A Sendsmas Christmas

 Photo Credit: Sandor Lau

Photo Credit: Sandor Lau

The holiday season can often feel chaotic and demanding and for many people I know, they wouldn't dare admit it.  To me, the holidays seem like a chaotic frenzy in disguise—buying those last-minute holiday presents, choosing that perfect holiday outfit, and fussing over the final details to pull off the perfect holiday party. I also struggle to cope with all the holiday decorations (wrapping paper, tensile, Christmas trees, even toys end up in landfills or in our beloved natural areas), "jolly" music seems to always be playing in the background, while commercials and advertisements bombard me to not only buy outrageously expensive items for others but to also indulge myself because it's the season to do so.  I also can't help but get a bit irritated when hearing "it's the season for giving". As if underprivileged individuals and families only need help during this one time of year. 

While I can't say that holidays are especially taxing on me, I do tend to get caught up in the hectic commercialized rhetoric of how the holidays should be than how they are meant to be. Nonetheless, this year was different.  I was asked to join a group of individuals, most of whom I've never met, to spend three days over Christmas break in Red Rocks, near Las Vegas, Nevada. It just so happened that my schedule was open and had planned on staying in Portland this year, so I decided to take the leap. It's not every day I get asked to do some rock climbing in a different state with a group of climbing enthusiasts.  I figured it was either going to be an amazing adventure or it would be a Christmas to remember and not in a good way—so I took a gamble.

 Copyright: Rebecca Ross

Copyright: Rebecca Ross

December 21st came around in which I found myself restless. I was anticipating an early morning flight from Portland International Airport (PDX) to Las Vegas (LAS). I've never been to Nevada so this was going to be a new experience all around for me. While I don't like to call myself an introvert, since I believe it's more of a fluid spectrum, I was nervous about going. I wasn't sure if I would fit it, if I would be overwhelmed spending three days and nights with an unfamiliar group, along with a list of other variables running through my mind. I figured if it scares me it must be a good thing since I don't grow from being complacent.

We all arrived in Las Vegas and made a b-line to the nearest crag—Red Rock Canyon! Our group set up two top ropes, spending the remaining daylight hours taking turns belaying each other and providing beta for the next in line. The crags there are a marvelous composition of sandstone which offers great traction but didn't tear up my digits like other walls I've climbed on. Since sunlight was leaving our crag area and the cold quickly settling in making our fingers too cold to hold a grip, we called it a day. All six of us seemed to have hit it off in a way that's hard to explain. It must have been the fact that we all decided to do some climbing during a time that is often spent exchanging presents and spending time with family—taking an alternative approach to the holiday already gave us something to bond over.

That next day we got an early start to spend a full day exploring Valley of Fire on foot. We took our time exploring and admiring iconic structures and landmarks such as Elephant Head, Balancing Rock, petrified wood, and Petroglyph Canyon. Decisions were made last minute, and exploring was taken at a slow pace, giving ourselves time to truly appreciate the fact that we were fortunate enough to be on this trip.

 Photo Credit: Sandor Lau

Photo Credit: Sandor Lau

Our final day was spent scrambling up boulders waiting for the morning to warm up while finding another crag to set up top ropes. Not accomplishing a lot of climbing that day, it felt like a day of contemplation and complete satisfaction. That evening, being the day before Christmas, we all pitched in and prepared a pre-holiday dinner. That evening we exchanged conversations, not gifts. The incredible energy and vibe that we all shared was truly remarkable. We were a group of individuals with different personalities and slightly different views on life, but possess the same things in common—we love and respect the great outdoors, love climbing, and have a cheerful disposition on life. We all came together in an incredible way that had me constantly dwelling on the idea that THIS is what the holidays are about—keeping things simple.

 Photo Credit: Sandor Lau

Photo Credit: Sandor Lau

I think it's easy for all of us to forget what it really means to spend the holidays with family, friends, and even strangers. For me, it's not about buying gift(s), getting a new outfit, hosting the perfect party, or reluctantly visiting people I feel obligated to see. That night I felt completely serene from being utterly satisfied while drinking herbal peach tea, conversing over random topics—always taking them too far, ending in unbridled laughter.

 Photo Credit: Sandor Lau

Photo Credit: Sandor Lau

Christmas day was met with mixed feelings. I felt like staying in Nevada a few more days continuing to climb but on the other hand, I missed Portland's humidity and was anxious to change out of recycled dirty climbing clothes. The majority of us had the same flight coming back to PDX and were ready to say our goodbyes and commemorate three days well spent. However, the airport at PDX decided on a different plan for us passengers. We arrived two hours before departure, giving ourselves a buffer for long check-in lines. We were met with not one, not two, but a five-hour delay! Instead of focusing on the negative, we decided what better way to spend some downtime in an airport than by doing yoga and reminiscing about our inside jokes amongst ourselves. We weren't true dirtbags, although we jokingly referred to ourselves as such and got quite the looks in LAS, we didn't care. However, it's safe to say we probably perpetuated the hippie stereotype of Portlanders.

I was extremely grateful for an opportunity to spend the holiday break with incredible camaraderie and doing what I love—climbing outdoors.  I may need to make this experience a new tradition, bringing simplicity back to my life during certain times when it seems anything but simple.