It felt weird buying tickets to Vegas with no intentions to gamble, go to a show, or drink (ok maybe drink). Just beyond the lights and venues, the mountains of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is just a quick drive away and is a rock playground.
I haven’t worked full-time since February and even though I’ve had a great time traveling through Europe, a week long climbing trip to Red Rocks to challenge myself physically and even more mentally was just what I needed.
I’ve been climbing for ten years and still have a lot to learn. I recently started leading routes (instead of following other climbers) where I learned to place gear. My trip to Red Rocks was focused on traditional, or trad, style where gear such as cams and nuts is used to protect the climber from a fall and is clipped into the rope connected to the belayer. The gear is placed in cracks on the rock wall or other pockets throughout the rock face unlike sport climbing where there are bolts on the rock face to clip quickdraws into to protect the climber from a fall. I haven’t done much leading but was eager to give it a try. Most of my leads, even on “easy” grades, have made me reflect why I’m risking exposure to scale a rock face most people wouldn’t even dare to navigate.
Some of the routes are classic for a reason. We survived slower days while waiting in line behind parties. I did get to meet climbers and chat with them as we shared comfy and awkward belay ledges and hangs. The trad climbing routes were picked by the group of climbers I was with for the week based on ability and fun-scale rating.
Day 1 – First Creek Canyon
Approach/ Area Info: Located outside of the Scenic Loop, the parking lot is marked. From there, it was an easy approach.
Black Magic, 5.8, 4 pitches, trad
Located on Lotta Balls Wall, the wall can be shaded depending of time of day. Even with its grade, the high winds made sections difficult. Chickenheads,a specific type of rock feature like a door knob, were scattered throughout the route and useful for hand and feet holds.
Doobie Dance, 5.6, 1 pitch, trad & Romper Room, 5.7, 1 pitch, trad
Located to the climber’s right of Lotta Balls Wall, Doobie Dance and Romper Room provide good single-pitch trad practice. Both of these routes are fun to lead and have the length to warm up on before long multi-pitch days. They also seemed to be more protected from the wind than Black Magic.
Day 2 – Pine Creek Canyon
Approach/ Area Info: Located roughly 10.5 miles on the scenic loop drive. Park here and start the approach. Scout the wall on the left as you approach the canyon and find trails that lead in the direction.
Dark Shadows, 5.8, 4 pitches, trad
The climbing party behind ours starting the fourth pitch.
Dark Shadows can be 10-pitches. However, most do the first 4-pitches and then rappel down. It was a very fun route with nice belay ledges. One I even deemed polka dot ledge. The name speaks for itself and is a good climb if you want to escape the desert sun. Since I climbed it as a team of three, my group only needed two rappels with double ropes.
After the climb, we wandered around the different areas. Without the book, it was a little difficult to find a route we wanted to climb. Finally, the boys found a route of interest and climbed it as I warmed up in the sun.
Day 3 – Willow Spring
Approach/ Area Info: Located in the Scenic Loop, Willow Spring has an ample amount of parking but still fills up. This was one of the shortest approaches we had during the week.
Ragged Edges, 5.8, 2 pitches, trad
Gabe leading Ragged Edges.
As a group, we decided to do a cragging “rest” day. I was starting to get hooked on multi-pitch routes and suggested Ragged Edges. Two others in the group, Gabe and Angela, are also new to trad and the three of us decided to all lead the first pitch (5.7) and then have one (Gabe) lead the second pitch (5.8). Since we had the climb to ourselves, we all got to lead a part of it. The other two in our group put up two other routes to give us top rope options.
Go Ahead and Jump, 5.6, 1 pitch, trad & Crooked Crack, 5.6, 1 pitch, trad
Getting ready to climb Crooked Crack.
When the others were top roping the harder routes, I decided to walk down the wall to the climber’s left of Ragged Edges for more leading practice. Go Ahead and Jump, in my opinion, was more fun than Crooked Crack. Neither were super special but allowed me to continue to get used to the exposure of leading a route.
Day 4 – Calico Basin
Approach/ Area Info: Outside of the park, there are two parking areas. One is more of a parking lot and the other is gravel off the side of the road. Either have trails leading to the rock walls.
The Fox, 5.10d, 1 pitch, trad
Will leading The Fox.
Paul leading The Fox.
My friends climbed this route as I hung from a static line to photograph them. The crack took big gear, so Paul actually bought a #6 cam on the way.
Physical Graffiti, 5.6, 2 pitches, trad
It was a short cragging day, and one of my climbing partners had to be done early. I led the first pitch but didn’t have enough time for the second since there were parties in front of us. We rapped off the route and ended the day.
Day 5 – White Rock Spring
Approach/ Area Info: White Rock Spring is scenic loop road and is on a short dirt road on the right. The approach directions can be a little confusing and hard to find.
Tunnel Vision, 5.7+, 6 pitches, trad
A unique multi-pitch route with one pitch that goes through a “tunnel” on Angel Food Wall. The tunnel is pretty easy climbing but the draw of the climb, which feels like almost canyoneering. It’s a popular route, and we found ourselves waiting at the lower belay stations for a while, which are decent ledges.
After topping out, or finishing the route, follow the well-marked cairns down the gulley (30-45 minutes).
Day 6 – Black Velvet Canyon
Approach/ Area Info: Outside of the park and a further drive from Vegas, turn off Highway 60 into the Late Night Trailhead. From there, the road turns to gravel. If you have a rental car, consider skipping this area as the road is extremely rough.
Frogland, 5.8, 6 pitches, trad
Yet another classic and popular route. Here, we met other climbing parties. Ironically the two groups of three on this route were faster than the group of two. Figuring out the right places to belay was tricky at times, so it was helpful to read each pitch carefully to find the belay spots. Gear anchors were required for most of the pitches. It’s a fun route but crowded even midweek. The descent is an walk off (30 minutes).
A Week of Trad Climbing in Red Rocks, Nevada
My time at Red Rocks was nothing short of fun. I climbed 27 pitches and led 8 pitches. October was a good time to go as some of the days still required shade but others needed sun. As I usually only do weekend road trips to climb, it was a breakthrough for me to take a weeklong trip to build my strength.
Trip Dates: October 19-26, 2017.