Solo Scrambling in Red Rock Canyon
I had to go to Las Vegas for work so I planned to spend a day playing in Red Rock Canyon which is only 20 miles from the strip and really really nice.
I called the climbing rangers before I went to ask for a recommendation. I wanted something class 3-4 that would take all day where I might see some mountain sheep. He told me White Rock Mountain would fit the bill.
I arrived at the park around 9:15. Had to stop at the tour bus infested Visitor Center to check in as I had requested a late exit pass and had left my topo map beside my bed. After navigating my way through the throngs of asian tourists, I knew that I could handle anything the desert had in store for me.
Took a while to get to my destination as I had to keep stopping along the way to take pictures. There's a 13 mile paved road that loops through the park. It's a very pretty drive. Even if you can't stay and play it's worth a drive out there just to drive the loop.
Finally I found the White Rock Springs turnoff and drove about a quarter mile to the parking area. There was a nice retired engineer just coming back from a hike so we chatted a bit. He was shocked when he asked where I was going and I pointed at the top. Made me think about how many people just hike around on well marked trails and would never even consider climbing something... or even just going for a good explore. I guess it's good that most people don't. He was the last person I would see all day.
I left the trail after about 2 minutes, around 10:15. I had planned to head up the gully as far as I could to the ridge just to avoid the steep rock. Obviously rock climbing alone is not a terribly good idea. I had my rock shoes and a helmet but that was it.
After about 30 minutes of bush whacking, I was a mess. I wore shorts which was really stupid as my legs and arms were scratched all to hell. Everything in the desert is sharp. Soon I started itching and realized that I was now covered in hives. That was interesting but not as interesting as things got when I started having trouble swallowing. I realized I was allergic to one of the plants I was thrashing through so I made a beeline for the rocks so I could assess the situation. I got out my first aid kit and took a double dose of antihistamine. I have a new inhaler for my asthma so I figured I'd take a shot of that too but quickly realized that I'd forgotten how to work the damn thing. I have a mirror on my compass so I had a look at my throat which was very red and inflamed. A cel phone checked showed that my battery was almost dead. Moron. I'd forgotten to charge it in the car on the way. I wasn't actually having trouble breathing so I decided to just chill for a while and see if it got any worse. Fortunately, it started to get a little better so I decided to continue.
I wasn't heading back into the bush so I put on my rock shoes & helmet & started climbing. You have to be pretty careful when climbing here. The holds are plentiful but prone to coming off in your hand or under your foot. There was plenty of fun stuff to climb and most of it was not very exposed. I wasn't really sure where I was going as I had deviated from my planned route but it was a beautiful day and I was having fun so I just went in the general direction that felt like it would get me up to the ridge.
Soon, I could hear voices and soon 'Angel Food Wall' came into view. I never did see the climbers unfortunately. Looked like a really fun area to climb though. I had topped out on the section I'd been climbing and I could now see how far from the ridge I was so I got moving. It's so much fun that even being a bit lost is a pleasure. I was standing trying to decide which way to go when I saw a tiny little cairn. The rest of the route was marked intermittently with cairns, many of which had fallen but if you know what you're looking for you'll recognize a fallen pile of rocks as a cairn. There's definitely no trail and there's a lot more scrambling/climbing than hiking. I'm sure there was an easier route than the one I took but mine was super fun. I pretty much just climbed anything that didn't look outright dangerous, always happy when another cairn would materialize.
I was moving along pretty quickly but had to keep stopping to check out cool rocks, views, caves, plants, etc. There were several 'false' summits along the way with big cairns built on them. Just when I was starting to wonder if I was ever going to find the true summit, there it was with a big stick poking out of the summit cairn. The last 30 minutes en route to the summit were the most fun. I was on top at 2:30.
After snapping lots of pictures, it was time to get the rock shoes off. I think in hindsight this was a mistake but I was planning to hang out for about an hour and I couldn't resist. I ate lunch, listened to music, read a bit, wrote in my journal and took in the views. I thought about how much fun it would be to come back with a bunch of friends who were actually into this sort of thing (my business collegues' idea of a hike was walking between New York New York and Ceasars).
At 3:30 I decided it was time to get my ass in gear. My feet were NOT happy to be crammed back into my rock shoes but I knew I needed them at least for the first hour or so. Downclimbing was a little tricky but still lots of fun. When I could take it no longer I stopped and swapped my rock shoes for my boots. I had huge open blisters on my heels so I was very happy for my nice thick cushy socks. Compared to the rock shoes, the boots felt heavenly, even with the blisters.
I was a little startled by how quickly the sun was setting so I tried to hurry. I had planned on following the cairns back to avoid the bushwhack but they were so hard to find I was spending a lot of time standing around looking for the next one. At 5:10 I realized that the sun was setting an hour earlier than I had expected so I had to make a decision... quick. I had my emergency headlamp with me but I didn't much fancy either downclimbing in the dark or bushwhacking in the desert in the dark. Should I continue to follow the cairns (which were going to be even harder to see as it got dark) or just head for the nasty looking gully I knew would get me back to the car?
I opted for the gully. I actually managed to avoid the worst of it by staying high for as long as I could. I hauled ass and got back to the car right as the sun was setting at 6:00.
The sunset was spectacular and made it hard to leave. I know I'll be back though. Sadly I didn't see a single mountain sheep. Maybe next time :) I was quite horrified at how sore I was the next day...and the day after that. I guess I haven't done so much actual climbing all summer and had been sitting on my ass for 3 weeks leading up to this trip. Hiking up and down the strip in high heels didn't help much.
So, who wants to come with me next year?