Saturday, 9 November 2013

The Finest Bimbling The World Has To Offer

Las Vegas baby. Sin city. Home of gambling, opulence, gluttony, madness and world class mid grade climbing. No, really. Just 20 miles west of the strip lies Red Rocks, a 3000ft thick bed of multicoloured sandstone forming 10 canyons, with 1000s of routes from 30' to 1500' long. The climbing is hugely varied, but tends to be slightly off vertical and even though many routes follow cracks, these tend to be used for gear while face holds provide relief for those not keen on the dark arts of jamming. 
Not bad for a single pitch, roadside crag.
Simon, Claire, Daniel P Money and I headed out there for the last two weeks in October, which is the perfect time for a visit. The weather is stable (being a desert and that), you can climb in the sun on the cooler days and in the shade on the warmer days (if you're organised). Most of the routes are accessed from a loop road which is only open from 6am-7pm (closing time comes down to 5pm come the start of November), which ties in rather neatly with daylight hours. Walk ins vary from 5 minutes to 3 hours, but are usually around 30-60 minutes. Most of the longer routes have bolted belays and abseil descents (often back down the route for maximum clusterfuck potential), although some have scrambly descents through cactus and prickly brush. Lovely.
Fold Out on The Necromancer - great route, great name for a crag
The rock is almost always excellent, although a lot of the holds make slightly perturbing noises if you hit them. The best approach is just not to hit them, we found. The different colours of rock offer generally different climbing styles, but the character of even the same colour rock can vary significantly from pitch to pitch. Dream of Wild Turkeys on the aptly named Black Velvet Wall offers 6 consecutive pitches of HVS-E1 climbing with each one having a very distinct character from crimping on tiny holds to squirming up wide cracks via delicate smearing. Perhaps the weirdest rock we found was on the second pitch of a brilliant 5.8 called Lotta Balls, which was an otherwise smooth wall covered in stuck-on marbles. Progress was made (excitingly) by standing on these balls, crimping the same balls, and generally thinking non-snappy thoughts.
Lotta Balls' eponymous balls. Fnar.
DanDanDan had cunningly sprained his ankle a week or so before we arrived, which made both walking in and climbing rather more taxing than usual, although a winning combination of ibuprofen and strategic rest days meant it didn't impact too severely on his climbing. Other than a rest day on the middle Sunday of the trip I found a willing victim/partner to climb with every day, which was great. Over the 2 weeks I climbed 27 routes, 77 pitches and almost 3km. Yay.
More top quality nomenclature - this is Rainbow Mountain
So, what did we actually climb? Well Red Rocks is home to some of the finest multipitch 5.7/5.8 climbing anywhere. That's about VS in real money. In 2 visits there I've now climbed Group Therapy, Tunnel Vision, Birdland, Dark Shadows, Johnny Vegas, Frogland, Crimson Chrysalis, Olive Oil and Black Magic all of which offer over 100m of outstanding VS climbing in beautiful surroundings. And there's plenty more routes to go back for. We spent the first week climbing lots of these as well as a number of outstanding shorter routes - Sensuous Mortician at 5.9 and the aforementioned Lotta Balls 5.8 were particular highlights, but it was all awesome. The only down side was on the Saturday when we tried to avoid the crowds by hiking up to a relatively remote spot to do a route called Black Dagger. Unfortunately being far away from the road and at the end of a rather scrambly path we had to abandon the approach once we realised that we were moving so slowly that we'd never have time to do the route and get back to the car. Whilst this was a shame, because the route and the location looked stunning, being Red Rocks we managed to find ourselves a brilliant little 4 pitch Severe as a consolation prize. And I saw a Golden Eagle. Go me.

After a rest day of hardcore gambling (I lost a whole $2...), the second week was all about getting up before dawn to go and do big cool stuff. Unfortunately the weather on the Monday was very windy and pretty chilly, so we had to postpone our assault on Crimson Chrysalis until the Tuesday. The wind had died down overnight, but it was still baltic in the shade. At least that meant we had the route to ourselves. This is something of a rarity apparently as it has a reputation for being the best 5.8 route at Red Rocks, which is full of brilliant 5.8s. With 9 pitches of brilliant sustained climbing up a very cool bit of rock it's easy to see why.
Warm Claire, happy Claire - chilling out on the belay near the top of Crimson Chrysalis
After 2 days of freezing in the shade, I was keen to seek out some sunshine. Linking Johnny Vegas, Going Nuts and Solar Slab offered us 1500' of three star climbing in the sun. So Dan and I did that. It was ace. Sarah and I had bailed from the top of the 6th pitch last time after starting a bit late and generally not moving fast enough, but this time we were early and ruthlessly efficient, so we made it up 11 pitches and back down again before it got dark. And we met some charming if utterly mental Californians, one of whom was called Elsworth. Who knew that was even a name?

The next day was our last opportunity for a big route and there was one route which I'd wanted to climb more than any other during the trip. Being 10 pitches of 5.10a (that's about E1 folks) it was a significant step up in terms of difficulty from anything else we'd climbed, so I'd had my worries that nobody else would want to climb it. Luckily for me Claire was psyched, which was impressive given her previous total number of E1 leads stood at 0. Another pre-dawn start got us to the base of the route with the whole canyon to ourselves. Claire led up the easy first pitch before I got a bit of a rude awakening on the second. With a grade of 5.9 I was expecting something HVS-ish, but this was 40m of proper hard climbing. Brilliant though. I was a bit concerned about the 5.10 pitches above, but after a bit of a wobble on a steep little crack Claire waltzed across the traverse that was supposedly the first crux. The second crux came at the very end of my next pitch, with 40-odd metres of rope out. The crack I'd been climbing petered out and a couple of thin, smeary moves led past a pair of bolts to the belay. I clipped the first bolt and got a quickdraw in the second, but the holds all pointed to wrong way to allow me to pull the rope up to clip it. Then my foot started to slough around inside my shoe on the first thin smears. Eventually I realised that neither of these things was going to improve any time soon, so I tried to put them to the back of my mind and got on with it...

My luck was in and a few seconds later I clipped the belay with a sense of some relief. I'd brought a spare pair of tighter shoes just in case I needed to stand on anything small, so I deployed these. Even with the 2 5.10a pitches out of the way there was no place for relaxing as the next 3 pitches were all pretty full-on. After getting to the ledge at the top of the 7th pitch from which most people abseil off I was a bit unsure how much I wanted to carry on. My feet were sore and another 2 pitches of 5.9 sounded a lot like hard work, but the day was still fairly young and Claire was keen so we got on with it. I'm glad we did as the top pitches were both great and considerably easier than what had gone before. 1000' of abseiling later and we were back on the ground full of win (and in my case some demented fluorescent seaweed snacks). What a route.
Pitch n of Dream of Wild Turkeys (for some large n)
So, another brilliant trip. America is still utterly nuts and eating healthily is essentially impossible. At one point I almost fell into a diabetic coma in the face of a cheesecake/brownie/chocolate cake confection and my digestive system has only just recovered from all the processed nonsense. Totally worth it though.

Now, back to the gritstone. Meh.

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