Silver linings 
Of lost ropes and newfound hopes

Silver linings 
Luke Mehall - 09/02/2021

“It’s a shame that something that takes such little time to deface takes so long to clean up,” a member of our group said, and we all nodded in agreement. 

A group of 15 of us were spending our Saturday morning cleaning up graffiti at X-Rock, a local climbing spot that has been getting trashed by irresponsible users. Though the graffiti was unfortunate, I was doing my best to focus on the positive. As I looked around, it wasn’t hard to find a silver lining. 

We had volunteers from our newly formed Durango Climbers Coalition (DCC), employees from La Plata County, and Stephen, of Keeping Colorado Beautiful, who came all the way from Colorado Springs just to help us. 

The process of removing graffiti is complicated and involved. It requires nasty, yet biodegradable chemicals, massive amounts of water, pressure washers and good, old-fashioned elbow grease. For our group, the DCC, we had to spend hours coordinating with the County and other various entities to make it happen. As I looked around that day and saw so many people volunteering, it made me proud to be a part of this community. 

The scene in the parking lot was more negative. Two broken-down vehicles that looked like they came from a “Breaking Bad” scene were parked there, and they were surrounded by trash. The owners of said vehicles were clearly abusing our local public lands, while also threatening the safety of the general public. Used needles have been found in this area. Clearly this is a problem for our community, and the DCC is committed to helping keep X-Rock clean and safe for visitors and residents alike. 

On a more personal note, I’ve spent a lot of time establishing new routes in our beloved Cascade Canyon. Its been another fun way to give back to our community, by creating new climbs that people can enjoy. Cascade is such a good summer refuge from the heat, and while cleaning new lines is hard work, I absolutely love dangling from a rope on the limestone cliffs. 

People who walk by are always curious or supportive. Climbers usually express gratitude for the work that leads to the new climbs, and the tourists are usually like, “What the heck are you doing up there?” One even asked me, “Have you seen the movie ‘Free Solo?’”

What I’m doing couldn’t be more different than Alex Honnold climbing El Capitan without a rope. It’s slow, and aside from the cleaning of the loose rock, relatively safe.

Often, for safety reasons, I’ll have to leave a rope hanging for a day or two, while I remove loose rock and install bolts. A week or so ago, I was headed down into the canyon, and to my dismay my rope had been taken. I was pissed off and angry. 

Luckily, some friends were climbing nearby, so I was able to calm myself down in the moment. But soon, I started looking around like everyone was a suspect. As I walked around with the crowbar that I use to clean off the loose rocks, I had thoughts of what I’d do if I came across the person who stole my rope. 

Eventually, I remembered I had another rope in the truck, so I just rappelled down, and continued my work. After a couple hours, my anger had left, and I started wondering if someone had mistakenly taken my rope. Many climbers aren’t aware of the process of establishing a new route, perhaps it was someone who didn’t realize what the rope was there for. 

Later that day, I made a post on Instagram about my experience. Various people showed support, and one guy even offered to send me an extra static rope that he had lying around. 

A couple days later I finished up the climb, and gave it the name “Labor of Love.” Even if my rope had been stolen, I was going to focus on the positive of the experience: everyone I’d come in contact with saw the labor I was putting in, and showed me love for it. 

It was good timing to wrap up the climb that day, as I was boarding a plane to the East Coast the following morning for a major occasion: I was going to meet my twin nephews. 

I landed at Newark in the early afternoon, and after meeting my nephews, my brother and I snuck out for a rare night on the town in New York City. We went to my favorite comedy club in Manhattan – the Comedy Cellar – and the host of the evening roasted me briefly after he found out I was a climber from Colorado. 

They required everyone in the club to be vaccinated, and the entire experience was incredibly refreshing. Comedy has certainly changed over the course of the last couple years, and the whole night felt like a breath of fresh air. 

That evening after we took the train back to the suburbs, I checked my email before going to bed. What did I see? In my subject line read: Cascade Static Line!!!! 

As a fellow over-user of exclamation points, I figured this must be good news. Turns out it was a fellow climber who had mistakenly taken my rope. He must have found out through the social media grapevine that I wanted my rope back, and he was writing to apologize and return it. His name was also Luke! 

I wrote him back, sent him my address and a couple days later he returned the rope; putting a happy ending to a summer dedicated to a labor of love.

– Luke Mehall

 

Luke Mehall will be presenting at the Rochester Hotel’s Secret Garden on Thurs., Sept. 16, at 6 p.m. to celebrate 10 years and 20 volumes of The Climbing Zine. The evening is also sponsored by Maria’s Bookshop and Pine Needle Dry Goods. For more information visit climbingzine.com. 

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