I recently returned back from a 2.5 week trip to Red Rocks, NV. I went with southern powerhouse Jimmy Webb, Finnish crusher Nalle Hukkataival, Cam Maier (bearcam media), Courtney Woods, and Kasia Pietras. Our objective was to check out Paul Robinson’s aesthetic test piece, “Meadowlark Lemon (v15),” as well as the multitude of classics and undone projects that Red Rocks has to offer. My previous trips to Red Rocks involved participating in the classic event known as the Red Rock Rendezvous. I had yet to sample the mysterious Grade A sandstone that this area presented.
12.5 hours of driving through the night (beating out a snowstorm that eventually left the front range looking like the ice age), we arrived to sunshine, sand, cacti, and 50 degree temps. Welcome to the desert…
We unloaded our cars at Kenny Barker’s crib (our residence for the next couple of weeks) and immediately jumped back in to go recon the Lark. The line is located in Gateway Canyon, which is a sector past the infamous Kraft Boulders. In total, it takes about 35 minutes to access the boulder. Though the walk is long, your eyes are mesmerized on polka dot and swirl patterned ruby red sandstone formations that surround you on either side of the wash. We entered wonderland and followed the rabbit hole back to our prize.
Meadowlark was everything that I had imagined. Its marble cake looking presence just begged to be climbed. The holds were a perfect texture and just in the right places to make the movement flow. It presented an all around package. Jimmy and I just starred at the line, planning our attack and soaking up the view. We returned back to our car with more motivation than before, creating a new obsession.
Next day it snowed (random for the desert), so we had to wait an extra day to let the rock dry…
We started the voyage back to the lark. Though I had not tried the moves yet, I envisioned the holds and potential sequences that I was going to try. We got to the boulder, unpacked our Organic pads, turned on our propane heaters (it was 30 degrees back in the canyon), and went to work. It is always fun to give a good flash try on something, regardless of how difficult it is. My flash try was pathetic, but Jimmy gave it a solid effort. He fell 3 moves away from the end and it was one of the sickest things I have seen. I now know why he is the world’s greatest flasher ;). The style of climbing is technical. You have to put your body into the right positions and hit the holds perfectly in order to stick. It is 9 moves long and each move is roughly around the same difficulty. The last move is an awkward lurp to the lip of the boulder, then you can breathe and top out. We did all the moves fairly quickly and started to make send attempts. After a couple of slip ups, I was standing on top of Meadowlark. I felt stoked to send! No words can describe how good this boulder is. You have to experience it for yourself. Jimmy got really close to sending that day as well. He fell off of the last move. The next day he returned back and finished off the line. Paul used a different sequence to send Meadowlark. We did not try the way he did it, but it looked difficult. This is the crux with establishing new lines (especially alone). We all have different climbing styles, heights, armspan etc, so every line is going to be a different experience. Jimmy, Paul, and I climbed the Lark using different methods. Jimmy and I thought our method was v14, but Paul’s looked to be 15. This is the beauty about climbing. Grades are a cool way to track progression, but are not the only thing that matter. What I took away from Meadowlark was the full package it gave me. It allowed me to experience a new canyon, new rock, and challenging moves.
Nalle was able to make an ascent a few days after Jimmy…
Now that our objective was complete, projects and repetitions remained. Courtney and Kasia were motivated to do this line called “Americana Exotica (v10).” This line was perfect. It is 20 feet tall, has incredible rock, unique holds, and burly movement. Courtney and Kasia went to work figuring out the sequence. The crux involved taking a ¾ pad sloping undercling with the left hand and standing tall on poor smears to a right hand sloper. You then bump again into a right hand gaston slot, which requires precision to stick. The final move of the boulder is incredible. It involves a left hand dyno to a jug off of a right hand crimp. Kasia was able to send the boulder that day. Courtney put together all of the moves, and was psyched to return back. A few days later, I went back to the boulder with her, and she destroyed it. It was cool to watch her climb something that was outside of her style. In the end she took it down. It is always satisfying to climb something that does not correlate to your strengths. This helps you progress as an all around climber. If you only climb things within your safety net, then room for expansion will never exist.
After a few days of sampling some of the classics: “Wet Dream (v12)” Lethal Design (v12)” “Book of Nightmares (v11)” “The Shining Path (v12)” “Americana Exotica (v10)” “A Clockwork Orange (v12),” motivation to find a new hard project crept into the system. First off, I want to start by saying that Jimmy Webb is a hiking machine and only rested one day out of the 2.5 weeks that we were there. Everyday he was out searching for projects, even though he did not climb. It was inspirational to observe his dedication in finding new lines.
Red Rocks offers vast potential for new lines. There are four prominent canyons: First Creek, Oak Creek, Pine Creek, and Mustang canyon all explored by Andy Raether, Pete Lowe, and Kenny Barker. Kenny showed us this line in First Creek that looked insane. He hyped it up as one of the coolest lines in Red Rocks that has yet to be done. It is hard to envision how good something is from a photo, but we took Kenny’s word and did the one hour trek out to the proj. The hike was not hard, but damn it was long haha.
Hike description: The first 30 minutes consists of flat trail through shrubs and cacti. The canyon never seems like it is getting closer. You are exposed in the sun staring at the optical illusion of First Creek Canyon. When you enter the canyon the temperature drops from 60 F to 30 F, boulders start to appear, and the sun goes away. You begin hiking the remaining 30 minutes up a wash littered with incredible boulders. The blocs are some of the most beautiful pieces of rock that I have witnessed (ruby red, tan, polka dot and swirly sandstone mixed with dark varnish). Deep into the wash sits the project boulder… tall, perfect, out of this world!
Gazing up at the 25 foot house size boulder, our jaws drop. Not only was there the project from the photo, there were 3 more potential lines that would go. We went to work on the main objective for the day. We stared at the canvas and brushed chalk onto the lower rails, feeling the holds. Once the line was brushed up, we tried the upper moves. This part was deceiving. It looked straight forward but we could not find the right balance to do any of the moves. The stand started on an obvious rounded sloper feature with a flat ¾ pad edge for the right hand and slope for the left. There were 3 distinct vertical rails above, but all were hard to engage. After these rails was an obvious positive finish rail leading to an easy topout. Jimmy was able to come up with a method that involved a huge right arm lock off to the upper left hand rail. From here he pinched the shit out of it and delicately crossed over right above to a bad horizontal block pinch. It looked as if he was moving in slow motion during this move. From the right hand block pinch, he could easily make the move out to the finish rail. He did each individual move, but was unable to link the stand together. I was not strong enough to do it this way, so If had to develop a method that fit my size and strength. I started with my left hand on the edge (instead of right) and right hand on the slope. I crossed way over my body to a 2 finger, miniscule edge with my right hand, levered my left foot to a far rail, mantled the sloper with my left while pulling my body into the wall with my right, prayed that my tip did not split, and dove left hand across my body to the block pinch that Jimmy gets with his right. Here I come in right hand to a gaston right below the pinch and explode to the finish rail with my left hand. This beta was crazy but worked. I was able to do all the moves, but unable to link them together. Jimmy tried the beginning moves and was able to put them together. The intro went at about v7/8 into an iron cross move out right to the stand start feature. He said this section was in the v11 range to get set up for the stand. Climbing this intro into the undone, low percentage stand was going to be crazy.
Day 2 on the project was better. Jimmy was able to climb it from a stand start, and started making attempts from the beginning. I was not quite able to link my method from the stand start, but came close. Jimmy was linking into the stand already, but the final move felt way harder than from the stand. He brutalized himself on these 2 moves, until they were engrained into his system. I got all psyched watching him get buck on this rig and knew I had to bite down harder to do these moves.
Day 3 was a breakthrough day on the stand for me. I was able to link my sequence, but it still felt hard as hell. I was having trouble imagining myself doing these moves from the start. The tricky part was preserving my skin so that it would not split open. I had to limit the amount of efforts I could give it, and made sure each effort was 100%. I was able to link from the bottom into the stand and fall out of control on the last move. This was progress, but the project still felt miles away. Jimmy continued making links and getting closer to sticking that final block hold from the ground. It was exhilarating going into battle with Jimmy on every attempt and feeding off of each other’s energy to get closer and closer. The project would go down, it was just a matter of time.
Day 4… battle continued! We tried briefly, but decided to take a break and check out some of the other lines that the boulder offered. The centerline up the face still had to go. This thing was majestic as well. It started with a perfect right hand flat edge and left hand half pad crimp. You pull on and do a quick juke move to a right hand flat, full pad sidepull edge, build your feet high, and balls out jump to a positive rail. This move was HUGE. After sticking the jump, you do a victory run to the top on good holds. We all threw ourselves at this beast. Jimmy and Nalle were neck and neck and it was a matter of time when one of them was going to latch the rail. Nalle came millimeters away from sticking the jump before gravity pulled him to the ground. Jimmy bucked up and stuck the move perfectly, making the FA of “One flew over the Cuckoos Nest (v12).” Nalle came in for revenge and stuck the jump next effort. I threw in my towel early, concluding that I need to work on dynos haha. I was super impressed by Nalle and Jimmy’s effort with going hard in the paint on this new addition. Nalle went around to the side of the boulder, and established an incredible v4 slab. Jimmy and I repeated right after. It was a good day revisiting the project and watching new lines go down.
Day 5… Our time at Red Rocks was coming to an end. We only had 3 days that remained, which meant only 2 more days to complete what we dubbed “The Nest” project. The conditions were overcast, warmer, and humid. Energy felt weird in the air today. The approach seemed longer and my mind was obsessively going through beta, creating pressure to get this thing done. I had never seen a boulder like this before. It is rare to get a beautiful line with a perfect start and finish that is hard. I felt as if I had walked up to Dreamtime for the first time. We stopped at a project that we walked by multiple times and decided to give it a try before going up to “The Nest.” This boulder was beautiful starting with a perfect jug undercling. From here, you pull up into an upside down gaston crimp, smear your feet, and stand up right hand to a perfect sloping rail. You then match and go right hand to a flat edge and jump out left hand to the sloping lip. After a few rightward traverse moves on slick slopers, you gain the top of the boulder. This one was a team effort FA between all of us. This helped boost our confidence and take away some of the pressure for “The Nest.” Jimmy and I trudged uphill while the others remained scrubbing other potential lines. We were psyched as hell to climb on this thing again. We warmed up on the top section, then the battle begun. Jimmy went first and fell on the final move again. I went next and stuck the final block hold from the beginning, but fell coming into the right hand gaston. This was my high point, so I was psyched about that. Jimmy gave try 2, climbing like a machine through the bottom. He arrived at the stand and locked off the edge down to his waist. He hit the upper pinch perfectly and started to move in slow motion. I was watching from the distance and it felt as if time had stopped and all that was moving was his right hand. He hit the block perfectly and controlled it. His body started to drift slightly to the left, throwing him off balance and onto the mat. There was no reaction from anyone. This was the closest anyone has gotten to sending this rig, and it was taken away at the very last second. Jimmy kept his composer and sat down. My heart was now beating fast, not knowing what to feel at this point. I calmed down and pulled on for my 2nd effort. The holds felt sticky and I felt in flow with the line. I got into the stand and was staring down the final hold. I stuck it and bounced into the right hand gaston. This was a new highpoint and all that remained was the final move to the rail. I felt pumped and threw for the hold not knowing what to expect. I stuck it for a second, but slipped off and collapsed onto the pads. I felt a sudden rush of emotions enter, confusing me on what just happened. This was the closest you could get and I thought that was all my luck for the day. Normally, in this situation I would start cursing and going crazy. I felt like all the pressure had been lifted of getting this boulder done today. I felt happy that I accomplished this highpoint. I relapsed back to the beginning of when we thought this thing was going to take months of effort to do. Now it is real even though it did not get sent. Jimmy and I said we were going to give one last attempt before throwing in the towel. The temperature dropped and the air was slightly humid. The holds felt in mint condition. I pulled on and began the intro with a clear head. The iron cross felt smooth and natural. I grabbed the miserable 2 finger razor and pulled into it as hard as possible, not caring if my tip split. I reached to the final block pinch and came into the right hand gaston. This position felt familiar and I had a bit of de ja vu. I kept tight and reached to the final rail. Slow motion faded and I knew the boulder was finished. I climbed the remaining 10 feet of v1 and was on top of the raddest boulder I have climbed. I still felt in the zone and could not believe what just happened. “The Nest (v15)” was born and it was such a great experience to climb it. Jimmy was all psyched up and gave it one more attempt. He climbed it perfectly and stood on top of “The Nest,” for its second ascent. We both felt relieved getting this thing completed. I never had such an intense back and forth experience with someone on a boulder. We both went through the same epic and mental war. This is my proudest climbing moment. Battling with a good friend/top boulderer on an undone project and having both of us come out victorious on our last try of the day… priceless.
Nalle did not try this boulder too much, due to a shoulder injury. He went on to put up an incredible arête to the left of “One flew over the Cuckoos Nest.” This boulder is tall, technical, and powerful. After a few days, he completed the first ascent naming it “Clubbin and Tubbin (v13).” The name comes from his Las Vegas party experience haha. This boulder hosts some of the best lines in the world and each one is unique in its own way. It was a team effort to put this boulder on the map and there are numerous boulders left to do. It is nice to know there is a world class area only 12 hours away. I dont think we will run out of things to climb J.
I learned a lot from this Vegas trip. I had fun climbing with our crew and sharing each other’s positive vibes. Everyone worked hard to complete their goals and in the end… we did/put up a bunch of cool rocks. Climbing can be such a crazy experience sometimes. The actual act of climbing is only half the battle. The other half is the learning process you go through. After every trip, I understand myself better and take away values that I can apply in everyday life. The struggle is not with the rock, but with understanding yourself. The rock just allows you to do so.