Monday, May 7, 2018

Red Rocks Spring Break

It was a long winter this year so getting away for a sunny spring vacation was just what Kyle and I needed. We planned to climb in Red Rock Canyon, just outside of Las Vegas, on either end of our rafting trip on the Grand Canyon with my family. We started the trip off with 4 days of climbing with Angela and Connor, who were in the middle of a climbing road trip through the western USA. We were also extremely stoked to meet up with David and Tyler! They had decided to drive out from San Fran to surprise us and climb for the weekend! 

We spent the first few days warming up (and getting sunburnt) on sport climbs in the Calico Basin and Calico Hills. Right away, we could tell it was going to be a good trip. All the gym climbing this winter looked like it had paid off and we were both pushing ourselves to get on some harder routes than ever before!
Day 2 crew - Vancouver reunion brought to you by Patagonia hats
Slabby sandstone approach to the Black Corridor
Welcome to the Black Corridor, essentially an outdoor climbing gym that was full of other Canadians! 
Enjoying the evening light and a cold beverage back at camp 
Chuckwalla lizard sunbathing on the rocks
The last day before rafting, Angela, Connor, Kyle and I all climbed the Cat in the Hat as two parties of two. This is a 5.7 trad route in Pine Creek Canyon. We climbed the first 5 pitches, then rappelled the route which is the typical way it is climbed. It was a fun, leisurely day out and we all got on the sharp end of the rope at one point! An early start ensured that we were off the route by early afternoon and only behind one other party (its a very popular route!).
Angela following me up the first pitch of Cat in the Hat 
Kyle leading pitch 3 of Cat in the Hat
Angela takes the lead on the traverse (pitch 4) 
Pitch 5 of Cat in the Hat high above the Red Rock Canyon and Las Vegas
Smiles at the top of Cat in the Hat with Pine Creek Canyon behind 
Rappelling the route
Beautiful Pine Creek Canyon
Post climb parking lot beers
  Six days later, Kyle and I were back in Red Rocks for another five days of climbing on our own. We had upped our climbing dirtbag game by renting a minivan to house all our stuff. Travelling with climbing gear, camping equipment and rafting stuff meant our lives were a constant battle to keep ourselves organized. Having the extra space in the van proved useful both for organization and as a cozy place to sleep. The first night at the campground it was totally full. Fortunately we had met some people from Canmore earlier in the trip and they let us crash on their site for the night! There was plenty of room for us to sleep in the van when the stow and go seats were tucked away. We ended up sleeping in the van all week after a big windstorm shredded our tent on our first day. We had also cleared some space to cook in the van when the wind kept blowing out our stove. The weather had been unseasonably warm earlier in the trip, but for the second half it was cool and windy. More on that later!
Kyle following me up the first pitch of Frigid Air Buttress
 The first route we got on was Frigid Air Buttress, a 7 pitch 5.9+ trad route in Icebox Canyon. Despite the name, it was sheltered from the crazy winds that were affecting the rest of the park so we didn't even realize how bad it was until we got back to the campground. The climb was great, it followed an interesting line that included huge chimneys, corners and a really challenging final crack to the top. Kyle convinced me to get on lead and I led the chimney pitches!
The 5.5 chimney pitch on Frigid Air Buttress
My first 5.9 trad lead! Stemming outside the chimney on Frigid Air Buttress
Life is good at the top!
 Route-finding had been straightforward until we arrived at the top of the route. Then it got pretty complicated. We had to solo a short 5.2 pitch up from the big ledge at the top, then follow cairns to a big boulder that was wedged into a chimney. The book says to down climb below the boulder but it was crazy! It seemed like many others had the same thought as us so we used the many pieces of tat to rap down instead. We down climbed and followed more cairns until we arrived at a tree with a rap station. We followed what we thought was the beta, rappelling down climbers left but we ended up totally off route! Two rappels later, Kyle was at a really sketchy station and I was re-rigging the rappel on a set of bolts with rings that were right above a series of pools and a waterfall. Needless to say the ropes ended up in the water multiple times. Fortunately the waterfall wasn't flowing, but we still got soaked on the way down!
Off route rappel down a trickling waterfall
 We had arrived at another big pool that we had to navigate our way around. The ropes got wet again and Kyle almost ended up in the water. Once past that obstacle, it was a scramble back to the approach trail. Somehow we had managed to get down the route in only 3 rappels instead of the 6 that you are supposed to do, but decending had taken us almost as long as the climb.
Using a tension traverse to get around a big pool
Desert blooms
 The next day was our biggest of the trip. We actually ended up sleeping and missed our early start. The park doesn't open until 6 am so in order to get on the route first, you need to get up early and line up at the park gate before 6. We left the campground at 6:30. Its a short drive to the park gate but you still have to drive around the park (on a one way street) to access any of the canyons. Its a 13 mile loop so it can take a while to get to the trailheads. We were optimistic when there were only 2 other vehicles in the parking lot since the route we were planning on climbing, the Crimson Chrysalis (5.8+, 9 pitch trad route), is really popular. Unfortunately, Juniper Canyon is accessed from multiple trailheads so we really had no clue if we were going to get scooped. The approach is an hour and a half approach and we could see other parties up ahead of us on the trail. It was going to be busy up there! When we arrived however, we were surprised to find a single party a few pitches up and nobody waiting to climb. Apparently three parties had arrived at the base of the within 5 mins of each other. One party of 3 bailed so they wouldn't hold up the other group, and then one of the other climbers realized they had forgotten their shoes so they left too. I guess the sleep in was a good thing!

It was cold, windy and shady all day on the route. By the time we had arrived at the top of the 4th pitch, Kyle was basically hypothermic and we had a brief chat about bailing (you rappel the route so you can turn around at any time). It was so distressing looking all around the valley at the sunshine while seemingly being on the only shady wall in the entire park. Kyle was miserable but wanted to push on so I gave him my puffy and he got on lead to warm up. After that, things got more tolerable and we were able to finish the route, swapping leads all the way. We topped out into glorious sunshine but started rappelling right away. We had been slow on the route and wanted to get down before the park closed for the night at 8 pm because we didn't want to get a ticket.
Cold Kyle at the top of Crimson Chrysalis 
 The route was really amazing, but we didn't get to enjoy it as much as we should have because we were so cold. It was a good reminder to be prepared for the conditions on committing routes as we had been lulled into a false sense of security from the weather the week before. I loved the stemming and interesting face climbing and was very happy that we only had some minor issues with getting our ropes stuck on the rappels. Many people we spoke with had got their ropes stuck really badly on the descent. In the end, it was a 12 hour day car to car. We slept really well that night in our van. 
The Crimson Chrysalis on the far right side of the formation in the foreground (with the red top!)
Desert hike back to the car
We had a sleep in and a big breakfast the next morning. The plan had been to go cragging to recover but we were feeling fired up and decided to go check out a less committing multi-pitch on White Rock Mountain - Tunnel Vision (5.7+, 6 pitches, trad). We made it up the route in good time, although the 5.7+ chimney proved to be a challenge, both to protect and to squeeze up. The feature attraction of the route was the tunnel pitch which starts in a big cave and climbs vertically. The climbing was very three-dimensional and required stemming on various walls before the route traversed out of the cave to join a fun crack. It was way more mellow and enjoyable than our suffer day on Crimson Chrysalis, and had a nice, straight-forward scramble descent that was well marked by cairns.
Kyle starts up the airy start to Tunnel Vision
Belaying in the chimney on Tunnel Vision
Kyle fakes a smile when really he wants to scream in terror
Tunneling into the unknown on the money pitch of Tunnel Vision
Tunnel Vision top out 
Cactus blooms
Our last two days were spent at the crags in Calico Hills and Calico Basin. Camping karma caught up with us and we had a few people ask to share our campsite with us with their fleet of vans. After crashing on JC's site earlier in the trip, we had to say yes and it was awesome. Most of them were from Squamish and somehow they knew some people that Kyle knows. Small world! The crew was super stoked and we enjoyed the burst of energy that they brought to our trip. 

On our second last day we joined the van dwellers at the Gallery for a morning of really pumpy cragging before realizing that we were way to tired to try hard. Instead, we drove out to the Hoover Dam to have a half day of rest and sightseeing. We need to get better at planning out rest days on climbing trips.
The amazingly red rocks of Calico Hills 
Chilly morning at Calico Hills
Intake towers at the Hoover Dam 
Checking out the Hoover Dam
It rained on our last night so our plans to finish the trip off with another multipitch were ruined. Sandstone gets really soft when its wet so you need to let the rock dry thoroughly before you can climb it after the rain. We had a slow morning to let the rock dry and took our chances with a crag called the Fringe as it looked like it had been missed by the brunt of the storm the night before. When we got there the rock was dry and good to go! We actually got on some of the hardest and most fun routes of the whole trip, and they were pretty damn aesthetic too!
Kyle on Lunatic (5.11b)

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