Expert feature: Vegas Lights and Red Rocks Delight
Climber, artist and blogger, Greg Burns is letting us know why what happens in Vegas needn't be your dirty little secret - just off the main strip, the Red Rocks are a climbing location like no other! Check it out:
I almost cried blood the last time I was there, but I’ll never forget how my heart lifted me to the top and carried me back to the bottom again. One foot after the other, and then after the other again, and then after the other again, and then after the other again – we couldn’t have been more away from ourselves and yet so in touch with reality at the same time. This is what Red Rocks will do to you, and I’m not even talking about what happens in Vegas.
Look, Las Vegas may have its reputation as a party town, but in reality there are more seniors playing with their retirement funds there than there are scantily clad twenty-somethings screaming out of the roof of a stretch limousine. For those of you who haven’t been to Vegas, sorry to have ruined the dream. But since this is a website for active people, maybe you won’t care so much after reading the rest of this article. Because even though I’ve been to Vegas four times, I’ve never dropped a penny in a machine or on a table, I’ve never been to a show, and I’ve only stepped foot on “The Strip” once. Why? Because Las Vegas has one of the premier climbing destinations in all of North America, and for me, has-been entertainers just can’t compare to the real thing.
About 40 minutes from Las Vegas Boulevard, or less than 10 minutes from the western edge of the city, is the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Climbers just call it Red Rocks. The13-mile, one-way road inside the park is called “The Loop” and that accesses most of the towers and cliffs. And boy, are there ever some towers and cliffs.
With over 1,000 routes – many of them in the easy-to-moderate range – Red Rocks has something for everyone. Starting with Calico Basin (before The Loop) and the Pullouts (first areas after entering The Loop), sport climbers and boulders have several hundred options from which to choose. Moving further down the road to the many canyons that dot the landscape, one finds fewer sport and bouldering options and more and more long, traditional climbs if that’s your fancy (and it is mine). While the sport climbing can be fantastic, it’s these long climbs that draw climbers from all over the world to do nothing in Vegas but gamble with their skills against the rock.
My personal favorites are Crimson Chrysalis (5.8+, III - took me 13 hours car-to-car, including two hours of near mindless wandering in the blackness of the horizon-less desert that night), Birdland (5.7+, II – my first multi-pitch climb in Red Rocks, and the first time I laughed when I should have been scared out of my wits as I approached the top anchor), and Black Magic (5.8 – climbed on a cold, windy day when, at the bottom, my partner and I looked up and said “there’s no way this thing is only 5.8” only to later discover how giggly-fun the route really was). For the sport-minded, Levitation 29 (5.11, III) is likely your goal, but if you’re climbing 5.11 then you’re probably already aware of this must-do route. If you aren’t aware of it, well, get at it because this is a route that you absolutely don’t want to miss.
Of course, if you don’t have experience, which is vitally important here, you can always hire a guide. There are several local companies, but I recommend the Colorado Climbing Company mainly because one of my best friends is the owner. Trust in your partner is one of the most important aspects of climbing, and I couldn’t recommend anyone who I haven’t personally climbed with, let alone trust with my life. I’ve climbed probably a thousand pitches with him over the years, and probably one of the most memorable weekends I had climbing with him was in Red Rocks. In fact, I almost quit climbing that weekend, not because of him (of course), but because the climbing was so emotionally intense that I wasn’t sure I could handle myself on the rock anymore.
It was during a15-hour car-to-car attempt on the mega-classic Epinephrine (5.9, IV) when I almost lost all sensibility. My body wanted to kill me after climbing both Frogland (5.8, II – 6 pitches) and Dream of Wild Turkeys (5.10a, III – 7 pitches) on the same day just the day before. Epinephrine is 10-17 pitches (depending on how you do it) of pure physical climbing, especially if you aren’t familiar with chimney techniques, which one needs for the first 500 feet of the climb, and there I was practically being hauled up the first half of the climb because, well, I just didn’t have it in me to go on. We were the second party to start that day and we were the last to finish by far. Exhaustion, dehydration, the willingness to let go and take a 40-foot fall just because I was too tired to go on… That 40-foot fall could’ve been even bigger, too, if the gear didn’t hold, and at that point I was about 50 feet below the anchor and only had three pieces of gear on my harness. Two nuts and a cam are somewhat OK for that distance if you’re comfortable at the grade, which I generally am, but not only was my mind playing tricks on me, I wasn’t even sure that the three pieces I had would be the right size. Now we’re talking at least 100-foot fall if things didn’t go right.
Of course I made it, and my friend came up after me and took the next pitch. And then I took the next one after that, and then he, and we kept going until we hit the ramp, and then we walked off in silence, not because we were mad at each other, but because we knew we had had the experience of a lifetime and there was nothing more to do than think about it and watch the Vegas lights glimmer on the horizon. I’ve been climbing for over 13 years now, and I’ve climbed all over the U.S., in various parts of South America, and in Europe, but those days with my friend rank up there as some of the most emotional I’ve ever experienced. Yeah, you can always hit up a crowded sport crag on the weekends (and I encourage you to do so anyway), but when you’re presented with the chance to find a different level of solitude, well, how can you possibly deny an opportunity that the “other” Vegas has to offer? In my opinion, you can’t. Go get it.
Follow more of Greg's climbing adventures in Greg's Climbing Blog.
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