Red Rock Canyon, Nevada, Nov 2016
Fresh off from my weekend at Shelf (Friday-Sunday) I took a plane to Vegas to stay at the Aria, a hotel my brother Gerald had invited me to stay at while he conferenced. I knew he was going to be busy, but that I would be able to get a free place to stay while I adventured at Red Rock Canyon.
Yeah, I’m in!
I’ve been on this 6 days on — 1 day off schedule lately. Basically saying “Yes” to anything adventure related. Along the way I’ve had to shed some flakes, no-shows and hangers-on.
Half the battle is simply showing up.
Here’s the thing: you can make life accelerate, but you have to be able to pay the price. The price being the willingness to just — go. No second thoughts, second guessing, last minute cancellations and fails.
But sometimes you encounter obstacles.
For instance, on this trip to Vegas, I knew of no one who could go with. SO, I am either left with a useless 3 days of gambling, walking the strip, and eating — or, I figure things out.
The path of least resistance: hire a guide. But, a guide costs $325 for an 8 hour multipitch climb. Hmm, well maybe blogging about it I can write the expense off.
I’ve wanted to hire a guide and see what that would be like. To be guided rather than guide. To abdicate my responsibility of keeping myself safe to someone else.
But that is a dangerous mindset; only I am responsible for myself. But I could observe with this mindset in mind.
I Googled “Red Rock Canyon Climbing Guide” an got Red Rock Climbing Center, who hooked me up for an 8 hr multipitch guide for Wednesday.
Nathan called me the night before, fresh off guiding someone that day. The next day we met at a MickeyDees west of the strip and I got into his white van.
Turns out Nathan was the senior guide for Red Rock Climbing Center, but was also a freelancer, conducting guiding for rock climbing, mountaineering, and snowboarding. He was also a real estate agent who did guiding part-time.
Nathan, Red Rock Climbing Center guide
Get in the van. I’ve got candy.
We discussed some options on the trail to the crag, heading off from Pine Creek parking lot towards a crag known as Mescalito, a pyramidal cone on the west end of the park.
Trail to Mescalito
Cake sliced hills of Red Rock Canyon
Last time I was here, I had an unplanned free-solo, and mini-epic going up Solar Slab, up the 5 pitch entry pitches, and then 4 out of 9 pitches of the main Solar Slab pitches. To make a long story short: I knocked my bad pro off with my foot, saved myself from a 60′ ground fall, got lost on the way back, and made a 1 hr return into a 4 hour mini-epic.
But, I managed to not have to drink my own urine, which is kind of my brightline going from epic to something approaching tragic.
And now I return.
Like most natural areas filled with recreational activities, people die. But hey, folks also die in their sleep. Which would you rather die after a lifetime of mall shopping, tv watching and fried food eating — or adventuring, doing the thing you love most?
Nothing against those activities, but to me those activities, on the paradigm of “nothing” vs “something” is more on the “nothing” scale.
We headed out.
Donde esta mi corizon?
I don’t hike, I approach
Sometimes I need guidance
We decided to do 2 multipitch routes. The first one was enigmatically called C11H17NO3. I watched as Nathan led up what looked to be at least 50′ before setting the first cam. Even after I followed and put hand to juggy surface I still thought it pretty bold leading. I asked him how many times he had led this route. ‘This is my second time. I probably led this 2 years ago.’
Huh. I expected him to say 50 times, or something.
‘That’s the beauty of this place,’ Nathan replied. ‘You can always find someplace new to climb.’
The climb was juggy, ladderlike, but you had to grip and step gingerly. I eyed broken sandstone holds, and knocked gently at seemingly delicate flakes.
But I could see the potential for broken holds here.
I enjoyed the climb, the views of the cake sliced hills, the black patinaed areas. Nathan told me that the dark areas were harder and slicker than the lighter areas. I asked if that was true of all rock, or just the rock here?
‘It’s true of all sandstone,’ He said. I didn’t know that.
Rules of the Game
As a person who plays amateur guide to groups of climbers, I watched for how Nathan conducted things, asking him questions on why he did things a certain way, making note of how I did things, or how I was taught.
For example, I was taught to never directly hand the leader back the gear I had cleaned on the way up. Always clip onto his safety so they don’t drop the gear. Nathan actually preferred I hand it to him, letting go only when he said “got it.”
‘It saves me a step of having to unclip it.’
On multipitch, safety is a concern, but doing things faster/more efficiently (especially in multipitch) is also a safety factor. He also contradicted something I was taught, which was to not bother with making sure slings were reslung correctly, but to just place them and let the leader sort it out.
‘Reslinging the gear as you go saves me the time if I have to do this myself.’
Made sense. I could see how as an experienced follower I knew how to resling gear correctly, saving him a step.
He also trailed the second tag line (for 2 rope rappel) rather than having it in a pack. I could see how it saved weight at first, but then got heavier as he climbed higher, but didn’t see that as enough of a reason.
.’That’s just my preference,’ he said. He said he was constantly testing different configurations out. For example, he usually climbed with a pack. This time he left the pack at the base, and hung everything: his approach shoes, water, etc, off his harness.
After getting my pack stuck trying to squeeze through a chimney, I could see how this might help in this case.
He asked if I prefer to backup the rappel? I told him I did, and he handed me a hollow block prussik. I typically extend my rappel device off either a locking draw, or on my PAS, and then added my prussik below the device on my belay loop, but I wanted to see what he would say if I put the prussik on my leg loop — the old style.
He noticed, ‘We don’t recommend using the leg loop for the backup.’ He recommended using an extended rappel, with the prussik below. Fine by me.
Nathan rappelling down
The second route we decided on was also on Mescalito, called “Cookie Monster“, a 360′ 3 pitch 5.7 trad climb.
The first pitch, as I followed up the what must have been over 100′, I saw a single cam placed. The pitch was full of huge huecos, or rock depressions, but I still found it to be a bold lead and told him so.
Die dihedral die!
Being guided, you kind of give up some of your perceived responsibility, holding the guide somewhat responsible for both of your safety. I trusted that he knew what his limits were, and after climbing with some other bold climbers I’ve relaxed a bit. Safety is relative to the skill of the climber. Look at Alex Honnold, for example. Climbing El Sendero Luminoso in Potrero, a hard climb even with a rope, he did ropeless.
And I felt the same about Nathan. He climbed expertly, and I never felt nervous or unsafe with the single piece of pro. It was not a safety factor for me, only for him, as I would not climb until he built the anchor. I did mention his bold lead though, and I’m not sure if this made a difference, but the next 2 pitches I noticed him placing significantly more gear.
2nd pitch of Cookie Monster
On the rappel down, I noticed that Nathan left his own gear at the rap anchors, leaving a sling and a locker so we could descend. He said someone must have clipped the rap rings since the last time. He said this happened occasionally, with traditionalist chopping bolts, even those useful for rapping off a trad line.
‘They don’t have to use it if they don’t want to,’ he said of the choppers, and I agreed. Sometimes it’s just safer to rap off drilled bolts than slinging a rock or random tree.
I made it a point of tipping him afterwards, to offset some of the cost of his lost gear, and to thank him for his great guiding services. It was a fun climb, as well as a learning experience. And I made a note to come back and repeat those 2 climbs. $80 dollar flight, cheap Vegas hotel and spectacular sandstone climbing — what’s not to like?
- $80 flight on Frontier. Be aware that Frontier then charges if you want to select a seat early ($16–49) otherwise you get assigned a seat. Check a bag? That has a cost, as well as an additional price for a carry-on. If you do what I did, you just bring a backpack to stow under the seat in front of you. Most likely enough people do not pay for a carryon, so you can use the extra space in the overhead bins.
- $325 Guided multiclimb. Price varies with different companies, as well as type of climb. You can get by with a half-day single pitch sport for $125, $325 for an 8 hour multipitch trad, and spend even more for a 14 hour epic! I used the Red Rock Climbing Center guides.
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