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I Swear I Know How to Set Up a Tent

When I was about 8 or 9, I began to study ballet exclusively. I had been enrolled in dance classes since I was 3, but at some point I decided I wanted to focus on my technique. I remember standing at the barre on my first day of ballet class at a new studio. The elderly teacher stood in front demonstrating our first combination. I was hyper aware that this was an audition of sorts and my chance to prove that I belonged in a rigorous studio like this. The instructor turned on the music and I heard the first 4 notes of the intro. Suddenly, it was as if I instinctively knew how to carry myself. My arms felt light and my legs, strong. I gracefully performed the combination with attention to detail, coordination, and musicality. I felt like I was overtaken by a sense that this would likely be an act I would do for the rest of my life. I was really good at this.

Obviously, it's hard to tell if my 8-year-old assessment is the most accurate, but what is true is that ballet became my identity after that. It was all-consuming. And like most all-consuming relationships, they don't usually end well. From this young age, I tied self worth into being great at this one special thing. I was part of an exclusive group of young individuals who knew what they were going to do with their lives. Sacrifices were easy to make because I felt above my other peers. I handled my stress with a sense of superiority until one day I realized I was depressed, jealous, riddled with body image issues, and ultimately empty. Although, I have since tried to unpack these emotions, they tend to creep up in present day. I still have this incessant desire to be the best at something...anything.

Enter...the outdoors. Gradually, Nick and I began to spend more of our time traveling to different places to camp, hike, and climb. With each new experience, I felt like I needed to be involved in something cooler, more difficult, or more adventurous to be validated. While this type of thinking has driven me to push myself beyond my comfort zone, I still can sense this inner critic (I like to think her name is Amanda after an elementary school bully) telling me that I'm wasting my time because I'll never be a great runner, climber, skier, etc. She's honestly kind of a bitch. For years, I have been working hard to silence Amanda so I can actually enjoy these things I know make my life more full and enjoyable, but she unfortunately made an unwelcome appearance this past weekend in Red Rocks Canyon.

Our friend, Nick, who I have dubbed "Pro-Skier Nick" invited Nick, me, and another running buddy, Rhianna, to join him on a climbing trip to Red Rocks just outside of Las Vegas, NV. I was pumped. Unlike a few weekends ago where the focus for the group was a 20 mile run, I could actually partake in the main event this time. So I was surprised when midway through the drive it was made known that half of our group had goals of attempting a multi-pitch trad route. Since Nick and I only just recently figured out how to sport climb independently, no way would it be a safe idea for us to try to learn how to trad climb on a multi-pitch route. For those unfamiliar, trad climbing is where the climber places his or her own protection on the route versus sport climbing where bolts are already in place to clip. While I was happy for my friends to take on this adventure, Nick and I agreed that we would split up and spend the next day exploring the extensive network of sport routes by ourselves. Amanda whispered into my ear immediately, "Why are you always one step behind?" I tried to shake off these feelings of inadequacy as we neared our final destination.

We arrived to the campsite in the dark. Since we were all driving together, we did not have our van. This would be the first time tent camping in 7 months. Once we found a spot, our friends got their headlamps out and immediately began setting up. Nick and I realized quickly that we had forgotten our own headlamps at home. Well...this will make things more difficult. We began to build our tent, stumbling over ourselves trying to simultaneously hold our phones for flashlights and snap together tent poles. We were going slowly, but it seemed like we were making progress. Then came time for the fly. Nick and I spent 20-30 minutes alone trying to figure out the how the fly was supposed to attach.We've done this 100 times! Our friends waited patiently for us to finish. I could see their awkward hesitation of wanting to assist, but also not wanting to embarrass us for not being able to set up something as simple as a tent. We gave it a few more tries with the fly until we realized that we likely set up the tent itself incorrectly. Since it was late and we had an early day ahead of us, we decided to make due with an ill fitting fly and just go to sleep. I kept telling everyone through nervous laughter "I swear I know how to set up a tent!" Amanda continued to remind me how incompetent I was as I drifted off to sleep.

We woke up early the next morning to beat the crowds. I had never been so happy to break down a tent. We met up with pro-skier Nick's friend, Quinn, at 6AM in the park. From there they transferred their gear from our car to Quinn's and made their way to the base of the multi-pitch route, Dark Shadows. Almost immediately I felt a sense of relief. After they drove off, I realized Amanda must have left with them too. Suddenly, all the pressure and anxiety I felt was gone. None of that mattered anymore because now I knew I was going to spend the day with my best friend climbing these stellar walls. We hiked up to the Gallery first, a classic crag that has multiple short routes ranging from 5.7-5.13a. We were able to climb with the area completely to ourselves for almost 2 hours. It was magical. I even managed to lead my first 5.10a outdoors without any falls. As the sun began to bake the Gallery wall, we headed to another crag called Black Corridor Canyon. Black Corridor is this cool area with a ton of moderate routes from 5.8-5.11 that is almost completely shaded. Everyone else seemed to have the same idea as us though because it was packed. Nick and I managed to only climb 1 or 2 routes in this area each before heading back to the car. Although, my fingers were shaky and my body tired, I felt powerful. That was the most climbing we had ever done in a single day.

Red Rocks Canyon, rock climbing
About 6AM at Red Rocks

rock climbing, red rocks canyon, crag
The Gallery

rock climber, red rocks canyon, the gallery

Just as we got back to the car, we got a text from Pro-Skier Nick."We are 2/3 of the way up dark shadows if you want to come see!" Nick and I headed down the road toward the Pine Canyon pull-off. Dark Shadows ascends this striking pyramid formation that splits Pine Creek Canyon called Mescalito. We began our short, but sunburn-inducing, trek toward this majestic structure. I was hopeful we'd get there with them still on the wall and I could get a few photos. As luck would have it, we approached the wall just as Nick and Rhianna were rappelling down the last pitch.

Red Rocks Canyon, rock climbing, mescalito, pine creek canyon
Approaching Mescalito (Photo by Nick Belles)

I watched in awe as my friends rappelled down this striking wall. I was exhausted and so happy to be resting in the shade watching the last few moments of their adventure. After everyone was safely on the ground, we ended up hiking to another area where pro-skier Nick showed me a few basics of trad climbing like how to place camalots and nuts properly. I even lead up an easier route on which Rhianna had already placed protection. Even though Rhianna is an experienced trad climber, I felt uneasy knowing I had to trust her placements 100%. However, anxiety slowly began to morph into excitement with each clip. I got a chance to examine her placements up close and tried to imagine her thinking when placing a particular piece. I realized how much experience and skill climbing in this manner takes. I no longer felt inadequate, but privileged that I have the opportunity to learn from such badasses.

The day ended at Pancho's Vegan Tacos in Las Vegas, where I was so hungry I ordered and actually enjoyed cactus tacos. With our bellies full, we began our almost 6 hour drive back to Salt Lake. As we traveled through the desert at sunset, with Amanda no where in sight, I closed my eyes and let satisfaction wash over me of a day well done.


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