Red Rocks Canyon


Last weekend, I met Tom in Vegas for a quick climbing trip to Red Rocks.  He stayed out there for five days; how he managed to survive without going crazy (or broke), I have no idea.  It was a cold and windy weekend, but we had a great time.  I brought my 5D2 to document the trip, but of course I forgot to bring the battery.  So, we used our iPhones to take the photos you see here.  Tom used a photo-art app to jazz them up, and they turned out pretty nice.

The approach - the Red Rocks Loop Road

Calico Hills

It had rained the day before, and I was worried that the rock (sandstone) would be too soft to climb.  There’s something unnerving about scaling a cliff that is essentially compacted sand.  As we drove into the park, we saw a bunch of other climbers (little dots on the wall) and this helped to alleviate my fears.  The rock must be safe, right?

Hiking in

It's much colder than it appears

It had been a few weeks since I last climbed, and I didn’t feel ready to jump on anything hard.  Hell, I never feel ready to jump on anything hard.  I have plenty of fun on easy climbs, after all.  We decided to open the weekend with a jaunt up a bolted 2-pitch route called Man’s Best Friend (5.7).  The short approach involved a scramble up a 3rd class gully and an exposed traverse across some slabby sandstone.  I started feeling nervous when one of the holds broke off in my hand as I negotiated a ledge.  This sandstone is interesting stuff…

Standing at the base of Man's Best Friend (5.7)

The route starts near my shadow in the picture above.  It follows a prominent crack to a hanging belay where the rock transitions from gold to red.  I imagine the colors must represent the layers of some ancient sand dunes, but I wasn’t contemplating the geology while I climbed.  I was mainly thinking don’t fall.  The climbing was actually very fun and secure, and I reached the belay without incident.  Tom followed and soon joined me at our uncomfortable perch, about halfway up the wall.

Starting up the crack

In case you’re wondering, I don’t make a habit of mugging for photos while my belayer releases the rope.  If you look close, I’m clipped into a bolt and hanging there on tether.  I politely asked Tom to take this picture with one hand, while keeping the other on the brake, just to be safe.

The start of Man's Best Friend

At the first anchor

View from the top

We eventually reached the top, where it was windy and freezing ass cold.  We enjoyed the view for a minute or two, and then began rigging the rappel to get back to the ground.  I rapped down to the first anchor and tied in, and Tom cleaned the top anchor and joined me a few minutes later.

Tom rapping down

Tom at the top

We reached the ground safely (two rappels) and relaxed at the base for a bit.  It was getting colder now, and we were tired from the long day of travel.  The loop road closes at 5 pm, and we decided to call it a day and head back to the city for food and drinks.

I wanted to climb Physical Graffiti (5.6) the next day; a long 2-pitch trad route that the guidebook gives 3 stars.  As it turns out, we ate two dinners (the first at 5 pm, the second at 10 pm) and then drank and gambled well into the night.  No, an early start was not in the cards.  We forced ourselves out of bed at 10 am the next day, and after a confusing attempt at ordering breakfast at Burger King, we were back in Red Rocks by mid day.  A late start, to be sure.

Rather than attempt a multi-pitch trad climb while hungover, we decided to head to the Panty Wall, a popular beginner’s area with numerous face climbs in the 5.7-9 range.  There were no fewer than 4 other parties on the wall, but we found an unoccupied route for ourselves and tied in.

Panty Wall

I felt like crap.  I was tired and dehydrated, and I was still ruminating over the money I’d lost playing blackjack at The Mirage.  Looking up at the route, I could see plenty of holds, but there appeared to be serious deck potential up until the 3rd bolt (about 25 feet high).  I shot Tom a look that said, “Watch me, buddy” and started up the climb.  I felt a sense of relief when I clipped that 3rd bolt.  I reached the top and lowered off, and then Tom climbed the route on top rope.  I climbed it a second time on top rope, and then we pulled the rope while leaving the 3rd bolt clipped.  Tom, with a little prodding, was ready to attempt his first lead climb.  Well, a quasi-lead, anyway.  I don’t think he wanted any part of those first 25 feet, and I don’t blame him.

A year ago, Tom was belaying me as I started up my first lead, and now our roles were reversed.  Good times.

Tom leading The Last Panty (5.7)

I was still feeling like crap, so we decided to call it a day.  I would have gladly top-roped some more climbs, but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to deal with the leads.  I could tell that Tom wanted to climb some more, but unless he was willing to take the sharp end, we were done.

Which way is the car?


Giant pocket

The womb

Or so I thought.  We made it back to the car by 3 pm, and I suddenly felt a sense of urgency.  I had packed all this trad gear out to Vegas and I hadn’t even used it!  We drove a couple miles down the road and parked at the base of an arcing crack called Fender Bender (5.6).  I was rushing things, because we had to be out of the park by 5 pm (or face a $120 fine).  I quickly racked my gear and began eyeballing the route.  It looked as if the first opportunity for protection would be about 12 feet off the ground, and then another 12-15 feet before the crack offered any solid pro.  Ahh, what to do?  Tom wasn’t exactly enthusiastic at this point, but I figured I could start up and scope it out, and always bail if need be.  And that’s exactly what I did.  I made it to the first piece of pro, a tiny pocket that would accept a small cam.  Looking up, then down, then out towards the horizon…  screw it.  This wasn’t smart climbing and it certainly wasn’t fun climbing.  I carefully downclimbed back to the base and we called it a day.

The start of Fender Bender (5.6)





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