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Winter Climbing at Red Rocks, Nevada

Sara Lingafelter
Sara Lingafelter
11 min read

While we sit here drinking wine and listening to early returns in the Iowa caucuses, I wanted to get started on my Red Rocks trip report despite the fact that I can’t actually feel my fingertips on the keyboard. It’s fascinating — it’s almost like I have two layers of skin on my fingers, which aren’t really connected any longer… the outer layer will inevitably shed in the next few weeks.

The cast of characters this year was similar to last year’s J-tree trip, including Alex “The Chimney Dancer” or, “Lightweight Number One” Martin, Kelly “Moleman” or “Killer” Cloud, Victoria “Little Girl” C., Shawn “Beautiful Girls” Campbell, Chris, aka “Lightweight Number Two” and me, aka “Lilith Fair.” Jason (“Babe” )and Rhi (“Beautiful”) made guest appearances later in the week, but had their own plans so weren’t fixtures like last year. As usual, I didn’t keep track of every route and send, so if you do your own blog entry or scorecard and I’ll link to it. Here’s a link to some of the pics from the trip — I’ll add to it as I have time.

Chris and I set our alarm for 4am on December 26th, and rolled out of the driveway about 4:20. By 5:30 we were on the road, Big Blue loaded down with us, Victoria and Shawn, and on our way toward Red Rocks. We expected bad weather but had no idea that we’d be driving in snow from North Bend until Arizona. After one unfortunate close encounter with a semi (and even closer encounter with a snowbank) in Snoqualmie Pass, the trip in the snow was stressful but pretty. By 5am on the 27th we rolled into camp in Red Rocks where Alex and Kelly had set up camp the night before. After a couple hours of cat napping in our sleeping bags in the dirt, we all got up and headed for our first day of climbing at Moderate Mecca.

The crew did a bunch of climbs including Alex and Kelly on the 10s and V and Shawn on just about everything. I thought “Chicken Gumbo for your Dumbo” (5.6) looked do-able so I geared up and headed off. After a very slow lead (have I mentioned that I am not the world’s most confident gear leader?) I was flummoxed at the top by trying to build an anchor in the cracks above the route. Alex suggested I use the better crack systems above the 5.7 (“From Soup to Nuts”) which was good advice, but by then I had burned goodness knows how long trying to build a suitable anchor to bring Chris up, so used Alex’s anchor on the 5.7 instead of building my own. Chris thought my gear placements looked good, so that’s cool, but despite many hours of pouring over the John Long anchor book I need a lot of practice with building gear anchors.

The wind picked up, driving us out of Moderate Mecca and toward the Kraft Boulders which turned out to be a complete and total jackpot. I’m not much of a boulderer, and even I was inspired to shed some skin and pop some fingers on the fantastic sandstone boulders in the sun.

Day two took us to Cannibal Crag where Chris got in a gear lead on Cannibal Crack (5.4) and V and the guys climbed the big numbers. I tried the lead on Caliban (5.8) but didn’t make it past the first bolt (thanks to Alex for the draw retrieval). Caustic (5.11b) provided entertainment for the strong pullers in the group (in other words, not Chris and I), and Dave Graham’s sound- and look-alike was among the other climbers at the crag, so we had a fun and friendly time in the sun. Bold (because of the extreme cold) leads were done by the strong folks on the West face on three routes purported to be, from left to right, “What’s Eating You” 5.9+, “A Man in Every Pot” 5.8+, and “Mac and Ronnie in Cheese” 5.10a, but consensus in our party was that the leftmost route was the most difficult with a reachy crux and the other two more moderate. All three were super fun, even with completely numb hands in the shade.

When we were all sufficiently frozen and sick of the shade, we headed back to the Kraft Boulders for another lovely afternoon in the warm and fun of the boulder field, during which Alex learned an important lesson about why not to store a fruit cup in the pocket of his bouldering pad.

Day three we did the hike out to Oak Creek Canyon. The alarm clock (Shawn) went off at 6am and we were hiking in by about 6:30am. We parked outside of the Loop Road and took about an hour and a half to pack in to the crags. Chris and I had our sights set on Solar Gully (a four-ish pitch 5.3) and the rest of the crew went off to Black Orpheus (an eleven-ish pitch 5.10a on the Black Arch Wall). Despite our early start, Chris and I were behind another party on the Gully, and found the first pitch (we climbed it in two pitches using the intermediate belay at about 80 feet up) surprisingly cold, and surprisingly relatively difficult for the guidebook’s “5.1” grade. Despite Chris’s confidence in both of our skills, I got sketched out by the second “4th class” pitch which required a couple of lightly protected fifth class moves up to the fourth class scramble. Chris and I are relatively new to gear leading — we’ve done a two-day workshop and a handful of routes and a couple years of following, but I still feel like a total beginner. Between my lack of confidence, my full body shiver from the cold, and the fact that we were kissing our previously agreed-upon turnaround time, Chris reluctantly agreed to call it a day after just one real pitch of 5.1 climbing. It was a good learning experience — we did the hike, we found our route, we climbed a bit, we stuck to our (too early in retrospect) turnaround time and after a few attempts we found our way out and did the hike out, making it back to the car by 4:30pm. The Black Orpheus team had a bit of a mini epic, complete with a long day of climbing and a sunset descent, but by 7:30pm they were back at the car and we were all headed for a much needed hot meal and warm place to sit and recover from the day.

Day four we decided to stick closer to civilization and headed for the Panty Wall and some bolt clipping at Calico Hills First Pullout. The wall was busy — Shawn counted about thirty people, at one point — but the climbing was fun. Chris, Shawn, V and I “warmed up” on “Panty Prow,” 5.6, while Alex and Kelly put up one of the 5.7s (which was also fun). Victoria established herself as a master slab climber on Victoria’s Secret (5.10b) which is now bolted, as did Shawn. The route was fun on toprope despite the tough crux on non-existent holds, but I wouldn’t have wanted to lead it. Chris accidentally lead “Sacred Undergarment Squeeze Job,” a 5.8, when he thought he was leading a 5.7, so that was a lovely success for him. The crew had a blast on “Totally Clips” 5.11a, a steep juggy route that was fun to toprope even with falls — that is one I’ll definitely go back to.

And, thanks to Alex and Shawn who did brilliant gear leads, I got to tick off a toprope on one of my wishlist climbs, “Panty Raid,” 5.10a, which was really, really fantastic. The climbing was nice and sustained on nice face holds, with an excellent mono (or two-finger hold, if you’re little like me) crux at the very top. I don’t remember what routes the strong-arms pulled at that crag, but regardless, despite the crowds we had a really nice day.

Day five took us on a bit of an adventure — we headed to the Calico Hills Second Pullout to check out the gun show at the Gallery. Even compared to the crowd at Panty Wall the day before, the Gallery was a zoo. I didn’t even try to count the number of hard bodies all bandying about beta about their various home gyms and hard sends… we just did a few warmups and then agreed to get out of there as soon as possible. Destination next was Stratocaster Wall, which has a committing scramble of an approach that wasn’t any fun for Chris in a full pack. Chris and I ditched our packs at the bottom of the slabs and hiked up to belay and cheer on the other climbers in our party for the day.

Stratocaster was amazing — V, Shawn, Kelly and Alex all pulled hard and put in impressive efforts on the slang-for-male-body-part-named 12s including a send by Shawn on said body part’s Warrior (12c). Equally impressive was Kelly’s effort on the route — he kept at it until the last possible moment to head out of the canyon before a late-exit ticket. The day was a hiking adventure for Chris and I, but mostly counted as a rest day for us.

Day six we headed for Calico Hills First Pullout again and checked out Tiger Stripe Wall which had a spectacularly tall 10b bolted route on it, but none of us were feeling quite that ambitious first thing on a chilly morning. Instead, we trended toward Dog Wall (which turned out to be both quite doggy — between Toby the Local Terrier and his owner Gary, and another party that came in later with three dogs of their own, we were in a great deal of canine company). Despite relatively chilly temps — the sun felt like hiding in the clouds and we had a bit of a breeze that day — the climbing was stellar and lasted us a solid day.

We started out on “Cat Walk,” 5.10a, and “It’s a Bitch,” 5.10b, which were both some of the most fun, sustained climbing I got to do at Red Rocks. After two topropes on the 10a (one clean) and one toprope on the 10b (with falls at the crux), it took me all day to work up the nerve to try to lead the 10a right before the loop road closed. The lead was a disaster — complete with taking at every bold and aiding at the second or third bold — but I did get the rope up so that Chris and I could put in another couple of laps on one of the most fun 10a’s I’ve ever set foot on, so I count it a success.

I don’t purport to be a good climber — I try hard to be a climber who has fun — so my definition of success may be a bit different than others. While I tried to work up the nerve to lead the 10a, the crew was on a sending spree, working “K9” (5.12b) — V sent on her second try, if memory serves — and one of the elevens to the right of K9 (I think it was Cujo (5.11d as in “boy,” right Alex?). Somewhere in here the good camera’s battery ran out, so we were stuck with the old snapshot camera from this point on.

By day seven we were all pretty worked, but we headed for one last fling with the Kraft Boulders before piling into the cars and heading for home. I have never been so inspired by bouldering before… I actually donated skin to the cause this time around, and the whole trip home I was astonished at how sore my back and abs were from the fun we had in the boulder field. I would go back to Red Rocks just to fling myself at the little rocks in that nice, warm, wind-free field — topouts or not. The guys and Victoria had a great time on a chimney that I didn’t get pictures of, and on many quality problems throughout the boulder field. By lunchtime our stomachs were being beckoned by the Dennys in Mesquite, NV, so we headed for home. The drive home was much less eventful than the drive down — the weather along the route was much less treacherous and we made it home safely.

Next trip to Red Rocks, I’ll hope to spend more time getting to know Solar Slab, as well as revisiting a couple of boulder problems that I couldn’t quite put together this time out. I also hope to have a bit more well-developed guts on trad by the time we go back so that we can do more of the moderate routes we had on our tick list that we didn’t get to this time around.

The weather was nice for most of the trip, and it’s been a bit of a shock getting back to Washington today with the dreary rain and evidence of sleet left behind from earlier in the week. As usual, we parted ways with our climbing and travel companions as today went on, with a bit of melancholy that we couldn’t just extend the trip a few more days, but also knowing that we were desperately in need of a shower — new record, almost nine days without a shower! — and a night in a real bed (which wasn’t an option in Vegas since we were there during New Years and high rates). Nex
t year will be a tough decision — I thought for sure that Joshua Tree would be my winter destination of choice, but after meeting those blasted Kraft Boulders, I think Red Rocks may have narrowly edged out J-tree for my vote as favorite winter destination so far.


Trip Reports

Sara Lingafelter

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