The storms barely miss us. My group of friends and I watch the rain fall through the sky in grey streaks between us and Porcupine Rim. Another burst blows by. Were we mountain biking here as usual here in Moab, we’d fear mud, a douching and perhaps a case of squeaky brakes.
But we’ve left the bikes behind, and we’re sitting atop cliff-lined Parriott Mesa, on a island in the sky the size of a couple of football fields. Three rappels, a via ferrata traverse and an hour of scrambling down a steep hillside separate us from the safety of our car. Now, it’s about to get ugly in a hurry.
“Let’s get going, boys,” says Tristan. “It’s moving in pretty quick.”
A way better climber than me, with marquee ascents from Yosemite to Fisher Towers, Tristan’s a buddy from my Telluride days who has topped out in storms before. He knows better than us all that a peak in a lightning squall is a bad place to be. So we quit gawking at Castle Valley, 1,400 feet as the pebble falls below us, shush our couch-potato talk of base jumping and squirrel suiting, and hustle to the edge of the football field, to a ledge marking our exit. One by one, we clip in our harnesses and rappel off, barely beating the storm.
There’s something about dangling over a void—the type you’d see in a Road Runner cartoon—connected only to a rope, a couple of anchors and belay device that makes you realize how good you have it in life. The precarious umbilical cord makes you appreciate all the other important ties to your existence, from friends to family.
The first rappel takes us down through a series of ledges. The second one sandwiches us into a pock-holed slot, protected from the impending storm. A short traverse, with a fixed-rope to help us swing across an exposed span, leads us to the third rappel, which whisks us down an exposed crack. From the bottom, we clip into the bolted cable of a via ferrata traverse, re-clipping around each anchor, and finally reach terra firma on the far side.
“I’m feeling better now,” says Drake, another friend and former climbing guide now living in Moab. He’s finally breathing easier about lugging us luddites up here.
As far as getting together with the guys, hooking up for a desert climb-hike here was far more rewarding idea than meeting in, say, Las Vegas. It let us bond and blaspheme with each other while traipsing around slickrock slots instead of wasting time on those at the gambling halls. And it renewed friendships that time and life obligations had long diluted.
The trip started the day before, when my buddies and I headed to Arches National Park to scale its highest point, 5,653-foot Elephant Buttress. First stop: Moab’s Love Muffin for BLT’s. From the parking area near Owl Rock, we had to find a way through the maze of Entrada sandstone fins comprising Bull Winkle rock. A couple of slot grovels and scrambles later, we tied into our first bolted anchor and rappelled off an 85-foot-high cliff into another tight ravine. It marked the first time I’ve ever rappelled down something to get up something. From there, we trusted our shoes’ friction to smear our way up another series of twisty canyons and sloping slickrock to the summit.
We ate lunch up top and stared east to Parriott, our next day’s quest, before pinpointing our alternative route down. The key: locating a freestanding sandstone spire, which marked another slot canyon leading to the final rappel. Guarding the rappel’s two bolts was a narrow puddle that required stemming over with hands and feet pressed against opposite walls. Once across, we clipped in and rappelled down the final drop, dangling like spiders over the 60-foot overhang.
Pariott upped the ante a hair, without being overly hairball, the next day. A guidebook calls it a premiere “adventure hiking route for experienced hikers, climbers and canyoneers,” making it perfect for our multi-abilitied posse. It didn’t mention the storm that almost hit us.
Stashing our harnesses back in our packs after the final traverse, we retrace our uptrail across the desert-red scree field, thankful the sprinkle didn’t turn into a downpour loosening rocks from above.
When we finally make it back to the car, we pull out leftover burrito-makings and Budweisers from camp the night before. There, we high-five all around before splitting our separate ways. We’re no longer connected to our ropes, but our ties to each other are as strong as ever.