Sunday, December 29, 2013

Las Vegas Excursion

A little over a week ago, I got up before dawn, ate a quick breakfast, packed up and left the keys to my hotel room and hit the road, heading northeast back to Colorado from Las Vegas Nevada. Watching the first rays of the morning sun hit the dry peaks west of the highway near Mesquite, I knew I had a long way yet to go and plenty of time to think about the past week's adventures.

It was decided that I should head somewhere out of town solo the week before Christmas, an opportunity that I was eager to take, having not gone on a dedicated climbing trip in several years. And even if it would be only a few days, the chance to see some new boulders, meet some people, and maybe get some projects for a future visit was irresistible.

I piled a bunch of pads in my car and headed over the mountains in perfect weather. The sun was beginning to lower by the time I went through the San Rafael Swell where you really see the Utah desert landscape along I-70 and as had been the case since I passed Idaho Springs, snow was everywhere. I had had warnings that this might affect the climbing in Saint George but it was surprising to see so much snow that far south.

A quiet night in a budget motel in Saint George was a nice surprise and I took my time getting started as daylight revealed the city was surrounded by snow anywhere there was shade. I wanted to check out Moe's Valley but realized that my car would not handle the ice, snow and mud on the drive in. I realized though that it was just a mile or so, hardly a bad walk in so I hiked in on the road. This was the view from the Sentinel Boulder.
Snowy conditions in Moe's Valley
Undaunted, I started on the easier warmups in the vicinity, getting used to the soft and somewhat sandy rock. Though the landings were for the most part flat, some of the boulders were tall enough to merit care, especially on the topouts. After doing the Sentinel V2 (the groove on the left in the photo above) I did the classic Huntsman Graffiti V5, a series of long moves on small crimps on a leaning wall. This is a problem as good as any I have done in the grade and well worth the effort to visit if you are passing through.

Huntsman Graffiti V5

After chatting with a couple that showed up shortly after (the only people I saw that day) I headed deeper into the valley proper. Again, plenty of snow covered the tops of virtually all the boulders, including most of the classics such as Gription V9 and a problem I really wanted to do, Dead Rabbit, a crimpy V10. Dead Rabbit had 4 inches of snow at the top but the actual problem was dry. The hard climbing ends at a huge jug below the lip so I figured I would call it good if I got there. A big if as it turned out. While I got all the moves quickly, one in particularly proved desperate on the go and after a number of attempts, I was forced to move on. This problem has some of the best rock in the area, more like Joe's than the typical Moe's quality.
The crux on Dead Rabbit V10

Moe's Valley has a lot of boulders!
After this I went over to look for the Lindner Roof V9 which as it turned out was running with water and broken, which should up the grade a bit. In the vicinity, I did a problem called Shoulder Popper V8 which was clearly easier and a very classic crimpy arete named Hermione, a stout V3 or 4. I needed to leave to get to Vegas so I walked back out towards town feeling pretty tired. Moe's is definitely worth a stop though I wouldn't recommend it when covered with snow!

During a slow crawl through the VRG due to a truck accident, I recalled days spent working routes here such as the bouldery Hell Comes to Frogtown and the Route of All Evil. The VRG is blessed with amazing rock yet cursed with a grim location right off I-15. However there is probably no better place in North America for hard sport climbing in the cold seasons of fall and winter than Saint George and environs with numerous 5.13 and 5.14 routes, most of which are not too hard to access.

Two hours later I was in Las Vegas and checking in at the Suncoast Hotel Casino. Well removed from the Strip and 15 minutes from the Kraft Boulders trailhead, this casino is perfectly located for climbers. Throw in the fact that the climbing gym and Whole Foods are five minutes drive away, along with REI and the local climbing store and it's almost like you never left Boulder. The Suncoast is not crazy cheap (Hooters was on Expedia at 14 dollars a night) but I had a big but comfortable quiet room with a short hassle-free drive, perfect for mid-winter long nights.
Suncoast Casino

Wednesday I was still incredibly tired from Tuesday's explorations but I went out to check out the Kraft Boulders, one of the most well known and historically important bouldering areas near Las Vegas. A few tries on Slice'n'Dice V9 went nowhere and I eventually wandered over towards The Pearl, the celebrated classic from decades ago. Facing due south and polished by thousands of ascent, this problem is not a give-away. It certainly looks much better than it climbs with a tweaky shallow pocket and greasy feet.
The Pearl V4/5 Two moves of actual climbing but hard
I ran into Seth Robinson, Vegas local and guidebook author, who gave me a tour of Gateway Canyon, the area just northeast of the Kraft Boulders. This is one of a number of places where the latest development has taken place. In fact while I was there, a crew including Jimmy Webb, Nalle Hukketaival and Daniel Woods was taking down new problems left and right. I think it's safe to say that the guidebooks will need new editions soon.

Speaking of guidebooks, there are two available: one from Wolverine that is a select guide and the Tom Moulin "bible" which is a massive compendium of all the bouldering in the entire region. I bought the latter but found that the binding fell apart very quickly (while reading it in the hotel!) and returned it. I will be waiting for the next edition on that one. For a quick visit, the Wolverine one will work but is also very much out of date out at this point on the newer problems.

One of the best parts of the hike was seeing the remarkable and unique shapes and designs on the walls of the canyon

Erosion on the Keystone Boulder
Powerslave V12, a problem to come back for

At the end of the day we ran into Courtney Woods who wanted to try Lethal Design, a power-endurance V12 near the mouth of the canyon. I was able to take some good photos and also some notes for a possible session the next day.

Courtney Woods working on Lethal Design
This problem is more like a short route and comes complete with a somewhat sketchy topout over large, wobbly, jagged boulders. This landing could use some constructive reworking, no doubt, as it is unnecessarily unsafe.The climbing is intensely crimpy with lots of options for fingers and feet but no real respite until the last good edge before the slab. Armed with ideas and beta, I planned on coming back the next afternoon.

I felt better the next day and warmed up on the Potato Chip boulder which was much more fun than The Pearl and comes highly recommended.
After this, I met up with Courtney and Daniel Woods to head over to Gateway. Daniel wanted to do a problem called Burnt, a low V12 start to a V7 in the Kraft boulders. Unfortunately he had forgotten one of his climbing shoes somewhere and was forced to try it with a Sanuk on his right foot. Fortunately the problem is left-foot intensive. However building sun made it imperative to move on.

We headed over to Gateway and set up the pads for Lethal Design. The first third is sustained to several cruxy moves along a diagonal seam. Then a good hold allows a long reach to a spiky undercling, another good sidepull for the left hand and a final couple of hard moves to a good edge as the angle kicks back.

Working this problem means being careful about skin as too many tries on the same spiky crimp can puncture your fingers quickly. Fortunately the moves are not super hard. The problem's difficulty lies primarily in its continuity and complexity. Satisfied I had worked everything as well as I was going to that day, I headed out with Courtney and Daniel back to the Kraft Boulders hoping to get a good try or two on the Monkey Bar Direct, a steep and reachy V8 right on the trail.

Sadly drained of skin and power, I had to put this problem on the return list. Walking out under spitting rain, I ran into Daniel and Courtney again. Not surprisingly Daniel sent Burnt in one shoe!

Is Vegas worth the trip? Absolutely. It is definitely not the caliber of Hueco Tanks but there are many very worthy problems of all grades and this combined with a wide array of other climbing options and most importantly minimal bureaucratic hassles, make Vegas a prime winter destination regardless of your climbing style or preferred terrain. I only know that I left wishing I had three weeks instead of three days.

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