping, or batholith, in North America. The geologic terminologies that describe it are grand and confusing and multi-syllabic. Climbing it ranges from crack climbs to bouldering to single and multi-pitch slab, chimneys and lots of incut holds, spanning simple 5.4′s to 5.13′s, trad and sport alike. Smack in the middle of the summer the only time the heat is bearable enough to climb is at night. And tonight we had a full moon coming up over the dome to guide us.
We each rappelled down the rock from up top and warmed up with a 5.7-5.9 route. Ryan characterized the first portion as a “pizza oven” – fitting, because residual heat emanates from inside the deep undercling along 30 feet of the traverse. From there we each shimmied up the dyke to complete our first night climb, one at a time.
A hike down the base of the big dome brought us to the beginning of Mark of the Beast, the 3-pitch route two groups of us would undertake to complete our climb. Jacob fearlessly led, I followed him – tied into the rope with an Alpine Butterfly knot – and Kat followed me at the end of our rope. The first pitch was a 130 foot long hard slab with not much to hold onto, just lots of balance and smearing on the razor-sharp granite. It was past 4am and I was exhausted by the time I reached the first set of anchors. The view was stunning and I knew I had to make it to the top. Turning around wasn’t an option. The second pitch was a more challenging 5.9, with the beginning consisting of an outcropping with nothing to hold onto or smear off of, and we all got frustrated with that point. But we each made it beyond that, and up a quick 50 feet to the second anchors. Relieved that the last pitch was an easy 5.5 I smeared up the first part and walked up the rest of it without a need to use my hands.
Jacob wrapped up the rope and anchors once we all ascended to the top of the big dome. The view was stunning and the clouds began to swirl around the moon, the wind whipping through the sparse trees on the backside of the dome. We looked for shelter against the a boulder and waited for the rest of the group to ascend their routes.
Rock climbing is one of the most outstanding expressions of liberty. To climb rocks is first and foremost an articulation of personal freedom and one’s mastery of self in an environment. What better way to celebrate Independence and the freedoms granted us than by expressing individual liberty, by going on an adventure, exploring the surrounding world, and taking delight in nature? So this is how I express my patriotism – by pushing my limits and living life to the fullest.
It was impossible to photograph our actual climbing but I feel inspired to look for a good portable tripod to begin experimenting with time-lapse night photography. Because the night is so beautiful, the stars are so vast in these wild places, I’d love to get back to recording their positions.
Special thanks to Rupal, Melissa, JP, Kat, Chris, Alex, Jacob and Travis for making this such an awesome adventure!