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From Ride the Breath by Gerry Roach

Chapter Six – Odyssey

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah, 1973

Jeffrey’s last yowl faded to nothingness. Wow. The incident encapsulated the passion and agony in all intimate relationships. As a blob of Jeffrey’s snot faded on the red rock, I put my head down to let the silence and lowering sun wash the scene for five minutes. Where was compassion? Commitment? Freedom? Love? It had all been here, and poof, it was gone. Sad, I knew that I could not solve or even fathom all agonies. Was it all gone? Could I help? I knew that I had the prerequisite for compassion: passion. I knew that I had love for Barb, mountains, arches, the Earth, and all on it. Commitment? I was still here. Most of all, right now I had freedom.

I sensed that my freedom was delicate, powerful, and important. I knew that Jeffrey might never free himself to see a sunset on an arch, and that millions could not or would not. As a species, we were losing touch with mother Earth, and I knew that I had to do more than just be free for me. With my freedom came responsibility. I had to be free for all—Earth included. For all the Jefferies, mothers, and lovers, I raised my head and looked at Delicate Arch. The arch, too, was still there. In that instant, I bonded with Earth. In that instant, Odyssey started.

I looked at Barb. She sat on the slickrock fifty feet away, knees drawn up. She looked at me with a penetrating gaze. We did not speak. We knew.

As the sun slid down, we watched the deepening hues. As the magic moments approached, we descended into the bowl below the arch. When the sun set, the arch flamed brilliant red in salute to Jeffrey and the day. The arch saluted everyone who chose to look. The arch even saluted those who could only imagine the striking sight. Love was in the air. It was Delicate.

Barb below Delicate Arch Barb below Delicate Arch

We spent the night with our mother arch. After midnight, we sat under the arch and absorbed the delicate blue-gray hues framing immense black shadows as the moon kept watch with us. Unmoving, impassive, delicate, and alive, mother embraced us as we made love.
Druid Arch Druid Arch

A few days later, we went to Canyonlands National Park, and expanded our horizon by climbing unroped up an unnamed tower. At first, it felt good to climb on steep slickrock, but high above the ground, the climb scared us. It was a test. I knew that we would be scared on Odyssey, and we needed this time to tune our skills. For balance, we spent the night with massive Druid Arch.
Pinkley Peak Pinkley Peak

On the summit, we set our down piton in the sun to dry it out. We were starting to lose our winter white, and I was starting to feel free of the cities.
Ajo Peak Ajo Peak

To add some spice, we started down a nonstandard route. If it worked, our steep, brushy, boulder-filled gully would be a great shortcut. If not, we would have to climb back over the summit and descend the way we came up. We wanted to gamble while the stakes were still manageable. In the middle of the gully, we enjoyed the feeling of commitment that comes with choices like these knowing that, either way, we would learn something.
Seen from Puerto Peñasco, El Picacho del Diablo sulks 110 miles away across the Golfo de California Seen from Puerto Peñasco, El Picacho del Diablo sulks 110 miles away across the Golfo de California

I snapped a photo, but knew that I also had to photograph the distant, haloed summit with my mind. Made from sturdy Sierra granite, El Picacho del Diablo leaps from the sea and is Baja’s highest peak. It was Odyssey’s first significant summit.
Lower Canyon Del Diablo Lower Canyon Del Diablo

Picacho wasted no time with introductions. A short walk took us to the Picacho’s first defense, which was a rock-rimed pool of water with a waterfall gurgling from the canyon above. The pool and smooth rock around it acts as a natural barrier to casual hikers, and also the local cows. To pass the entrance exam, we used our ropes to overcome the obstacle, and quickly discovered the pleasures of lower Canyon Del Diablo.
In the depths of Canyon Del Diablo In the depths of Canyon Del Diablo

After swimming in several of the pristine pools surrounded by white Sierra granite, we bent to the two-day task of carrying our packs up the always-rough canyon to Campo Noche.
Nearing Picacho del Diablo's South Summit Nearing Picacho del Diablo’s South Summit

The traverse was worth it for the serendipitous climbing that we found en route. Steep but moderate moves on solid holds allowed us to ignore the exposure and move quickly over places that could have been laborious. Our first serious peak had been a good one.

Photos from the Gerry Roach Collection



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