My friend Glen and I like to make an annual trip out to Vegas. We usually go in April but this years April trip was cancelled due to unforseen circumstances. However we rescheduled for November and this time Peter and Todd decided to join us. We made our plans, but a few weeks before we were to leave it looked like it all might be coming apart as Todd had contracted some strange fever/disease while in the Caribean, perhaps Dengue. There were was high fever and whole host of other symptoms. He was not able to climb for 3 weeks before the trip and strength and stamina were way down, not to mention the undiagnosed sickness that was playing havoc with his body. Long term health seemed to be more of a concern rather than the viability of the trip. He finally felt slightly better a week before we were set to leave and actually got to the gym twice. I knew he would at least be ok to go when he was TRing 12's.
Finally the day came and Peter and Todd flew out a few hours before Glen and I. We all met for breakfast in the hotel the following morning after getting in at midnight the day before. I had a big agenda that included a number of long, challenging climbs. The plan was to head to First Creek Canyon for a day of acclimation. I had mentioned Hot Flash, a new 10 ptich 1300' 5.8 as a possibilty for a warmup, but also said that we could do Lotta Balls or Black Magic both 3-4 pitch climbs. We were in no real hurry so we had breakfast, went accross the street to Walmart to acquire all the necessary supplies and headed for the Canyon. By the time we reached the pullout it was about 10:30. I assumed that we would do one of the shorter routes, but as we were hiking in we all decided to do Hot Flash which was fine by me. It took a little doing, but after about an hour approach we found the route. This route is only about a year old and First Creek Canyon, unlike many other areas in Red Rocks seems to have a fairly strict traditional ethic. The route had basically no fixed gear or anchors and being new it had no chalk. All of this would make for a fun day, but since we had been so nochalant about things we got to the base of the route and did not start climbing until about 11:30. Even better is that this route is a walk off and one that none of us had done before. It was also November and was dark by 5PM. I had also left my small climbing pack in the car since I did not think we would be doing a long route. So the three of them sent me off to start the route. As I began leading the first pitch there was no chalk to follow and I had slightly misinterpretted the route desciption by about 20 feet. After scrambling up an easy I began up a small rotten flake a little left of where I was supposed to be. I got my first piece in about 100 feet off the deck, behind a nice loose sandy flake. I climbed about 20 feet above this and got in a second bad piece in some rotten rock. I started to realize that this could not be 5.8 climb that I had heard about that was really fun with solid gear all the way. No the loose, sandy 5.10 moves that I was doing would have to be downclimbed. I carfully reversed the dicy stuff for about 40 feet traversed right about 15 feet and got into a really fun and solid layback flake that I followed for about 70 or 80 feet to the belay ledge. Hopefully the rest of the climb would not be the same routefinding challenge as this. After this great pitch, I was greeting by a nice pile of human poo at the belay. Nice! Anyway Glen started up after me and Todd led up right behind Glen. We were all a little concerned about time and knew that we had to move faster, with 1100 feet of climbing to go. Things from there went really well on the climb and we sprinted the entire route in 4 hours as I reached the top at about 3:30. The climb was fun, easy, interesting, varied, well protected, really nice mellow 5.8. The descent on the other hand was not. By the time Todd reached the top it was just after 4 and we had about an hour of light left. The top of this route is actually the midpoint of the cliff as there is over 1000 feet of rock still above us. The way down was a walkoff that headed down a gulley that traversed the cliff line back towards the mouth of the canyon. This gully was not that bad, with mostly third class and little bit of 4th class for about 1/2 hour. The descent description said to look for another gully that drops off to the left, it will look very unlikely. We got to the base of the first gully and saw another gully that looked pretty unlikey, and it was! Fortunately there was one fixed sling around a big Ponderosa pine at the head of the gulley, somone must have gone down there! With the light starting to fade we did a single rope rap down the gulley through a slot choked with moss, dirt and dust to a small platform. The gulley continued straight down from there into the distance and out of sight. From here we basically were downclimbing Betty for about 800-1000 feet with some harder 5.7 and 5.8 moves throw in for good measure. The climbing on the downclimb was much more challenging than any of the climbing on the actual climb itself. In darkness we finally reached a ledge with a small tree that had two slings on it that led down into the darkness. At least we had two 70M ropes so we we could do a 230' rap. One by one we rapped into the darkness, we hadn't found any bodies yet and someone had to have gone before us to leave those slings. Somehow our ropes found the only water for miles as the ends were lieing in a small pool at the very end of the rap. We still could not tell where we were or if we were down. We gathered up the ropes and headed where we thought our packs might be. We did actually find the approach that we used, but in the darkness would couldn't be certain until we were back at our packs. The entire descent back took us over two hours, most of the time not really sure if we were going the right way or headed for a dead end. We still had to get back to the car though which was about an hour away in the light. When we had started the climb Peter had noticed that there appeared to be a trail that led down to the wash that would be a good way out. Seeing it in daylight and finding it in the dark on fourth class terrain choked with holly are two completely different things. After thrashing through the bushes for another 1/2 hour or so we finally found the wash, but not without falling about 3 feet up to our waists through a false floor of dead brush. After thrashing through the wash we found the approach trail and made to the car by about 8:30. A little more than we had bargained for on our first day, but all in all a great day. This was friday, and the plan had been to climb Inti Wantana on Saturday. Inti is 1200' 5.10+ on Mt. Wilson, the largest formation in the Red Rocks escapment. The 2 1/2 hour 4th class aproach would require a predawn start and fast climbing on 5.9 and 5.10 terrain. Everyone was a little tired for that, so we decided to head back to the hotel for a shower and dinner. We would climb Inti on Sunday instead. One of the great things about Red Rocks is that you can climb all day on superb sandstone and then go back to your hotel that cost very little for a shower and then head out for a great meal. There is no shortage of great restaurants in Vegas and we had no shortage of calories burned, so whatever you want to eat you eat. Tonight it was to be Flemings, a great steakhouse and my favorite place to eat in Vegas. After about 5 beers, home made breads, Cajun Shrimp, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Grilled Asparagus, Rack of Lamb, Creme Brule and Chocolate Lava cake I was feeling quite relaxed.
Saturday we met for breakfast in the hotel at 7am and then headed off to Black Velvet Canyon with no real agenda. Since we were to do a long challenging climb the next day none of us felt like bitting off a whole lot. In previous years we had done many long excellent climbs including Dream of Wild Turkeys, Sour Mash, Prince of Darkeness and Epinenphrine. Glen and I headed over to Whiskey peak to do Sand Felippe. Since we were feeling lazy this over bolted 5.10 face climb fit the bill perfectly. After whinning a bit throught the first few bolts I quickly climbed to the anchor skipping a few bolts on the way. 20 bolts in 150 feet is just a few too many. After breaking down this climb I dozed off for about a half hour and actually woke up motivated. We thought about doing as much of Sour Mash as possible before we had to rap off due to darkness, but we decided on The Gobbler. The Gobbler is the excellent 3 pitch direct start to Dream of Wild Turkeys. So we headed back into the wash and up the 50' foot 4th class headwall that protects the Velvet Wall. When we got there Peter and Todd were on the 2nd pitch of Overhanging Hangover, a 2 pitch 5.10 that traverses out the giagantic roof of Fiddler on the Roof. We watched them for a few minutes, taking a few pictures then set off the do the Gobbler, only about 50 yards to the left. The first pitch, which you can basically see none of from the ground follows a series of right angling "ramp"/"flakes". This is really interesting climbing where you either have really good hands and no feet or just the opposite, pretty much never with good hands and good feet at the same time. Using a good bit of smearing and mantling this 10a ptich went in good form, ending with a great juggy layback crack for a few feet. Then I got to lead all three pitches as Glen was feeling extraordinarly lazy, fine with me. The second pitch is completely different as it leads up a crack in a stemming corner for about 30 feet which is capped by a chimney at its top. I knew this was going to be interesting as I had very little chimney experience, in fact Epinephrine the year before was my only chimney experience. The crux is making the tricky move to gain the chimney. After this the chimney isn't that bad as you climb it for about 30 feet up and out of the chimney doing a few face and arete moves afterwards to gain the next belay. The final pitch is a beautiful dead vertical varnished face. The climbing on this pitch was pure 5.10 fun and wasn't over until the very end as the crux is the last 10 feet. This pitch ends on a nice ledge at the base of the 4th pitch corner of Dream of Wild Turkeys. Since it was getting dark by the time Glen reached the belay we quickly rapped off, packed up, downclimbed the headwall in the dark and boulder hopped our way through the wash and back to the car. The approach for Black Velvet is only 45 minutes or so, fairly mellow and short by Red Rocks Standards and we had done it many times before, so all in all it was another fun day that was pretty easy on the body. After making the drive out on the dirt road and heading back to the hotel the four of us gorged ourselves at PF Changs. I was skeptical, but the food was quite good. Off to bed with the alarm set for 3:45, Yikes!
We met for breakfast at 4am. Gotta love Vegas, 24 hour cafes with $3.49 steak and eggs. We made it to the pullout for the trailhead by 5am and were hiking in shortly after. I love the desert when in the darkness. The sillouette of the mountains looming above, with stars everywhere, complete silence, it just so surreal. The first part of the hike isn't too bad, about 2 1/2 miles ever so slightly uphill on a good but very rocky trail. This takes you to the old Oak Creek Campground(no camping allowed) behind the Wilson Pimple at the base of Mount Wilson. From here the approach gets quite a bit more difficult as it heads straight up a loose red sandy hillside, which while not too bad a fairly steep and quite aerobic. As we were most of the way up this hillside the sun made its debut for the day with some beautiful colors on both the scattered clouds and sandstone looming above us. Once the the top of this hillside it would only be another hour of sustained 4th class scrambling up the Resolution Arete Gulley. Having been here before we navigated our way up to the climb without getting lost. I was ready to setoff on the first pitch just before 8 am. We were on time and ready to go to. The plan was to climb in pairs with one 70M rope each. We would stop at about 2:30 regardless of where we were, as we would have to rap the route and then reverse the descent which could be quite dangerous in the dark. While I was confident that we would make it in time, we could not afford to get too far apart as many of the pitches were long and could not be rapped with a single rope without leaving gear. The crux is the second pitch, a wonderful piece of 5.10+ climbing on great varnished rock. Since the first pitch, 5.9+ slopey face was 100 feet and the second pitch was 100 feet I decided to link them. That would let Todd and Peter start climbing as soon as Glen left the ground. It worked out well as Todd stopped to belay atop the first pitch just as Glen reached me and set out to lead the third pitch. The climbing is really fun and goes quite fast after the crux. After the 2nd pitch most of the climbing is 5.8 and 5.9 and the four of us worked well together with no more than two people at a belay at a time other than the nice lunch ledge after pitch 6 where we stopped for a quick snack and the the top of the climb. The entire climb took about 6 hours as I reached the top at 2 pm and the last of us was up right on shedule at 2:30. Rapping proved to be interesting with 4 of us on some cramped or hanging belays, but it went fine and we were back on the ground a little after 4. Unfortunately we still had to hike out and darkness hit before we got through the 4th class section. The last bit of the gulley proved to be quite interesting, but soon enough we were back down to the old Oak Creek campground and hiking out to the cars. The long day found us back at the hotel eating dinner at the Outback Steakhouse, tired and sore, but quite satisfied after a fantastic day in Red Rocks.
The fourth day found everyone pretty beatso we went to the Sandstone Quarry on the loop road and did some sport climbing at the Pier and the Stratocaster Wall. It is not the climbing, but the approaches that beat you up in Red Rocks and we were all feel the tough hiking of the past few days. Peter and Todd were leaving the next morning, while Glen and I were going to climb and take the red eye out the following night. So we decided to check out the new Red Rock Casino. We had dinner at some fancy Italian place that was pretty good and checked out the Casino. It was a pretty large and spralling place, but strangely enough we looked an it did not have any running shows or entertainment. The following morning we all met for breakfast at a pancake house accross from the hotel that turned out to be excellent. I had bacon that was so thick it looked like it was hand cut and looked more like london broil that bacon. After that we said goodbye to Peter and Todd and headed back to Black Velvet Canyon to do Triassic Sands. In no particular rush and with plenty of daylight we took our time making our way to the climb. Triassic Sands is a classic trad 5.10 with a burly crux. Todd who had done the climb before told me that it was 10 or 15 feet of hard climbing and then it was a "cruise". Perhaps Todd forgot that I have no crack technique. Perhaps he also forgot to tell me to bring many 2" and 3" pieces, which I had left plenty of in the car. So armed with the information that it was a cruise after a short crux and thay my Gunks rack was just fine we started the climb. We linked the first two pitches. The first pitch is a fairly easy 5.7 corner that is only about 40' to a ledge. The crux of the climb is right off of this ledge. It is basically a tips crack on steep rock where you have to pull over a bulge to a stance and then over another bulge into the main part of the crack. The crux take lots of gear from blue aliens to gold camalots, but once your pull over that second bulge and you are "home free", you only have another 120' of sustained 5.9 slowly easing to sustained 5.8 climbing. Better yet when you look up all you can see is blue and gold camalots into the sky. Unfortunately by the time that I was about 20' over the crux all that I had left was one blue camalot and a rack of useless smaller gear. Had I been on
Graveyard Shift those green aliens and small nuts would have been great, but instead, I would climb placing the blue camalot over my head and then climb till that was at my feet, reach down, pull the piece and repeat. I did this until I couldn't see any other gear below my feet. There was finally a slight constriction in the rock where I was able to coax a #10 Walnut into place. Another 30 feet of runout climbing and I was finally at the anchor. A combination of 4 previous days of exertion, bad crack technique, lack of gear and taking the pitch a little lightly made for quite the exciting time. We then finished up the climb, rapped off and hiked back to the car. We however could not leave well enough alone. We decided to scout the approach to Jubilant Song another classic climb in the adjacent Windy Canyon for a future trip. The trail led off of the network of dirt roads that we were on(we were not in an SUV, but in one of those great off road vehicles the Dodge Caravan). By the time we had packed all of our gear for the airport and changed clothes night was falling. We headed back the way we came in but soon turned off toward Windy Canyon. The road into Black Velvet is pretty rough and not to forgiving, but it is well traveled and generally always passable. This new road that we were on was another story and required constant stopping and scouting. It was like rafting a river where you would pull out above a rapid to scout the best line. By now it was pitch black and road was rough. We were on a dirt road in a rented minivan miles from any main road or anybody and we were scheduled to fly home later that night. We finally found the small pull out for Windy Canyon(basically two rough parking spots). We continued forward, as on the map the way we were headed led to a paved road. After a few tough spots we came to a wash which looked really bad. After some scouting we went for it and made it down accross the wash, but the mogul field going up the adjacent hill proved to be too much, going up we listed dangerously close to rolling into the wash on our side and wound up stuck spinning our tires halfway up the hill. It looked like smooth sailing after this hill, but there was no way to make it up and getting back down was precarious. We mananged to slowly back down without rolling or getting stuck. We then had to backtrack all the way to the Black Velvet road that we had left a while back, through a complex maze of rough dirt roads in complete darkness. Nothing looked the same as it did on the way in. We started to have serious doubts about getting out. Somehow after about 45 uneasy minutes we made it back to the main road and out. Since Peter dislikes buffets and he had left earlier in the day, there was only one thing left to do. Head to the Rio and gorge ourselves on the buffet so that we would pass out on the plane.
All in all it was another great trip to Red Rocks shared with good friends and I cannot wait for the next adventure there. Already dreaming about what the next sandstone challenge will be, Woman of Mountain Dreams? Dogma? Cloud Tower? only time will tell.