Vegas is an odd place.
Good beer in plastic cups to go...
Inside looks like outside...
Outside looks like inside...
And mountains always at the edge of sight to remind us that reality still exists...
This is the seventh year that Emily and I have joined her dad on the Strip for Thanksgiving, trading hot turkey and football on the couch for a few days of good drinks, awesome food, and the best people watching we can find outside of the Renaissance Festival.
As usual, rather than heading straight to the Strip, we rented a car and got in a few hours surrounded by the surreal formations of Red Rocks.
Usually we just rent a crash pad and head out for a few hours of bouldering, during which I always have my sights set a little too high, and fail miserably on whatever project I've convinced myself is going to happen. This time we decided to bring a rope out for a change of pace. True it would mean an extra bag through the airport, but the idea of getting in some easy mileage seemed way more appealing than my usual flailing five feet off the ground. And since Emily had never done any real multi pitch, hearing there was a 3 pitch 5.9 sport route called Big Bad Wolf sealed it.
Good holds on a vertical face for the first pitch.
Gorgeous slab for the second.
More slab and a vertical finish for the third. All with bolts seemingly every five feet and good chain anchors at the top of every pitch. Definitely more relaxing than anything we had done out there before. At least until Emily joined me at the top of the second pitch and I could hear her knee crackling from ten feet away.
She thought we could still make it to the top. As amazing as the third pitch looked, pushing her knee seemed like a terrible idea considering we still had a good scramble to get back to the trail, so we called down to the party below us to let them know we'd be rapping down.
Going into the day, my only real concern was that Emily hadn't rappelled in a couple years, but fortunately that came back to her pretty quickly and she was soon clipped into the first set of chains. Where she promptly dropped her belay device.
There was a moment of us all watching it slide in slow motion down the remaining slab, and I think I even managed to briefly catch it with my foot. As it turned the corner into the vertical, Emily had the presence of mind to yell "ROCK!" to the parties gathered below, as the ATC rocketed down to glance sharply off a rock and find a comfortable rest under a bush. I have to admit I was a little jealous that it had gotten down so soon.
About three years ago, I used to go to Ilchester and set an anchor just to spend a couple hours ascending and rappelling using every technique I knew, even making it a point to switch devices/techniques while still hanging rather than doing so from the safety of a good stance. So with a full pitch of Big Bad Wolf below us, at least I knew there were options.
We pulled the rope out of the anchors above us, gradually to avoid hitting the climber who was now on the most delicate part of the second pitch. The good news was we didn't hit him. Unfortunately, our gentle pulling meant the rope didn't come down as diagonally as we needed it to, and the end of it was now lodged behind a flake about 25 feet up.
When no amount of pulling and flipping would dislodge it, the guy who was belaying next to us offered to traverse over and free it on his way up the second pitch, so I clipped Emily into the rope with my ATC and looked around to see what I had for getting myself down. Fortunately when getting ready back at the car, my paranoia had overcome any need to travel light and fast, and I now had just enough locking carabiners to build a carabiner brake to rappel on.
By this point, our companion on the ledge had gotten up and freed our rope, which promptly hit the climber below us in the head on the way to the ground. After an appropriate round of apologies, my improvised rappel device had me safely to the ground, and Emily soon joined me to gather our belongings (including her wayward ATC) and pick our way back to the trail.
Climbs like this remind me how glad I am to have backup plans, and backups to the backups. The also remind me how glad I am that climbers are generally so supportive of each other. Whether I'm the one helping or being helped, there's always been a common understanding that this kind of stuff happens to all of us, and if any of them went home later and laughed about our train wreck of a climb, they at least had the decency to keep it quiet until we were safely back at the cars.
We went out there to spend a day doing some fun easy climbing on some pretty rock, and to give Emily her first real multi pitch. We did some fun easy climbing. The rock was pretty. True we only finished the first two pitches instead of all three, but two is still multi pitch, and I have to say I was glad for the opportunity to pull out some skills that I never thought I'd have to actually use. And to top it all off, we still had three nights on the Strip ahead of us. It was a great day.