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Red Rocks Plus, aka it sometimes rains in Vegas: a trip report

Sara Lingafelter
Sara Lingafelter
16 min read

For those of you waiting with baited breath, I apologize for the delay in getting this trip report posted. And PS, thank you so much for all the “where the heck is your trip report?” emails… talk about making a girl feel like this isn’t all a waste of time…

The adjustment back to real life has been… atypical. Usually, I get back from a trip, look at my pictures, sleep, and then wake up feeling like it was all just a vague dream… it feels a bit like coming home from some surreal summer camp but not quite real. It’s usually easy to fall back into my routine, and to get back to the rhythm of real life.

This trip was different. I don’t know why… maybe it was the smaller numbers (just a party of two), maybe it was some strange effect of our hermit-crab existence (living, literally, with all of our necessary belongings, in Climbing Partner’s CR-V for the trip), or maybe it was that we had to adjust our plan and change course mid-way through… but this trip felt like a little taste of living on the road.

It’s not at all dream-like to be back… instead, I got home, slept, got up, and then started to marvel at the sheer extravagance of my exceptionally meager existence. My queen size bed feels enormous. My teeny tiny apartment feels like a mansion — unnecessarily large. When I got up to make breakfast, I was fascinated by the excess in my kitchen (which is, by the way, about four feet by about two feet — I’ve seen bigger kitchens on recreational boats) with its four burner gas stove, refrigerator, and grind-and-brew coffee maker. I sat down at my desk to start working and catching up, and instead I found myself thinking through the logistics of an extended period of time on the road. But, alas, I’m back to real life, and the on the road dreams will have to wait.

At least I have another great trip to look back on. Get to the point, I know. Here’s the detail.

Friday, January 16th

Departure. My partner in crime for this trip is one of my regular climbing partners. We’ve been climbing, training, and traveling together since last season, but prior to this we’d only done one day of climbing just the two of us — the rest of the many trips we took last year were in a “herd.” We both had to work on Friday, so after work we quickly packed up his car, a CR-V with a sleeping platform and storage in the back (but that’s a separate blog post) and turned toward the open road. East to Yakima, south to Salt Lake, and then on to Red Rock, Nevada.

Saturday, January 17th

We drove through the night, taking turns napping on the passenger side of the sleeping platform. We had breakfast somewhere in Idaho, and then pressed on to Salt Lake City by morning. We took a scenic route through Eastern SLC to stop off at the Black Diamond shop to supply up — Climbing Partner picked up a rack of C3 small cams, along with a yellow and a blue Camalot, to round out our gear. With that, we had two ropes, and basically doubles (missing a few) up to 3 inches. Little did I know how much fun that would make traditional climbing. After our supply stop, another stop to taste the nation’s best tasting water in Beaver, UT and a quick peek at the Zion scenic loop, we pressed on for Red Rock. We arrived in the afternoon and planned a quick stop at Chocolate Rocks, with its reported 15 minute approach. After easily spotting the crag from the car, then about an hour of scrambling around, Climbing Partner thought he might have found the right way up to the crag… just as the sun started to set. We headed out to set up camp and nestled in to our temporary home at the BLM campsites just outside the scenic loop.

Sunday, January 18th

Logistics. We spent Sunday getting oriented in Vegas. Both of us had climbed and trained really hard in the gym just before the trip (and I was feeling on the verge of a shoulder injury) so we both woke up feeling like it wasn’t yet a day to pull sick hard. Thanks to advice from friends, we hit the local climbing shop, Desert Rock Sports, which turned out to be a home base, location to make new friends (shout out to Travis, Mike, Dray and Steve who helped us feel completely at home), pick up necessary supplies, and gather intel. I see a lot of gear shops, and I love a lot of gear shops. Desert Rock Sports may just be my all time favorite gear shop. Aside from their stellar selection of gear (after much scrutiny, the only thing I’d ever want that was missing from their inventory were offwidth size Wild Country cams) the guys, every time we came in, were incredible. Mike was particularly generous with his time and tips on the Canyon, we had a great visit about climbing all over the West, spanning stories from Squamish to Joshua Tree.

We also found a great (new) breakfast spot — the Mega Cafe on Buffalo. It’s so new I can’t find a link, address or anything, but it’s on Buffalo near one of the many Albertsons in Las Vegas. Their breakfast special ROCKS, and the servers were super friendly both times we visited. Their pancakes are unusually good, and our waiter during our second visit shared the secret (which I had guessed)… Krusteaz pancake mix. Climbing Partner needed a haircut, so we checked that off the list (me sweet-talking one of the idle-handed hairstylists out of a free shampoo and comb-out (“You poor THING?!?! You’re camping and can’t take a shower?!?! Oh my gosh, let me take care of you!!!”).

Monday, January 19th

We were, by this point, completely jonesing for some rock climbing, overtrained bodies be damned. We got up, and headed for the Flight Path Area in Pine Creek Canyon, sights set on “Ignore the Man Behind the Screen,” a 5.6 traditional climb. We’d learned at Chocolate Rocks that even when you can see the crag from the road, sometimes the approach can still be a surprise. The trip to Flight Path, though, wasn’t too bad. We hiked in from the Pine Creek Canyon parking area. Climbing Partner racked up for the first lead, and sewed up the 5.6 in great style given that he’s still relatively new to gear leading. His judgment on gear is great, and I actually learned something by watching him — he’s really natural about picking good stances to place from, to reduce h
ow strenuous the whole effort is. I’ve had other partners explain that to me numerous times, but watching him climb, it sunk in for me, finally.

We eyed the 10a to the right, “Belief in Proportion to the Evidence,” described in the guidebook as a sport route with an “optional nut between the third and fourth bolts.” It looked super fun, the runout didn’t look *that* bad from the ground, and we decided to give it a try. Climbing Partner racked up, and started the lead. He did a solid job, until he hit the runout and decided that wasn’t exactly how he wanted to spend his second lead at Red Rock. I eyed the route again, racked up, hit the runout, then realized… holy crap, I’m doing my first 10a mixed route. My hardest clean gear lead to date is 5.8; my hardest gear route attempted is 5.9.

I channeled every bit of my inner bad ass, and thought “I can do this.” I placed at least two pieces of gear — it may have even been three — as best I could, and pulled the crux moves. I reached the bolt above the runout and clipped it happily. The route was super fun, and felt like a big accomplishment, and a fantastic welcome back to Red Rock.

We eyed the other routes on the right side of the Flight Path wall, somehow missing Flight Path itself entirely (bummer). On our hike out, a 5.9 we’d spotted on the way in, “Doin the Good Drive” called to us again, on the left side of Flight Path. We really scouted the route, deciding it’s one we’ll have to come back to. It was a lovely crack, looked like great pro, and pretty reasonable stances for placing gear. But, we just weren’t quite ready to hop on a 5.9, and it was getting to the end of the day.

Tuesday, January 20th

We decided to do a bit of scenic loop bolt clipping and headed for Panty Wall, home to an 11a I’d toproped during my last visit (Totally Clips) that I wanted to take another look at. The approach (detect the theme?) was more strenuous than I remembered, but fun. We eyed the 11a, but decided to start slow, doing “Brief Encounter” (5.8). From there, we headed down to Dog Wall, site of a 10a project of mine from my last trip, “Cat Walk.” The last time I was in Red Rock, I spent the better part of a day on the route… leading it from clip to clip. I could put the route together on toprope, but just didn’t have the endurance to link it up on lead. I racked up, walked to the base of the route, got on, and sent. It wasn’t easy — it’s pumpy, and a good challenge, with at least two 10a feeling cruxes — but I felt so strong, and had fun the whole way up. I am actually really enjoying myself on lead, which is a very nice change. Revisiting some old projects was a great confidence builder for taking on new routes.

I can’t remember if it was that night or the night before that we went bouldering — but either way, I don’t have a bouldering guidebook so the info is only so useful/interesting. We did find my “project” from my last trip… I spent a couple days working a sit-start problem in the Kraft boulders, but just didn’t have the strength to do it during my last trip — ripped up my fingers, poked holes in myself and everything, but couldn’t pull the moves. When I saw the problem this time, I got super excited (my hands are totally sweating now just thinking about it). Pulled out the pads, pulled on my shoes, and got myself psyched to work on it for awhile. I put my hands on the start hold, and pulled up to a jug (skipping two hard intermediates I had to use when working it before). Pushed and pulled out to a far ledge (skipping three intermediates I had to use when working it before), moved my feet up and reached for the pinch. I pushed up and grabbed the top… and was happy at how much I’ve improved, but a little bummed that it was so EASY! But, it was super cool to find it and do it again, and I felt good about the send. Climbing Partner also chose a hard-looking, steep, small-hold “project” that he dispatched first try. It was fun, but getting late, and our stomachs were growling, so we called it a day hoping to get back to the boulders later in the trip.

Wednesday, January 21st

Wednesday took us to the Magic Bus area via an exceptionally roundabout, scenic approach. Our approach didn’t at all match up to the description in the guidebook… usually when that happens, the “real” approach becomes clear once you get to the crag… even once we found Magic Bus, we still didn’t see the “real” or “easy” way. We would up approaching the crag from behind, which was nice because we got a great view of the rest of the pullout (Great Red Book, Black Corridor, etc.). Climbing Partner wanted to toprope rehearse Blond Dwarf, a 5.9 mixed route on Magic Bus, so I set out on lead on Electric Koolaid (5.9+), a sport route that shares anchors with Blond Dwarf. I started up the route, and just Didn’t Feel It. I had some unusual doubt in my mind, and when I got to the crux I just didn’t have the confidence to pull it. I felt jittery, and not warmed up. I asked Climbing Partner if he’d be willing to get my gear back, and he stepped up (he loves chances to “be the boy,” as he calls it). He did a great job on the lead, set up the toprope, and then lowered off. I can’t remember if I did it once on toprope then lead it, or if I just got back on, on lead — but after a snack and a break, I got back on the sharp end, got a good song stuck in my head to sing my way up the route (Extraordinary Machine, by Fiona Apple) and polished off the lead. It was fun, felt like an accomplishment to get back on something that had initially scared me, and just by shifting my mindset to “I can do this, rock climbing is fun, I’m an extraordinary machine…” I enjoyed myself.

Climbing Partner took a toprope spin up Blonde Dwarf to check out the gear placements, then racked up and lead. He did an awesome job on the lower crack, placing gear like a pro. Then, he got to the face climbing and worked through it like a charm. I cleaned, and the route was super fun, despite the stress of rapping off bolts that looked sound but featured loose hangers (it looks like the hangers have eroded the sandstone, probably from the back-and-forth they’re subjected to by folks climbing both of those routes, since one traverses right to the anchor and the other traverses left. The bolts and hangers appeared sound, but it was still a slightly heady rap.

We were stoked to go explore the Kraft boulders, but mother nature had another plan. We got out to the boulderfield, Climbing Partner picked a project, and when he touched hand to rock it started to rain. We spent a good hour or so playing on overhanging problems out of the rain, then headed for town for spaghetti and pizza to watch the rain come down. It was a pretty quiet dinner while we both mourned the rain, and the knowledge that it meant probably no more climbing for us at Red Rock, given the rule of thumb of no climbing on the Aztec sandstone for 24-48 hours after any amount of rain.

While we were both eating, relatively quietly, I thought — maybe we can just go hiking on Thursday and see if we want to wait out the weather. It was a revolutionary thought to come to my mind — usually I can’t stand hiking and approaches… it’s a necessary evil to get me to the base of the climb. I just follow my climbing partners, trying to keep up, while they lead the way. It’s a bit, I guess, like being a pack horse who’s not the leader — just follow the tail in front of you. This trip, I had developed a certain appreciation for the adventure and satisfaction of the approaches, and the hiking, since Climbing Partner and I had been trying to figure it out on our own. We’re both relatively new leaders, and we had to really work together, and be patient, to get to where we needed to be.

As I remarked to myself about that shift, Climbing Partner suggested that we scout out the approaches to some of the climbs we might want to do the next time we come to Red Rock. We pulled out the guidebook and identified Birdland as a likely future destination, then as we wrapped up the night, I was relieved that we had a fun plan for the next day, and wouldn’t just be sitting around mourning the weather. Climbing Partner surprised me again with how unflappable he is to travel and climb with, and with his pleasant orientation toward problem solving.

Thursday, January 22nd

We took a quick trip in to Desert Rock Sports to see if the local assessment was that there had been enough rain to merit not climbing, and they confirmed that any amount of rain means staying off the sandstone. He recommended either hitting a local limestone area, or, doing what the locals do and heading to Joshua Tree. I secretly hoped that I might get back to Joshua Tree, and Climbing Partner was up for it, so we bought a guidebook and I started to get really excited.

But first, we had an approach project to undertake. We had a successful direct practice approach to Birdland, a classic 5.8 at Pine Creek Canyon. We scouted the route closely, and I’m stoked to get back to it when I can lead it. We then headed for the North face of Mescalito to eye Dark Shadows, another classic 5.8, thinking that the two would make a great day. We took the less direct approach to Mescalito… I impaled myself on a tree (actually drawing blood on my scalp) climbing through critter trails on the wrong side of the stream from the actual approach, and almost pushed a small boulder down on Climbing Partner. Ultimately, we did find the base (which was a lovely little flat spot with a stream flowing right under the base of the route), and decided Dark Shadows would also be a great route to do during our next trip. We found the ridiculously easy direct approach out, and had a delightful wander down the trail back to the car. Cooked a roadside lunch, then headed for the Mojave Desert to arrive in Joshua Tree by evening.

Friday, January 23rd

My first trip to Joshua Tree at the end of 2007 I couldn’t believe how hard it was… I didn’t lead a thing, I fell on 5.6s, and the climbing felt like I’d never be good enough to actually lead anything there. After our time in Red Rock, though, Climbing Partner and I had established a good climbing partnership and solid teamwork, and I figured we’d have fun even if all we did was aid our way up a 5.6 or two… it would be better than watching the rain in Red Rock.

We headed first for the Lost Horse Area, and Climbing Partner racked up for a 5.7 (with a horse name, I can’t remember for sure which one) with a HARD crux featuring a flaring crack… even following, I had to work really hard and pull a big move to finish the crux. It was a solid lead, and he did a great job on it, and, on building his gear anchor. I was up next, and decided that 5.7 felt too hard for me to lead, so we headed for a 5.6 at the Atlantis area, “Solar Technology.” There was a party on it — a young guy leading, and a herd of very nice Orange County girls following. While we looked on at his lead, a line to the right caught my eye. We looked at it, and one of the girls said she thought it was a 10c. I pulled out the detailed Joshua Tree book, which identified it as a 5.7, “The Labyrinth.” I hmmm’d and haaaaa’d about not really wanting to lead a 5.7 yet, then decided it was time to fish or cut bait.

I bouldered the start in my approach shoes (it wasn’t as hard as it looked) and placed a first piece to clip into. I came back down, and then slowly racked up thinking the whole time… oh my god, what am I doing… but the route looked good, I could see great gear placements and stances, and could identify the crux from the ground so I didn’t think there would be many surprises. It became time to… well… fish, and I tied in. I started up the route, placing gear, and climbing. It started out fun, relatively low angle, and with great gear. I hit an acceptable stance, right below the crux, and placed a cam. I moved up, pulled half the crux, realized I had underestimated the difficulty of the move, saw a place right in front of my eyes where I sincerely wanted a piece of gear and … oh my god, needed more gear in. I downclimbed to the acceptable, but still strenuous stance, and took a few deep breaths. I plugged in another cam just above the first, and then reached as high as I could to place a good nut to protect the crux moves.

It took, even with three good pieces of gear in, awhile for me to pull together the confidence to pull through it. I took a few more deep breaths, got a good shakeout, and then moved upward, smoothly through the moves, to get onto the more solid ground above. I could hear the OC girls cheering me on, and breathing sighs of relief as I did the same.

After that, Don got on the 5.6, which traversed to the right (I hate traverses) and wasn’t a gimme. He did a great job, especially improvising an anchor when he realized that he’d left his cordalette on the ground. It was a fun pitch to clean, and again, I was really impressed with his gear, and his ingenuity at anchorbuilding.

We stayed that night in a great campsite at Hidden Valley, and I’m now officially back in love with Joshua Tree, and can’t wait to get back.

Saturday, January 24th

Saturday morning we hoped to climb in Real Hidden Valley, but were just wiped. Instead, we half-heartedly scouted routes and then when Climbing Partner said something about a seafood dinner in San Francisco, we decided to hit the road. We got into San Francisco late that night, and had a great evening in the
city. Woke up the next day and turned toward home.

Overall, it was a truly fantastic trip. I enjoyed the rhythm that Climbing Partner and I developed, and how much fun we had hiking, climbing and traveling together despite a few hiccups. It was also a treat to realize that I’m starting to become a leader. After years of following my (much appreciated) more experienced climbing partners around the Western United States, it was a challenge, an adjustment, and a bit scary at first to realize that I had, kind of, jumped out of the nest. I was responsible for picking my routes, finding the crags, and climbing the routes (working with Climbing Partner, of course). It took a bit of a mind shift to reset my expectations (two or three pitches may be a successful day when you’re learning, instead of the 10+ I’m used to when I’m following the guys), but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

More posts will come — I’m working on a post to show you how incredibly cool Climbing Partner’s CR-V build out is, and, how well it worked for us on the trip, and I’m also working on a post about revisiting projects and places. But, this should whet your appetite for now.

Enjoy, thanks for reading, and I can’t wait to hear your thoughts… please comment below!

Trip Reports

Sara Lingafelter

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