I am 34 years old, and at this ripe old age, I possess the maturity and decision-making skills of a hyperactive toddler. Or so I have been told. So, when I inform you that I have been climbing in Clear Creek Canyon since I was 18 years old, you can only imagine what kind of early 20’s energy-fueled hellion I was. Let me help you picture it. I made knee-jerk decisions quickly and with impunity, often trumping my most recent terrible idea with a more dangerous and more reckless version of the original idea before I had the time to punctuate it. The following story is about one such decision:
I decided it was high time to try this turd of climb in the lower part of Clear Creek Canyon just outside of Denver, Colorado, called “Ghost.” It was graded 5.14a despite its 20-foot stature. It had been recently put up and then quickly down-graded to 13b by another climber and then in almost no time upgraded back to 14a by yet another. This kind of route drama is exactly what I looked for in a project. In the hopes of finding the softest and easiest “hard” climb that I could do, I wished to avoid any challenge or work that a real project might require. That allowed me to quickly inflate my ego and post about my triumph on the internet in as little time as possible.
I know I can be an asshole. But can’t we all? Anyway, as the ego-driven-grade-chasing-dingbat that I was, and sometimes continue to be, I set forth to wrangle a buddy into checking out the climb with me. I used all kinds of exaggerations/ lies to get someone to come with, throwing around words like “classic,” “epic,” and “no approach.” My friend Adam was easily convinced.
After parking just upstream from the climb, we illegally crossed this little rickety footbridge over the river and began taking turns climbing and figuring out the surprisingly fun, strenuous moves on this bouldering-on-a-rope route dubbed “Ghost.” After a few burns and many flailing around, we decided to call it a day. Too much effort was being expended. There was beer to drink, and I don’t neglect my beer.
It’s at this point that things went South, as the saying goes. I decided that walking 100 feet back to the bridge to reverse our safe, comfortable approach was just too daunting. I mean, who could be bothered?
Thus, I decided to forge across the early season river, which was pumping at high water. I took one look and thought, “I got this, it’s just water.”
I decided I should take my pants and shoes off since I didn’t want to get them wet as the water was, by all accounts, “kinda high.” I had the forethought to consider that driving home with wet clothes on would be “itchy”; after all, I’m not a barbarian. So after removing my pants and shoes, I wadded them up into a ball and held them in one hand above my head to set forth like a character from the Oregon Trail.
I had taken about five steps before the current of the water, which had enough brute force and speed behind it to drown an elephant, snatched my legs out from under me. In my panic, I let go of my pants to save my climbing gear. The obvious decision there.
Trying desperately to keep my climbing bag dry, I raised my hand higher like a good pupil in Sunday school. The goal was to keep my climbing gear dry, which I succeeded at the behest of the rest of my body going under. But the water consumed me, waterboarding me like an ISIS fighter in GITMO.
I drank enough river water to rehydrate a 50-year-old cowhide rug. At that moment, my reason simultaneously kicked in (better late than never, I suppose). I realized I might drown.
So I let go of everything and swam/flailed/crawled for the other side. When I made it to shore, I felt quite proud of myself. I was a conquering hero, a soldier returning home after the war. A wet, pant-less soldier. I raised my fists like a medaling Olympian. I am all that is, man. Then I saw Adam.
Adam was always much smarter than me. He made what people sometimes call “good” decisions. Adam avoided fights and roughhousing, didn’t drink too much, and made it his life’s purpose to abstain from unnecessary risk. Adam chose to walk around the raging river via the intact and easily accessible footbridge while I did whatever I was going to do.
He didn’t try to talk me out of it, as there was no point. Adam got back to the car so fast he lapped me. He stood there on the bank of the river, shaking his head.
That was not the first time I had received Adam’s disapproval. We hung out frequently, and my late-night ideas for entertainment often involved breaking the law and vandalism, which is technically the same thing, but only sometimes. That is when we realized what had actually happened.
My pants were gone, eaten by the river, and taken to wherever things that get lost go. Not only that, but my car keys, which were inside the front right pocket, were also gone. That didn’t seem like as big of a problem at first as it was. Let’s recap.
I had no pants.
I had no shoes.
I had no car keys.
My car was locked.
My wallet was inside the car.
My cell phone was inside my car, conveniently next to Adam’s cell phone.
What were we going to do? We couldn’t drive home without keys, we couldn’t call for a ride without a cell phone.. and oh, I’m still pant-less.
That is part of the story where someone who wasn’t intently listening to this mildly entertaining story blurts out, “Why didn’t you just hitchhike?”
Did I mention I was pant-less? I’m tall, skinny, and in tighty-whiteys. I looked like a wet, sad giraffe. We had no choice. We had to cowboy up and walk out of the canyon. Sorry, Adam.
If you spend time in Clear Creek Canyon, you know only two groups of people use that road. Climbers and Gamblers. The latter comes ripping down the canyon after guzzling a few free whisky sodas and gambling away little Johnny’s inheritance. Let’s just say I got a few honks on the way out.
After about an hour of walking barefoot in my underwear on the side of the road, dodging broken glass and nails, I quietly hoped that one of those drivers barreling down the canyon would just nod off for a moment and run me over. A boy can dream, can’t he?
When we arrived at the mouth of the canyon, I surveyed the scene, looking for the right person to approach and ask to borrow their cell phone. I was looking for someone who might not run as I approached. Someone who might not call the cops.
Adam and I looked even worse at this point. Tired and dirty and, yes, still not fully clothed. He is a 6 foot 5 pant-less meth-head with his 5 foot 3 sidekick. We resembled master blaster from Mel Gibson’s Beyond the Thunder Dome.
Two men enter one man leaves. Thanks, Tina Turner.
After scanning the possible marks, I zeroed in on a kayaker. I chose this deliberately based on some commonly known facts I had gathered over the years. Kayakers voluntarily enter cold dark rivers in high water, riding in a cramped, plastic boat for recreation, indicating a low IQ and propensity for danger. These qualities indicate a person to whom a request from a pant-less man to hand over a fancy new iPhone could seem logical. Success. Kayakers are alright in my book.
After an awkward cab drive home, all was well. Adam and I sat picking some glass out of my feet while I apologized profusely. It was at this moment that I reflected on the day. Where did I go wrong? What would Jesus have done? The moral of the story?
Don’t fall when you cross the river.