Two weekends ago one of my friends from college came west for a bit of climbing and a long weekend. Lizzy and I met Rebecca at the Las Vegas airport Wednesday night and took her to the 13 mile campground. We had driven out earlier that day from LA and had set up the tents and went food shopping. Luckily her flight from Detroit, which connected through the notorious Denver, was on time and we were asleep by midnight. It had rained a bunch on Wednesday but the night proved clear which we hope would give the rock some time to dry. A bit of a slow morning lead us to the loop road and on our way to Pine Creek Canyon. We choose Birdland for our first climb since it had decent sun exposure and was about the grade we were looking for. Lizzy got harassed by the climbing ranger warning of wet rock and danger conditions when she tried to apply for a late exit pass. Despite the warning we went forward to our sunny route which worked out really well.
Our aim for the day was to do Birdland 5.7+ six pitches and then rap the route and do Cat in the Hat 5.6 six pitches. We were looking for moderate climbs so that Rebecca could work on her trad placements and get to lead while multi-pitching. The hike to Birdland was nice and short and the wall seemed pretty dry despite mud on the approach. Lizzy lead the first pitch and our multi-pitch adventure began! Rebecca seconded and cleaned all the gear to give her a better feel for placements. I followed at roughly the same time since we were using double ropes. Lizzy linked the next two pitches, which featured a cruxy traverse that she led brilliantly, despite heinous rope drag from one of the ropes being stuck in a crack.
Next was Rebecca’s lead which traversed across the headwall (photo below) to a belay below the final and crux pitch. Rebecca was a natural at placing nuts and managed to find a few cam spots in the discontinuous cracks on her pitch. I linked the next pitch into the loose final pitch to lead us to the top of the climb. To save time and avoid the loose rock above we rapped the route instead of summiting the formation. Rapping provided more excitement than anticipated when we got a rope stuck on the second rappel. I had to re-lead and then down climb part of on of the pitch to retrieve the rope. Fortunately we were able to make it in only three rappels with 10 feet of down-climbing at the base. After lunch, and packing up all the gear, we hiked over to the base of Cat in the Hat to start our second route. Due to relaxed start and our trouble rapping it was a bit later than we had hoped. 3:30 pm mean that we did not have much time to climb but we decided to go up anyways. An earlier party was just finishing rapping the route and a local was rope soling the start to try to remove a cam. This added a bit more delay and confusion to the situation but worked out in the end. Rebecca opted to lead as much as she could and started climbing up the tricky first pitch. It had lots of fun water holds but was a bit polished from all the traffic. She linked the first 2 pitches in no time which brought us up to a big terrace.
We got a late and soggy start on Friday bummed by the rain which had canceled our hopes of doing solar slab. After chilling in the gear shop we headed to the movies to kill some time in the hope that the rain would stop and the rock would dry by late afternoon. We saw Jumper which was hollow yet quite entertaining and almost opted for a double feature before getting the cold stare from the movie attendant. We decided to check on the Red Rocks weather since it was bright and sunny at the movie theater. A short drive and we were back cruzing around the loop road. We went to Willow Springs to check out Ragged Edges and show Rebecca some cam placments. We opted for this area due to the short approach but were punished for choosing an upcanyon location. After intermittent rain a serious cloud came in that dropped a ton of hail. We crunched under a small roof (photo above) to wait until the cloud passed. We then ran back to the car, soaked in our jackets, from all the stormy weather.
After our inability to find dry rock or sun in Red Rocks we turned our hope to the local limestone crags. We had been told to go to either the gun show or urban crag by gear shop dude and thought we might as well try. When we showed up at Urban Crag we saw a max exodus of people and so we just kept driving to the Gun Show. The Gun Show was clearly wet so with no more hope we drove back to the Urban Crag and hiked up to the rock. The rock was dry and Lizzy found a quickdraw so we deceived to go back to the car and get our gear. We did this one pokey route (photo above) that was fun and funky and then I top roped a much harder one the left. Rebecca tried it as the sun went down and we bailed soon after. We needed to get some sleep in the hope that the next day was sunny.
The next day was beautiful so we got up and got out to try and climb Solar Slab. We were a bit late starting and didn’t leave the parking lot at the Oak Creek Canyon pullout until nearly 8am. We got to the wall and had the place to our selves. Lizzy cruised up Johnny Vegas and we started seeing people show up at the base. We lounged in the sun giving the upper pitches more time to dry and Rebecca racked up for the first pitch of solar slab. In the photo above solar slab is the long white slab on the left side of the large formation.
I was to lead next and get the two weird pitches out of the way. There was a bunch of hail on one ledge and a nice water streak down the face and in the crack I was supposed to climb. They guys from SLC did not link the pitches so we had some extra time to relax and eat some lunch. We were going a bit slower than we wanted but I did not want to crowd the next belay. After food I linked my pitches and set up a belay on some shrubs to the left of the bolts. The water streak had soaked the bolts and was coming out of the crack for the next pitch. Once Lizzy and Rebecca reached the belay I started climbing again linking the next two pitches and ending at a nice ledge with a puddle on it. To avoid the wet crack at the start I climbed patina off to the side which was not to hard and quite fun. These two pitches were very nice and I really enjoyed a full 60m of climbing.
We were getting pretty close to the top and Rebecca wanted to get in some more pitches. She led next up a long crack that was not to her liking. Unfamiliar with jamming techniques Rebecca carefully took her time making her way up the pitch. At one point she was supposed to traverse right to a bolted anchor but I gave her the wrong instructions and urged her to keep going. She had to build an anchor next to a bolt in order to belay us up. I had gotten confused by the way the previous party had gone and insisted she keep climbing past the correct traverse. Lizzy and I were quite cold at this point since we had been in the shade for a long time so I took back the lead. 2 more pitches, which I linked, lead to the last rappel station which was our summit.
I was able to get the girls on belay quickly and they raced to the summit, eager to get warm. We didn’t idle at all since we didn’t want to have to rap in the dark and I started my way down. Eight rappels led us all the way to the ground with a bit of walking to get to the Johnny Vegas rappels. We were super lucky and didn’t get the rope stuck and only had to our last rap in the dark! The hike back to camp was easy and Rebecca was super stoked for such a long day of climbing. It rained on and off Sunday morning and we did a bit of limestone climbing at the Gun Show. After a relaxing lunch at Pantera and some shopping we dropped Rebecca off at the Vegas airport and made our way home. It was a great bunch of climbing despite all the bad weather and I am sure Rebecca is psyched for some more trad climbing!