March 01, 2011
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is a barren, craggy park 17 miles west of the Las Vegas Strip. Since the 1970s, when climbers first came to the area, more than 2,000 rock climbing routes have been pioneered on the area’s tall cliffs and sandstone domes, around which “mountain peaks rise thousands of feet off the desert floor, petroglyphs bake in the sun, and wild burros and desert tortoises track the park’s coarse sand.”
The quote marks denote words taken from an article I wrote on Red Rock Canyon for the New York Times — “Outside Las Vegas, a Game of Skill” — in March of 2006. For years, on assignments as well as for the pure fun of it, I have visited Red Rock to pull on its near-perfect stone and bake in the sun in a strange, red environment that can only be described as Martian.
The strange geology of the region — including giant petrified sand dunes, strata thrusts and sedimentary capstone — make Red Rock Canyon a unique area in the United States. There are difficult single-pitch (one rope length) climbs that flank roadside crags, as well as big walls that are among North America’s most unrelenting formations, some 3,000 feet tall.
Last month, on a bright Sunday morning, I found myself at Red Rock again. It was a training day with two friends, and we decided to make a sprint ascent on the area’s Angel Food Wall. The Route, “Tunnel Vision,” is a 600-foot line that’s been on my checklist for years.
“Tunnel Vision” is described on SuperTopo.com as having “awesome, juggy face climbing and stemming up a fearsome-looking chimney system.” The crux pitch is unique, too: A couple hundred feet off the ground the climb heads into a dark vertical cave of sorts — its namesake “tunnel” — and breaks back into the daylight only 100 feet later after a sequence of stemming moves on smooth stone.
My group climbed the route in a couple hours, stringing some of the pitches together to gain speed. On top, the Martian world of Red Rock sprawled out from the view. The Las Vegas Strip, tiny casino towers from that vantage, were obscured in smog, silent and weird in the distance.
As we walked downhill the views disappeared. The canyon walls closed in, and desert scrub towered overhead. We hiked with packs on through a wash and to the trail. A mile back to the car. Shoes off, gear packed away. Another day to remember in Red Rock Canyon.
—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com.
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