Pleasantly Sandbagged in Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree is, I think, the most beautiful place I’ve ever climbed. But fuck me those grades are stiff!

I climbed in Joshua Tree a few years ago, and have basically been itching to get back since the day I left. There is something about the place that really feels other worldly. The weird forest with bulging, rounded rock formations on the horizon looks like a science fiction set or a Neptunian moon. It’s a very cool place to go climbing.

The way the Red Rocks trip worked out left us out of time in the camp site (14 nights max) and struggling a bit for cheap accommodation near the climbing. We only had a few days left in total for this leg of the trip, and so it was the perfect opportunity to get out and check out somewhere different.

I think you could probably spend multiple years climbing in Joshua Tree and not get bored. We only had three days, so we couldn’t even scratch the surface. The highlight for me was climbing in Real Hidden Valley. I think that may be my all time favourite climbing destination – perfect granite in a stunning setting. We did a shaded two pitch route that will definitely stick in the memory for a long time.

The climbing in Joshua Tree was every bit as good, and every bit as hard, as I remembered it to be! I’m still getting reacquainted with placing trad gear after a long lay off, so there was some additional and unnecessary terror from that side of things! One of these days I’ll get a trad head on me…

Like this post, the Joshua Tree trip was a short one. We mostly stuck to roadside and relatively straightforward trad routes. I tried one absolutely nails sport route, and we ran out of time to do some bouldering. There is so much that I would like to do here, I definitely feel like I have unfinished business in the park. Watch this space….

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Free Solo Travel

Don’t worry, I’m not brave enough to ditch the ropes. The title refers to the next part of the US trip. 

This weekend I bid a fond farewell to Keith & Manu, and venture forth on my own. Solo, and free to go where I choose. 

Which, in the first instance will be New Orleans then Houston… Not exactly well known climbing hotspots! I’m taking a break from climbing for a week or so to catch up with some friends from back home. I guess I might post about the trip, but the only climbing I’ll get in will be indoors, if at all. 

I’ve no fixed plans afterwards, but if you see a Scottish guy hanging about a camp site begging for a belay, please give generously! 

Tips from a Red Rocks First Timer

The Cat in the Hat in the distance

I’ve been kicking about Red Rocks for a couple of weeks now, and I think I’m starting to get the hang of the place. In this post I’ll list a few places that I’ve found handy for a camping traveller visiting Red Rocks for the first time. I guess some of this will be more applicable to non-US visitors, but we’ll see. I think this post will likely evolve over the next few weeks if I pick up any other tips along the way.

This is certainly not a comprehensive guide, and is of course not as valuable as advice from a local. Rather, this is just some tips that I have picked up in my first two weeks here. Anything incorrect, or any obvious omissions, please let me know in the comments.

Accommodation

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I have been mostly camping since I got here, but I had a night in the Rio when I arrived, and then a few nights in an Airbnb while I got myself organised for the rest of the trip.

A point to be aware of if staying in a hotel. There are typically ‘resort fees’ when you arrive which will add about $30 p/n or so to the cost of your stay. As far as I know changing the advertised price like that is not legal in the UK, so it might be a bit unexpected. The Rio was a cool place to stay for a night though, and the $10 entry to the Voodoo rooftop nightclub was worth it for the view alone.

There are hundreds of low cost Airbnb’s in Vegas. You can’t really go wrong. I just got the one closest to the climbing that was in my price range.

The Red Rocks Campground (located here) is the only nearby option for camping. Some points about the camp site:

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  • You can only stay for 14 days out of every 28 days. So be careful if you are planning a longer trip.
  • The rangers are really nice people and very helpful.
  • There are no showers…
  • There is drinking water available, although it tastes a bit like a swimming pool. It’s fine for cooking with, washing dishes etc, but I would recommend buying bottled drinking water.
  • Discounts are available with certain national park cards, although the $80 annual pass does NOT allow a discount unfortunately.
  • It’s bloody freezing at night in February and a Walmart sleeping bag will likely result in hypothermia!

Gearing Up

I guess most folk will travel with their stuff packed, but I decided to just buy camping kit when I arrived. My camping gear in the UK is wearing out anyway, and I would have needed to add another bag to my flight to get it all across here. There are a number of REI stores in Vegas that are really well stocked with camping and climbing kit, although they are a bit on the expensive side… For really cheap camping kit, Walmart is the answer….

HOWEVER… the stuff in Walmart is really really low quality and I would not recommend going this route. Buy cheap, buy twice – a lesson that I need to re-learn on a regular basis!

I have already been to REI to replace my Walmart sleeping bag with a decent one, and the Walmart tent ($50 – pictured above) offers basically no resistance to the wind at all, and is next on the list to get replaced. I did get a perfectly decent airbed, blanket, and pillow in Walmart though so there are some things that you can get cheaply there. But, unless you like to sleep shivering and freezing cold in what feels like a wind tunnel, the tents and sleeping bags are to be avoided!

I travelled with most of my climbing kit, but I’ve picked up a few incidentals at Desert Rock Sports (located here). The staff seem to know  what they are talking about, and it’s pretty well stocked with gear. There are a couple of other climbing stores, but this one has done for us so far.

Civilisation

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I camped for more or less ten weeks straight in Europe last year and had no problems, but there are certain considerations to be aware of if you’re doing a long term camp here. Firstly, in Europe the camp sites more or less all have hot showers – not so in the desert. The Red Rock Climbing Centre (located here) offers showers for $4 which is a bit expensive, but totally worth it! It’s a cool looking indoor centre as well, worth a look if the weather’s poor.

There is no WiFi in the camp site, and only patchy phone signal. I am getting a sniff of 3G from AT&T in the camp site, although it’s really slow. Good enough for occasional WhatsApp messages, and that’s about it. The best place that I’ve found so far for WiFi is ‘The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf’ (located here). This is a decent enough cafe with fast WiFi and good coffee, and it’s a very short drive from the camp site.

Eating

I’m on a fairly strict budget here, so I am mostly trying to cook for myself at the camp site. I stocked up on camp cooking kit at REI, and have been mostly buying grub at Albertsons. There is a store really close to the camp site, and I think the extra cost for produce vs Walmart is worth it for a step up in quality.

It’s incredibly easy to get run down when you’re camping at night and exercising all day, so I think that making sure you’re properly fed is a decent investment. I might actually write up a post on camp site cooking for climbing survival… Watch this space.

Transport – I hate rental car companies

I’m staying in the states till the 8th July, and planning to travel around the national parks and climb as much as possible. So I basically need a car for the whole time I’m here. The best deal that I have managed to find so far is through Turo, although at $50 a day it really starts to add up.

A point to note for European / UK travellers. As far as I can tell, the basic price that you get quoted from a rental car company does not include insurance OF ANY SORT AT ALL. This is because most American personal car insurance covers rental cars as well as your own car. Unlike in Europe, the ‘extra insurance’ that the rental company pushes on you is not really optional, it’s a legal minimum requirement. If you do not have cover through your own insurance, you are 100% liable for any damage caused to the rental car, anyone else’s car, or basically anything. This is total bastard, particularly if you are here for five months… The insurance top up through Enterprise is $30 p/d – nearly $4000 for me to insure a car for 5 months…. Obviously not going to happen.

My backup plan was to just buy a car, but that is also a nightmare to get insurance without a permanent address in the USA. I think  the may be a solution going through an insurance broker, but I’m not there yet. In fact, I’m writing this post as a way of procrastinating on getting the car situation sorted out.

If I ever get to the bottom of this, I’ll write up a post on how I solved it. For now, I’m out $50 a day for an old Toyota, and that might well be the best deal I can get.

General Tips

Getting around Vegas is really easy. It took us a few days to get orientated with respect to accommodation, showers, WiFi etc. The only outstanding concern is the car situation, which I’ll get sorted eventually.

I’ve been intentionally avoiding the Strip and the Casinos so far, but I’ll venture in for a look at some point I guess.

Everyone that I have met in Vegas, in the camp site and out climbing have been brilliant so far. Very friendly and helpful. Particular thanks to the folks who jump started our car after we left a phone charging in it…

I think this post will evolve as I keep exploring. And please, let me know anything I’ve missed or messed up in the comments.

Andy

 

Things To Do In Red Rocks When It Rains

The previous post left us high and ‘dry’, in position in Vegas but with Red Rocks sodden and off limits for the foreseeable future. Okay, off limits for two or three days, but that is long enough when you’ve flows transatlantic to go climbing…  Thankfully, we were rescued by a load of limestone, that neither of us were really aware of setting off.

Following a recommendation, we spent two days cragging at ‘The Gun Club’, La Madre. The venue is a small gully with north and south aspects. I guess that normally there is a choice of sunny or shaded climbs all day, but it was breezy and overcast the days we were there. The crag might not be ‘world class’, but it’s perfectly decent if the sandstone is waterlogged. We found plenty of fun routes all over the grade range, and enjoyed it enough the first day to return for a second. 

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On day one, pure relief at finding dry rock chased me up ‘Clay Pigeon’ (5.11a) onsight, and then ‘Friendly Fire’ (5.11d) with a few goes to do the crux. Having not climbed for two weeks my hands were milky soft to start with and the tips quickly succumbed to the limestone razor blade crimps and sandpaper slopers! I kept climbing course, but I was pretty spent and didn’t really have much left in the way of gurn or fingertips by the end. It’s the only way I know to start a trip. 

Day two at The Gun Club was a bit of a different story. We set off in the morning and did a bunch of the easy climbs for a warm up, then set about getting up ‘High Calibre’ (5.12a) on the left wall. I have done a few routes at this grade over the years, but it’s a bit of a rare treat, so I started with fairly limited expectations. My strategy with harder routes is typically to top rope them a couple of times, then go for the lead. I usually spend a bit of time on the top rope figuring out the moves, then maybe go for a clean top rope before going for the red point. This time however, I found myself through the crux at the first time of asking, and decided to cling on for the top rope ‘flash’. This turned out to maybe not be such a good idea for a couple of reasons.

First, I was totally physically pumped and took a long time to recover. But, worse for me at least, it kinda set up the mind set that if I could do it first go on a top rope, then of course I could lead it. I’ve touched on this a bit in relation to fluffing boulder problems when I ‘assume’ that I should get them, and it’s no different with routes. I got on lead and climbed like a brick, offering little resistance to gravity’s charms. Sending nerves or performance anxiety? I’m not sure which, but I know that my ‘head games’ are definitely something that I need to work on.

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I could probably sulk and write off ‘The Gun Club’ as a chossy pit. However, in truth it was two excellent days cragging, which looked like they had the potential to be days spent festering at the camp site. Maybe not world class, but ‘The Gun Club’ would be a up there in terms of Scottish sport. Regarding failing to lead ‘High Calibre’, I suppose it’s better not to define success or failure in terms of whether or not you made the top of the climb, but rather whether you progressed as a climber. I think it’s probably useful to have my weak head games hammered home early in the trip so that I can see about resolving them ASAP. Quickly getting ‘Friendly Fire’ was good for me, and making the moves first go – on a top rope admittedly – on ‘High Calibre’ was also progress of sorts. 

I think the moral to this story is don’t despair if you get rained off Red Rocks, there’s perfectly decent limestone right next to Vegas waiting eagerly to savage  your fingertips – and your ego!

Andy

Rainy Days in Red Rocks

Red Rocks River

We arrived in Red Rocks on the 18th Feb, 2017. Just in time to catch record breaking rainfall. The rain here on Saturday was the highest ever recorded on that date, and is more than double the total February average rainfall. Not ideal climbing weather!

Saturday was a total washout of course, and Sunday was still pretty damp and obviously unclimbable. Picking up supplies in Desert Rock Sports though, I was surprised to hear how long the Canyon would take to dry out. No climbing until Wednesday? Obviously unacceptable, so we grabbed the limestone guide and started laying plans. All is not lost, and hopefully there will be tales of Limestone sending appearing on this blog shortly…

This weekend was a washout and not the ideal start to the trip. But, it was far from a disaster. Hiking around the Canyon and checking out a good few crags and boulders was fun, and will save time later on. The Calico Basin is a beautiful place to walk about even without climbing. The extra heavy rain meant that a fairly sizeable stream was flowing through the canyon, creating impromptu waterfalls and pools along the path. The sun poked it’s nose out of the clouds a few times during the day, giving a hint of what was to come – world class climbing in a fantastic location. Can’t wait!

American Airlines

American Airlines

What a difference a day makes… This time yesterday I was festering at home, no visa, no flights, no firm plans, and wondering if the US trip was actually going to happen. Today, I am Visa’d up, flights booked and ready to go. Flying out 5th Feb, returning 8th July, so plenty of time to get a good look around. I’ll be there in time for the Superbowl, and staying until after Independence Day. So I figure I’ll get a good look at American culture along the way. And of course, a shit load of climbing!

I intentionally don’t have a lot of specific plans for the states, I want to get across there with a bit of freedom to change locations, or stay longer if I like a place. But here are a few places on the ‘must see’ list, that I’ll definitely be paying a visit to.

Red Rock Canyon

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Our first stop is going to be Red Rock Canyon. The climbing here looks amazing, and of course it’s right next to Vegas… So plenty of scope for non-climbing activities. Red Rock seems to be a playground for bouldering, sport, and trad climbing. I intend to do a bit of everything here, but I really want to try out some of these crack climbs I’ve heard so much about. We don’t really have cracks in the UK. I climbed one in Joshua Tree that I thought was tricky, and later found it was graded 5.1 (yes, point one). So, obviously needing some practice there. Some of the bouldering looks amazing as well. I’m gushing now… Suffice to say, I’m looking forward to Red Rocks.

Bishop

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I spent a couple of weeks in Bishop a while back, and I’ve been itching to get back ever since. The bouldering in Buttermilk Country is probably the most scenic I’ve ever done, and I’ve got some unfinished business with the (also excellent) Happy Boulders. The last time I was there we inadvertently stumbled on a Mule festival in the town as well which was… interesting! The daily breakfast burrito from the Black Sheep cafe was almost as appealing as the climbing, I’m looking forward to that as well!

Joe’s Valley

I’ve not been to Joe’s Valley before, but it is somewhere that I’ll definitely be visiting. I’m hoping that lessons learned climbing on Fontainbleau sandstone will translate well here. But, that kind of thinking has resulted in an ego-spanking before, so I’ll see how it goes out there. Some of the videos online look amazing, I think this is a place not to be missed on this trip.

Zion National Park

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Zion is known for it’s off width cracks, and the UK climbing community has concentrated all of it’s collective off-width skills into two people. Neither of which is me. I’m expecting to get a lesson in climbing grade humility here. But, just look at the photos! The place is absolutely stunning to just look at, never mind going climbing there. I’m pretty sure I’ll be happy hiking about if the climbing is too tough- a visit here is not going to be a hardship!

Yosemite

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I’ve been to Yosemite a couple of times before, but I’ve never really been there long enough to really get into the style and maybe try something hard. I’m not exactly sure what yet, that’ll depend on how fit I manage to get before I arrive in the valley. But there is endless scope for adventure at all grades, so I’m sure I’ll find something to climb on. I would absolutely love to get one of the classic hard boulder problems as well… You all know which one I mean, but I’ll need to up my game for that to happen. Time will tell… I think some friends from the UK are meeting up with us in Yosemite, so I’ve got high hopes for a brilliant time here.

Joshua Tree

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Another place that I’ll be returning to having climbed there previously. Joshua Tree is a landscape like no other I’ve ever seen. It looks almost otherworldly – like climbing on a Neptunium moon or something. Last time I was there I went in May, and it was a little bit on the hot side. I’ll try and factor in an earlier visit this time I think, although “it’s too hot” is an excellent excuse when the notoriously sandbagged V2’s are spitting you off…

Other Cool Places Too

I’m definitely not limiting myself the only visiting the above places, there are loads of other things that I’d like to go do, but I have only got five months, so I might struggle to fit it all in..

I’m also looking for advice from the locals, so if there’s anything I really shouldn’t miss then let me know in the comments please.

Regardless of the specifics, I’m sure this is going to be an amazing trip. Rather excited to get going now!

Andy