Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Viva Las Vegas II - Multipitch Mecca

After surviving the freezing conditions of Red Rocks earlier this month, a return trip during warmer weather was necessary in order to climb some of the long multipitch routes in the canyons. This trip was smaller than the previous with just myself and one of colleagues, Laurent, partaking. With only a few weeks notice we secured cheap (~100 bucks) return flights to Vegas from San Fransisco heading out last Thursday and returning unpleasantly early on Monday morning giving us three full days of climbing.

The weather was greatly improved this time, with low temperatures higher than the warmest temperatures last time. Still we spent little time, other than sleeping, at the campsite because of the restrictions on flying with stove fuel meant we could not cook. Still good cheap food is a plenty in Vegas so starvation or poverty were not likely.

Las Vegas airport is like a zoo (a weird human zoo), huge numbers of people and a farcical number of slot machines or one arm bandits. They are often referred to as the "crack cocaine of gambling" and when you see people barely able to pull themselves away from them you begin to understand why. Apparently, there are over 50,000 slot machines in Vegas (1 for every 10 residents) and some 45 million visitors a year. A frightening number considering that Vegas is primarily selling gambling and vice - hardly a moral living. Even more frightening are the numbers of people who bring their children to Vegas on holiday - not what I would call responsible parenting.

Of course, it was the climbing at Red Rocks (photo 1) that we were here for. On the first day we climbed "Cat in the Hat" (a Red Rocks classic, photo2 Laurent at the start) on the south face of the Mescalito in Pine Creek Canyon. This climb turned in something of an epic. Starting with getting lost on the approach and almost climbing a crack on a different face that we thought was the right climb, whoops! The route had 5 pitches, 3 good long (50m) ones with good protection and fun moves and two traverse pitches, the later of which had no protection and was pretty sketchy. The views from the summit were excellent, unfortunately the light got the better of us and we had to descend quickly in order to beat the sunset. The descent was 5 double rope rappels and the rope drag at each rappel station made pulling the ropes through really hard work. We were both done in by the time we reached the base of the route and so was the sun - so we had to return to the car in the dark.

On the second day, we opted for short sport routes for a little variety and to avoid any epic rappels. We climbed at two spots - the gallery and the black corridoor, the later being a very popular summer spot due to the protection from the sun. In the evening we went boozing in Vegas - at the Mirage and the Venetian and took the time to laugh at the Venice Grand Canal (photo 6) complete with Gondolas inside the Venetian (note: the clouds painted on the ceiling)!

On the last day we climbed another multipitch route called "solar slab gully" in Oak Creek Canyon (photo 3 to the south of the Canyon) this was another 5 pitches (photo 4 - me leading pitch 2 and no I didn't place any gear on this pitch; photo 5 - me and Laurent at the top of pitch 5) which gives access to more routes higher up the face. In all you could climb around 1500 vertical feet of rock and I'm sure we'd have a go if we hadn't both got up to late and then got stuck behind some slow climbers. I very much look forward to returning later in the spring to try one of these routes in hopefully even more hospitable weather.



Monday, January 15, 2007

Viva Las Vegas I - The big freeze

Last weekend was the Martin Luther King Jr. bank holiday and to take advantage of the extra day I went climbing at Red Rocks, Nevada near Las Vegas with a few of the CHAOS crew (photo 1, left to right Kat, Meg, William and me). Red Rocks is located a few miles West of Las Vegas in Nevada some 560 miles from Berkeley - yes it was quite a drive (8 hours), done in one non-stop overnight session involving large amounts of sugary and caffeinated drinks!

Fortunately for myself and Kat we arrived the morning after the 80 mph winds at the campsite that put Meg and William's tents to the test (photo 2, tents still standing). It was freezing, almost certainly around 10F (-15 C) at night (note the snow in photos 1 and 2) and so other than sleeping we did not hang around the campsite much. The climbing here is excellent on great rock with some really fun routes. After getting over the shock of climbing in the snow on the first day, the second day we found a sunny crag in Pine Creek Canyon (photo 3) and were there until the darkness descended and the ranger arrived to throw us out of the park.

Las Vegas was just as I remembered it from my two previous visits in 1998 and 2000 - bright, lairy and very cheesey BUT all good fun. An example of the over the top nature of Vegas for those of you that haven't been yet is that each hotel has some king of gimmick with the intention of luring you to their casino to lose all your money, I mean gamble. For example, at Treasure Island two galleons battle it out four times a night with a live cast in front of the hotel and one of them sinks, Paris has its own Effiel Tower and a Volcano erupts outside the Mirage once an hour (see photo 4).

On Sunday, William wanted to climb "Fear and Loathing III" on the Wall of Confusion (photo 5). Being a 5.12a (7a+) route, he was pretty much on his own with that one, but the rest of us enjoyed watching him with awe as he powered his way through the various roofs (photo 6) to the rap station following rests at the majority of the fixed bolts.

Heading back to Red Rocks in two weeks to hopefully warmer weather and some multi-pitch climbs. Oh, and I'm flying - I am so done with the 10 hour drives...at least for this month!



Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Tahoe from 10,000 feet....

Following a great week climbing at Joshua Tree NP with a great crowd of people (photo 1; from left to right Vince, me, Edwin, Kat, Clement, Ian and Daniel), we (myself and various work colleagues) headed to Lake Tahoe on the Nevada border to spend new years in a ski cabin close to the Alpine Meadows ski resort. Some Lake Tahoe trivia for you:

(1) It is the largest (22 miles long and 12 miles wide) and one of the highest (6225 feet above sea level) alpine lakes in North America,
(2) It contains enough water to submerge California (total surface area of 158,869 square miles or 411,471 square km) to a depth of 14.5 inches (thats 37cm to the metrically inclined),
(3) Scenes from “The Godfather II” and “Bonanza” were shot in and around Lake Tahoe, as well as “The Bodyguard” with Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston and “City of Angels” with Meg Ryan and Nicholas Cage, and
(4) The water evaporating from its surface annually is equivalent to LA's (population 10.2 million) water consumption for 5 years.

The cabin was fantastic (photo 2) and the hot tub even more so! It made the perfect spot to see in the new year in style (photo 3; from left to right - me, Jay, Delphine, Dave, Fred, Colette, Elaine and Julie behind the camera). However, the highlight of the weekend for me was my first flying lesson. Julie's friend Fred, from her CalTech days, has built his own 2 seater plane (photos 4 and 5) and was kind enough to take a few of us up for a flying lesson and some airborne acrobatics; some steep banking curves pulling around 3 G's and a couple of "aileron rolls" - truly mind blowing. Its amazing how much concentration it took for me just to keep the plane flying straight and level.

The new year started with another first - snowboarding (photo 6). Its harder than it looks and I'm still hurting today - but i did manage to balance and stay on my feet (well on the green slopes at least, the steeper blues proved somewhat more challenging) and was getting into turning, which for an afternoons work was good going I reckon. Plenty of time left this year to master it once I recover from all the bumps and bruises!