Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Las Vegas! (Part 1)

I have lived (and climbed) in Lethbridge for more than three years now.  During that time, my climbing has mostly been dedicated to bouldering at the Ascent Climbing Center (less now than I used to), the Karage (almost exclusively these days, in Lethbridge), and at Frank Slide (certainly Alberta's biggest - and best - bouldering area).  Regardless of where you climb in Lethbridge, however, you will eventually hear stories about the annual Climbing Club Reading Week Trip.

Every spring, the University of Lethbridge Climbing Club goes on a trip south during Reading Week. In mid-February, dozens of Lethbian climbers pile into vehicles and being the long pilgrimage south to a locale that features both climbing and sunshine; usually Bishop, Joshua Tree, or Red Rocks. This year, the club was planning on going to Las Vegas to climb at Red Rocks, and Kyle and I decided to head down as well.  Years ago, Kyle had been the driving force behind these trips, and he was keen to experience the desert springtime weather and sandstone of Vegas once again.  I'd never been to Red Rocks, and had always wanted to go; it didn't take much convincing to get me on board for a trip south.

Pictographs and cacti!  Nothing says 'desert climbing' like rock art and spiny vegetation! I love climbing in the desert; the heat, the scenery, the patina...

We'd planned to head down on Friday evening and drive through the night to Moe's Valley in southern Utah.  We'd climb there for a day, then finish the drive into Vegas in the following evening. Ernie (from Calgary) and Jonas (from Lethbridge) were in for the trip as well, but a few hours before we left Jonas was forced off the trip (his passport was out of date), so it was just the three of us (Kyle, Ernie, and I) for the long drive south.

There is something deeply exciting about packing a van full of climbing gear, coffee, and snacks and turning south (or west, or north).  A sense of uncertainty and anticipation, tempered by the dread of a long night-time drive, combine to produce a sense of impending adventure.  

The drive down was long, and tiring, but largely uneventful; a brief stop at the border, gasoline in Helena, late-night burritos in Butte, two hours of driving through the fog near Salt Lake City, sunrise while driving through the high desert of central Utah, the inexplicably unperturbed road-side rabbits in southern Utah, coffee in a sleepy Cedar City, and finally breakfast at a Jack In The Box in St. George. Though tired, the breakfast (somewhat) infused us with energy, and after grabbing lunch and a lot of water, we headed up into the sandstone canyons of Moe's Valley, just outside of St. George.

Though I found the rock a bit sandy, the climbing at Moe's Valley was fantastic. In the 23 or so years I've been bouldering, I've only climbed on sandstone a handful of times, and each time I find it rewarding.  The texture of the rock, the erosionally sculpted holds, and the beautiful desert landscape all combined to create a fantastic day of climbing.  We wandered through the canyons without a guidebook, chatting with other climbers, and found stacks of quality lines.  Huge huecos, crisp edges, laser-cut aretes, and flat sandy landings were to be found around every corner.  As is the case in many sandstone areas, I felt the moderate lines were better than the hard problems, but we wrapped up our day trying a fun V9 compression arete; Kyle came unbelievably close to sending after only a dozen tries (Ernie and I... did not).  We had an amazing time working the problem with two fun young climbers from Salt Lake City, but as the shadows started to grow long, we packed up our mats and headed back to the van.

People from all over North America (and the world) converge on one boulder; the fabulous Monkey Bars Boulder.  (top photo) Kyle (green shirt) contemplates Monkey Bar Traverse (V7; yes, he did send it without much problem.  (lower photo) A climber from Santa Cruz cruises the steep Monkey Bars Direct (V8) (pun intended).

Traditionally, the climbers on the spring Climbing Club trip have (apparently) camped en masse in the Red Rock Campground just north of Las Vegas and just south of the climbing areas.  Once, I would be been excited about camping in the desert, but age (and a steady job) have taken their toll. After an admittedly short discussion, Kyle and I decided that we would rather sleep in real beds.  After several false starts in the weeks preceding the trip, we finally managed to rent a condo in Vegas (from a French race-car driver... who doesn't live in Vegas?).  When we finally arrived in Vegas we were relieved to find that the place we had rented for the week was decent and clean (though the unit itself was oddly designed, with one HUGE bedroom, no living room, and a closet easily big enough to function as a bedroom (which it did when Morgan arrived later in the week)).  Beat after 18 hours of driving and a day of climbing, we divvied up the beds and crashed.

The next day we drove north out of the city and walked into the Kraft Rocks and Gateway Canyon. We wanted to meet up with the Club climbers (aka 'The Club Kids'), and correctly guessed they would be at the Monkey Bars Boulder, one of the most popular boulders in Red Rocks.  The Monkey Bars Boulders features a number of amazing problems, from the area testpiece Monkeybars Direct (V8), to Monkeybar Right (V6), Monkeybars (an incredible V2), and an additional host of fun vertical problems on perfect desert patina edges (from V0 to V4).  Several of the Club climbers had already adopted projects, and so I put on my shoes and climbed a handful of the great moderates around the boulder, mingling with climbers from around the continent.  Mark Derksen had warmed up and was trying Monkeybars Direct (V8), which he managed to wrap up in only a half-hour or so, a great way to start his trip.  

After we warmed up at the Monkeybars Boulder, we headed into Gateway Canyon.  We tried a handful of fun lines, ranging from the very easy (Ernie and I climbed a very easy but very cool line of huecos through a bulge), to the very cool but not so hard (The Pork Chop V3). to the moderately hard (Mr. Moran V7). I was focused on simply enjoying the desert experience; the shapes of the holds, and climbing somewhere new with good friends.  I also had a great time climbing with Chris and Romney and their son Lev.  Chris and Romney had once lived in Lethbridge but had since moved to California.  I had heard a lot about them over the years, so it was nice to finally meet them.  We worked on a hardish slab problem far up Gateway Canyon (with Kyle, Chris, and Justin sending).  Right before we walked out of the Canyon I walked a bit further up to take a look at the infamous Meadowlark Lemon (V14).  Definitely a great-looking line on a beautiful block of striped sandstone right in the bottom of the canyon.

Climbing new problems with new friends!  Lev in the Dr. Suess landscape of Gateway Canyon (top photo), and Chris (lower photo) trying to figure out how to move upwards... (yes, he did it eventually!  I did not...).  Chris, Romney, and Lev were a ton of fun to climb with!

It was also great fun to climb with the students from the Club.  I spent some time hanging out with them at The Pork Chop, as a group of them tried the line.  Despite the fact that they only had one mat (I loaned them one of my mine for a few days after that), they were definitely psyched to work out the the meaty movement of The Pork Chop.  While several of the club kids seemed more into sport climbing than bouldering, many of them were definitely there to sample the world-class sandstone bouldering of Red Rocks. [Full Disclosure: I'm not sure why anyone goes to Red Rocks and goes sport climbing; it must be fun. But there are so many boulders to climb first...]  

After two days of pulling on sandstone, it was time for a day off!  And since we were in Las Vegas, it seemed prudent to spend the day on the Strip.  We started at the MGM Grand, and headed north along strip, strolling through casinos whose names are embedded in the American subconscious; The Cosmopolitan, Harrah's, Caesar's Palace.  The reality of the Strip was less exciting than the legends, however, seeming much like an endless shopping mall comprised of vast smoky vaults filled with midwesterners staring grimly at slot machines.  Much of what I experienced was interesting, nonetheless, the sheer opulence of Caesar's Palace or the bizarre maze-like quality of the MGM Grand, but after a day on the Strip we were pretty much finished.  [Full Disclosure: I did spend three dollars on slot machines, but only won 18 cents.]

Kyle and I wanted to climb with the Club Kids for a bit, so the next morning we decided to head to Red Springs for a half-day, then over to Kraft Rocks for the remainder of the day.  One great thing about bouldering in Red Rocks is that each of the different areas (Kraft Rocks, Red Springs, Oak Creek, etc.) have a distinctly different feel.  The rock is a different color, the holds are bit different, the landscape itself varies.  Some of the areas are in canyons, some at the base of bluffs.  Some of the areas have thorny shrubs and barrel cacti, some have impressive stands of cholla cactus.  Regardless of which area you climb at, all have impressive scenery.  Being the closest to housing developments, Kraft and Red Springs are arguably the least impressive in terms of scenery, but the climbing at Red Springs was fun, with bright red and orange rock, and funky hueco, slot, and pocket features.  At Red Springs, we climbed a fun circuit of a handful of fun moderates, including Cherry Garcia (V3) and a very fun V2 line with huecos on the same boulder.  

'Club Kid' boulderer Hannah crushing another project, The Wave (V3) at Kraft Rocks.

After lunch, we moved over to Kraft Rocks.  We didn't get on anything too hard, though we did do The Wave (V3) with a handful of the Club climbers.  The Wave is a fun rising traverse covered with very cool knobs and pinches, definitely a problem to do when in the area.  Having thoroughly enjoyed another day of sandstone climbing (and having gotten my first sunburn of the trip), we headed back to the condo, discussing where we would eat.  

Next Post: More Areas! More Bouldering! More Cacti!

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