Red Rocks is an incredible formation of sandstone 15 miles outside of Las Vegas. One of the best things about a trip to Red Rocks is that all of the gambling and drinking of Vegas tourists subsidize the inevitably less expensive food and lodging of a climbing trip.
We stayed at an AirBnB on the West side of Vegas, near Red Rocks, big enough to have plenty of room for four people. Though only 15-20 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip, we were also 15 minutes from the garage to touching sandstone rock.
The first day we arrived, Andy ran up Mount Wilson (I do not use the word “run” in any sloppy way. He ran up that mountain). I stayed at the condo, working and then walking to a grocery store for supplies. The grocery store walk ended up being almost as many miles as Andy’s trek, though mine was all flat while his had a gain of 7,070 feet.
That night we walked the Strip until it was time to pick up Will and Wendy at the airport. The Strip is always great for people watching and that night was no exception. We watched a “Day Club” let out and a group of young drunk people try to fight another group of young drunk people.
It made me feel old. And glad that I was old.
The next day the four of us sorted gear and headed to the Rocks for some practice runs. The day was crowded, but we found a niche to climb in to get our stuff sorted and then went around the backside of the park to climb a bigger route.
Physical Graffiti & Multi-Pitch Climbing
The route is called Physical Graffiti and requires two pitches. What that means is that one person lead climbs the route, attached to a rope to the bottom person (who is on-belay). The lead climber places protection (cams or nuts which are two types of gear that fit into the rock) to thread the rope through just in case this lead climber falls. The protection means that if a fall occurs, the lead climber falls the length of the last protection, not all the way to the ground.
Once the lead climber reaches an anchor station (a place where either a permanent bolt is set into the rock, or a nice ledge that seems like a good stopping place where the lead climber can build an anchor securely with the various cams or nuts), the roles of the two people switch. The lead climber up above belays the person below, who begins to climb. Along the way, the bottom climber cleans the route, meaning that all of the cams or nuts have to be taken out of the rock and brought with up to the anchor station.
In other scenarios, once the bottom climber reaches the anchor station, s/he could pass right on by, cruising up, becoming the lead climber. This works when you have two climbers of equitable skill levels.
But hey! Remember that other post I wrote about not being a very good climber? Yep. This is an excellent instance where my lack of skill comes into play. Instead of cruising by Andy when I got to the anchor station on the first pitch, I handed over all the gear I had cleaned from the route, took the rope from Andy, and belayed him as he lead-climbed the second pitch as well.
Climbing the Crack
So on Physical Graffiti the second pitch is actually a crack. I had climbed exactly one crack before this, a possible less than 5.4 rated (read: very easy) crack system on the opposite side of the rock about 90 minutes prior. Sure, I’d read a How-To-Climb-A-Crack manual the night before and have watched other people do it. Theory is great and all, but definitely not a substitute for actual attempts.
I try out some of the new methods, the chicken-wing: shoving your entire arm inside the crack system, bent at the elbow, and levering pressure between flat hand and shoulder. I had the most success with that. Then there was the fist of power maneuver, shoving your hand inside of a crack, then making a fist and using that to keep your place as you move upwards. That one was harder as my hands are not terribly wide, so it was a little loosey-goosey.
But let me back up and say the best part of new experiences is meeting new people. We had chatted with this guy named Skyler at the bottom, who was waiting for some people to climb up this route again. Wendy and Will began climbing first, so Andy and I had time to chat with him. Skyler was waiting for his new friends, Andrew and Katherine (weird, right?), to get there so he could climb up again with Andrew.
By the time I got to the anchor and Andy took off, Andrew arrived at the anchor and clipped in. Then Skyler arrived not long afterwards. The three of us were all clipped in on the same anchor, mine on the bottom. The guys exchanged information while I belayed Andy on the second pitch. Skyler got out his cell phone to get Andrew’s number. I kept belaying. Then, I was supposed to leave on my climb, but I had to clean the anchor of all my stuff–which was on the bottom of this pile of gear. I was all the way to the right, closest to the route and farthest from the anchor. Andrew rearranged some of his gear, Skyler helped with my carabiners, and then I started to climb.
Not a minute after, Skyler unhooked from Andrew’s system, and Andrew rappelled down from the anchor. Skyler was on the ledge below me without a harness or a rope. He intended to free climb the crack.
Of course he did. He tried to be encouraging (as almost every single person I have ever encountered in the climbing community), calling a “nice move” when I chicken-winged. But really, like many introverts, I would like to pretend you can’t see me at all. Obviously, I *know* I’m not invisible, but I’m probably doing something dumb, and would prefer to struggle along in anonymity. Later, when I feel better, I will call attention to my ridiculous flailing, at which point, we can all laugh about it and I won’t feel humiliated.
I made it up the crack with some difficulty, much of said difficulty due to the fact Andy couldn’t hear me and I couldn’t hear him. If he yelled something, I could tell he yelled, but I had no idea what he was saying. Same went for him. So when I yelled for tension, fearing my right foot was slipping as I tried to wriggle my left foot free to wedge above the right foot, he gave slack.
My slightly louder, slightly more desperate scream of “Tension!” gave me a desired result, but also a note from Skyler below me to shout my partner’s name ahead of the command.
The shadows were long by the time we got down, so we went to the car and hit the Red Rocks Casino buffet for dinner (deee-lightful). This casino, near the actual Red Rocks entrance is out-door themed, and left us to speculate as we waited in line, how to climb the decorative stone-work.
But, now that I had climbed (2) crack systems, and (1) multi-pitch climb, tomorrow was all set for a 1500-foot climb.
Of course it was.