Las Vegas. Land of casinos, water fountains spraying mist into the desert air, blackjack tables shrouded with cigarette smoke.
Forget that noise.
Our Vegas lives and breathes 15 minutes west of town, fired by the sun. Red Rock Canyon, land of glowing sandstone, home to over 2,000 rock climbs scattered among giant boulders and soaring towers, cacti and sandy washes at their base.
Three sun-starved dudes from the PNW, we journey to Vegas not for gambling, but to hang on cliff sides in the desert warmth. We soak in sunsets bubbling bright as champagne, sit watching the hulking rock formations disappear into the dark.
Between climbs and during approach hikes, we trade stories of adventures and down burritos from Habeneros. In a week, we each almost crack double-digit burrito consumption and develop a rating system akin to the climbing scale based on taste, spice levels, size and cost.
The days bleed into one another, a routine of eat, joke around, load the car and drive to the park, hike/boulder hop our way to that day’s destination. Fingertips sing from rock raspy as a panther’s tongue; toes twinge from tight climbing shoes. Maybe those exposed nerve endings make this sport so addicting?
We climb in tight canyons, high on big walls, out of a giant enclosed pod like a mother’s womb as the moon crests over the park. Not a single time do we stop climbing before it’s dark. Hiking out under a full moon in the still desert air talking about the day is almost as good as climbing.
Climbing can sink teeth in deep and utterly absorb a person. The varied movement, the creativity, the fear management, sense of accomplishment – everyone has their reason for getting sucked in. We’re all there with our own mission, even if we don’t realize it.
People on pilgrimages from the cold north abound. One couple from Quebec drove 40 hours one way to climb in the sun. Her shirt says “Eat fruit, not friends.” #veganpower There are dirt bag climbers on the road for months, plus weekend warriors hacking five hour drives to enjoy the magic of this place.
Yet it’s certainly not all fun. Climbing is a chaotic blend of mental, physical and emotional effort, one which varies day to day for seemingly no reason at all. A climb that’s hard and scary one day is a perambulatory stroll another.
Bring baggage from your life to the crag and pay for it with loss of focus and wobbly knees high on the wall. Show up with a Texas gun fighter’s steely eyes, a loose grip and a positive attitude, and success is yours. (Maybe.)
It’s also intensely personal. It’s you and the rock. There is a narrowing of intention – tunnel vision – that happens when you’re high enough that falling equals death. Our pre-frontal cortex reasons, “Don’t worry, the rope will catch us,” but the lizard brain is screaming “What the fuuuuck are we doing up here?!” The flow state when you’re in the zone is magic, but sometimes the amygdala wins.
In the end, the magnetic pull of climbing erases the memories of sketching out 10 feet above the last bolt, scrabbling for holds with sweaty palms. Life in modern times is too easy; we need pressure like this sometimes.
Seven days in the desert felt good, really grin-inducing good. Emotionally cleansing, simple. The sun baked the stress out of me.
Now I’m back in Bend, home, normal routines, a meowing cat at the bedroom door. A dance with domesticity.
Fingertips raw, I grin and think of tossing veggies in the air to chop them up mid-spin in the rental house. The sunsets glow in the back of my mind, a place where memory will expand them until they cover the entire sky in bright southwest vibes.
This is not my last trip to the land of red rocks, and certainly not the last dude’s winter climbing trip to the desert. I’ll be back to climb the multi-pitch magic of Levitation 29 and Unimpeachable Groping. See you next time, Red Rock!
Where and What We Climbed – Highlights
As a Canadian named Nick said, “Geez, you guys climb a lot of routes each day.” Rather than sit around, I tend to keep the party moving and aim for 8-10 routes per day on a road trip. Hey, I didn’t get on a plane to sit around…I can do that at home.
Rather than bore you with all the ticks, here are my favorite routes from the trip!
Day 1: Multi-pitch in Calico Hills on Riding Hood Wall and a bit of cragging on the Panty Wall. Favorites were Big Bad Wolf (5.9) and then Totally Clips (11a). Honorable mention to the sweaty-palm-inducing Panty Mime (10d) – WHERE ARE THE HAND HOLDS?
Day 2: The Black Corridor – highlights were Rebel Without a Pause (11a), Idiot Parade (10c) and Vagabonds (10a)
Day 3: The Gallery, Wall of Confusion – favorites were American Sportsman (10c) and Super Guide (11a). I’ll be back for Yak Crack and The Gift!
Day 4: our “rest day.” Birdlands, my first multi-pitch trad lead! 5.7+ and awesome. Bolted anchors rule.
Day 5: Wake-Up Wall. Lots of 10s and great place to hang in the shade on a hot day. Highlights were Shut Up and Climb (11a), Mic’s Master (10b), and Spanky Spangler (10c)
Day 6: Day trip to Lime Kiln from Vegas. GO HERE. Amazing limestone wall with lonnnng routes. Highlights: Khaleesi (11c), Homeostasis (11b), Last Supper (11b).
For more awesome photos, check out Patrick’s post on our trip here!