I spend about two or three months out of the year climbing and guiding in Red Rock – it’s my favorite place on earth. Some of my clients come from as far away as NYC and San Francisco and, after a week of climbing, they make it an annual destination, too!
Pros and cons
The Red Rock National Conservation Area sits high above the Las Vegas Valley in southern Nevada. From a distance, you’ll immediately notice its off-white rock overlaid with a stripe of red that seemingly was applied as a painter’s wide swath on an otherwise blank canvas. The resulting view is stunning, and its Aztec Sandstone has long beckoned to climbers everywhere. Its soft texture and black patina plates offer positive holds reminiscent of ones found in a climbing gym, making it enticing to any newcomer.
The weather in southern Nevada is hard to beat too: warm temperatures in late fall and early spring make for much more agreeable climbing conditions than other areas in the country during those seasons. You can even arrive in February to find temperatures in the 60s and get away wearing short sleeves at many of the south-facing crags!
This area’s climbings history and its dramatic desert landscape combine to make Red Rock a true destination area. Ever since the 1970s climbers had been looking to expand on practices developed by early climbing pioneers in Yosemite. With climbing’s small but growing popularity, many climbers began to look further afield than the Yosemite classics. This desire for expansion and exploration ultimately led to legendary climbers like Joe Herbst, a Nevada native, and subsequent partners Richard Harrison and Larry Hamilton to start visiting the towering sandstone monoliths of Red Rock, an ancient, petrified beach, and conveniently, Herbst’s home terrain!
Herbst and company began ticking off many of its tallest peaks via routes like Jubilant Song (5.8) on Windy Peak, Triassic Sands (5.10) on Whiskey Peak and the Original Route (5.12) or Rainbow Wall. Then, in 1975, Jorge and Joanne Urioste set out to climb Catwalk (5.6) on the Celebration Wall and discovered the immense potential for creative lines in the landscape. Subsequently, more and more routes began to appear under the creative genius of this pair. The Uriostes’ had a vision for traditionally protected routes like Black Orpheus (5.10), and they also saw the potential for bolt protected climbing over more blank sections of rock.
Red Rocks has something for everyone
One stellar component of Red Rock is its grades. From single pitch routes that are bolted or fully traditional to sky splitting, vertical walls 2000’ tall, Red Rock has every type of climbing under the sun. Many refer to it as 5.7 Heaven or Moderate Mecca as it’s easy to find long, involved routes that never have a single move more difficult than 5.7, like Birdland, Olive Oil and Cookie Monster.
Still, if you want to test yourself, try the Original Route on Rainbow Wall at a sustained 5.12 or the amazing splitter cracks of Cloud Tower with pitches at every grade from 5.8 up to 5.12a. Rose Hips (5.7) offers full adventure climbing without any fixed protection in sight! Great routes with traditionally protected pitches and convenient fixed anchors that allow for a slimmed down rack are the huge Solar Slab (5.6) or the immaculate varnished wall that is the Black Velvet Wall with classics like Dream of Wild Turkeys (5.10) or Fiddler on the Roof (5.10+).
Here’s my favorite Red Rock climbs for all skill levels
The Great Red Book
When I want to give someone a quick introduction to the multi-pitch paradigm, I think the best place to begin is The Great Red Book in the Calico Hills. It’s a 2-pitch 5.8 containing short sections of lay back corner climbing and exposed face climbing on a great, red slab. The pitches are both over 120’ tall, so they have plenty of movement! From a distance, it’s an obvious route and it shows you all of the reasons why you would want to climb it.
On days when I feel like getting out into the canyons and high off the ground to experience a longer climb, I opt for Cookie Monster (5.7) and link it to the final two crack pitches of Cat in the Hat (5.6). This route offers a chance to gain exposure quickly with long pitches and one ledge right in the middle to break up the climbing and give you a chance to appreciate where you are. It starts out with a direct line in a deep corner, straight up the southeastern shoulder of the Mescalito formation. Also, this route also gives you the chance to summit the formation for a great long day out.
Black Velvet Canyon
For a great outing with more advanced crack technique, I like to go to Black Velvet Canyon and link Triassic Sands (5.10) with Wholesome Fullback (5.10b). I could climb these two crack climbs on Whiskey Peak over and over because of the amazing hand and fist cracks and because I get to listen to the frogs in the wetlands below!
Anyone who wants a big day out to test how quickly they can move over moderate terrain needs to try Myster Z (5.7) to Armatron (5.9-) or Sweet Thin (5.9) linkup. While many choose to hike the two hour approach to the top of the great white slab and reach the Brownstone Wall in Juniper Canyon, try climbing instead! Myster Z offers 500’ of climbing over cracks and face to a quick walk over to Brownstone. There Sweet Thin awaits with an incredible pitch of laybacking up an impossibly thin flake followed by a pitch of off width and fist cracks. The other alternative is the Armatron linkup with mostly 5.6 face climbing over immaculate varnish up an incredibly exposed feature.
For folks wanting to climb hard and high off of the ground, head back to Mescalito for a big link up of Slot Machine (5.10+ face/finger crack) to Chasing Shadows (5.8 face/fist crack) to Edge Dressing (5.10+ crimping) to Dark Shadows (5.8 face/ crack) to the summit! This allows for a clean, plum line straight up the Dark Shadows buttress and a way to sneak around the crowds on the first four pitches. Not bad at all.
At the end of the day, Red Rock is as much about its community as it is about the rock. Given the proximity to one of America’s most infamous cities, there’s lots of attention given to this place and not all of it is sustainable. The local climbers of Las Vegas who have decided to make the area their home work hard to keep the land pristine and infrastructure up to date.
Because of the amount of visitors Red Rock will continue to receive, it is worthwhile to pay homage to the area by donating time, money or both to local organizations such as the Southern Nevada Climbers Coalition or Friends Of Red Rock Canyon. Help us keep Red Rock wild and accessible!
Looking forward to seeing you out there!