Have you ever climbed in Red Rocks, Nevada, just outside Vegas? If not, I highly recommend it. What I don’t recommend is dropping a shoe from 500 feet. The story goes like this.
My friends Dwayne and Tim have been taking a yearly trip to Red Rocks for the last decade or so. They would always come back to the gym and tell awesome stories about 600-900 foot routes and this year my buddy Joey and I convinced them to let us join. We hadn’t really climbed any trad and had really only done single pitch climbing, but we made plans and this previous April headed out to do some epic climbing.
First day was a 600 foot 5.6 trad climb, that I lead 2/3 of the pitches. Second day was an amazing 5.10+ 6 pitch sport climb. Best day of climbing ever. By the 3rd day we were tired and just did some single pitch trad and sport climbs to relax. By the end of that day the holes in my climbing shoes at the toes were so big that I could probably have used my toenail to grip the rock so we headed into town to visit the climbing shop.
I tried on a bunch of shoes and finally settled on a nice pair of green 510 Anasazi Verde Lace ups. They rung me up and I left the store feeling pretty good.
The next day we went to climb Birdland, a 500 foot, 5 pitch 5.7+ route. Joey and I climbed it by ourselves while Tim and Dwayne climbed Rawlpindi next to us. I got out my shiny new shoes and waited to put them on while Joey led the first pitch. I squeezed into them and followed up to the first ledge. We swapped gear and I led the 2nd pitch. By the time I got up to the next belay ledge my toes were hurting a bit, as expected, so I took off my shoes and belayed Joey up.
I then put them back on and led the 3rd pitch. They definitely started feeling uncomfortable, but man they climbed well and as my son says “those are some sticky shoes”. So by the time I got to the top of pitch 3, I was relieved to take them off again to bring Joey up.
Joey led the 4th and then I followed. Now my toes were starting to scream at me and this is when I realized I may have made a mistake by wearing new shoes on a long trad route. Oh well, I said and I forged ahead. I grabbed the gear and headed up the last pitch. It was beautiful climbing, but all I really could think about was getting to the top so I could take my shoes off. I finally pulled the last bulge and stared at a 25 foot finger crack that led to the anchors. If it weren’t for my toes going numb, I probably would have been intimidated by that last section, but I knew that’s all that stood between me and sweet relief, so I climbed on and quickly made it to the chains. I clipped in my personal anchor. I yelled down to Joey I was in direct and to “give me a sec, I have to take off my shoes.”
Now, couple things here. The anchors were pretty much a hanging belay because the “ledge” I was on was about the size of a baseball plate and slanted at about a 45 degree angle so I was just hanging there trying to figure out how I was going to remove these devil shoes. In addition, since we were the first ones on the route that day and it’s a popular climb, we had several groups of climbers below us.
So, I decided to use a sling with a carabiner on it to hold my shoe while it took it off. I held the sling, reached down, clipped the carabiner to the loop in the left shoe, remove the shoe (to much rejoicing) and then promptly let go of the shoe. Apparently the wind had blown the sling out of the carabiner when I clipped it because the moment I let go of the shoe, down it and the carabiner went, bouncing off the wall (to much dismay). I yelled “Rock!” as one does and watched it bounced down and out of my sight. I couldn’t believe what had just happened, so I left my other shoe on and prepped to bring Joey up.
When he got to the top he asked me if that was my shoe that went buzzing by his head. I laughed and said “yep”. I then rappelled down with one shoe until we got to the top of the 3rd pitch, where I had a good ledge and Joey helped me remove my other shoe so I wouldn’t lose that one as well. A lady waiting at the 3rd pitch said “that was one of the weirdest sights I ever saw climbing, I heard rock and then saw this shoe come flying down the wall.” I asked if she saw where it went and she said no. We made our way down the other pitches and the bare rock felt nice and cool on my aching and burning toes.
When we got to the bottom we probably spent an hour or so looking, but no one had seen where it went because everyone thought it was a rock. Not sure what people would have done if I had yelled “Shoe!” but I certainly would have felt bad if it caught someone in the face because I didn’t yell properly.
We gave up eventually and we hiked out, with one less climbing shoe and holes in my wallet and my pride.
So, if you find my lost shoe, it’s partner is hanging out in my closet bored and would love to be reunited.