One of the many reasons that Red Rocks is my favorite climbing destination is the desert climate, which means predictable, usually splitter, weather. But every rule has its exception and this weekend Blake and I faced high winds and scattered rain – a little slice of Patagonia in Nevada. But we made the best of it and managed to get plenty of climbing done. Here’s how it played out:
Blake sinks his big mits into bomber jams on The Misunderstanding
We flew to Vegas early, grabbed a quick breakfast at Whole Foods, and headed straight to Black Velvet Canyon for some cragging. It rained off and on the whole day, but we managed to knock out a few routes:
- The Misunderstanding (5.9, 2 pitches)
- Wholesome Fullback (5.10a, 3 pitches) – We did the route as one monster (200+ foot) pitch plus a short 20 foot chimney scramble to the top of the pillar. Just as we finished, the wind went nuclear. On the first rappel I tossed the rope down and an updraft blew it straight up over our heads. I’ve read about this happening but this is the first time I’ve seen it.
- Tales from the Gripped (5.11b, 3 pitches) – On a tip from a local, we checked out the 5.11 first pitch, which is technical and bold. I backed off and lowered near the top – I wasn’t psyched to pull hard, committing moves way above my protection.
We awoke to clear skies but high winds. Our objective for the day was the mega-classic Dream of Wild Turkeys, but another party beat us to the base. They were moving really slowly so we decided to move a few hundred feet to the right and climb Sour Mash instead. By linking pitches we were able to do the route in four rope-stretching pitches. We climbed and rappelled really quickly and were back at the base by about 11am (!). After a leisurely lunch we climbed one more bonus pitch – a route called Spark Plug which looks awesome but only climbs so-so.
The Friar ascends the south face of the buttress/pinnacle and finishes atop a huge, precariously perched boulder.
The wind persisted but now the skies were overcast and ominous. We had planned to hike up Oak Creek Canyon and check out Levitation 29, a route that has been near the top of my wish list for a while. However, with rain a certainty it didn’t seem like a good idea to commit to a 2+ hour approach hike. So, we decided to climb The Friar, a route that has always piqued my interest. The Friar ascends a large buttress/pillar 4 pitches to the top of a huge, precariously perched boulder. The route is runout and frankly more than a little dangerous – In 2010 a woman died after falling on the 3rd pitch, which is only 5.6 but has rotten rock and offers no protection. The 4th and final pitch is also bold, with burly moves on overhanging rock with only thin wires and an ancient rusty bolt for protection. And on this day, 40 mph winds made the pitch extra spicy! All went well and we were treated to a cool summit. This route is worth doing once but probably not again.
After finishing The Friar, we moved a few hundred yards right to Byrd Pinnacle and climbed two single pitch gems:
Our work in Oak Creek Canyon done, we hiked back to the car. It was only early afternoon and the weather was holding so we decided to drive to the other side of the park and do one more route: Running Man. I onsighted this fantastic 11c enduro pitch a few years ago. However, this go-round I had already climbed 6 pitches and hiked for 2+ hours. I was pretty worked. About 80 feet up the gently overhanging route I simply ran out of steam and got so pumped that I couldn’t hold the tiny crimps long enough to clip bolts. So I lowered down, feeling thoroughly wasted. It ended up being a blessing in disguise because as soon as my feet touched the ground it started to rain and within an hour we were in a full downpour.
Our flight was scheduled for late afternoon to allow for a full day of climbing. However, it’s usually not a good idea to climb sandstone the day after a hard rain, so we decided to fly home early.
Overall it was a great trip despite less-than-ideal weather. Red Rocks always delivers…