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  • Writer's picturevanlafaxine

week 14: fear and leading in las vegas

(this will be a climbing-heavy entry, here is a link to the glossary of climbing terms if you need it!)


mojave desert

we drove through the mojave desert on our way to vegas, it was full of more cool rocks and joshua trees, i call this "chosspile mountain"


Amy: After a few weeks of travelling alone, Bill and I were eager to meet up with friends again. We left Joshua Tree, drove through the Mojave desert and pulled into camp just outside of Red Rock Canyon in Las Vegas as the sun was setting. Our friends from Ottawa, Em and Dan, greeted us with hugs and a bottle of wine. Perfect. We caught up by candlelight over a few glasses, and prepared for climbing the next day!


first creek canyon


Amy: In the morning, we finally got a good look at our surroundings - the majestic Red Rock Canyon. Who knew there are towering red cliffs, rolling green desert hills, and snow capped mountains all within a 30 minute drive of the Vegas strip?! We headed out to climb in a small corner of First Creek Canyon. It was an hour long approach, which involved scrambling up to get to the base of the wall. Em and Dan kindly set up some top ropes for us to ease back into climbing, and we had a great day on some classic routes. Bill and I were both feeling good by the end of it! We hiked out around sunset, the mountains glowing in a halo of light.



bill: after getting our egos bruised, our confidence knocked, and our asses handed to us in joshua tree, stoke levels were at a real low and we weren’t even sure why we like rock climbing. we met up with em and dan (both absolutely great climbers who are on their own van tour of north america, pretty much only to climb, you can read their blog here) who have been in vegas for a week now and they took us to first creek canyon in red rocks to do some morale boosting. after joshua tree, i was fairly certain that i am a garbage climber and that i was going to fall on anything over 5.3, so we started back at the beginning with some easy top ropes and worked our way up. the grades here are perfect; exactly the confidence boost we needed. the walls are all loaded with hand jams, finger cracks, foot jams, plates, knobs, jugs, and all kinds of super cool features. very different from the blank crimpy granite back home. by the end of the day i was back to leading trad routes and got on a classic 5.7 route that was mega fun - the stoke is slowly returning.


em and dan figuring out how to get off a climb that was too long to rappel with the one rope they brought up, whoops



all of the 30-40m single pitch routes we climbed fit into that little black postage stamp. these are huge walls, which is why vegas is so famous for multi-pitching


red rock canyon is mega rad; it is 30 minutes from the vegas strip, massive sandstone and limestone mountains with insane geologic features, crack systems and chimneys all the way to the summits. some areas are stark red, others rusty, some black and white, others streaked with black varnish. there is climbing everywhere on every face. many of the approaches are excellent hikes and 3rd 4th, and 5th scrambles in their own right. we have never climbed on anything this big before, our plan for the week is to work our way up to one of the famous vegas multi-pitches.


las vegas


Amy: Bill’s friends from Ottawa/Dallas were coming through Vegas, so we spent the day in town - first at the Punk Rock museum, then a local brewery for some patio beers and pizza, ending with a tour of the strip. Navigating the sidewalks, escalators, bridges and elevated walkways through casinos and flashy shops to get from hotel to hotel was extremely confusing and frustrating - and I was the sober one! We explored Caesar’s Palace, watched the Bellagio water show about four times, and visited New York New York for some gambling. I put $10 in the machine, hopped from slot to slot, got down to $1, then won it all back! To celebrate, I spent my $10 winnings (aka my break-even) on a slice of NY cheesecake - so I guess the casino still won! On our way back to camp, we stopped at In n’ Out for some pretty decent burgers and animal fries (covered in cheese, caramelized onions and a thousand-island-esque dressing).



bill: tom and ana are in town so we went to to tear up the strip with them. first stop: the new 'punk rock museum'. worth the price of admission alone to play fat mike’s bass and fletcher’s guitar through the ‘so long and thanks for all the shoes’ amp. we headed down to the strip to wade into the unwashed masses. the infrastructure is super fucky and to just walk down the street they force you to walk on a series of elevated sidewalks through every casinos and mall past every slot machine and burberry store. in the casinos there is a heavy miasma of second hand smoke and bad cologne, you can practically swim through the air. not great for my asthma. i thought i would hate the strip, it being a monument to consumerism, late stage capitalism, gambling, and just generally trashy drunk tourist behaviour, but i actually had a blast. you can still smoke cigarettes inside and you can buy cheap beers off of people on the street and just carry them around into any casino or store. ana won $100 and amy missed a chance to pick up a $1000 chip off the ground. i got pretty drunk with tom, great time all around.


civilization crag


bill: all feeling fairly hungover or tired, (em and dan climbed an intense 12 hour 13 pitch route yesterday so they were also on the same level), we decided on a day of single pitch sport climbing; again, slowly building up the difficulty to build back the confidence. amy lead her first 5.9 sport route ever, (and sent her first 5.10b on toprope)! we are now feeling more comfortable and remembering why we like rock climbing. em and dan are leaving to go to zion tomorrow so we had dinner and a bonfire to bid them farewell with a plan to meet up later down the road!


Amy: It was our last day with Em and Dan in Red Rock, so we went out climbing again to a nice area with some easy walls. I started lead climbing again and it felt great! We strung up our party lights and had a family Taco Tuesday dinner, followed by s’mores to end the day.

some scrambling required to access the routes


dan cruising up 'mongol hoard' 5.10b


taco tuesday


moderate mecca


Amy: Bill and I decided to stay around Red Rock for another few days to explore some more hikes and climbs. We went to an easy wall and spent the day regaining confidence (Bill) and learning new skills (me). We ended our day with an excellent (and long overdue) shower at Planet Fitness.


bill: in order to prepare for some trad multi-pitches, we wanted to get a little more trad confidence back so we headed to another single pitch trad crag and climbed a bunch of 5.4-5.7 trad routes. feeling good, stoke levels rising, confidence returning, even without dan climbing everything first. amy even led her first trad route! though it does feel underwhelming to be around all these amazing big multi-pitch routes and be climbing only single pitch routes.

amy preparing to lead her first trad route

las vegas/calico hills


bill: met up with linda in the morning for breakfast in vegas, it is crazy how many people from home we can meet up with in a single place in such a short period of time! ate some brunch, chatted about all of our travel plans and played some penny slots. very nice visit. in the afternoon we went up to calico hills to do some single pitch sport cragging and got on some 5.8s that felt actually pretty hard and spooky, not good for the confidence.


Amy: We explored a bit more of Vegas, spending our morning with Bill’s grandpa’s partner Linda at the Mirage hotel. It was nice to have another taste of home. We walked through “Venice” on our way out - it really did feel like a little slice of Italia. We headed back to the canyon in the afternoon. We both wanted to climb the super red rock, so we squeezed a few routes before sunset.

can you see the climber in the middle?


mermaid buttress


bill: our ultimate plan for the week has been downgraded multiple times now: originally we had planned on climbing ‘cat in the hat’, a 6 pitch, 200m 5.6 trad route, which seemed very big and overly committing, and possibly hard depending on what ‘5.6’ meant. we then downgraded to ‘big bad wolf’, a 4 pitch 67m 5.9 sport route, which traditionally is well within my sport wheelhouse, but after the grades at joshua tree, that also seemed scary. we landed on ‘physical graffiti’, a 2 pitch, 78m 5.6 trad route, which seemed like a great goal. the only issue being that the second pitch is basically two pitches (2x30m), which for trad means being very sparing with your gear, running things out a lot more to save gear for the long duration of the climb, which feels far less safe than my preferred “sewing it up” (placing gear every 6 feet so you feel super safe). this lead us to change plans again at the last minute to a 2 pitch, 5.5 55m mixed sport/trad route up the mermaid buttress; no run outs, the odd bolts to add to the safety factor, but still a multi-pitch, seemed like a good compromise at the time.

view from the top of mermaid buttress


turns out that the mermaid buttress was extremely boring and easy and well below our level, which left us feeling extremely unsatisfied. it really feels like since joshua tree, fear is dominating our decision making. last year if you had asked me if i wanted to climb a 2 pitch 5.6 climb, i wouldn’t have even blinked. now after j tree, my brain says “i don’t even know what 5.6 even means, better to be safe than sorry”. it is very frustrating and disappointing to be in a mecca of multi-pitch climbing and be too scared to do any of it.


spring valley


Amy: We spent the weekend sleeping in, reading, eating, doing yoga, playing frisbee, catching up on our to-do list and researching the next leg of our trip in Arizona and Utah. We even put our outdoor shower to good use (thanks mom and dad!) Moving forward, we decided that we need more rest days/weekends like this. Travelling 24/7 is tiring!


tecate time


bill: we took a couple of rest days to get our minds off of climbing. we drove up into the high mountains around vegas onto some blm land and just chilled for the weekend. the multi-pitch climbs are always swarmed on the weekends and you can hardly even get on them, and anywhere else we wanted to go (grand canyon etc. would also be a disaster on the weekend, so we chilled. it was extremely nice; since we have been on the road we have had practically no downtime. we are always driving, hiking, climbing, exploring, but never just relaxing. everyday is a saturday but never a sunday. i know, a weird thing to complain about. we cleaned the van, amy gave me a haircut (mullet), i shaved my giant beard, we read our books and i didn't think about climbing all day. very nice. after getting my mind off it for a while, it seemed very dumb to be scared to climb 5.6 trad since that is well, well below our capabilities, and we decided on monday morning we would wake up and go climb physical graffiti, finally achieve one of our goals in coming to vegas and climb a classic multi-pitch.



riding hood wall



bill: we woke up monday morning with determination and drove down from the mountains to red rock canyon. on the way there we realized our fuel gauge stopped working. definitely an issue but we can cope with using the trip odometer for now. we did the scramble up to the base of the riding hood wall, home to both physical graffiti (the 2 pitch 5.6 trad route) and big bad wolf (the 4 pitch 5.9 sport route). when we got there, the wall was mobbed: big bad wolf had a party on each belay station and physical graffiti had a party on the wall and another waiting in line at the base. when we saw that the party at the base of physical graffiti was a party of three we knew it was going to take all day to get on the climb. by the time we sat and debated our options, big bad wolf was open. welp, looks like we are getting on the 5.9 instead.


view from the 3rd pitch of bbw


big bad wolf was actually wonderful. 4 pitches of beautiful climbing; juggy sandstone face holds, some delicate slab climbing, a fantastic overhung pitch almost like climbing in a gym, a fairly burly, thin slab crux (at least the way i did it), and some fantastic exposure. our multipitch systems are dialed in and the climbing was nothing but fun. not scary at all, and well below my physical limit. wow, would you look at that, we are 5.9 climbers after all! fear is a weird thing, but hopefully we can move past it and start climbing back at our actual level now.

view from the top


Amy: After full week of rebuilding our climbing skills and confidence, and a relaxing weekend to put things into perspective, we decided to tackle one more climb before leaving Red Rock. Something to challenge us, that was still well within our capabilities. We ended up on a 3 pitch route called ‘Big Bad Wolf’, a very pleasant classic climb. Bill led all 3 pitches, and I happily followed. The wall had a bit of everything, some muscley moves, some balancey slab footwork (trust the feet!!) and a super fun end crux with amazing hand and footholds. At the end of it, we felt on top of the world! The view was unreal, and we were able to leave Vegas feeling very accomplished. To celebrate, we devoured a big plate of vegan sushi!



here is this week's video:





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