The next day, we packed a handful of boulderers, shoes, mats, and several gallons of water into the van and headed up into Black Velvet Canyon. Turning off the pavement, we slowly negotiated the horrific road that wound for several miles through the desert, inching toward the huge dark chasm of Black Velvet Canyon. As I felt the chassis of the van of the wobble and creak over rocks and gullies, I wondered about the wisdom of taking my aging van up a desert track like this one. Nonetheless, when we finally arrived at the parking lot and started the hike up into the mountains, the reason for the trip became apparent. While not the biggest climbing area in the region, Black Velvet Canyon is an amazing bouldering venue for two reasons; first, it is amazingly beautiful, with great views of the huge walls that loom over the desert, with mule deer wandering through the cholla and barrel cactus. Second, the rock quality is better than most of the other areas, with streaked blocks of yellow-orange sandstone scattered along the bottom of the canyon. The rock also tends to form long edges, crisp rails, and sloping shelves, which is a bit of change from the other areas.
We warmed up at the Twin Towers boulders, which host a large handful of pleasantly high problems that feature nicely incut flakes. After cruising several easy lines, I was pleasantly surprised to flash Freedom Fighter (V5/6), a bulging line with long moves and high feet. Mark D. quickly climbed several of the lines as well, and was keen to move on to his project for the day, the uber-classic compression problem The Fountainhead (V9). Kyle had injured his knee a bit, but soon enough we found The Fountainhead and Mark set to work. The Fountainhead is an amazing-looking line which follows a series of slopers and rails up to a committing 'full-value' (read: high and tricky) mantle. Though it took him several tries to find a sequence that worked well, in less than an hour Mark had pressed out the mantle and was standing on top the boulder.
We packed up, and headed further up-canyon to see what other blocks the area offered. I really wanted to try In Our Time (V8), but it seemed too far away given the amount of daylight we had left, so we stopped and looked at the world-class cave problem Wet Dream (V12), an Ethan Pringle problem from 2004. Ernie and I jumped on Red Dragon (V7), a short brick-red arete line nearby, but with daylight fading, we ran out of time and motivation to send the problem. Hoisting our pads, we walked through a huge herd of deer on the way out, a magical scene in the orange glow of sunset with the far-off lights of Las Vegas twinkling in the distance.
Packing mats back into the van, we bombed back into the city to grab something to eat and head to the airport to pick up Morgan D. at the airport. Morgan, one of the few Frank Slide 'locals', was flying down to join us for the remainder of the trip. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare, and proceeded to wait... and wait... and wait. The digital Arrivals screen initially said that his flight would arrive on time, but then his flight disappeared from the screen altogether. No one at the airport could give us any more information, so we kept waiting... and waiting. The Las Vegas airport is a surprisingly boring and lonely place to wait, with no lounges, coffee shops, or restaurants, just a long empty corridor. Hours later, Morgan finally arrived in Vegas (his flight had been extensively delayed; we never did find out why no one at the airport seemed to realize it), and we found our way back to the van and careened off down the freeway.
The next day dawned not with the usual brilliant sunshine and heat, but with dark skies and intermittent rain - the first bad weather of the trip. Ordinarily, we wouldn't have minded since we were due for a rest day, but with Morgan on board we were hoping to be able to get out to do some bouldering. Finally, the rain stopped, and though it was still felt cold out we decided to head to Kraft Rocks to see if we could find some dry rock. We wandered around for a bit, then decided to warm up on Jones'n (V4), which proved to be a brutal and painful warmup (because my hands were sore and I needed a rest day, not because the problem is bad; it's actually a great techy line). I hiked around Kraft Rocks with Morgan, Kyle, and Ernie; I tried a few things, but mostly I was trying not to climb too much in a sadly belated effort to have a 'rest day'. Eventually we ended up at the Monkey Bars Boulder, where we watched Morgan dispatch Monkey Bars Direct (V8) in a very solid 20-minute effort. Ernie really wanted to try the classic Red Rocks traverse problem The Alexisizer (V7), so we wandered back over to cluster of boulders where the problem was found. I did reasonably well on my first few tries, but couldn't unlock the last few moves. Ernie did well on it, getting closer and closer with each attempt, but couldn't quite finish the line. Morgan came similarly close to doing the nearby steep arete of Timmy's Problem (V9), but had to walk away with the NTO (*no top out).
We started the next day with an argument. Mark D. really wanted to go to Willow Springs, but I had my sights set on Oak Creek Canyon. I eventually won (perhaps because I was driving), and we headed back up the Red Rock Parkway. We found the parking lot easily enough, and marched uphill toward the mouth of the canyon in the growing heat of the morning. After meandering through the scrub, we headed up onto the shoulder of the canyon toward the American Dream boulder. Though some of the problems seemed a bit high to warm up on, I nonetheless had a great time stretching my joints on some high moderate lines, including West Face (a quite tall V1) and Backside Slab Left (V1/2, which was the best slab I was to climb all trip). Kyle, Morgan, and Mark eventually headed downslope to look for some shorter problems, but I kept climbing, keen to try some of the harder lines on the boulder. Though not in the guidebook, I added a long arete-wrapping traverse from the start of American Warm-up into West Face (probably V4), and then started trying the tall leaning arete just left of American Warmup. As I worked out the moves, I was surprised that it wasn't featured in the guidebook; a sit-start on a huge jug led to thoughtful, balancey moves on sculpted holds. Soon enough I had discovered a great sequence up the arete, and I mustered the cajones to follow the arete to the top of the boulder. It was a great problem, probably V5 or V6, one of the nicest lines I would climb during my trip.
Down the hill, Kyle, Morgan, and Mark had been productive. They had all sent Get Burnt (V7/8), and Mark had also added Nut Dragger (V9) to his tick list. They were ready to move on, and we moved across the hillside a few hundred meters to try the bizarre Carapace (V7). It was far to hot for serious attempts on this notoriously slopey problem, but Morgan and then Mark eventually squeaked out ascents of the line. I wanted to spend some time climbing with some good friends who I had met (and climbed with) years ago in northern Alberta, the perpetually-enthusiastic Renee and Steven Little (thanks for bringing my 'extra' mat down!), and the quasi-legendary (or even legendary!) Michelle and Andrew Neis. They had traveled to Red Rocks primarily (I suspect) to climb multipitch gear routes, but I had convinced them to boulder for a day in Oak Creek. We finally found them at the deceptively hard Blood Trails (V5, but seemed way harder than that in the heat!). It was great to see them again, as I hadn't had much opportunity to hang out with them since I had moved away from northern Alberta.
Though it was getting dark, we hiked up a little wash to try All Nightmare Long (V6). After one attempt, I decided my throbbing fingers wanted to rest more than I wanted to send, so I watched while Mark D worked and sent the line. I did get excited enough to flash Pop Goes My Heart (V4), which felt easy for me as it is bears a strong resemblance to many Squamish problems. In the dying light, we packed up the mats, headed back to the van, and drove down into Las Vegas.
We had originally wanted to leave mid-day Saturday to begin the long drive back to Canada, but decided to cram in as much climbing as we could manage on our last day. We headed back to Kraft Rocks, determined to explore more problems before we headed back. I climbed a stack of classic moderates in the area, including Poker Chips (V1) and Potato Chips (V2). I hoped to get back on (and finish) The Alexisizer (V7, Ernie was coming close!), but after sliding off the end of the problem a few times I lost heart, and meandered over to the Monkey Bars boulder to enjoy the internationally social scene there. Since there were many mats arrayed beneath the boulder, I decided to try Monkey Bar Traverse (V7ish) with Morgan and Kyle. To my surprise, we all did it in quick succession (*a point of clarification; I was surprised to do it my first try, but was not surprised that Morgan and Kyle did it quickly). All week I had also been keen to try the highball Hyperglide (V4/5), and since there were plenty of mats about I decided to jump on it - and was glad I did! Though it took me a few tries, I eventually pulled through the high-step-and-REACH move, and climbed through the jugs all the way to the (high!) peak of the boulder. Another fantastic line!
Kyle, Ernie and I were curious to find the Outback Boulder before we left Red Rocks, knowing that it was supposed to hold several high-quality lines. Tucked away in a little valley in the far corner of Kraft Rocks, it is hard to locate - but is worth the extra effort. It is home to two of the most ridiculously fun highballs in the area; Didgeridoo and Outback Right (both V1). Kyle and I both had a blast climbing them, and managed to both flash the steep and featured Dead Heart (V4) without too much problem. By now our skin was getting thin, and we packed up to start the walk back to the van.
On the way out, we stopped to take a look at the classic jump-and-crimp line Vino Rojo (V6). There was a handful of young Californians working it, and they invited us to jump on the line with them. Kyle had tried it years ago, but I had not, so we set to work. I could do the first half of the problem, but didn't have the gas left to reach the cruxy mantle. Nonetheless, Kyle, Morgan, and I had fun trying the distinctly dynamic movement the problem demanded. As we packed up for the last time, one of the young women asked if we wanted her to take a Polaroid photo portrait of us; she explained that she always took her Polaroid camera with her when climbing to take photos of the climbers. Grinning, I replied that we would love a photo, and so Morgan, Kyle, and I lined up, arms crossed in the classic Stonemasters pose, and had our portrait taken against the darkening skyline of Kraft Mountain.
Spent, we trudged out to the parking lot, said goodbye to friends old and new, and turned the van north to find some coffee and start the 18 hour drive back to Lethbridge.
Next Time: Back to Frank Slide!