It was a dark and potentially stormy night when Luke and Lizzy picked me up at the Vegas airport. After we calmed from the inital joy of reuniting friends, and successfully picked up my checked bag, Lizzy fearlessly negotiated her way through the grotesque neon signs of downtown Vegas (and past one gorgeous In and Out sign) to the Red Rocks campground. To my utter delight, Luke surprised me at the campsite with two bottles of Diet Coke!!! True friendship. Inspired by the outline of the mountains in the darkness, we quickly went to sleep in preparation for a long day of climbing.
The next morning, we jumped from our sleeping bags into the extremely cold but sunny mountain scenery. To a girl from flat Michigan the tops of the mountain spires making a jagged horizion were awe-inspiring. Nothing can be more energizing than naked rock cutting across a clear, blue sky. As we sped through breakfast, I was greatly relieved to find that Lizzy had brought sourdough bagels from Noah's! How some people can suffer through an oatmeal breakfast (without any cookies crumbled into it, even!), I'll never know.
We packed the car and drove to the trailhead. It was a very fast hike in, with my short 5' 2" (total height) legs moving as fast as they would hike. If someone was to describe the morning/hike as slow/leasuirely, I would not be in agreement with him. This girl was moving! Exhausted, I arrived at the base of Birdland. Thankfully, Lizzy was to lead the first pitches of this climb, and I got a chance to rest.
The rock was a gorgeous myriad of cracks, plates, and pockets. Climbing was especially fun due to the fact that we were using doubles. After Lizzy gracefully led to the belay, Luke and I followed and had the fun of carrying on a conversation while climbing a very easy pitch. Not a typical climbing experience, but very fun all the same! After Lizzy led a few pitches, I got a chance to lead! To my utter amazement and surprise, I found that I was not the least bit scared to be climbing. Usually there is a little bit of anxiety or fear, especially when on lead. However, somewhere along the way, 5.6 became incredibly easy and not fear-inspiring in the least. Due to this fact, I only placed 3 pieces of gear on the entire pitch. I was having so much fun climbing that stopping to place gear seemed quite unnecessary. Though, it must be said, that the nuts I did place were “bomber.” (straight from the mouth of the “climbing-god” himself!) I will choose not to comment on my cam placements at this time. Lizzy effortlessly led the rest of the pitches, and we rappelled down with only one small set-back when a rope became stuck. Luke climbed to the rescue, saved the rope, and down-climbed on lead to top it off!
Another, thank goodness shorter, hike led us to Cat in the Hat. With an awesome mastery of mental and emotional control, I climbed past a blank section at the beginning and proceeded to link the first two pitches. The third pitch of the route proved to be the crux pitch. However, after some confusion was sorted out between interpreting a 5.5 unprotected 8 ft section of rock as a V5 boulder problem (that would be 5.Fun, right?!), this pitch was completed with relative ease. The fourth pitch was somewhat of a mental game, as it was getting quite dark by then, and I was very tired. I climbed past a necessary traverse, and had to downclimb to get back to it, which shook me up pretty well. But I toiled on and reached a ledge where I thought the anchors were. However, to my great surprise, when I got there no bolts could be found! After a shouting match with the wind, I managed to communicate my troubles to Luke, who yelled up that I might in fact have to climb higher to reach the belay point. Yet again, Luke's wisdom proves to be invaluable. I climbed 6 ft higher and immediately saw my goal! After making an anchor, Luke quickly climbed to meet me and we rappelled, met Lizzy, and continued on to the base of the climb. Yet another hike was needed in order to reach the car. Good heavens, I’m not in shape enough for this!
As this is already getting fairly long, I’ll leave it to Luke’s good description to paint the picture of what our Friday was like. I will only pause to add that we also stopped off at Von’s to pick up additional cookies. We had already managed to put a serious dent in the first batch of cookies, and the Chewy Chocolate ones from Von’s were really necessary.
That night was a restless one, filled with fears of rain that might bar us from climbing Solar Slab. However, upon waking in the morning, we decided that we would go for it! We packed the car (and if I thought the first day was fast, it was nothing compared to the speed with which we moved on Solar Slab Day!), and ate breakfast in the parking lot at the trailhead. After double-time, heel-toeing it to the base of the climb, we quickly harnessed up. Lizzy beautifully led all three pitches of Johnny Vegas without any trouble. And then, the challenge began.
During Cam Lessons the previous day, Luke and Lizzy had decided it was necessary to strike the Fear of God into me about gear placements. All sorts of gruesome and grotesque images were floating in front of my mind as to what may happen as a result of bad placements or no placements at all. It was with great trepidation that I began the first pitch of Solar Slab. I scrambled up the 5.4 slab. I attained the first crack. I traversed left. I gained the second crack. I hand-jammed. I crimped. I swore. …And I placed gear.
With the Fear of God weighing on my mind, this 5.6 was not nearly as easy as the first climbs. It was with shaking hands that I placed cams, evaluated, readjusted, switched sizes (also dropped Luke’s yellow Camalot…oi), and finally secured a piece. This happened (with the exception of dropping the cam. That only happened once) about every 8 ft. Luke and Lizzy have the patience of saints. With crazy rope drag, I did run it out about the last 15 ft to the bolts. There, I made an anchor and belayed Luke and Lizzy up. My efforts had paid off when Luke pronounced my placements “much improved!” Even my cams (most of them) would probably have held in the event of a fall!
After Luke linked the next two pairs of pitches, I led another pitch where I got to back up a one-bolt anchor with a nut and a cam. To my great sense of gratification, both Luke and Lizzy trusted my anchor and climbed up immediately after me! With assurances that I had placed gear “very well,” Luke led our final pitch of the route. At the top of that pitch, we took pictures, ate a few Cliff bars, and turned our attentions downward. As he successfully (for the first time ever!) pulled the rope without any snags over the rappel of all the pitches of Solar Slab and Johnny Vegas, Luke proved himself a master rope-puller.
Upon gaining the ground, we celebrated with We-Made-It-Down-Alive cookies and began the trek back to Lizzy’s car. With a delicious stir-fry and more Diet Coke, we pronounced the day a success! Sadly, the next day we had to pack up. We climbed some more sport limestone (which left a very painful puncture wound in my palm), and among other climbs, Luke led (and I TR’d) an awesome 11a. Lots of side-pulls and angled holds. Very exciting.
Upon leaving climbing, we stopped at REI to secure a patch for my poofy which had ripped on the airplane ride out. It was a touch-and-go operation, but both my poofy and I have survived the patching procedure and are recovering tolerably well. At Panera’s we had a delicious lunch and discussed the relative risks of BASE jumping vs. rappelling. It was an arduous debate, but rappelling won out for most dangerous.
With a heavy heart, I said goodbye to Luke and Lizzy. What can be better than spending long days outside, climbing with good friends?! I spent the little bit of a wait for my flight talking to a few other friends from school, planning our next trip (Easter weekend anyone? The Red?). After all, the best way to end a climbing trip is to start planning the next! Red Rocks today, Owens River Gorge tomorrow!!!!(or, well, next year…but I’m excited all the same! :-) )