Trip Report: Climbing in Red Rocks, NV

About a month and a hafl ago (already?!?!), Anh and I took an extended weekend trip to go sport climbing at Red Rocks just outside Las Vegas. We left on a Thursday and came back on a Monday. I already wrote about our flying experience and getting 4 bags of climbing gear through TSA security without being checked. That was probably the coolest part of the whole trip. Errrr, maybe not. But still pretty cool. No one likes baggage fees.

Red Rocks is the Perfect Place for N00bs

Well, we’re not completely noobs. We’ve both been climbing for over a year, and have spent more than several days climbing outdoors in the Black Hills, Devil’s Lake in Baraboo, WI, Barn Bluff in Red Wing, MN, and Taylors Falls, MN. However, we are pretty noobish when it comes to sport climbing outdoors. Barn Bluff is really the only bolted sport crag within driving distance for us. It’s also so heavily used that the sandstone is polished to a fine gloss and on busy days, you may end up waiting for routes. There’s another sport crag just across the border from Minneapolis/St. Paul near Hudson, WI called Willow River, but all of the routes there are rated 5.11 – 5.14 and are extremely overhanging. I do not belong there. Yet.

When it comes to sport climbing indoors, well, it’s indoors. If you’re strictly a gym climber or just starting out and have never climbed outdoors, you may not know this, but there is a glaring difference between a marked route in the gym and real rock. Until you get used to climbing on real rock, don’t get your panties in a bunch if your climbing grade is reduced by 2 whole grades when heading outdoors the first couple times. I lead 5.11’s in the gym, but since I don’t get much practice, there was no way I’m warming up with a 5.10 outdoors.

Which brings me back to why Red Rocks is great for noobs.

Red Rocks is great for people that aren’t up to trad lead climbing yet. It’s great for people that can sport climb but are limited by their ability. It’s great because you can throw a rock just about anywhere and find a bolted route. If that doesn’t work, just walk along a trail and look for other people or a bolt gleaming in the sunlight. You can find just about any route rating you need, from scrambles to 5.6’s to 5.14’s to projects. You can look for super frictiony vertical sandstone or routes with more overhang than I’d know what to do with. It has something for the first time outdoor climber or uber-famous, professional climbers like Alex Hannold (whom left Red Rocks the week prior to us showing up; probably cuz I mentioned something creepy about stalking his van in the Whole Foods parking lot on his Facebook Fan Page.).

Red Rocks is a great spot for anyone, but especially new people that want to test the sport climbing waters with very nicely bolted and protected routes.

Climbing Red Rocks

Being that I’m somewhat of a cheap-a$$, I didn’t really want to by a guide book just for a 3-day trip and no immediate plans to return. So, I decided that I’d find all the routes we’d need with my Mountain Project app, henceforth abbreviated as “MP”. We managed ok, but it definitely made finding specific climbing areas a little more challenging than it needed to be. Also, our trip was actually 60% climbing based and 40% Vegas based. So, when you read the daily summaries, keep in mind we weren’t out there from sun up to sun down.

Day 1

On Day 1, we headed for the Panty Wall. It had a good mix of 5.7’s and 5.8’s, perfect for reintroducing myself to leading on real rock. It was also visible from the parking lot, making getting there a lot easier. But, just because you can see a crag at red rock, doesn’t mean it’s intuitively obvious getting there. MP said it’s a short 15 min. hike…if you know where you’re going. It took us 30 min. or more without a guidebook. That’s ok though. We got there early, it was a gorgeous day out, and we were still full of piss and vinegar.

Once we got to the wall, choosing routes was a little confusing. In guidebooks, they typically show a picture of the wall and draw a line where the route is and reference it by a number. On MP, you just get a list of routes, maybe sorted from left to right, and if you’re lucky, someone will sketch the routes on a picture. Not the case here. So, we guessed which routes were which. We played it safe by choosing a 5.7 that had another 5.7 and 5.8 to its right and left. I led the first two routes and it was glorious. I managed without too many nerves or Elvis leg. I set the top rope anchors and let Anh have her way with the rock.

After the first climb, we met local climber “Kentucky Pete”. I’d link to his Facebook, but he doesn’t have a simple permalink established….that I can tell. He taught us some interesting new climbing techniques and totally threw off my mojo. As the kids say, LoL. But that’s a good thing. I’ve never been “taught” how to climb. I just watch videos and mimic the pros. Though, people tell me that will only take me so far. AnyHways, he told us of a newer area to check out called Civilization Wall that him and a buddy had just recently bolted up. It had some really nice 5.10’s he said. I was interested.

I led a couple more 5.8’s and ended up the day onsighting four 5.7’s or 5.8’s. Where’s my sponsorship, La Sportiva?

Day 2

On Day 2 we headed straight for Civilization Wall. Just like the first day, we could see it from the first pullout parking lot but could tell it was s longer, more convoluted walk. Again, a 25 min. walk turned into an hour. lolz. This place was kind of cool. Part of the wall was actually in a mini canyon. And just like the first day, it was hard to determine which routes were which. On the open faced side of the wall, there was anything from 5.7 to 5.10, but no row of intermediate grades that would allow us to guess wrong. On the canyon side of the wall, there was one 5.7 listed and then a row of 5.10’s.

I fgured, “well, I know the one furthest to the left is a 5.7; that’s a good warm-up to get rid of the nerves, and then we can do the 5.10’s if I feel up to it.” As I got about halfway up the first route, I started to get stuck. I thought to myself, “WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON?!?! THIS IS ONLY A 5.7!!” I was seriously doubting my abilities, especially since I utterly dominated the 5.8’s yesterday. I managed to finish the route without any falls or “takes”, but as soon as I got down, I stuck my nose into MP. As it turns out, my 5.7 warm-up was actually a 5.10b named Byzantium. Well! Good for me! I just warmed up with the hardest outdoor lead that I’ve ever done! Onsight, nonetheless! HOT!!

I set anchors for Anh and she made the rock her bitch.

After that, I led the two 5.10’s next to Byzantium. Those were also onsight victories for me. The funnest route on that particular wall was Mongol Hoarde, which Pete called “Mongoloid Whore”….something having to do with a recent break-up. On the 3rd 5.10 of that wall, I belayed Anh from the top as she cleaned the route so that we could sit on top of the wall and admire the view together. This is where I took the coolest picture of my life. See?

Ming Dynasty - Civilization Wall

Once we got down, I convinced Anh that she needed to lead a route and try overcome her fears. We finally found the 5.7 I thought I was warming up with and she thought she’d be able to handle that after top roping the 5.10’s. Turns out, fear is a bitch named The Sun Never Sets. I was proud of her for trying. She made it 3 out of the 4 or 5 bolts, but just couldn’t make it the rest of the way. The previous climbs had taken it out of her and coupled with fear, it wasn’t going to happen that day. No big deal. I led it, just for more practice, and we left The Civ for lunch.

Lunch was actually about 3pm. After eating, we wanted to go to another wall that was “just a short walk from the parking lot”. Not for us. By the time we got there, the sun was already setting. After we found a 5.10 for me to lead, I made it to the first bolt and then ran out of holds. This wall was very slabby and relied on friction. My nerves weren’t up for that and after a more strenuous than we wanted hike, I bailed on that route. Luckily the first bolt was low enough that I could safely down climb and collect my draw. We walked back to the car eating our Banh Mi sandwiches.

I ended up onsighting 4 routes, 3 of which were 5.10’s. It was a good day.

Day 3

Our third and final day. Unlike the previous 2 days that weren’t spent at the First Pullout, we wanted a different area. Wait for it…..the Second Pullout, specifically The Gallery. This was a pretty cool area because all of the routes went from shortest to tallest and 5.6 to 5.13 from left to right. I started with a 5.8 called Sport Climbing is Neither and worked my way down the wall to a 5.10b Pump First, Pay Later. The 5.10b was the only route the entire trip that I didn’t onsight. That made me a sad panda.

On this wall, we hooked up with a group from the Illinois chapter of Vertical Endeavors as well as some people from California. That was kinda cool to see fellow Midwesterner’s. As we were leaving, the CA peeps were doing the route to our right, which was a 5.10c called Running Amuck, and I really wanted to try it. But, after 3 days of climbing and a couple nights on the strip, we were beat. We called it a trip and went back to sit by the pool.

"How can I get those things *over* here and *in* my belly?"

Return to Red Rocks

All in all, I onsighted 11 out of the 12 climbs we did. The weather was gorgeous. We met some really cool people, AND WE SAW WILD BURROS!! I think we will definitely be coming back.

Just as we were leaving Vegas, it was announced that Spirit Airlines will be coming to our local airport, MSP. They offer flights that are something silly like $60 one-way, or something like that; I can’t remember exactly. This trip wasn’t really all that expensive to begin with and it just got cheaper if we could grab that deal. On top of that, my cousin lives in Vegas, and I volunteerd him to pick us up at the airport and drop us off at the park. I think if we were to come back, we’d probably bring some bivy’s and just sleep out on the rocks, foregoing the hotel room and rental car. Please, just don’t tell the park ranger that.


It wouldn’t be a complete trip review if Anh didn’t take at least a hundred pictures.

Flying With Rock Climbing Gear

Several months ago when Anh and I decided that we’d like to go rock climbing in Spain on our trip to Europe this spring, one of the first things I thought of was, “hmmm, I wonder if it’s safe to fly on an airplane with rock climbing gear?” After some internet sleuthing, I figured out that all of our gear should be fine as long as it’s checked.

Fast forward (or rewind, depending on which frame of time we’re in….or maybe we’re in both….I don’t know; ask Schrodinger’s cat) a couple of weeks and all of a sudden we were planning a semi-impromptu rock climbing trip to Red Rocks outside of Vegas over a long weekend. At that point, my question was, “hmmmm, I wonder what rock climbing gear is safe to put in our carry-ons vs. being checked?”

What Gear will get through TSA Security?

You can see a small sampling of the gear, all of which made it through TSA.

After looking over the TSA regulations for prohibited items, I decided that the only gear that we may have trouble getting through would be a nut tool and climbing chalk. Of course, a bunch of ropes and metal carabiners should always be assumed to raise an eyebrow or two (probably).

** Side note: I wasn’t sure about cams, but we had already decided we wouldn’t be bringing cams so it didn’t matter. **

Anh sent a picture of all of our climbing gear to her friend that works for TSA, and she said that it should all be fine…except for maybe the nut tool.

That still didn’t put my worries to rest. The TSA seems like an organization where one person might say something is “ok”, and then once you get to the airport, the person that actually checks your carry-on might say “no way, Jose; you can’t fly with that” depending on their mood that day.

My worries didn’t really matter though. We weren’t going to pay the ridiculous baggage fees. To mitigate the risk of getting too much of our gear split up if we were forced to check something, we packed all of high-risk items in one bag: chalk, biners, draws, nuts, and belay tools. All of the webbing, slings, and both of our ropes went in my rope bag. We decided to leave the nut tool at home.

TSA Likes Rock Climbers and Their Gear

Anh was so confident that all of this would pass through TSA security that we even planted a “test” in our bag. We had a bag of brand new, sealed climbing chalk and a plain ‘ol Ziploc sandwich bag with some chalk I just had laying around. We wanted to see which, if any, would be confiscated. (For this reason, we got to the airport 2 hours early, assuming we’d probably be searched quite thoroughly.)

As it turns out, Anh was right about everything. We made it through security with all of our rock climbing gear with absolutely no problems. We fit 2 ropes, assorted webbing and slings, 2 sets of nuts, lots ‘o biners, 18 draws, 2 bags of chalk, 2 helmets, 2 pairs of shoes, and enough clothes to climb and go out on The Strip for 3 days and 4 nights into 4 carry-on bags.

I’m not saying your experience will be the same as ours. I’m not saying every TSA checkpoint will approve of all of these items all of the time. All I’m saying is that if you’re looking for an experience of flying with rock climbing gear, here’s a successful one for you. We made it safely, our gear made it safely, and we didn’t have any problems with TSA security (in either direction).

Hopefully that calms some of your worries about flying with rock climbing gear. Now that Spirit Airlines is flying out of MSP to LAS for $28, I think we’ll be flying with climbing gear a couple times a year!