* Mt Rainier (4,392 m)
For the remainder of the flight I had my head buried in the Red Rocks guide book, making a list of routes I wanted to climb. Just before landing in Las Vegas we flew right over Red Rocks itself, it was a incredible sight. I had definitely downplayed the proportion of this place in my head and I was again humbled at what lay beneath me. A couple from Texas asked me what the purpose of my trip was, I replied "I'm camping in the desert for five weeks to climb in those sandstone mountains. I told them I might check out the strip once or twice but aside from that it was tent life for me. They nodded, smiled and said a familiar line of "Oh a rock climber, you're crazy". Once I landed in Las Vegas and made it through the grueling, ever welcoming, process of American Immigration I met up with a friend and climbing partner from the Bow Valley, Samuel Lambert. We had organised to climb together for five weeks in Red Rock Canyon. "Red Rocks" as it is refered to by climbers is series of sandstone peaks and walls, some rising 3000ft (915m) from the desert floor. After a quick trip to Costco for the cheapest groceries and alcohol one could find anywhere on the planet ($15 for 1.75l bottle of Smirnoff) we drove 24 kilometres west to the Red Rocks Campground. Red Rocks campground is a pretty barren place, beautiful in a sense and not so much in others. Before leaving on this trip a friend had called it "Campghanistan" as it is sandy, windy, hot and there was shooting range close enough that you could often hear gunshots. I had also heard horror stories of tents being ripped out of the ground from the extremely strong winds, intimidated by these stories I had bought 15m of 3mm cord to guy out every possible point on my tent.
I was soon feeling better but not without a week "wasted" recovering, very frustrating when everyone around you is getting out and returning to camp at night with joyous tales of the vertical world. A few days after feeling relatively human again Sam and I decided we would climb the mega classic, Epinephrine. Epinephrine is considered one of the best quality routes in Red Rocks and probably one of the most classic 5.9 multipitch routes in the world. I had heard of people getting shut down on this route and having epics trying to get down in the dark, some even sleeping out (when the headlamp was forgotten), waiting to find their way down in the morning. I think the main reason for this is the moderate grade of the climb which might lead people to underestimate the time needed and the true chimney technique required to climb the first five pitches (rope lengths) efficiently and quickly. Epineprine starts off with five incredibly fun chimney pitches, requiring you to wiggle, squeeze, jam, slide and worm your way up. There was the odd bolt for protection and lots of good cam placements a crack at the back of the chimney. Overall they felt very secure and we moved quickly. At one point I lost concentration for a moment and almost slipped though I was enjoying the climbing so much I could not step yelling down to Sam on the belays about how good it was!
To move fast we employed block leading techniques. This is where one person will lead a number of pitches in a row, this can speed up a party if the leader still has most of the gear racked on their harness. It saves exchanging lots of gear at the belays in order for the seconder to climb next. It worked well on these pitches as they were quite short and not a huge amount of gear was placed.
Once we cleared the chimneys of the black tower we had continuous beautiful 5.9 face and corner climbing above. It was spectacular, super positive holds, great pro and awesome exposure!
To increase our chances of returning to our tents on the night of the climb we decided to familiarize ourselves with the approach and dump as much heavy equipment at the base of the route the day before. We carried in water, food, ropes, shoes and the climbing gear and left it at the base of the climb. We were now familiar with the approach, so doing it in the dark would not be an issue.
We set the alarms for 3AM. It was hard crawling out of the warmth of a giant down bag and pulling on smelly, sandy clothes in the freezing cold. I tried to force down our usual power breakfast which consisted of a Burrito wrap smeared with peanut butter and then loaded full of trail mix and M&Ms. It was so hard to eat, I wanted to vomit. In the end i ate a huge chunk of salami and sculled 1 litre of water.
We set off in the dark across the desert, moving fast and breathing hard with cold plumes of air catching in the light of our headlamps. The first segment of the approach was one hour of walking across flat desert through prickle cactus and ankle scratching bushes. After the flats the scrambling began, not hard but consequential enough to require one to focus, as a slip would result in serious injuries. We reached the base of the climb after one and a half hours - just as the sun was rising, perfect timing!
We sculled another litre of water, leaving only 1.5 litres on our pack and geared up for the climb.
The first pitch involved a run out traverse over a gap between two walls of rock, meaning when you looked down, even though you had just started the climb, there was a few hundred feet of exposure beneath you, pretty wild! It was obvious from the first pitch that this climb would require a strong head and a calm state of mind, the climbing was awkward and sandy and the gear was run out. At one point I was bumping a #4 Camalot for fifteen metres up a crack. Sam and I block lead sections, simul climbed some of the 4th and 5th class terrain and swung leads throughout the route. The crux of the climb is a 5.11d finger crack through a roof, Sam, the rope gun (stronger climber) was going to try and free this pitch but quickly decided to aid it like most other parties do. I was at a gear belay, hanging off a vertical wall 5 metres below him, slightly concerned about a factor 2 so I was very happy when he pulled out the slings and started aiding the roof. The climb flowed well and we moved very quickly, after all we had been climbing multipitch routes with each other consistently for the past four weeks. It is enjoyable to be so tuned in with one partner, knowing exactly how one another moves, what the other is doing or how long they will likely take even after losing sight of them.
After spending five weeks in a sandy tent I was pretty ready for a comfortable bed and easy access to a shower. My brother had emailed me a few weeks earlier saying he wanted to buy me a belated birthday present and told me to pick a hotel to stay in for my last night in Las Vegas...very lucky to have such a kind big brother! What a contrast! From a sandy tent to a double queen room on the eighteenth floor of the Spa Tower in the Bellagio! Sam and I were stoked...we did what must be done and went out that night on infamous "Strip". A few good friends from the Red Rocks camp ground came into town and we spent the night wandering from one casino to the next, pretending the play the pokies and milking the casinos for free drinks. A fun way to end a fantastic trip.