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Red Rock trip report March 2009, part one

Sara Lingafelter
Sara Lingafelter
13 min read

Wow.

A view from one of the few decent sitting ledges on Eagle Dance, Red Rock NV.

I’ve been back from Red Rock, NV for days, and this is my first chance to sit down and start typing… I’m going to do the trip report in pieces so that it doesn’t turn into a novel (who am I kidding, they’re always novels). Some of the days merit posts of their very own, so this will serve as an appetizer, so to speak, and then you can stay tuned for the next course to come next week. More photos are also to come… the ones here are from my point and shoot; Shawn shot some film, so if we’re lucky he got a few good ones that I’ll add when he gets them to me. I also just got links to KT’s point-and-shoot shots by her and Shawn, and they are INCREDIBLE so I’ll add them in a separate post in a few minutes, for 100% eye candy.

The herd
The crew for this trip was me, Chris “Smitty” Smith, Shawn, Katie “KT,” or “K-dizzle” Trembly, and late arrivers Don and Colin. Only, Don and Colin missed their flight, and had logistical issues rescheduling, so they never made it. Also on the ground in Vegas were a ton of friends… Jenn and Jeremy Fields, John Wilder (aka VegasTradGuy at rockclimbing.com), Laurelfan and her crew, my readheads Kari and Kellie, and (whew, this is a long list to type!) my buddy Jonah and his large herd of climbers. Pretty much, it sounded like most of the Washington climbing community was there, since we also heard tell of herds from Stone Gardens and met folks from Spokane.

Logistics
We flew, this time… we opted to check our gear and carry on as little as possible. Southwest was pretty much a breeze, and the trip down went smoothly. We got to Las Vegas late at night, and on our way through the rental car pavilion noticed the place was practically empty, until we got to Hertz, where we had a reservation. The line was enormous (and very crabby looking). Smitty and I stood (or, rather, I sat on the floor while Smitty stood) in line, while KT and Shawn sat with the bags. The line went surprisingly fast, and then just as I’d hoped, by the time our number was called they were out of compact cars (what we’d reserved) so they upgraded us to a sweet Ford Escape. Totally awesome.

This trip's extrememobile, a great little Ford Escape (free upgrade, thanks Hertz).  At Black Velvet Canyon.


We headed on (taking a rather scenic route) to our reserved condo. We’d planned to camp, originally, but when the herd grew to the size it did, we figured a condo might be economical and a bit more comfortable, though Shawn was skeptical about our ability to get out of comfy beds in the morning as opposed to bivy sacks. Ultimately, Smitty and I won and we booked a 1 bedroom condo at the Cliffs at Peace Canyon through Expedia.com for a whopping $55 a night. I am now, officially, spoiled on climbing trip logistics. The Cliffs condo was BEAUTIFUL, clean, and well-equipped (great kitchen, laundry, bathroom, fold out sofas in the living room, comfy bed in the bedroom, and a perfect-for-me-sized walk-in closet where I set up “camp” with three sofa cushions and my sleeping bag. I haven’t slept that well in years… it was like living in an isolation chamber or something. The pool and spa were clean and nice, there were BBQ grills out back that we didn’t get a chance to use, and the staff were super friendly and nice. The Cliffs will be my home away from home in Vegas, especially if they keep up the incredible room rates.

The climbing
Originally, Shawn and I had planned objectives just for us… when other folks bought their tickets, we tried to adjust and be flexible with our plans while still getting done what we’d bought our own tickets to do. My primary objective was to lead, ground-up, Johnny Vegas and Solar Slab in Oak Creek Canyon; his objectives were Eagle Dance in Oak Creek Canyon and Epinephrine in Black Velvet Canyon. All are super classic long traditional routes. We also planned a day or two of cragging, for a nice full trip. Vegas John had labeled our ticklist “ambitious.”

I’ll do detailed day-reports for Solar Slab and Eagle Dance next week, but here’s the short version…

Shawn on belay, Katie seconding, on Oak Creek Wall, Red Rock NVFriday
Friday, after about three hours of sleep, the alarm clock went off for our departure to Oak Creek Canyon. I lead Smitty up Johnny Vegas and Solar Slab (and it was AWESOME, breathtaking, and felt like an enormous achievement… plus, Smitty is one of the best climbing partners ever, so it was fun and positive from the ground up). Eleven or twelve pitches of 5.6/7 with a 5.9 variation thrown in for variety, with bolted anchors for all but a couple of belays… the climbing was mostly easy, but the pro proved challenging in places, and parts of the routes were “Welcome to Runout Rocks.” Shawn and KT beat us to the top by a long shot (KT leading her first gear pitch, complete with about one piece of pro), but were kind enough to wait and coach me up the finish. Smitty was an absolute champ. The whole way up, this was the look on his face:

Smitty, somewhere on Johnny Vegas, Oak Creek Canyon, Red Rock NV

and I could literally feel him cheering me on, through the rope.

While the climbing’s easy, the hike in and out isn’t — we topped out and did the Eagle Dance / Black Orpheus descent so that we could drop gear for Eagle Dance on Saturday… then got down to the base of the death slabs right before dark for a headlamp hike out.

During the hike out, Shawn and I briefly discussed maybe taking a Saturday rest day and then doing Eagle Dance on Sunday instead. My crummy knees nodded “yes!” to that plan with every step… we devoured something for dinner (can’t recall what) then crashed hard to get some good sleep.

Shawn, consulting the topo on Eagle Dance, Oak Creek Canyon, Red Rock NVSaturday
I was startled awake at about 4:45am on Saturday morning by Shawn knocking on the isolation chamber door with an, “Are you in
?” I felt the stabby pain in my knees, and recalled that epic approach, descent and headlamp hike out, and growled an animal sound of unpleasantness and pain before saying, “I’m up, I’m up, I’m in” and getting out of bed.

Contacts in, quick cup of coffee consumed, two aleve popped, and we were off. Again, Saturday merits its own blog post, so the details will come next week. The short version… we left the car about 5:30am, and Smitty picked us up at 10:00pm. The day was a mini epic. The hike in went fast without packs; the scramble up to the start was smooth and fun. We had beautiful weather and were in good spirits despite aches and pains. The climbing on the lower pitches was absolutely stunning, beautiful, fun. The upper pitches were, as I’d read and been told, serious and much harder than the lower cruxes (and I don’t think that was all due to exhaustion). We finished the last pitch a bit ahead of schedule so stopped for a bite and some water and to stretch out our feet, then prepped our first two-rope rap and headed down.

That’s where the epic started.

The whole story will follow… but let’s just say… our last two raps were by headlamp, with the descent of the death slabs by headlamp and moon light. Eagle Dance was the most serious climbing day I’ve ever had. We were, at all times, safe — but were it not for Shawn’s experience, knowledge, and ability to pull strength out of nowhere when we were both totally exhausted with the sun dropping, we might have had a sub-30-degree night out on a hanging belay on Eagle Wall.

By the time we reached the base of the route, we were happy to be down. By the time we reached the bottom of the death slabs, we were actually excited about the “easy by comparison” two and a half hours of boulder hopping ahead of us on the way out. When we got word to KT and Smitty via txt from the base of the death slabs that we were down and ready for a pickup in a few hours, we felt even better. When we hit the car at 10pm, we were too tired to even be giddy about the day.

It was an incredible, amazing, fantastic day. I’m incredibly thankful to Shawn for getting us both up that route and down safely. And while I look forward to traditional multipitch adventures to come, I think I’ll take a few baby steps before I get back on anything that serious again.

KT on a lead attempt on Caustic.Sunday
Sunday was mostly a rest day for me… I had four split tips and was pretty sore and tired from the first two days, so I was happy to just have some time in the beautiful weather and on belay. We headed out to Calico Basin, for KT and Shawn to play on Caustic, and, to meet up with Kari and Kellie and their crew for a visit. That night, we met up with Jenn and Jeremy and John for dinner at BJ’s on Charleston, JUST missing Jonah and his crew who’d headed on to the airport. BJ’s is very climber-friendly, had great beer and an incredible post-climb menu, and will be a frequent dinner stop for me when I’m in Vegas.

Monday
We got a bit of extra sleep, then woke up to windy and sunny conditions. Shawn and I had originally planned Epinephrine for Monday, but I think we both needed a break from long multipitch after Eagle Dance, and, we had to be able to get Smitty and KT to the airport that night so needed a more predictable schedule. Plus, conditions weren’t perfect for Epi. We figured we’d head for the loop road, since KT hadn’t yet gotten to see it, and try to find something sunny and warm and relatively sheltered.

What would a trip to Red Rock be without a visit to the scenic, beautiful, fun, photogenic Panty Wall?

Here’s the view from the ledge:

The view from Panty Wall, sans landmark tree.

From the first pullout parking area it looked a bit crowded but not too bad, and we headed up. Sure enough, it started out windy, cold, and crowded… but as the day went on, parties cleared out and conditions improved for an absolutely fantastic day.

We started on Panty Prow, for Smitty’s first lead in some time (he ROCKED it), and then I shoe-d up for my turn. When I put on my left climbing shoe, all sorts of horrible, naughty words came out of my mouth — my big toe was Not Happy. I climbed the route, cursing like a sailor every few steps, then asked for a fast lower so I could get out of my climbing shoes as fast as possible.

Over to the left of us, a Salt Lake City party was working the hard slabby routes… Lisa, from SLC was on while I was climbing the prow, and let’s just say her language was equally, um, not ladylike. We dubbed it Potty Mouthed Girls day at Panty Wall, and just kept climbing. I did a lot of belay duty, and it was super fun.

The guys cruised a bunch of the moderate bolted routes on the front side of the wall, including some more great leads by Smitty. KT and I had a date with Totally Clips, a route I’d tried the first time I came to Red Rock.

Shawn on lead on Totally Clips, Panty Wall, First Pullout Calico Hills, Red Rock, NV.

That’s Shawn on lead. Shawn put up the toprope, and I can’t remember if KT toproped it once or just pulled the rope and got on, on lead. KT worked it on lead, sending on her second lead attempt; I fell on my first toprope attempt, then after a rest got back on and the minute I touched rock felt like that wasn’t going to be the go — after a snack, a drink, and a pee break I got back on and *had* to send since Shawn (for the first time ever) picked up his camera and started shooting even though I was on toprope (he shoots film, so reserves his film for lead climbing). It felt AWESOME to cruise up that route, at a grade that I always thought would be entirely out of my reach. It wasn’t easy — the crux is just a few moves, but they take hang-on — but it felt strong, solid, and now I’m super excited to go back and get on it on lead next time I get a Panty Wall day. Here’s one of my all-time-favorite shots, snapped by Smitty while I was belaying KT on her first lead attempt:

KT on a lead attempt on Totally Clips, which she later sent (it was AWESOME).

Nicely done, Smitty (and, KT).

Shawn wrapped it up with a few more climbs at the end of the day, so now I think he may have climbed everything on Panty Wall (?). The hike out was lovely, the light quality so good I managed some decent shots even with my little point and shoot, like this one looking back up at Panty Wall from the trail:

View of Panty wall from the descent trail.

We headed out, back to BJ’s for another great meal, and then Shawn and I dropped KT and Sm
itty reluctantly at the airport before getting back to the condo ourselves and crashing so hard and so fast we hadn’t planned our next day beyond maybe cragging out at Black Velvet.

Tuesday
We got a little extra sleep, then woke up to a stunning, beautiful, sunny, wind-free day in Vegas. It would have been a perfect day for a nice, long objective, but since we had to catch a flight that night, we had to keep it closer to the ground. We turned the rental rig toward Black Velvet Canyon, sights set on Arrow Place, a three pitch route on Burlap Buttress. This was my first trip out to Black Velvet Canyon, and it was breathtakingly beautiful. Here’s a view of Black Velvet wall to the left, and Burlap Buttress to the right.

View of Black Velvet Wall to the left, Arrow's point is on the Buttress to the right.

The hike in was one of the prettiest I’ve done, and the climb itself was fantastic. I have a hard time on the last day of trips… my head isn’t in a great place for climbing. I’ve developed a pattern I need to break, where I pick an objective, do the approach, look up at the climb, and completely chicken out and call it a “scouting day” instead of climbing. A similar thing happened this time… we planned for Shawn to lead the first (crux) pitch then for me to lead the second… but when it came time to take the sharp end I couldn’t pull myself together to do it, so Shawn stayed in the lead. The route was surprisingly fun and high quality… lots of stemming, great holds, and a section on the second pitch of just stellar, red camalot sized hand crack that you wished went on forever. We climbed efficiently and made great time, then had uneventful raps down to the base and yet another beautiful walk out, stopping to take lots of pictures. Here’s one from one of the belay ledges on the route.

The view from up high on Arrow's point, Black Velvet Canyon, Red Rock, NV.

We headed for the airport, planning a teriyaki stop on the way, but had no luck finding a teriyaki joint (note to self, ask Vegas locals where to get teriyaki before I come back down)… so wound up with IHOP instead. The flights home were relatively peaceful and we both napped quite a bit, then made it home to Kitsap after a little airport pickup hiccup a few hours before we each had to be at work in the morning.

Reflections
As usual, I had a blast. The trip was great, the climbing ranged from just-plain-fun to serious and eye-opening. I enjoy traditional multipitch climbing because I do my best thinking when I’m high up, on a route, looking down on tree tops and birds flying beneath me. And, this trip was no exception. I had a few multipitch epiphanies that I’m still processing — stay tuned for more on that. The re-entry hasn’t been smooth — coming back to work is always just so strange, and this week was especially busy. My finger splitters are healing nicely, and I’d hoped for an eastern Washington trip this weekend, but the weather looks like it has other plans in mind.

I’m excited to get back out to Black Velvet Canyon; it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen, and the rock and routes looked awesome. I’m also excited to get back on bolts — after all of the runout gear climbing I did this trip, nicely bolted sport routes sound like a ton of fun. I also hope to keep up my weighted pack training, since I got in shape FAST on these approaches (I do believe my legs are an inch bigger around than when I left) so I hope to hold on to that conditioning, too.

Finally, after Johnny Vegas and Solar Slab, I think I’m ready for leading up Outer Space at Leavenworth, a route I seconded (and lead one pitch on) last year. I’m super excited about getting out there, and, doing more single pitch gear climbing at Leavenworth and Squamish, to continue to build my gear skills. I finally feel pretty solid on my gear placements, and I’m getting more efficient and having a lot of fun gear climbing.

So, all in all, it was another absolute blessing of a climbing trip, with good friends, good partners, great routes, new friends, good food, a comfy place to stay, and really lovely weather. KT, Smitty and Shawn are awesome climbing partners… our trip was drama free and fun, and we were all pretty blissed out most of the time.

A girl just can’t complain about living a life this happy.

Trip Reports

Sara Lingafelter

Sara (Grace) Lingafelter takes steps forward and backward toward a right-sized life on a daily basis.