A Week in Red Rocks
A trip report to Red Rocks, NV from March 17th to March 24th, 2000, with a group of current and former MIT climbers.

Friday, March 17, 2000

Returning from a climb before dark is a difficult thing to do, but on Friday, I learned that the same is true of leaving Boston on a long weekend. The line for the check-in desk was longer and more tangled than a bad climber's rope, and we were stuck in it for an hour and a half. Fortunately, our plane was in the same situation, and we managed to depart Logan airport only an hour behind schedule - but well after dark nonetheless.

Not even the lost baggage could deter us from the long wait in the Las Vegas airport as we put the final, painful touches on our travel arrangements, but by one in the morning, we had cars, people, and a promise from Delta that the missing clothing would arrive tomorrow. Luckily, all of the climbing gear arrived in perfect shape, and those without bags probably weren't planning on changing clothing much anyway. We spent the night in a remarkably comfortable group site at thirteen mile campground, a few short miles from our climbing destination.

Saturday, March 18, 2000

Saturday dawned cool and clear, but our plans were slightly less crystaline. By eight or nine in the morning, we finally decided to head to the Panty wall at the First Pullout of the loop road, and do a bit of easy single-pitch climbing to warm up. The wall was dominated by a large group from Dartmouth, but half of our group managed to sneak up to some unoccupied shorter climbs at the far right of the cliff. Alex and I started the day off with a bit of trad, he on a short 5.6 in a dihedral, and I on a 5.7 PG face route: my first trad lead of the millennium, and I'm doing it at a place called the Panty wall. Auspicious. Especially after Hector quite rightly pointed out that my tummy had expanded a bit over the winter, and I didn't quite look in top form. *sigh* What can you do?

Sport leading at the Panty Wall
The act of putting on the rack had my chest constricting and my hands sweating a bit; I hadn't lead a trad route since a trip to the Gunks in late november. The route started out with a medioccre cam, but improved steadily from there, and after a short trip through a shaking leg placing a nut, I got to the top to find a challenging anchor setup. After much muttering, I belayed Mike up, and then wandered off, leaving the gear in for a few people to clip as they experimented with their own trad leading. I followed this up with a far more confident trip up the dihedral Alex hit, and we toproped a few unprotected 10s. The Dartmouth group soon cleared out of the left end of the wall, and we were able to take over some of the very nice 5.8 - 5.10 sport routes that they'd been occupying. Hector got the "cojones of the day" award as he hung on, but completed, a thin 5.10 crack.

Dave Maltz and I managed to find Alberto's (on West Charleston), and we dined there while planning the next day's exploits. I managed to convince Mike Freedman that climbing Solar Slabs would be a lot of fun. Mike doesn't yet lead trad, so I'll confess to having a slight ulterior motive of stealing all of the leads. I didn't mean for the backpack to be quite so heavy, though ...

We lost our group site that night, and relocated to a roadside bivvy on the approach road to 13-mile. Traffic makes a poor lullaby, but we slept decently anyway.

Sunday, March 19, 2000

We awakened early Sunday morning, and drove out to the pullout with Luke and Christine, where we hiked in to Solar Slabs. We bumped in to a party of two students from Colorado just as we arrived at the base of the approach gully, and they started up before us, unroped and with the follower a bit nervous. After a brief wait, we also began climbing; as I reached a point about 70 feet off the ground, Mike shouted up and very reasonably asked for a belay (the first section of the gully is surprisingly steep). I stuck in a cam, tied in, and lowered the rope to Mike, and scampered up to the first belay. Mike followed quickly, despite the four liters of water in the backpack. We quickly dispensed with the rest of the approach gully, using one more piece of protection on the way up, and arrived at the base of Solar Slab to find the party in front of us having a bite to eat. Alas, they were extremely friendly, but they weren't particularly speedy at parts of the climb, and this was to bite us a bit later. Solar Slab itself presented nice, fun climbing - the starting ramp affords an easy welcome to the route, and the first two pitches require little pro.
Solar Slab from the terrace

There was a long wait at the third pitch for the previous party, but at long last we got to start. The pitch begins with a nice right traverse to a crack, but I suspect I misread the guidebook here. There's a crack going up the face to the right of the belay, and about eight feet after that, there's a sweet little fingers/hands crack in a left-facing dihedrael. I took the dihedral route, with fairly closely spaced protection, and it was fun climbing, but felt harder than the 5.6 the guidebook mentioned. The party following us chose the center crack and seemed to think it easier. More delays followed, but finally I scampered up the next pitch, and managed an interesting anchor of a #3 camalot, a bad #1 camalot behind a flake, and two equalized tiny TCUs. Mike didn't fall, and life was happy. This was followed by a lot of easy scrambling, but on top of a very windy mountain, so I figured it would be a nice time to introduce Mike to simulclimbing. We made rapid progress up the slabs, and I arrived at the final pitch of climbing as the earlier party was departing it. We had only a single rope, so we chose to descend via the gully to the right. At the time, it seemed like a nice idea - however, we topped out at about 4:00, and the light didn't last too long. After two short rappels, we caught up with the other people, and swapped ropes on the succeeding rappels. The descent took a fairly long time, and we arrived, rather dehydrated, back at the car at about 9:00 that night. Luke and Christine were kind enough to purchase some Chinese food (from P.F. Chang's - it's quite tasty) for us, which we snarfed down on the way back to the camp.

Our campsite had relocated to a legal but rocky site inside the campground. Another night in the sleeping back, this one somewhat chilly.

Monday, March 20, 2000

I took a lazy day Monday, leading two easy (.8 and .9) routes at the Gallery, and then sitting on my ass, bouldering a bit, and watching people get spanked on The Gift. Nice route. We later meandered down to the Black Corridor, where I was similarly lazy, though I did manage to find a carefully-chosen 5.9 route there which was ameniable to a sneaker top-roped ascent. (A route calculated to look impressive while requiring no skill or strength whatsoever. If you can't beat 'em, then trick 'em!)
The Gallery Group

We ate at the Luxor buffet that night (not bad, but not exceptional; the desert table had some good stuff), and five of us grabbed a room to shower and relax. Sweet shower. Sweet, sweet showers, how we love thee in the middle of a week in the sweaty desert. We all felt and smelled much better after that, and the laziest of us (myself, Christine, and Julie) slept in until eleven the next morning.

Tuesday, March 21, 2000

Rest day. Aside from a bit of hackery getting a secure login on the impossibly slow and restricted computers at the Las Vegas Public Library, the day passed without incident or interest. There is a pretty cool slab problem (a big concrete cone) outside the library, though...

Ahem. I said rest day. Anyway, it was back to the campground that night for another campsite shuffle - this time to 29, our permanent location for the rest of the trip.

Wednesday, March 22, 2000

Rested, clean, and enthusiastic - what a better way to get back in the climbing habit than to tick off another classic, Olive Oil? Unfortunately for our heroes, we took a slightly wrong approach, and ended up going past our turn-off into Juniper Canyon. We may have scored the first three hour approach to Olive Oil. There were a few parties in front of us, and Matt mentioned that he didn't feel too much like climbing, so Hector, Julie and I rearranged ourselves into a party of three and waited for the route. I got the first lead, and quickly chimneyed up the first half of the left-leaning ramp to where it cuts over to the face. A bomber nut around the corner held in place by a small cam back in the chimney protected the one difficult move on the pitch (5.7 PG may be a bit overrated, especially if you're tall), and then a bit of easy face climbing lead to the belay. Hector grabbed the next lead, and lead a nice sustained 5.7 face/crack pitch to the second belay, where Julie took over and cruised up the third pitch to a little belay off on the left.

I grabbed the rack here, and traversed right to a right-facing corner/chimney thing, and started up. The pitch was relatively easy, so I placed only sparse protection... the route then traverses right again to a left-facing corner, but I mistakenly followed a crack up the middle of the face between the corners. Glancing at the rack, I realized that I'd brought Matt's aliens along to play with, and saw a few nice pockets in which to play with them, so I camped out on a hold for a while experimenting with placements. Finally satisfied with the placement, I clipped in to it, and then hung out a bit longer to admire my handiwork, when the hold on which I'd placed my left foot -- and much of my weight -- decided to take the opportunity to shear completely off.


Luckly, my right hand was on a good hold, and I grabbed the sling on the alien with my left, and caught myself a foot down as my feet hit a small ledge. At some point during this brief scare, I'd shouted "falling!" which left Julie convinced that I couldn't tell the difference between that and shouting "rock," since that's all that fell past her.

Supposing it was nature's way of telling me to place more pro, I wandered up the rest of the route, set a nice bomber anchor, and belayed Hector and Julie up. After a longish and chilly wait for the guided party in front of us, Hector cruised up this chimney pith with nary a problem, and Julie and I followed, muttering mildly about dragging our packs up it. Predictably, I chose an extremely elegant-looking offwidth-like grunty way up the route (ahem), and Julie managed to face climb around the obstruction without even pausing to remove her pack. The last pitch was Julie's, which she which she ran up to the top of the climb. It was nearing 4:00, so we paused for a while to admire the view of Las Vegas, and then tromped down the surprisingly pleasant descent gully to return to the cars.

We dined at P.F. Chang's that night, and after some deliberation, Alex and I decided that we needed to head up to Crimson Chrysalis the next day.

Thursday, March 23, 2000

Hector and Julie were going to visit Cat in the Hat which also begins at the Pine Creek turnoff, so we carpooled in as soon as the loop road opened at 7am. We arrived surprisingly early, for us, and got off to a good start trundling down the hill... until Alex realized that he'd forgotten his shoes.

In a lucky twist, I deflected Murphy's sword by locating a spare pair of my shoes in the car (freshly resoled, even), and they fit Alex surprisingly well. Delayed, but relieved, we continued on down the wrong trail and proceeded to demolish half of the vegetation in Red Rocks on our way to the climb.

Needless to say, we got there a bit later than we'd hoped (about 30 minutes delayed), and there were FOUR parties in front of us, including one described by the people already at the base as "somewhat slow." Alex and I looked at each other, the approach, and the beautiful rock stretching up for hundreds of feet in front of us, and decided to wait it out. I watched Alex and a climber from Stanford debate the legibility of quantum mechanics for a while, and then took my poor computer science-addled brain back to a rock to watch people on the route as we started our two hour wait, at a bit after 9:30 am.

The first few parties face climbed around several of the chimney bits of the first pitch, and Alex and I decided that we needed to work on our crack technique anyway, so we'd avoid this terrible temptation. Besides - we'd taped our hands up to look like real climbers, and we needed to have a few scrapes to prove our worthiness and look like we had a clue.

The last party finally reached the first belay, so I racked up - somehow Alex had convinced me that I'd have fun doing the odd pitches. We waited a bit longer until a minor traffic jam above had cleared, and I departed the ground when the next party was halfway up their lead of the second pitch. The climbing started out easily, and we'd left the #4 camalot in the car in favor of a slightly less awkward #3.5, and I started meandering up. A nice nut 12 feet up started things off, and then the crack started to widen up. The section that looked from the ground like it would be happy with my #3.5 would have been better off with a small whale, but I managed to worm some protection in anyway. True to my word, I stayed in the crack for quite a while, but reached an overhanging wide bulgy section, promptly broke my word, and face climbed around it. Back in the crack, I got another good cam, and progressed up to the final chimney section, and this time, stuck to the crack.

(In all honesty, I stuck to the crack because I didn't notice how juggy the face was until I hit the belay, but it sounds more principled this way).

Alex followed the pitch handily, though he seemed to get a fair bit of exercise carrying that pack. I'd soon find out why...

The second pitch is another wide-ish crack, and Alex lead it without a hitch. I strapped the backpack on, and proceeded to get red in the face squirming my way up, but at last, arrived at the belay, convinced that 5.8- chimneying with an overweight pack (it was carrying our 60-meter descent rope; we had no doubles) is better than aerobics. I thankfully clipped the pack to the belay, and we waited a bit for the pitch above us to clear.

Realizing now that the leading was far easier than the following, I happily traded the pack for the rack on the first crux pitch, and set off. The pitch follows a nice hand crack with lots of face features, and felt reasonably soft at 5.8+, though fairly sustained. It presents quite a few nice opportunities to rest and place pro, however, and eats up gear. Alex followed and seemed to enjoy the pitch only slightly less than I did, despite the pack. He was, however, rather smug about trading the pack back. The fourth pitch followed, and I found myself at the base of the second crux pitch, a fingers and hands crack, again with a plethora of face features to assist the lazy crack climber (me). The jams in this crack were incredible! For most of the crack, you could simply slot your hand in and wiggle a bit, and get a perfect jam as the crack constricted internally. This pitch alone makes the entire climb worthwhile.

The next two pitches eased off to easy bolted 5.6, with the seventh a veritable sport climb -- unless, of course, you don't see one of the bolts off to your right and stick a #2 FCU in a bad pod about three feet left of the bolt. Ahem. But despite my best attempts to botch it, I finished the pitch, and was greeted by two parties rappelling down the route above us, as it neared 5:00. I waited for a while as they rapped past us, and then began to belay Alex up. After the delays, it was nearing darkness, and we decided to abandon the last two pitches for another time, and headed down. The rappel went almost without incident, except when some fool decided there was still enough light, and rapped down to the final set of rap anchors without his headlamp -- and overshot them by 20 feet, in the dark, two hundred feet below my partner. After a few minutes of near panic, I realized where I was, and hauled myself up to the rap anchors, took a few deep breaths, and shouted up to Alex that I'd finally found the anchors. We finished the descent without problems.

As we reached the bottom, we pulled out the walkie-talkie, and checked in with Hector and Julie, convinced that they'd be quite irked at our late descent (it was nearing 7:00 at this time).

"Hector, we're at the base of our climb, and just cleaning up. We should be at the car in an hour and a half." We paused. Hector replied after a moment, "Okay, Dave. We have two pitches left to rappel, and we'll meet you then in about two hours."

Two pitches left?

It was *quite* dark, and there was no full moon to help out this time. Hmm. "Okay, we'll see you then!" We packed, and started down the descent - finding a much better route down than we had up. Grumble. After about 25 minutes of walking, we checked in with the Cat in the Hat people again: "We have two pitches to rap, and we'll see you then." I mustn't have quite understood what they said, because I nodded, and we kept walking. Another twenty minutes passed, and I checked in again, "We have two pitches left to rappel. Almost down."

"Um. Didn't you say two pitches last time we spoke, Hector?"

"Yes. Julie can't quite find the last rappel anchor. We'll find it pretty soon, though."

Alex and I exchanged glances, and we kept hiking, and arrived at the car at about 8:30 - earlier than the descent from Solar Slabs, at least! There was no answer from Hector and Julie this time, so we assumed that they were out of radio range. About twenty minutes later, we heard from Julie, who sounded vaguely unhappy.

"We're at the base of the climb now, but our rope is stuck. Hector's going to re-lead it, then we'll meet you at the car." This wasn't getting better. Realizing we were going to be waiting for a while, Alex and I looked around the car and spotted a bag of Ritz sandwiches - "made with REAL cheese." The crackers didn't last long.

Julie checked in again after a while, and reported that the ropes had become stuck - again. Alex and I found the Fig Newtons, and rapidly demolished them.

Finally, a very relieved Hector reported that they were down, and starting the hike back to the car. With no further incidents, and no more food in the car, Alex and I dozed as Hector and Julie made their way back to the car, and we returned to the campsite for some badly needed rest, at about 12:30am.

Friday, March 24, 2000

"We didn't epic! We didn't epic!"

Okay, I was relieved. After sharing the glory of the first pitches of Crimson Chrysalis with everyone, I finally dragged myself out of bed at about 7:30, and made a last-second decision to join Luke, Matt, and Robert on Frogland, which I'd climbed in '98 with Steve Clawson. Robert isn't yet sure he likes this trad thing, so I saw another golden opportunity to exercise some greed. For once, the approach went perfectly smoothly, and we arrived at Frogland to see only three parties in front of us - a record! The party that arrived after we noticed the huge group, and commented, "Hmm. Same thing happened to us when we showed up at this time yesterday." We had to wonder.

We finally headed up as other parties cleared the ground, Luke leading up with Matt; I lead a bit too closely behind Matt, and ended up parked for several minutes atop the 20' boulder which begins the route. Nice view. I finally completed the lead, and arrived at a belay station crowded with four other people - Luke, Matt, and the follower from the party in front of us. If the story is starting to sound familiar by now... I waited a bit, and then stuck Robert on belay, who zoomed up the pitch, and expressed interest in leading the next pitch, which was rated 5.6. We went back and forth for a while, but decided that it might be best to wait a bit. Matt and Luke had divvied up the lead on the easier pitches to Matt, so he racked up and started to head up the left-facing dihedral behind the man in front of us. We babbled at the belay ledge for a while, then peeked up and noticed that Matt had paused at a varnished section of the climb. A while after, his Austrailian accent floated down, "take on red, Luke." Uhoh. Luke took, and Matt hung out for a while before sticking in a cam and frenching past a few feet of the climb. Deciding the climbing didn't suit him today, he set an anchor, and lowered back to our belay station.

We discussed what to do for a while (Matt offered to rap off my line, and meet up with us at the car), and finally decided that we'd all bail and go hang out at the Kraft boulders. Luke finished leading the pitch, and shouted down to Robert and myself that we had to try it out - it was the funkiest 5.6 he'd set eyes on in a while. I took this golden opportunity to shed myself of the rack and enjoy the toprope, and had to concur; it was a very nice large finger/small hands crack, but unless I missed something, it was the hardest 5.6 I've done outside of the gunks -- or I'm just getting fat and lazy, but the others in the party agreed that it felt pretty stiff. We rapped down, and packed up. As we were departing, a party pulled up to the wrong base of the climb, and we pointed them to Frogland. The unmistakable whiff of pot which arose as we departed the base helped to explain the relaxed attiude of these brave climbers, but we did have to wonder a bit.

We trundled back to the cars, and headed to Calico Basin to torture our fingers a bit on the Kraft Boulders. While there, we met up with some local boulderers who were only too happy to watch us flop over and die on some of their problems -- but were exceptionally cool and helpful despite my obvious lack of bouldering ability. Some of the problems were _really_ fun, too. Robert had visited the boulders previously and trashed his arms already, so Luke and I played around for a while, and we finally bid goodbye to the guys we'd met, and headed back to the car, and to camp.

Saturday, March 25, 2000

4:55am rolled around, and Luke and I managed to scrounge up enough consciousness to get me to the airport in time for my flight to Salt Lake. I'll spare the world the trip report for my friends' wedding, and simply say that I honestly didn't get too drunk that evening.

This was my third trip to Red Rocks, and it was marvelous. Alas, I still haven't managed to get on Tunnel Vision, or Dark Shadows, or the Prince of Darkness, or the Rainbow Buttress, ... so it's pretty obvious what the future holds. With my current track record of being last in line for climbs at Red Rocks, I probably won't finish many of those before dark, either -- but I'm sure they'll be just as fun. Many thanks to everyone I climbed with and met on this trip to Red Rocks, and to Luke for taking on the painful task of coordinating the travel plans.

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Last updated: Tue Feb 26 03:21:05 EST 2002