Road Trip November 2011 - Red Rocks
Drove up from Joshua Tree to Los Vegas in one go, I drove the same route with Darcy a couple of years ago. Straight up through the desert, this is a great drive with salt plains, desert, more Joshua trees and mountains. Got into Las Vegas mid day and found a grocery store, a bank, quiznos and made my way to the campground. The wind was honking out of the west and it felt pretty desolate and cold so pegged the tent down hard and went back into town. Found out that the Red Rock Casino is literally a 10 minute drive from the campsite, a little surreal. Checked out REI (an American version of Mountain Equipment Coop however not nearly as good) and the local Casino for giggles however in spite of the lure of Monday night football decided that a campfire and what passes for my own home cooking was in order. On the culinary side added such delicacies as canned chili to the one pot wonders, yehaa!
Next morning found the campsite of my British friends, Gareth, Julia, Robert and Anna, not far away and joined them for morning java and went climbing. The vast majority of the climbing starts off the “scenic drive” that costs $7 per day to use but most of the climbers get a $30 annual pass. We parked at the second Calico Hills parking lot and made our way to The Dark Corridor. This area is a very cool formation with cliffs on each side of a seven foot wide path. It gets sun early all along and is full of sport routes from 5.9 to 5.11’s. I followed however we climbed a 5.9, 5.9+, 5.10a, 5.10b, a 5.10d that Julia led steep and over hanging and another 5.10b further on. Joe and Gareth climbed a really overhanging 5.11 on the far wall however I was too pumped to even attempt it. Was happy as I was able to make my way up a 5.10a (Vagabonds) and a 5.10b following but without falling – a new high for me. After about noon the sun departs and we headed over to the gallery – wall of confusion. Nice area in the sun, I was just starting to get the amount of climbing that is available at Red Rocks – it is huge. Great sandstone, little micro ledges like quartzite however good friction as well. Some of it gets varnished with black however it doesn’t seem to impact the friction. I seconded a 5.10b on the far left side and got absolutely spanked, very pumpy on micro ledges and I just thrashed. Pulled belay duty for a bit and watched Joe send a 5.12a, very overhanging and pumpy but he made it look awful smooth. Later on I climbed the 5.10c next to the original climb on a top rope. Didn’t climb it cleanly however did manage to work on keeping my feet under me and using the crimps a little better. That was the day, it gets dark at 5 pm pretty much on the dot and you are supposed to be off the road by then. I was pumped, spent and happy as I felt like I was progressing a bit. After climbing we shared a great meal in the campground with a fair amount of beer and wine. It was downright cold, so a campfire was had and I actually shivered in the sleeping bag a bit. Fortunately the sun comes up early and makes the mornings more bearable.
The next day we decided to do some trad multi pitch and we headed up to Cat in the Hat, a 5 pitch (we did it in 3) 5.6 with a bunch of stars and, more importantly, south facing as it was a little chilly. We arrived about 11 am and there was a party on it, one waiting to go and one behind them. Yikes, fortunately one of those in the queue decided to bail and we had time for a bit of lunch before firing off about noon. Gareth lead with Julie and I on half ropes and then Joe and Anna followed as a team of two. Three long pitches were had and the climbing was brilliant. Just lots of fun, nice and steep but every time you wanted a handhold you just had to reach up and there would be one. Joining pitches meant that Julia and I had to simulclimb a bit above our second belay, the communication is a bit tough as well. The last pitch was the best as you work your way up to and around an arête and then out on the face. It looks a little intimidating however it is all there. We all rappelled the route, up in 2 ½ hours and down in 1 hour. Fortunately, once we got started the other folks didn’t really slow us down and we only had one group rap through as we were climbing and they were very good about it. This is likely the most popular multi pitch at Red Rocks so to be expected. Funny as we were walking out just after 4 pm, we noticed 13 people still on Birdland (another very popular 5.7) and it looked like a complete gong show. Obviously one has to plan around the popular moderate multi pitch climbs as they get busy. Afterwards we all hit REI, laundromat (with wifi and plug ins – yeah!) and the climbing gym for showers. Cold expensive showers however the climbing gym was a a real scene. Late supper and to bed, not as cold as previous night.
I met up with Miles and Heather from Canmore the next day at my campsite (they were staying in town) and we decided to climb Geronimo another starred 5.6 multi pitch further up the valley from Cat in the Hat. Got to the parking lot a little after 10 am and was happy to see the sun. Found the route without much difficulty and there were two parties ahead however the last second was just about to leave the ground. Someone’s dog was at the base, but it had water and was about the most laid back dog I’ve ever met. We roped up and Miles lead the first pitch at noon, Heather and I followed on more great rock with lots of stemming up a crack. Great belay, once all up had to move over to the wall above and Heather lead the next pitch. A full rope length, she started off a little shaky however gained confidence and did a fine job. I got the next two pitches and had great fun, up some face moves with lots of holds to a crack and went right. I stopped to belay on a bit of a ledge then continued up the crack, went right to the face up on the arête. Just a gas up the arête, not much pro but the holds were positive enough I didn’t miss it. Unfortunately high cloud came over just after the first pitch so it never really warmed up above 14 or so. Fine climbing but the belays got cool and rapped at the end of the day with the temperature dropping. Heard from some that the temperature is about 10 degrees F colder than normal for this time of year however “apparently” it is going to warm up. Bolts at the top and one double rope rap and four single rope raps, on the ground at 4 pm for 3 ½ hours up and one down. Raced for the car before darkness and arrived at 10 to 5. Great routes, the grades at this level are probably equivalent to Yosemite and even though its sandstone it’s nice to not worry about the rock crumbling every time you step on it.
That night was Gareth and Julia’s last in Red Rocks as they were heading to Moab for Mountain Biking and Indian Creek for more rock climbing on some of the famous cracks in the area. We all decided to go for the buffet at Red Rocks Casino down the road. I stopped in and got a frequent gamblers card for the discount and we had a great feast. Just about everything you could ask for; sushi, Chinese food, spare ribs, roast beef, pulled pork and lots of deserts. It officially closes at 9 pm however we finally were very politely asked to leave much closer to 10. We were all stuffed and I waddled around the casino for awhile trying to find the right exit, once back at the campground I rolled into the sleeping bag and immediately passed out.
Friday dawned with so so weather and Joe and Anna decided to take a day off. Miles, Heather and I headed back to the black corridor for some sport climbing. None of us were in a tremendously high energy mode, probably still working off the previous days feast. Managed to lead a 5.7 and 5.9 sport route and top roped a 10b and 10d. We met up with some French Canadian rope guns which definitely helped. Back at the car at 4:30 and celebrated with a beer in the parking lot. It actually sprinkled just a touch at the end of the day however most routes were over hanging so it didn’t slow us down. Moved my campsite over with Joe and Anna and had a pretty relaxed evening around the campfire.
The next morning Joe and I got up about 7 am and it still didn’t look good weather wise. He went back to bed and I flew into town for free showers at Miles and Heathers place and they helped get my photos off my messed up camera. I noticed that it was getting sunny out and headed to the campsite to find a note from Joe and Anna. Jumped in my car and raced to Calico Hills and started up the hill to where they said they would be. It helped to find them when I heard Joe yell my name from the cliffs above. Talk about climbing like a rock star, when I arrived they welcomed me with a “we were just about to head up this 5.6 two pitch affair and saw you coming and thought we’d wait, do you want the first lead?”. You gotta love friends! The first pitch of Physical Graffiti was a gem and climbed a line of steep jugs up a crack for pro to a bolted belay ledge. As I was waiting for the other two to make their way up a guy arrived via another climb and I offered to share the belay station. He turned out to be a local who moved from the NE US. I asked him what brought him to Vegas and he had decided to move west, did his homework and came to the conclusion that Vegas rocked. Rock climbing, hiking, cycling and a great climate was what drew him and he loved it. Nice to hear about the other side of Vegas. When Joe and Anna arrived at the belay, Anna jumped on the sharp end for the second pitch which was completely different. It was a smearfest up a crack with no gear for this first bit. We walked off and ran over to Fox crack and Joe lead a gnarly 5.10d lieback, chimney thing that I absolutely thrashed following him. I started well but totally flamed out half way up, one of those climbs that you can’t close your hands afterwards because you are so pumped. Joe was keen on the Rich Brothers Roof and we climbed up and over to it as it’s at the top of that part of the mountain. A very cool trad roof crack that goes at 5.11b. Joe absolutely styled it, my highlight was just making the boulder move up to the belay. He rapped and cleaned and then swung way out given the overhanging nature, I then cleaned the bleay and had a great swing out myself. Felt like a Disney ride, all for free! It was dark by the time we packed up and we headed out in the dark, made the car at 5:30.
Half way through supper Joe and Anna got a call from Julie. Gareth sustained a severe head injury from a leader fall at Indian Creek and was helicoptered to a hospital in Colorado. Joe and Anna packed up quickly and departed for the 8 hour drive to Colorado at about 8 pm. A week later Gareth passed away from his injuries. I still feel a little numb about it all and sure feel for Julia, his family and friends. Gareth was one of the most warm, welcoming, adventurous, fun loving guys I’ve ever met and won’t be forgotten.
Next day started off in a bit of a funk however the weather looked a little better and Miles, Heather and I climbed Johnny Vegas, a 5.7 three pitch affair. Probably my favorite multi pitch so far, first pitch was steep and traversed on big holds over some great exposure, second pitch went up a steeper crack and the third (my lead) up and around a roof where the holds ran out but the pitch eased off and ran to the top. We were able to unrope and made our way to the base of solar slabs where we had lunch and then rapped up down solar gully. Unfortunately, we met a guy going up on what looked like his first gear lead, he was pretty shaky but we managed to get around each other okay, with the exception of the nut he dropped that bounced off my shoulder. That night got in some grocery shopping, shower and laundry before heading back to the campsite for some home cooking.
I took a rest day on Monday, had a bit of a sleep in and checked out death valley. It was about a 2 hour drive through some spectacular scenery. There is an 11,000 ft peak in the valley that I was half hoping to climb however once I arrived it was obviously out of shape with quite a bit of snow up high. The interesting bit is that you can drive up to 8,200 ft, all this from the valley which is 280 ft below sea level. After driving through Badwater, the lowest point in North America and a great salt flat, I headed back to Vegas. Arrived early enough to buy a replacement camera and catch Monday night football at the Red Rocks Casino. Great fun with $1 hotdogs and beer and some of the best people watching I’ve done in awhile. I made a small donation to the casino in the form of a bet on the Vikings (what was I thinking!) and headed back to the campground.
Tuesday met up with Miles and Heather and headed off to the panty wall (honest, I’m not making this stuff up!) and panty prow. This is a great area with moderate bolted routes on interesting rock in the sun, the first time I had felt too hot in some time. We were first in the parking lot at 8 am and had the place to ourselves all day. We all took turns leading such classics as Boxer Rebellion (5.7), Sacred Undergarment Squeeze Job (5.8), Brief Encounter (5.8) and Panty Prow (5.6) and then put a top rope up Victoria’s Secret (5.10b) and Panty Mime (5.10d). All excellent routes and a great workout for the fingers. We packed it in later in the afternoon and scoped out some other climbing areas on the way home. I stopped in at Vons for some groceries that evening, probably my favorite grocery store in the US. The aisles are all laid out just like Safeway in Canada and you can use your Safeway club card for discounts. However given this was Vegas you could by real beer, wine and hard liquor all at the same time and I spotted some wine on sale for $3! That night I had a great feast cooked on the last camp fire of the trip. A huge steak, potatoes and onions, corn on the cob and half a cake I bought at Vons topped off with a bottle of wine that Joe and Anna had left for me.
I couldn’t believe how nice the camp hosts were, they approached me the next morning to give me $5 change on the camping fee as I had over paid the day before. Surprise, surprise. I met up with Heather and Miles that morning and as Miles had a work call Heather and I headed off to Romper Room, right next to the Lotta Balls area. It took an hour for the approach however it included a very interesting shuffle along a ledge to our final destination. There were two starred moderate trad routes that were great fun and Heather and I took turns leading up through the varnished rock – Doobie Dance (5.6) and Romper Room (5.7). We met some folks from Belgium who shared the climbs with us and let me practice my French a bit. As we were finishing up wondering where to head next Miles arrived thankfully with my jacket as it was decidedly cool. He lead up Romper Room and we did another lap on it and then headed over to Kindergarten Cop (5.7+) and it was my lead. I really enjoyed the lead, interesting and varied climbing and a bit of a head space lead as I counted 4 bolts, 2 cams and 1 nut in 130 ft of climbing. A little run out however there was gear not far below at the more difficult bits. I had a modest bit of excitement up high in the chicken heads. These were small marble sized features sticking out of the rock and at one spot the easiest way to climb up however as I was moving off one it broke off giving me an increase in blood pressure but no harm came from it. Topped out and belayed the other two up and we took turns rapping off and that was pretty much the day. I wrangled another free shower and headed out for supper with Miles and Heather to Whole Foods, very healthy buffet however I did stop in at Vons on the way home and snarfed several donuts in the parking lot to make up for it, getting some weird looks from the locals in the process.
The next morning I packed up and was heading out by 8:30 am and had a pretty uneventful two day drive back to Canmore arriving in a 17 below cold snap after battling some winter roads with my balding summer tires. Overall I enjoyed climbing at Red Rocks the most. A great variety of routes, lots of multi pitch climbing, interesting moderates, great rock and proximity to Los Vegas all make it an area I look forward to returning.
Total road trip stats (every road trip needs stats!)
Total days – 33
Driving days – 9
Mountain biking days – 5
Hiking days – 2
Rock climbing days – 15
Rest days - 2
Km’s driven – 8,571
Suppers eaten in restaurants – 4
Meals made without spaghetti sauce – 3
Best meal out – Red Rocks Casino buffet
Cheapest campsite – Camp 4 in Yosemite ($5)
Total climbing partners – 9
Climbing partners I wouldn’t care to climb with again – 1
Nights spent a borrowed tent – 28
Best campsite – Joshua Tree Hidden Valley
Number of lead falls climbing – 0 (wuss)
Do it again? In a nanosecond!