Red Rocks 2013: tortoises, bouldering and multi-pitches

I’m going to start this post off with the highlight of my trip: I saw a desert tortoise!  The signs around the scenic loop always claim tortoises are in the area but I know they’re lying because that’s last place I’d hang around if I was a tortoise!  I had resigned myself to never seeing one in the wild when my friend Dave almost stepped on one as he walked off the back of one of the Kraft Mountain boulders.  The little guy had disguised himself so well he looked like a rock if you weren’t paying attention.  Thankfully Dave *was* paying attention and we got a close-up sighting of the cute little guy.  He even had a bright green grass moustache.  Now that that’s crossed off my wildlife sighting list, wild burros are next …

Playing hide and seek

Playing hide and seek

Multi-pitching

My first day in Vegas, I decided to do a multi-pitch and hired a guide for the day.  Josh suggested we do ‘Cat in the Hat’ (5.6) on Mescalito it was a great choice.  The climbing itself was a non-issue and I could focus on enjoying myself and getting more comfortable with exposure.  Although I’ve done a few multi-pitches, looking down for footholds and seeing big drops still gets to me.  Since we flew up Cat in the Hat and were the first group to the top by a long shot, we decided to top rope an alternate last pitch (5.10d) which I LOVED. It went up an arrete and was exactly my style, crimpy and balancy.  As we came down we passed several groups.  Literally, at least 7 groups!!! I saw more people that one day than I have ever seen in total while multi-pitching at home.  Afterwards we decided to do one more climb, Pauligk Piller (5.7) on the west face of Mescalito, before calling it a day.

The formation in the middle with the red hat is Mescalito and Cat in the Hat is on the left side.

The formation in the middle with the red hat is Mescalito and Cat in the Hat is on the left side.

Sport climbing

On day 2, our friends had made it to Vegas and we decided to go to Moderate Mecca which is accessed from Calico Basin.  We did a few sport and trad climbs but my favourites were two 5.10d’s.  One I was able to cruise up because it was crimpy and balancy, the other I flailed through the crux which involved a large dyno but it was on such a cool feature it made it worthwhile.  I didn’t do any leading and I don’t think I’d come back to this area to lead as it’s mostly trad with the sport routes being above my current leading level.

Kory in the background heading up a cool 10d.

Kory in the background heading up a cool 10d on a half detached boulder

Bouldering

Our third day was also my first day bouldering, ever! I’d never actually bouldered outside so it took a bit of time to get used to trusting that I’d land on the mats without hurting myself.  Michelle and Dave gave us a little tour of the Kraft Mountain boulders and we had an interesting discussion of the pros and cons of bouldering vs sport climbing.  Some great things about bouldering are that everything happens at a slower pace and there’s more time to appreciate the scenery, or tortoises!  Also, it’s nice to never be too far away from your buddies.  Michelle and I are of similar build so it was nice to work on problems together and have her nearby to point out handholds or footholds while I was climbing.  It seems like more of a social activity than sport climbing.

Me on my first V0 with Michelle spotting.  No, we didn't plan on the matching outfits!

Me on my first V0 with Michelle spotting. No, we didn’t plan on the matching outfits!

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Michelle working on a V4 on the Pearl boulder. She sent it later that week!

We went bouldering again two days later at Kraft Mountain and I sent my first V3, Sorange!  It took a few A LOT of tries for me to conquer my fear of falling near the top.  When I finally got it, I executed a perfect beached whale onto the top.  That was probably the climbing highlight of the trip because I spent so damn long working up the nerve to do the moves.  I also had the most patient spotters who encouraged me to finish it despite my repeated attempts!

Focusing on my big send.  Thanks Dave for the pic!

Focusing on my big send. Thanks Dave for the pic!

Victory is mine!!!!

Victory is mine!  Michelle is looking relieved she doesn’t have to spot me for the millionth time :)

Hiking

In between bouldering days, my hubby & I decided to hike Turtle Mountain.  It was around 8km return with 600m elevation gain and we were up and down in 3hrs with a small lunch break. Afterwards we checked out some of the petroglyphs near the Willow Springs parking lot.  It was really neat to see evidence of the ancient people that I’m studying in my anthropology class.  Made history come to life so to speak.  The day ended in the usual fashion: pool, hot tub and outdoor BBQ.  Staying off the strip and renting a condo is in my opinion the best way to do Vegas.  Our complex had a kids pool, adult pool and adult hot tub as well as several BBQ’s and outdoor tables.

Ancient handprints

Ancient handprints

Yucca in bloom

Yucca in bloom

Scott & I at the top of Turtle mountain.  Loved my new Columbia trail runners.

Scott & I at the top of Turtle mountain. Loved my new Columbia trail runners.

After spending our second last day trying some harder sport routes at Wake-up Wall (Sandstone Quarry), we spent our last day hiking to Calico Tanks.  As you’ll see in the picture below, the beautiful hike was nothing in comparison to the sparkling pool of water stagnant pond we found at the end.  I’m sure it must live up to the hype after a rainstorm but it was pretty sad looking the day we we went.

Beautiful flowers on the Calico Tanks hike

Beautiful flowers

Butterflies were all over the place

Butterflies over the place

The beautiful Calico Tanks.

… we hiked here for this?! :)

Gear

I got the chance to try out some new pieces of gear this trip.  Being the experienced gear tester that I am, I threw out the tags so I don’t know any of their exact names!

Patagonia gore-tex shell:  I have one of their H2N0 shells and picked this one up because it was over 50% off.  I had been curious if I’d like the gore-tex better and turns out I do. It seems lighter and more durable than the H2N0 and breathes better.  I think in the future I’d probably stick to gore-tex.

Columbia wind jacket: It’s not warm enough yet to use this at home but it was great for desert climbing.  It provided the perfect amount of protection against a cool breeze on a warm day and was breathable enough that I didn’t get too sweaty in it while hiking.  I also put it on a few times when I was climbing and too lazy to reapply sunscreen.  The only downside is it got a bit scratched up from climbing.

Columbia Omniheat long sleeve shirt: I tried this base layer while skiing & ice climbing at home and it never really grew on me.  I prefer the texture and warmth of wool in -20C temperatures.  In Red Rocks though, I liked this layer much better and didn’t wind up wearing any of my wool tops!  It provided just enough warmth when I was in the shade and dried off quickly if I got too hot in the sun.

Columbia waterproof trail runners:  I first tried these out going for a run during the spring snowmelt.  First thing I noticed was that my feet were still dry at the end despite having run through several puddles.  Secondly, they’re extremely light especially in comparison to my old Merrell trail runners.  I wasn’t sure how the traction would be but I had no grip problems hiking and scampering around in Red Rocks.

*In case you’re wondering, the Columbia items were sent to me by Columbia for testing.  While free gear is rad, I promise I’m not saying nice things just because of that!

Sitting in the shade relaxing.  I'm in my lilac windbreaker.

Sitting in the shade relaxing. I’m in my lilac windbreaker.

Things to do in Vegas (other than climbing)

Jerk fried chicken at DW Bistro

Jerk fried chicken at DW Bistro

If you’re willing to spend some money, Mesa Grill is a great southwestern restaurant in Caesar’s Palace. If you want nice food for more reasonable prices, go to DW Bistro.  It’s a modern Jamaican restaurant and everything we tried (jerk calamari, jerk fried chicken, pulled jerk pork) was excellent!  Also worth going to is the yogurt ice cream shop on the way back to Vegas from Red Rocks. Just as you enter town there’s a strip mall on your left with an Albertsons and the yogurt shop.  It’s one of those places where you choose your flavours and toppings and pay by weight.

All of our inner kids came out when we hit the toppings!

All of our inner kids came out when we hit the toppings!

Things I don’t recommend doing? Freemont Street.  Maybe I’m naive but I really wasn’t expecting it be as seedy as it was.  If you’ve ever walked down the strip and wondered if it could get worse … go to Freemont St.  It does!

The zen art of multi-pitch climbing

I finally completed my first multi-pitch climb!  It’s been a long time coming. Specifically a year, which is when I added it to my list of things I want to do.  The past year has been a big learning curve for me in climbing – and in life I suppose. And aren’t they both a little intertwined?  Last spring I decided I wanted to climb outdoors on my own and started with leading in the gym. That progressed to more climbing outside, learning to set/clean anchors and finally going climbing and being the girl in charge. It’s a long way to come in one year and I’m really proud of myself. I’m especially proud of the fact that it’s all happened because it’s something *I* wanted to do.  I didn’t have anyone I was tagging along with or trying to keep up with. It’s just something I really wanted to prove to myself I could do.

I spent a lot of time this winter thinking about different climbs I’d like to get on.  I love sport climbing but I wanted to try multi-pitch climbing because it’s such a different experience.  Different skill set and challenges.  Fortunately I was able to enlist a friend to take me out and show me the ropes (haha) when it comes to multi-pitches.

So, a few details on “the climb”:

The approximate route up. Might be a little off!

Place

Mother’s Day Buttress, Cascade Mtn, Banff National Park

Grade

5.7, Trad w/bolted belays

Pitches

 ~8? I’ll be honest – I had way too much fun to count.  I know there are a few variations and pitches that can be combined so it was probably between 7 & 8 but I’m going to go with 8 because it makes me feel like more of a rock star (pun intended)!

Descent

The descent is not particularly straightforward.  I was glad I was with someone who knew the way down well.  There’s a good description in the topo.

Thoughts  

I loved this climb!  For a first outing it was great because you definitely feel like you’re out there climbing a real multi-pitch route but it’s never so intimidating that it takes away from the fun.  All of the belays were in great locations where I didn’t feel too exposed.  There are a few spots on the route where it’s very exposed climbing but from what I remember that wasn’t the case for most of the climb.  However, you get great views of Mt Rundle and the Bow Valley all the way up which gives a good sense of how high up you are.

Overlooking the Bow Valley, Trans-Can and Mt Rundle

Things I learned

  • Bring a backpack that is actually designed to be worn while climbing.  I borrowed a friend’s 18L pack and while the size was good, it was meant for biking so the hip belts got in the way of my harness.
  • On the backpack topic – think about how you’re going to pack it before you head out.  18L is really not a lot of space when you need food, water, shoes and extra layers to fit.  Next time I’d be a bit more strategic about what I brought to save weight & space.
  • Camera + case + sling = stress free pictures! I’m a bit paranoid about dropping things so this system really helped.  I girth-hitched my camera wrist-strap to a 60cm sling which I put over my shoulder (thanks for the tip Eileen!).  I also attached my camera case to the sling – it had a velcro attachment.
  • Higher up on the climb, it gets windy and it becomes impossible to hear your partner.  You’re also likely to be out of sight as well.  Being clear about how you’ll handle communication is key.  Also, this means that while you’re climbing, it’s not possible to ask your partner to “take” or pull up any slack.  And there will be some slack.  Single-pitch sport climbing this is not.  I hadn’t realized this so it was nice that the climbing wasn’t terribly challenging and I knew it was very unlikely I would fall.

Looking down

Really I just had an amazing day out.  There is something very zen-like about being alone, climbing on a wall – it’s so quiet and peaceful.  It forces you to be in control of your thoughts and emotions because there’s nowhere to go but up and often no one that can hear you.  It also helped that it was the nicest, sunny day we had in almost 3 weeks of rain.  Climbing is definitely far more enjoyable when the weather cooperates!

ps – thanks so much Pat for taking me out!