Monday, 2 March 2015

A Biased Guide to Climbing at Red Rock Canyon

Do you hate crowds and chaos? Does walking into a casino give you audio sensory overload? If so, you might think Las Vegas isn’t for you. Well, if you play your cards right (pun intended) you can go to Vegas and pretend you’re not really in Vegas.

Andrew and I have been making the almost-annual trip to Red Rock Canyon, a short drive west of Vegas, for several years. Lots of our climbing friends, thinking of coming here, have asked us for advice and there have been several questions lately on the ACC Sask Section Facebook page so I thought I’d write this guide, biased as it may be.


Red Rocks, A Climber’s Guide by Jerry Handren – This is the best and most recent detailed guidebook. However, it was published in 2007 so there are a lot of climbs not in it.

Fun Climbs Red Rocks by Jason D. Martin – This book focuses on “moderate” climbs up to the 5.10 range. Published in 2009, there are a few more areas listed than in the above-noted book and often with a bit more detail. has some of the most recent information. You can download the app on your phone. Be sure to also download the photos -- there are no route topo maps. Check it out before you go, as it is sometimes hard to figure out where things are on the go. We've found that the locations only listed on are pretty quiet. Maybe one other party there at most.

There is also a bouldering guidebook if that's your thing. 

We generally climb, at most, in the 5.10ish sport range so the following, unless otherwise noted, are good suggestions for that range. These are just a few of our favourite areas to give people some suggestions to get started. There are far more really great climbs than what I've listed here! 

Sport Routes

Calico Hills - First Pullout
·      Panty Wall (a good range of sport climbs from 5.6 to 5.11 and a few trad routes in the 5.10 range) 
·      The Hamlet
·      Ultraman Wall (Slabby, very long routes. Watch your rope length for lowering or rapping off.)
·      Civilization Wall  (Info on only. Several routes in 5.10 range. Mostly in shade.)

Calico Hills - Second Pullout
·      Magic Bus (Also a couple trad routes here.)
·      Meetup Wall (Info on mountain only. A couple really fun "pumpy" overhanging routes on the shady side of the wall. 5.9 and 5.10a.) 
·      Black Corridor (Wide variety of grades and lots of them. Shady narrow corridor that is great, but crowded, when it’s really hot out.)
- The Gallery (Wide variety of grades and lots of them.)

Single Pitch Trad Routes

Great Red Book - 2-pitch 5.8 at Calico Hills Second pullout
Ragged Edges area at Willow Springs pullout

Multi-Pitch Routes

There are many great multi-pitch (mostly trad) routes of all levels to enjoy. All the ones we’ve done have been true to grade if not easier and all the get a 2 or 3 star rating have been well worth the effort.  (Yes, I wrote this before we did Group Therapy!) Some of our favourites:

Tunnel Vision (5.7) – Its namesake is a really fun vertical tunnel that you climb through. Not much for pro on that pitch. Look above/behind you, about ½ way up to find a gear placement. 

Cat in the Hat (5.6) – A very popular but fun route. Unfortunately you have to rappel the route, which makes it worse with crowds. Suggest going early and not on a weekend. The first time we went, it was such a gong show that we bailed off after three pitches for fear of getting in the middle of a major accident.

Birdland (5.7+) – Really fun route. 

Olive Oil (5.7) - Really nice route. Don't let the "poor protection" comments about pitch 5 scare you. Very easy where it's run out and then good pro further up. 

Solar Slab (5.6) – NOTE: When doing routes in the Solar area, we recommend parking along the highway, just west of the exit from the scenic drive loop, rather than in the Oak Creek Parking area which is noted in the guidebook. It’s a slightly longer hike in but you more than make up the time by not having to drive the scenic one-way loop. And trust me, if you’re at Red Rock for a week or more of climbing you’ll get your fill of the loop!

Also note that to do the upper routes on Solar you have to first climb Solar Gully or Johnny Vegas. In the Handren book the Gully is rated as 5.3. It is not 5.3. Other versions describe it as 5.5 which is more accurate. 

Crimson Chrysalis (5.8+) - Long route, mix of sport and trad. Quite popular and have to rappel route so try to go early and not on a weekend.

Where to Stay

Summerlin is the area on the west side of Vegas, closest to Red Rocks. We usually stay at the LaQuinta Inn& Suites on Sahara Ave. It’s relatively inexpensive, clean and has a small kitchen which is great if you’re staying for any length of time and don’t want to eat out every night. We stayed on the strip once but driving from there and dealing with heavy traffic cuts significantly into your climbing time.

If you know the dates of your trip for sure, you can find a few places on Friends of ours stayed at one called “Base Camp” and is owned by a climber. They said it was good.

The Red Rock Canyon campground is just east of Red Rocks. The one time we stayed there, many years ago, we found it to be very basic, dusty, dry and desolate. No shade, no showers. There are now shade canopies over the picnic tables. At the time, you could shower (for a small price) at the Red Rock Climbing Gym beside Desert Rock Sports on Charleston Ave.

Rest Day Activities

Hiking – There are several hikes to choose from in and around the Red Rocks area. Hiking/scrambling up Turtlehead Peak provides a great view of the area. On a hot day, Icebox Canyon is the place to be. On a recent cold & rainy day we did the loop hike from Red Springs in Calico Basin, to the Quarry, around the front of Calico Hills and back to Red Springs. 

Hiking Las Vegas by Branch Whitney is a good resource for this area as well as others in the area. 

Springs Preserve – This is one of our favorite places! And it’s right in the middle of Vegas. There are several hiking/interpretive trails, a lovely gardens area, a sustainability centre, a couple museums with always changing displays, and a really nice restaurant. Andrew and I buy an annual membership so that we can go in early (8 am instead of 10 am) and it often seems like we have the gardens and trails to ourselves at that time. The number of blog posts we've both written about the Springs are proof of how much we like it. 

Pahrump Winery – Pahrump is located an hour west of Vegas. The winery is only one of four in Nevada and specializes in red wine grapes, as it’s too warm here for white. There is a nice restaurant and they have daily tastings and tours.

Movies – There are several Regal Cinemas. At the corner of Sahara Ave and Fort Apache Rd (walking distance from the LaQuinta if you're staying there), one at Downtown Summerlin mall and one in the Red Rock Casino Resort. The one in the Resort also has an Imax theatre. 

Valley of Fire State Park - Just over an hour drive from Summerlin area. Beautiful red rock (hence the name), interesting rock formations and several short hiking trails. 


Desert Rock Sports – 8221 W. Charleston Blvd.
REI – 710 S. Rampart Blvd. 

Groceries - One can easily find a grocery store in the Summerlin area. These are our favourites:
·      Whole Foods - 8855 W. Charleston Blvd.
·      Sprouts Farmers Market - 10000 W. Sahara Ave.

Coffee Shops and Restaurants

·      Starbucks – they’re everywhere, they’re everywhere!
·      The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf -- also several locations. We usually go to the one at 10834 W. Charleston Ave on the way out to Red Rock. 
·      Sambalatte (near REI in the Boca Park Mall)

There are tons of restaurants in the Summerlin area! A couple suggestions:
  • Honey Salt - 1031 S. Rampart Blvd. Casual and laid back but very nice place. 
  • Vintner Grill - 10100 W. Charleston Blvd. This is for a classy, “fine dining” special night out. Although the address is on Charleston, there is only a small and easily missed sign on the street side. Drive around to the back to find the entrance.
  • If you’re looking for a relatively quiet place to have a drink (which seems to be a rarity in Vegas) check out the bar area beside the reception desk at the Red Rock Casino Resort.
Other General Advice

The Visitor’s Centre at Red Rocks is quite good. Stop there one day before or after climbing and, in the warmer months, look for Mojave Max (the tortoise) in the area out back.

You can get a 7-day pass to Red Rocks but if you plan to visit other national parks or conservation areas, buy an annual National Parks Pass. We didn’t figure this out until after our first few trips.

Note that the park gates and the scenic loop drive closes at varying times depending on the time of year and how early it gets dark. Locals have warned us that the park staff are very strict about ensuring people are out of the park shortly after closing time. Fines are handed out if you're late. However, climbers and hikers can apply for a late permit if they are on a very long route and know they will be late or overnight. 

If You Must . . .

If you just can’t leave Vegas without trying your hand at a slot machine or two, check out the Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa. Get your fix without braving the chaos of the strip. 

If you need more than just climbing/outdoor stores and grocery markets to get your shopping fix, check out Downtown Summerlin mall. Close to the Red Rock Casino, between Sahara and Charleston Avenues. Has an Apple Store; voted as the local’s favourite shopping mall. Sorry, I have no clue where the nearest outlet mall is! 

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