Vegas Vacation Day 7: Farewell Mountains!

And on the 7th day, we had to say goodbye to our vacation. We woke up early to depart Joshua Tree. Goodbye California!

Because we’d made the drive mostly at night on the way there, we decided to make a few stops on the way back. We stopped along Route 66 at a gas station, cafe, and former army barracks. It reminded me of something you’d see in an old movie from the 60’s or earlier. We snapped a few pics with the Route 66 road signs and moved along.

We stopped to admire the desert flowers and some train tracks. Ok, you caught me, we stopped to take goofy photos on the train tracks. But sadly, none of them are mine (I was in many). Trying to balance on a train track. Pretending to menace my friends with a railroad spike. Y’know, normal stuff.

We then stopped at Buffalo Bills, hoping to ride the roller coaster around the building. It wasn’t running that day, so we settled for lunch.

With a few more hours to spare before we needed to check in for our flight home, we stopped at Cannibal Crag for a quick climb. There, we met up with a climber from our home gym!

I lead Mac and Ronnie in Cheese. It took longer than I’d care to admit. After a week of climbing fairly hard, I was experiencing some serious head game. I had lead things as at this difficulty many times over. I had top-roped much more difficult climbs. And yet, there I found myself, frozen in place. I didn’t want to fall. Down climb? No way. Go up? Not that either. S was very patient with me. Waiting. Encouraging. Trying to give beta for a route he’d never climbed himself. The others chimed in with beta. You see, I’m stubborn. And I know I can do it. But sometimes this irrational fear just kicks in. I climbed up. Nope. Down climbed to the last bolt. Tried another way. Yikes that’s worse. Down climbed again. Finally, I just went for it.

And then I wondered why I was ever worried about falling. I love those moments when I prove myself wrong.

But I equally love the moments when I fall and remember that it’s not a big deal. I just climb back up, evaluate why I fell, and try again.

Vegas Vacation Day 6: We’re not in Vegas anymore (Joshua Tree)

Ok, so the title of the Vegas Vacation becomes a bit misleading at this point. Because we decided to pack up the rental mini van and head on to another nearby climbing adventure. Joshua Tree, California!

Why Joshua Tree? Because it was on my bucket list. And I pulled the “it’s my birthday tomorrow” card. Thanks friends for letting me win this one. You’re the best.

First stop was breakfast. We stopped at Denny’s I think. Where I got the free it’s your borthday breakfast. This is when the maple syrup incident took place. If I’ve talked to you about this trip in person, you’ve probably heard this story many times. KinOhio wanted to buy me breakfast (what an awesome friend). When she found out that breakfst was on the house, she offered to buy me dinner instead. And I don’t know how the next part came about, but somehow a bet was made. If S drank the entire container of maple syrup (not the real, Canadian syrup, unfortunately), she would buy dinner for the entire group. Of course, L and I thought this would be a great idea and cheered him on. We watch, impressed and a bit horrified, as S drank the syrup with a straw in one giant but excrutiatingly slow gulp. This event has become legend.

Second stop, the local gear shop. I picked up the climbing guide for the area. The group purchased a few momentos (t-shirts, hand jammies, and the like). And we spent quite a while talking with the clerk, getting recommendations for the best place to climb that would also be easy to find.

I never did catch the name of the place we chose. Or any of the routes that were set up.

But the approach was very notable. Especially compared to Red Rock Canyon. We saw a big rock. We drove to a parking spot near it. We laughed and took pictures of the super hardcore approach of about 20 feet of flat ground. How would we ever make it? Do you think I should change out of my flip flops into approach shoes? Water! Water! I don’t think I can make it.

All jokes aside, this area was gorgeous! We had many single pitch trad route options (thanks to D & J for being fearless and knowledgeable rope guns) and were located next to a field of the namesake Joshua trees.

My first climb of the day, I sported the ridiculous felt birthday hat. J had packed it in our dangerously close to the weight limit suitcase. So I couldn’t refuse. I think I might have even kept the hat on for the second and possibly the third climb. But by midday, it was just too hot. And so the birthday hat made its way back to the minivan.

This was probably one of the trickiest days for me climbing. Not because of the skill level (well, some of it was beyond me). But because of the heat. It had been hot in Red Rock Canyon, but I had been able to find shelter in the shade of rocks. I had much less luck doing so in Joshua Tree. The sun was hot, the vegetation sparse, and the shade from rocks difficult to find and changing quickly with the sun. I reapplied sunscreen more times that I can count. I tried soaking my Buff with water to keep cool, and had to ditch my long sleeve sun shirt. I never thought I’d complain about heat. Especially in the midst of Canadian winter.

At dusk, we headed out. Making a quick stop to practice our tree pose in a field of Joshua Trees.

Vegas Vacation Day 5: Red Rocks Rendezvous, Get Up and Rock Clinic

On the second day of the Rendezvous, S, L, K in Ohio and I all signed up for the same clinic. I somehow convinced them to participate in a trad-focused clinic called Get Up and Rock. With a name like that, it was bound to be amazing, right?

Get Up and Rock: “Basic trad techniques for ALL ABILITIES. This course addresses basic traditional skills for beginner to advanced level climbers. gear placement, cleaning gear” (Red Rock Rendezvous).

The other half of the group went to an Aid climbing clinic – returning super excited to put what they learned into practice.

The clinic was not what I thought… and exactly what I was looking for all at the same time. It just depended on which of our guides you happened to be hanging out with. (I wish I could remember their names, but I can’t, it’s been well over a year, so I’ll just refer to them as Guide #1 and Guide #2).

Guide #1 trad lead a route and set up a top rope for us. We were given the opportunity to climb the route at a slower than usual pace, taking time to inspect his gear placements. Some of the climbers who signed up for this clinic were very new to climbing and he took the time to make sure they had a good experience. For my climb, I did a mock lead. The guide provided a catch on top rope, and one of the new-to-climbing participants learned how to lead belay.

Guide #2 spent the time teaching us knots that are critical to trad climbing. Figure 8. Now tie it one-handed. Fancy! We tried it, it’s as hard as it looks. Figure 8 on a bite. Prusik. Double fisherman, tying two ropes together. Clove hitch. One handed clove hitch. Way easier than the one-handed figure 8. Guide #2 really knew his stuff and was a natural entertainer. Not only did he teach us the essential knots, he attempted to teach us to tie them quickly and with flair!

While we were on the trip to climb, our group really enjoyed the day “off” to learn new skills. L, K, and I spent some time comparing scrapes and bruises from the past few days. Our badges of honour. Laughing that, somehow, they seemed to almost match. At this point we were bruised, scraped, caked with desert sand and sweat, smelly, in need of a hair wash, and covered in chalk. We’ve never looked so beautiful.

We’d been travelling, hiking some of the most grueling trails we’d experienced to date (at the time), climbing hard, eating too much junk food, stuffing ourselves at all-you-can-eat buffets and sleeping too little. The rest day with a gorgeous view was just what we needed.

Vegas Vacation Day 4: Red Rocks Rendezvous, Multi-Pitch Clinic

Of all the places we could have gone for a rock climbing vacation, we chose Red Rocks because, mid-vacation, the Mountain Gear Red Rocks Rendezvous would be taking place.

The Rendezvous is a yearly, weekend long, outdoor climbing festival. The focus is on sharpening your rock climbing skills through clinics. These clinics cater to all types of rock climbers from beginners to experienced. There are also courses for trail running, yoga, and mountain biking. And many vendors (some of our favourites were New Belgium Brewing, and Joshua Tree Skin Care) are on site to promote their products. So many free samples!

We all chose very different clinics for our first day of the Rendezvous. A few went to an introduction to Aid Climbing, others went to Beginner/Intermediate Lead Climbing, and K in Ohio and I paid extra for a multi-pitch clinic!

Our poor group of friends had to get up an hour earlier than necessary this day because our clinic started earlier than the others. They had time to visit the Pancake Breakfast at the festival grounds, while we RAN to our meeting spot with the American Alpine Institute.

We were the last group to arrive for the clinic (woops). But our guide, Chad, was waiting with trad gear packed and a brand new rope all bundled up. We divvied up the gear, and away we went!

We hiked… and hiked… and hiked some more. This honestly felt like the longest appraoch yet. And I was carrying both my pack and a rope. Honestly, I didn’t think I was going to make it without a significant break. I made the group stop for a water break at least twice. Water was helpful. But it gave me just enough time to catch my breath and adjust the rope.

 

 

We hiked from the festival grounds to the Lotta Balls Wall at First Creek Canyon. I think it felt like it took forever because we weren’t given a time estimate for how long it would take to get there. And because the rope I was hauling was a 70m rope (a HUGE difference in weight when you’re used to hiking with a 60m rope). Not to mention that my top walking speed – which isn’t quick to begin with – decreases as you add weight. So with a pack full of water, some Cliff bars and other snacks, sunscreen, and a rope, I wasn’t going anywhere quickly. Sorry friends.

When we arrive at the Lotta Balls wall, as we had guessed, the other groups had beat us there. I must have looked beat… one of the other guides joked that I should have made Chad carry the rope because he likes to be the pack mule (or something like that) so he can set a quick pace. It never occurred to me to ask for help. I guess I’m just stubborn like that.

We were hoping to climb Black Magic, but it was already taken. Lotta Balls was another option. Also taken. By process of elimination… Trihardral it is! Honestly, we were so excited to climb multi-pitch it didn’t matter much which route our guide chose. We just wanted to climb!

Before we started climbing, Chad informed us that there was a piece of trad gear, a cam, that had become a permanent fixture of the route. We were welcome to try to acquire some crag booty, but he had tried already, unsuccessfully. Then, the guide next to us chimed in, informing us that it was his gear and he’d be really happy if we managed to retrieve and return it. There was some friendly banter about who “owned” the cam if someone happened to retrieve it.

Chad lead the route. K in Ohio and I took turns simply following, or pulling the gear as we followed. This was super helpful because it gave me opportunities to look at gear placements for when I finally work up the nerve (and money) to get a trad rack of my own. (This has been on my mind a lot lately with summer vacations to Bon Echo and Sleeping Giant booked, where we currently plan to do a lot of hiking.)

With Chad doing all the hard work of leading, we did a lot of chatting. We made friends with the group and guide climbing next to us. We found out the other guide is a photographer on top of being a mountain guide. Check out Alasdair’s website. I also follow him on social media because photos of adventure (especially climbing adventures) are awesome and give me ideas of where I’d like to travel myself.

Eventually, we got to the cam that was stuck. I mean really stuck. It didn’t look old… but it was visibly older than all of Chad’s gear. I tried to get it. I really did. It didn’t budge. I yelled up to confirm that this was indeed the “permanent” piece of gear. Yep. That’s it. I gave up after a few minutes. I left it there. And we continued our climb. It’s probably still there. If you’re ever in Red Rocks climbing Trihardral and get the crag booty, good for you! I can point you in the direction of the original owner.

The view from the top of the climb was, as expected, spectacular. Desert as far as the eye can see. Although if you were here at night you’d be looking right towards the Las Vegas lights!

What crag booty have you retrieved over the years? Did you keep it? Track down the original owner? Or discard it?

Vegas Vacation Day 3: Black Corridor

Day 3 I was ready for a break from the sun. Seriously. As much as I couldn’t wait to get away from the cold, overcast days of March in Southern Ontario, I wasn’t quite prepared for the sweltering, unrelenting, sunny days in the desert.

So when we were sitting in our hotel room deciding what and where we would climb the next day I insisted on a shady spot. And turns out J and D knew just the spot for us. Black Corridor!

As advertised in the guide book, Black Corridor was a fairly narrow corridor between two red sandstone cliff faces decorated with black markings in the sand. It was beautiful, provided shade all day, and was full of single pitch climbs within our group’s ability.

What I disliked about this spot was that it was fairly crowded. It was obviously a popular spot with the local climbers. And that it was fairly narrow if you were to take a lead fall. If you swung out far for any reason, hitting the other side of the wall was a potential (albeit very unlikely) hazard.

Again, I wish I’d written down the climbs that we accomplished, but I think we climbed:

  • 757 2×4
  • The CEL
  • Bon Ez
  • Lewd, Crude, and Misconstrued
  • Black Gold (this was wayyy too difficult for most of the group, we mostly just tried this on a top rope setup)

But the most unbelieveable (or “unbelayvable” if you read Climbing.com) story of the day comes from a group we were climbing next to. This group seemed to be teaching a friend how to lead climb. Climber was obviously hesitant. Belayer and Observer (I can’t even bring myself to call this person a spotter) were over confident and not taking what, to our group, would have been obvious safety precautions.

Climber was clipped into the first draw and made it to the second bolt. Climber was NOT in a secure place. The “Elvis leg” was jittering. She was telling her friends that her hands were not feeling secure. She was obviously afraid.

What happened next shocked us. Observer starts yelling encouragement and beta. Belayer starts feeding more rope to climber. Meanwhile, climber looks like she could fall any second.

We wanted to look away. We didn’t want to witness a climber decking in the middle of the desert. There was no quick way to medical help. We debated stepping in. We wanted to tell the belayer to take in slack (the rope is dynamic after all, and will stretch if the climber falls), also, it’s better to have a hard catch then hit the ground. But it was like a train wreck or a highway accident — all we could do was watch, jaws dropped, and hope for the best.

I’m happy to say, things worked out for this group. Climber was able to safely clip the draw to the bolt. Then held onto the draw as she clipped in the rope. Again, not an ideal situation but much better than falling.

 

 

We ended up not saying anything to this group. Though to this day I want to educate them on safety measures while lead climbing. What would you have done? Would you interfere mid climb? Would you talk to them once everyone is safely on the ground? How do you advocate safe climbing practices?

Vegas Vacation Day 2: Panty Wall

Day 2 we finally had all out friends together! With 6 people piled into our rented mini van, we headed out to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

Half of our group went to climb Cat in the Hat, a 5 pitch trad climb at Mescalito.

K in Ohio, S, and I spent the day at Panty Wall, where there were many single pitch sport routes for us to climb!

The approach seemed much easier than the previous day. It was about half the length. And I had learned not to wear so many layers! The path itself was a bit easier too. There was a defined, well marked trail. Whereas the path to Physical Graffiti was less defined and more scrambling. After a tough previous day, I was glad for the easier hike. Also, there was little chance of getting lost, because you could see the parking lot from the wall!

Panty Wall was one of my favourites because the routes were the type where I excel. The routes were not overhanging. There were lots of good crimps. And the climbs relied a lot on taking your time and balancing. Awesome!

I wish I could remember exactly which routes we climbed that day, but based on reading The Crag, I think we sent:

  • Silk Panties
  • The Last Panty
  • Black Lace
  • Boxer Rebellion
  • Sacred Undergarment Squeeze Job
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K in Ohio is a super amazing safe belayer.

One thing to note about the Panty Wall is that there is a lot of sun exposure, especially at midday. While many people were able to keep climbing, this pasty Canadian took a nap in the shade of a rock.

One of the fun things about climbing single pitch is that you get to meet a lot of interesting people. The climbs are shorter, so there are more opportunities to chat or share beta. We struck up a few conversations with some people from all over the US. However, what was really awesome is that we met other Canadians… from our home province… from the same city… and who climb at the same gym! And were not aware we would all be there on the same day. (Hey friends, if you’re reading this, I haven’t forgotten that I took some pictures for you and am still planning to post them on Facebook at some point)

The highlight of our day, however, was trying to get the group back together. We made it back to the parking lot as the sun was going down. We watched the sunset. We took lots of pictures. We chatted. We enjoyed the city lights from a distance. We joked about having to find our own way back to the city.

When we finally heard from the other group (who were now really late completing their climb), they let us know that the road back to us was closed and we would have to meet them at the park entrance. So we started walking. It was a really beautiful night, so we didn’t mind. I don’t remember who had this bright idea (probably me…), but we decided that we should all turn off our headlamps and enjoy the stars! Sounds beautiful, right? It was. However, I cannot reiterate enough… DON’T WALK IN THE DARK IN THE DESERT. (This is probably common sense if you’re form around there, but it was not fo us.) We’re walking along, enjoying the sights, looking up… when we heard a distinct rattle. RATTLE SNAKE! We panicked. We ran away. And nothing bad happend. We were really lucky.

Later that evening, we looked up what would be a more appropriate evasive action and how to respond to a snake attack. Thank you Internet.

The lesson I took away from this is always be aware of the local wildlife (and plants) that can hurt you. We were more careful from then on to watch for snakes. We kept our distance from lizards. We didn’t touch the cacti. And we kept our eyes peeled for the illusive Desert Tortoise.

When we travelled to West Virginia months later, one of the first things I did was ask a local (at the climbing shop, of course) what wildlife resided in the area that we should watch out for.

Vegas Vacation Day 1: Physical Graffiti

So many things happened on our first full day in Vegas!

We started our day early. Like, even a morning person would say it was an early morning kind of early. Because we knew we were a large group and wanted dibs on a particular climb.

So we dragged our butts out of bed. After arriving on late flight. Checking into our hotel around midnight-ish. And catching a very late dinner. And thus started the trend of sleeping maybe 4-5 hours per night.

Some of the group had been to Red Rocks the previous year. And I was warned that it could be scorching hot at ground level and snowing by the time you get to the top of the mountain. So I dressed in layers. 3 layers, like the good Canadian I am. I wasn’t about to risk getting cold.

Learning Experience #1: I forgot about the other extreme. It was about a 45 minute hike to our climb and I was ROASTING about 15 minutes in. I tried to press on and keep up. But I was overheating and slowing down because of it… so I had to stop and take off my warm layer

Learning Experience #2 : How in the world was I going to fit the clothing into my already overfull pack?! Pack light if you’re climbing multi-pitch.

Anyway, by the time we arrived, we found that a group was already climbing Big Bad Wolf. And there was another waiting. So we changed our plan and set up to climb Physical Graffiti, which happened to be right beside it.

Learning Experience #3: Don’t plan any sightseeing, insist on a stop, dawdle, or in any way delay the group in the morning. You might not get your first pick of routes!

We split into a group of 2 and a group of 3. I excitedly fastened my GoPro to my helmet. I was the coolest kid at the crag.

Being my first multi-pitch, and a trad multi-pitch at that. I followed. (With some more experience, I hope to lead such a climb some day!) I was giddy the entire first pitch because this climb crossed off many “firsts”: climbing outside of Ontario, climbing sandstone, and climbing a multi-pitch. This pitch was also made super fun by the group next to us who started a sing-a-long. Second pitch was a bit more challenging. The winds got stronger and the temperature cooled off a bit. I could barely communicate with my leader… and the leader that was following behind me. (Next time I won’t make fun of the idea to bring walkie talkies.) The second pitch was also a bit more challenging. Just breath. I had to tell myself a few times when I was unsure of a move. You’re essentially on top rope. You’re safe. From there, we anchored ourselves in for a while and waited for the others to catch up. Then, as a group, we scrambled to the top to enjoy the view!

We hung out here for quite a while. We took pictures. And practiced yoga. And some basic acro yoga (flying bird).

To top off an absolutely amazing day, we picked K in Ohio up from the airport that evening!

What Happens in Vegas…

Around this time last year, I was in the midst of booking my first ever trip to Las Vegas. I keep debating whether I want to share any of our stories because it was so long ago. But I don’t want to forget the fun times we had, so I’m going to try to document the highlights.

Being such a popular tourist destination, I had many recommendations about the best deals on places to stay, eat, party, gamble… And while this advice was great, I tried politely thank them for the advice and explain that there was a good chance I wouldn’t get to any of the more traditional Vegas experiences. But if I’m not there for Vegas… then why in the world was I going???

I was there for Red Rock Canyon – just outside of town. I was there for the hiking, the scrambles, the views, and, most importantly, the rock climbing!

Day 1 we travelled. 5 of us made our way to the airport, sang the Monorail song from The Simpsons (on while taking the airport train/monorail/transport), and then went through the motions of travel. Not too exciting, except for the random break into song!

We spent a week in Vegas, and there are tons of pictures and stories to share… and some I won’t. Because that’s the fun of travelling to Vegas, am I right?

Hello world!

Obligatory “Hello World” blog post goes here.

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Hey there! Amber here. Blogging from Ontario, Canada. I’m a writer of sorts. I also do video things. I love rock climbing, cats, dogs, crafty things and cooking. Not necessarily in that order.

I used to blog a lot while I was a university student. I had a personal blog that talked about cooking on a budget. I used that to help me get started writing. Many classes required me to blog about academic articles, and projects.

When I struck out to find my career path (about 2 years ago now), I quit blogging cold turkey. I found lots of reasons not to blog. My interests have changed. I don’t want go back to the blogs I once wrote for. I’m tired of being on the computer at the end of my day… Yet, I still feel I need a creative writing outlet.

Guess what? I’m blogging again. The intention is to keep this a fun hobby. I’ll write when I feel inspired. I won’t feel obligated to post on any sort of schedule. I’m ok with holding onto something for a while before I share it. I won’t worry about getting photos with my DSLR – cell phone pics will suffice if that’s what I have available. I wish I could say I won’t look at stats — but I will. It’s nice to see what you’re interested in reading.

What will you find on this blog? You will find recipes, especially if I’m trying something new and adventurous. Lots and lots of cat pictures. Because I’m a crazy cat lady. Pictures and stories of camping, hiking, and enjoying the outdoors.

Happy reading!