Fast forward to the spring of 2004, I am a freshman in college in southwest Missouri. I am told by some friends that they are going climbing this weekend and that I should go. I am psyched. I get to go rock climbing and camping in Arkansas. Though I had spent a lot of time outdoors as a kid, I hardly ever went camping so I needed to get some gear. I think I even had to buy a sleeping bag. I headed to Wal-Mart to buy a bag, a flashlight, and probably a few other things. I was now ready.
Once classes were done for the weekend, we met up and drove down to a place called Sam’s Throne in Arkansas. Some of the group had been there before but we still managed to not turn off into the access for Sam’s Throne and eventually had to enlist the help of a local. Once back at Sam’s Throne, we met up with the rest of the group who were waiting for us as it was slowly getting dark. At this time, you had to walk into the camping area because the access road was not maintained very well and had huge sections full of water and mud. We walked into the camping area and got camp set up. For me set up was easy; set my pack down, lay out my sleeping bag, and relax. After a little while, someone suggested that we get some climbing in. We gather the climbing gear and hike down to the top of the bluff. One thing that I noticed is that everyone had these flashlights that went on their head. I had never seen one of these before and would soon realize how important they would be.
Once at the bluff, one of the guys started going over some safety stuff like how to put a harness on. We then got ready to rappel to the base. We scrambled to an anchor just below the top of the bluff. A few people were already at the base when I began rappelling. The lack of light was comforting. I couldn’t tell how high I was or if there was exposure or if some crazy rock monster was waiting to eat me mid rappel. Once everyone made it to the ground, some of the group went left around the corner to climb a harder route while those of us who had less experience climbed the route we just rappelled. I was the first one to climb. As I mentioned before, I didn’t have a headlamp. I am climbing this climb without climbing shoes feeling the shadows made by the lights of everyone down on the ground. Once up top, the guy who was the most experienced asked me if I wanted to help get people off of the rope and to the top. I agree and he anchors me into the anchor and instructs me how to anchor the next climbers in, get them untied, and get the end of the rope back to the base. I did that until everyone was back up on top. My first climb was done. Since then, I have climbed that route quite a few times as a way to get back to the top of the bluff.
Once back at camp we decided to not sleep at camp but on the bluff. This is an experience I hope to never forget. We got down to the bluff and found one of the few flat spots where multiple people can sleep. The night sky was clear and the stars were beautiful. I crawled in my bag and began to sleep. Through the night, I got pretty cold so I was waking up often. I remember waking up once and peaking out of my sleeping bag to see the surroundings lit up by the moon. I could see the hills and bluffs all around me. I was awe struck by the beauty I was unable to see early in the night. Though I did not sleep very well due to being cold, this was a great night for me that began to change my life.
The next morning, we had breakfast and then headed out to climb. We climbed on the White Trash Wall on Sam’s Throne. I climbed a few routes but I remember loving the scramble up a chimney to the top. The views from the top were amazing overlooking a large valley surrounded by hills with a band of exposed sandstone in every direction. We left early that day to get back by a certain time but it is still one of the best days I have ever had. It was soon after this trip that I learned about climbing gyms and I started climbing regularly. There have been very few events in my life that unknowingly have caused so much to change in my life and this was a major one. I encourage everyone to get out and experience life. You never know how much one event will change you.