Oh, yes, it was a cold and sunny December 22nd, 2006 morning – this was the day that a rescue helicopter had to fly steeply to the main summit of Sunrise Mountain in Las Vegas, Nevada to collect my two friends and I in which was one of the funniest and most terrifying moments of my life.
This hike – this hike turned rescued mission featured the most daunting task of my life.
At the end of the day, there was a crowd of 20 people at the base of the mountain saying, “what the hell happened up there?” I, in disbelief, smiled creepily and retorted, “well, we were fighting time and had to get down the mountain as soon as possible, but we didn’t have any equipment or anything.” Nonetheless, when I got back home, I was bombarded by some of the angriest family members one could ever imagine, hurling expletives at me in sheer frustration about getting stuck. Oh, why did I call my mom from the top of the mountain. Damnit!
Lights were turning on, footsteps were echoing around the house, and chatter was breaking out. I look at the neon light clock and it was 6:30 am, the time that we all said we were going to wake up. There wasn’t nervousness whatsoever setting in, but the thought of going to one of the highest peaks in west coast United States did rescind within me. However, we were excited. Perfectly prepared breakfast, lunch, and even what we were wearing. We did have a harness, climbing shoes, ropes, or any survival pack equipment because we thought were would be back down before nightfall at 5pm….
And, so, the journey began. We walked down the street and made a turn onto a street that lead up to the dirty base of the mountain where there weren’t any people around for about a 2-mile radius. There weren’t any proper trails, either, so we needed to just navigate our way through an ugly cluster of bushes and cacti to get to the base.
For about forty-five minutes, we still couldn’t believe that we were yet to break the ascent to the top of the mountain; until one of us finally turned around and realized we were pretty high up already. “WOW! LOOK AT THAT!” The excitement reverberated within our group until we saw a figure hidden away in the mountain. “What the fuck is that?” My friend said…
“It’s a person!” After watching movies such as Hills Have Eyes and Jason, us African Americans aren’t accustomed to seeing another individual on a mountain with no city, nor person, in sight for miles. As we approached, my best friend, Andre, was in front of the pack because he felt like he had to be the big man. We approached this individual pretty fast and realize it was a woman. My friend said, “hola!” The lady smiled (her being Mexican) before the conversations commenced between him and her.
She was in her lonesome just going up to the mid-section of the mountain, as she does daily, apparently. She was aghast when she found out about us going to the top. My friend said, “hey, she said don’t go to the top.” She began heading down, terrified at us. The further away she walked, the more I second guessed going up further. When we got to about the 60% mark, that’s when the climb began. Unstable rocks, gorgeous, no ropes, things falling down, us having to push each other up and maneuver around the not-so-safe areas we were climbing. Then, when we were almost at the peak, which didn’t take too fast to get to, that’s when I realized our will was on the line. I immediately knew then that we couldn’t go down in the same direction. If we did, we could die. Period. So, we were climbing one under another in the last push…..and when we finally got to the top, it was magnificent.
As a backstory, me and my housemates back at Central Arizona College in Coolidge, Arizona would climb a mountain just in the back of our dormitories routinely throughout the month. This is what established my journey-filled fever within me.
The view was beyond spectacular. The air was thin….the 360 view and even the ferocious back drop on the back side of the mountain facing Utah was jaw-dropping and nerve-racking at the same time. I then knew, something wasn’t right. “Andre, how are we gonna get down? We can die going down that way.” Andre started looking while his girlfriend calmly opened saran wrap with a sandwich enclosed. “Ummmm, your sense of urgency just isn’t here. What the fuck? What the fuck is going on out here?” Andre, with his hand on his chin, retorted, “I’m thinking.” I threw my hands in the air incredulously and said, “Andre, that’s ridiculous. This is ridiculous.”
The angry conversations ensued, but just prior to reaching the summit, we saw a helicopter come and drop off a gentleman at the top where’s there’s a huge power-box. “Well, worst case scenario is we can call a helicopter to save us!” Laughter filled the air….
….and then thoughts of that particular moment came back. “Andre, I gotta call 911 man. There’s no way of getting down.” He looked at me, stomped his feet and said, “whatever. Fuck it. Call them. That’s on you.” My breathing was shallow and I said, “mother fucker we gonna die up here if we don’t!” Meanwhile, his girlfriend was still eating her doritos with no sense of urgency.
Phone rings……woman answers….”911 – state your emergency”
“Yes, hello. There are three of us and we are stuck on the south tower of sunrise mountain.”
“I’m sorry?” the woman replied.
“We are stuck on the south side of the peak on sunrise mountain which has the big electrical box. My friends and I don’t have any climbing gear and anyway of getting down because there are massive, vertical drops everywhere.”
The conversation continued until she said, “Ok, we’re sending a rescue helicopter up to get you but please, don’t stand on the indicated “H” on the top of the mountain.”
5 minutes later, the helicopter made its way up.
Rusty, old, red-faced metropolitan officer with a sarcastic grin on his face, shades and a wobbly walk made his way on over to us in a very angry way.
“What the hell is going on?” He said.
I explained the situation before he showed us the trail to the next mountain. OOPS!
“But we don’t have time. It’s 4:15 and we don’t have flashlights.”
I can’t remember much of the conversation, but he wasn’t thrilled at all about us. He said, “normally this flight would cost a thousand dollars, but you’re lucky because taxpayers will pay for it.”
He took the sandwich eating freak of a girlfriend down first.
I was second. WOW! This is a helicopter!?
“If you don’t hang onto this railing, you’re going to fallout and die.”
I gripped the rail with my life before landing safely and seeing the crowd of people.
Yeah, it was a terrifying experience, but one of the most memorable experience one could ever imagine because if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be half the man I am today. Why?
The leap of faith.