First off it isn’t Red Rocks it is Red Rock to the locals. Chris Constantino was heading to Red Rock with his brother who is the president of the Purdue Outing Club. This is the third trip Chris was attending. Two years ago Chrystal happened to meet up with them and had great time. Stories from Chris and Chrystal convinced me that I should make an effort to attend.
Coincidentally during the mountaineering trip to the Whites I found out that Mark Spain would be in Red Rock at the same time. Climbing with Mark was a blast back in May at the Gunks, so I saw no reason to pass up the opportunity to climb in a new and warm place in March.
The flight out to Las Vegas on Thursday was one of the smoothest flights I’ve ever been on. Well except for just before getting off the ground. As most of the plane was loaded I was sitting in my seat near the front of the plane when I saw two police officers hustle down the aisle to the back of the plane–not the most confidence inspiring event. As the flight attendant explained in hushed tones to those of us at the front of the plane, there was a woman who was drunk in the back. She didn’t want to leave the plane. The police then “escorted” her off the plane by handcuffing her, yelling all the while. Obviously she had no idea why she was being lead off.
Mark picked me up at the airport by taking the hotel shuttle to meet me. My flight landed at a little before midnight and the plan was to take the shuttle back to the Palace Station Hotel ($18 per night by the way). Unfortunately we barely missed the last shuttle and had to take a $30 cab. The cabbie gave us the scenic route back to the hotel.
This is my first time to Las Vegas. Flying in at night allowed me to get a clear picture of how little there is out there. Lots if blackness and only small towns here and there. As we came upon Vegas I was reminded of the line from Star Wars, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”
Since I did come in at night I had no idea what the mountains looked like. Early Friday morning I was able to see them. The mountains comprising Red Rock loom menacingly out to the east, though other peaks are all around the city. The first thing that struck me is how colorful they are. In the east our climate and geology created mountains with lots of vegetation an usually gentle slopes. Not so in the southwest the bare slopes were vibrant shades of red and tan. Some of which looks almost fake. The various layers of rock are very distinct as well.
Mark and I decided some mostly sport cragging would get us in the mood for some longer routes later. As such we headed to the Magic Bus area and did all the moderate stuff we could. I enjoyed the climbing. The rock is extremely grippy not like most of CT and the Gunks. Though with the grippiness comes the downside, sandy holds. After cleaning up the Magic Bus we wandered over to the Black Corridor. This got us out if the sun which was warm even though temps were in the low 60’s.
Black Corridor is a narrow, only 5-6 feet wide at the base, canyon lined with many good 5.9 and up climbs. Luckily being a Friday we didn’t have any of the crowds that can often come here. The first 5.9 was a good climb but with a tricky steep and slippery start. The advice is to skip the first bolt an go for the second since it is only 5 feet above the first. The bolted climbs were very comfortable with bolts every 6-8 feet apart. The Corridor has some great examples of huecos, large rounded pockets. The routes generally were overhanging and in the 5.10 and up range. Feeling brazen by our good climbing we sized up Need to Rest or Idiot Paradise 5.10c/d. The short climb looked to have cool moves on overhanging rock, lessening the risk of hitting something if falling. Mark tied in and started to head up. He was able to get up to the first bolt but was unable to build up the gumption for the second. He came down and I gave it a try. I didn’t expect much better luck. However I was able to get up to the second bolt and clip. This required some smearing on a blank face with my hands in a slopey crack. From there I was able to slap my right hand into a large heuco and move right. This put me into a great position to rest a little as the heuco was so large and hollowed out that I could get a great kneebar. Continuing on I clipped the third bolt. The climb stayed steep but afforded juggier holds. Unfortunately I was getting pumped because of the effort at the bottom. So at the forth bolt I had to hang and rest. After that I was able to send. It was a great climb even if it was short.
Friday night we hit up the Strip. We went out fairly early only around 8pm or so. Nonetheless there were plenty of people around. Las Vegas sure has it’s nightlife. All the hotels are illuminated with neon and other crazy lights. Not quite a rival to areas of Hong Kong or even Beijing but still impressive. The fountains at the Bellagio are entertaining. Each song has it’s own coreogrqphy. As every one knows sex is a big selling point for Vegas and that means that they flaunt it on the streets. I don’t mean prostitutes hanging at every corner but there are people handing out cards for brothels and strip clubs. Every other statute is a well endowed sphinx or Venus di Milo imitation complete with anatomically correct nipples. We even saw a statue that was clearly fondling herself.
Day two started early. Mark and I planned to do Cat in the Hat (5.6) and Geronimo (5.6 or 7). Both of these multi-pitch trad routes had about an hour approach. We started with Cat in the Hat and I did the first pitch. My good luck and confidence from Friday was quickly shattered on the not steep but crevassy and awkward climb. Pro went in relatively easily but my mental game wasn’t at it’s best. I lost my shoe on the hike in and we were lucky to have found it which contributed to the lack of confidence. I finished up the first pitch a little short of the generally used belay. Once Mark got up we reestablished the belay and I continued up the second pitch. This one was almost as bad. Long runouts on slabby ledges. Eventually I made it to the tree for belay. The final three, really only two with a transition in between, were Mark’s. We ran through those fairly easily. These pitches were much more fun than the awkward stuff I had to deal with. Next time I come I need to do these last pitches. After a quick lunch we realized that there would be next to no chance in getting Geronimo in the same day. I learned cool guide style rappel from Mark before we bottomed out. Surprisingly we were likely the only team to finish the route. Usually the route has lines of people on it. This day just had us and an older guide with client. We got back to the car with time to hit up another area so we headed to Moderate Mecca. But lack of excitement in both if us just made us call it a day. After groceries and dinner we went to the campground.
Chris had flown in during the day and was at the campsite. We drove out there so I could set up. As we ate dinner the wind really picked up to the point that at the campsite it was probably going about 40 mph. Luckily Chris, Mark, and Chris’ friend Paul helped me set up my tent. It would have been impossible otherwise. Even though it was up we headed into town for an REI run so I could get some more guy lines and sand stakes. Paul needed pole repair kit among other things. Of course the wind had died down by the time we got back to the site.
Sunday I headed out with Chris’ brother, Andy, and his crew. They are mostly sport climbers so we headed to Conundrum Crag for a couple easy 5.9s and a 5.8. I top roped a sketchy 5.10 with only a single anchor bolt. Andy put up a 5.11d with a couple falls. The route was very steep so no problems. I was tempted to give it a go too but I wanted to get a little bit of trad in. Chris and me searched for some easy trad lines but came up empty. We finished up the day at Moderate Mecca were I was able to get a couple short 5.7s in. Sunday night was fun with a full campsite, good beers, and good brats cooked up by Chris.
Monday, my last day of climbing, was completing some unfinished business, Geronimo. We were going to travel as two independent teams and link up ropes on the rappel. The teams consisted of Mark and Tess, Chris and me. This meant I would have to man up and actually lead. Approaches in Red Rock often involve lots of scrambling. This certainly was the case. Along the way we saw a couple of mountain goats who were not at all concerned that we were there. Probably because they knew the could easily scamper away far quicker than we could.
Finally around 11:30am we started climbing. The first pitch followed a large dog-legged crack which as I saw swallowed up at least 3 pieces of gear and a rope. I hoped that this would not be our fate. Aside from the day before I hadn’t had Chris second me. He turned out to be a competent second getting all of my gear out with no problems. The pitches, while only four, were long. The second pitch stretched me all the way out on the rope. The climbing was a mix of crack with plenty of face holds. The problem was the way the sandstone eroded. While it created lots of holds, those holds were always suspect to breaking off. As such the climb was mostly a leg intensive climb. The other bad thing to the rock formations were the chicken heads and other features that love to catch the rope when pulling raps down.
Chris and I moved slowly. My leading and his cleaning. Mark zipped up almost right behind Chris on every pitch. Tess also did a great job cleaning for Mark. P3 was my favorite. I started a finger crack up to some face climbing. That lead to an arching corner that closed up a bit right before the belay stance. This last part in the closing corner was great because it had the smooth black patina on the face and a nice finger/hand crack for holds. Luckily this section was low angle and took awesome gear. From this small stance we finished up to the top at about 5:30pm. The park will ticket you if your car is there after 7pm. We were not going to make that time because of the three long rappel ahead of us plus a 45 minute hike out. During the rap down, dusk started to set in. While making for a more difficult exit to the car we did get to see Las Vegas lit up in the valley in all it’s “beautiful gluttony.” Once back at the car we were relieved to have no ticket. We were also relieved to not be only party we saw. At 8pm, full dark, there were a pair of headlamps only 1/3 of the way down only of the larger faces. By my guess they had 2 hours of rappeling and at least 1 hour hike out. Hopefully they made it ok with little more than an epic story.
My first trip to the desert was a great success. I got some hard sport and moderate trad climbing in. I know that I need to get more trad in. It is the only way for me to get quicker at gear placement and more confident to be above my gear. I suppose catching and taking a few safe falls also might help.
The landscape in Red Rock Canyon is amazing. Perhaps it is just because I come from the east coast. The scraggly bushes, cactus and wind carved sandstone cliffs are such a change from what I’m used to. I felt like pointing a camera in almost any direction would result in a good photo. Hopefully you agree.