Viva Las Vegas: Bubbing the Canyon
or On Drugs at Red Rocks

By Bill Wright ( and
George Bell (

April 1996

Climbing in the Red Rock Recreational Area near Las Vegas, Nevada has always been difficult for me. I've not completed more routes here than anywhere else. I backed off Crimson Chrysalis with the lame excuse of being too cold. I only went eight pitches of Dream of Wild Turkeys. I backed off of Epinephrine from five pitches up, this time blaming fatigue. I only did the first two pitches of Triassic Sands because we didn't think we had time to complete it. Then I went over and had to retreat from Our Father because it was too hard for me. To top things off I even left a camming unit after jamming it solidly. Basically, I've been getting my ass kicked by the Red Rocks for years.

This time I was determined to change my ways and I enlisted some insurance: The Trashman. George "Trashman" Bell is not known for backing off of routes. He just doesn't even think about it. Like it was a physical impossibility, like traveling faster than light. My confidence soared.

We were planning on four days of climbing at Red Rocks: Saturday thru Tuesday [April 27-30, 1996]. Our plan was to tick Epinephrine on our first day. That way we'd be fresh and if anything went wrong we'd still have three more days to get it done. The one drawback to this plan was lack of sleep. You see, we didn't land in Vegas until 9:30 p.m. and by the time we got the rental car and navigated ourselves to Mark's friend Jerry's house, it was late. To top things off, the Trashman's headlamp malfunctioned and melted the battery case when turned on. The Trashman struggled to find the short and finally fixed the headlamp by using a baggage claim tag as an insulator. We didn't turn off the lights until almost midnight. But everything was ready for a quick departure.

epi·neph·rine: A colorless crystalline feebly basic sympathomimetic adrenal hormone C9H13NO3 used medicinally esp. as a heart stimulant, a vasoconstrictor, and a muscle relaxant.

The alarm went off at 4 a.m. and I was immediately vertical having not really slept the last half hour for fear of missing the alarm. I brushed my teeth, grabbed my lunch, and prodded the Trashman out the door by 4:05. We blazed across town and then west and south on 159. Right on 160. Right on the dirt road into Black Velvet Canyon. We careened down the dirt road in an effort to fully utilize the insurance we purchased for the rental car. It was 4:45 a.m. when we pulled into the parking lot and leapt out to find another party gearing up. Damn, I thought, anyone getting ready this early must be going for Epinephrine. I urged the Trashman to get ready quickly, but he had to put on his harness and strap on the ropes. I was carrying the mini haulbag that we'd be taking up the route. Unfortunately, the Trashman's headlamp wasn't working again. I was starting to get anxious. "Damn it! Just leave it behind and hike in behind me and my headlamp."

"God dammit!" says the normally unperturbed Trashman. "This stupid headlamp!" Finally, in frustration it hits it hard with his hand and it instantly flicks on. A minute later we are hiking with the other team hot on our heels. The race was on.

Whenever the Trashman and I hike together, the standard procedure is that someone leads until he screws up. I set a fast pace, but in the darkness managed to walk off the trail. The Trashman took over, but then he missed the turnoff to drop into the wash and I'm back in the lead. By now one of the other climbers is right on our heels. We ask the question already knowing the answer:

"What route are you guys doing?"
"It figures. Us two."
"There's another party about half an hour ahead of us also."

Another party! Geesh! I can't believe the traffic for such a long route. I didn't know the route had become this popular. I had never seen anyone on it before. Shit. I knew we'd have to move very fast and I didn't want to be behind anyone. I didn't want my pace to be dictated by another party. I also didn't relish climbing in a crowd. Any pretenses that we aren't racing for this climb are lost. I make another route finding error and leave the wash to bypass a boulder and my competitor goes on by into the lead. When I regain the wash, it is I who is now on his heels. The Trashman and this other guy's companion fell back into the gloom as the pace quickened to nearly a run. Passing the tight, jumbled, dark wash was going to be very difficult. I resolved to start up the route first, regardless if I beat this guy to the climb. I was confident that the Trashman would beat his partner and that would mean our whole team was there before his team.

A little further up the wash, we blew by the other team that supposedly had a half hour lead on us. We passed them so fast that they barely had to time to ask "Are you guys fast?" before we disappeared into the darkness in our high stakes race. At the top end of the wash, progress is blocked by a vertical wall and 4th class scrambling on the left allows you to climb up and by this barrier. My competitor made his only mistake here, but it was a fatal one. I knew of this barrier and was able to shoot by him and up the steep wall. Once by, I poured on the speed, scrambling at a near run. I did run down the other side and up the wash to the base of the route. We had won. [Note: We later discovered that the pair we had beaten were Roger Linfield and Charlie Peterson; both Bill and I met and climbed with Roger when he moved to Boulder in 2002].

I had my harness on and was gearing up when the Trashman arrived. He immediately began to flake out the rope. As my competitor's partner showed up, I started up the first pitch by headlamp. In the wrong place! I backed off and found the real start, ditching my headlamp. By now the other party had arrived and it was getting crowded. Time to put some distance between us and the others. We started up a little before 6 a.m.


I must admit I was discouraged by the number of other climbers on this route. I hate climbing in a crowd and racing other parties to the base of the route. I was glad Bill had claimed the first spot, but was worried these other teams might be chomping at our heels all day.

After Bill found the correct start, the rope was soon whizzing through my hungry belay plate as fast as I could feed rope to it. It was only a minute or two before I heard the "off belay" and prepared myself to go. Bill had done the lower pitches once before, and suggested it might save time if he led the next pitch also - I agreed. He quickly squeezed up past an easy chimney and vanished from sight. Above me a scrubby tree clung to the cliff, it's branches bursting with hundreds of pink blossoms. The soft morning light on the branch and surrounding red rock was breathtaking; and I couldn't believe my last trip out here had been nearly ten years ago. This place was gorgeous, and me with no camera!

Bill had only stopped to place a piece or two, very soon I was on belay. The blossoming tree was actually right on the route, and I had to be careful to keep the pack from breaking it off as I went past. As I struggled up the chimney with the pack, I heard voices above me. Turns out yet another party was bivying off to the left near the base of the chimney pitches. Bill blazed past them also, but they queued in behind us. These two friendly "helmeted dudes" had hoped to get to the Black Tower yesterday, but had run out of light. We would pass them quickly, but for the two parties coming up behind us they would be more of a problem.

The next pitch led up to the base of the three 5.9 chimney pitches and was quite short. I was tempted to continue on with the first chimney pitch but Bill didn't know if our 50m rope would reach.

The 3 chimney pitches were the most fun part of the route, for me anyway. They have an evil reputation but I think that is only because few people are used to climbing smooth-walled chimneys in Red Rocks. The first pitch has good pro in the back but goes on for quite a long ways. It is also quite flared and can feel a bit unstable for this reason.

The second chimney pitch starts with a short, awkward, bottleneck. I was leading this and could see some good handholds ahead but my feet were still stemming in the chimney section. After one short, hard move the chimney ends for a while and you just have to make a difficult face move to reach a large ledge.

The third chimney pitch is the most intimidating looking, and probably the hardest in reality too. You crank into it from below and are immediately faced with what appears a long squeeze chimney (knee pads). There is a bit of a run-out to a bolt, here the chimney opens out a bit but the exposure is out there. Bill puzzled a bit until he realized the next bolt was on the opposite wall. It is a bit tricky turning around but after that he quickly zoomed upward. I followed and then led an easy pitch to the top of the Black Tower. The parties behind were nowhere in sight and it was only 7:50, less than 2 hours for the first 8 pitches!

With nobody else in sight below we took our first rest break, changing into shorts and downing some water. Taking shorts was a stroke of genius, as we were now in the sun and it already felt hot. I led us up the next long pitch and immediately got off route, as I couldn't believe the steep crack to the right could be 5.9. But at Red Rocks, dead vertical walls can be 5.7 due to the knob factor. Bill soon got us back on route, and was soon shimmying up a pillar that looks like an elephant's trunk (an obvious feature to look for).

The upper 5.9 pitches are more face climbing and weren't as physical as the chimneys below. We played a game about how quickly we could ditch the hefty #4 Camalot. Once when I left low on a pitch near a nice stopper crack, the Trashman yelled up indignantly, "Hey, this is illegal dumping!"

Seven hours and eleven minutes from waking up in Las Vegas to the top of Epinephrine. I was very pleased with this time. The Trashman flew! I was dragging near the top. We coined a new term for this: "Bubbing", as in "we Bubbed Epinephrine, dude! "This term needs some explaining. Tony Bubb, prolific poster to the Internet's rec.climbing, has climbed a three hour ascent (including descent!) of the 9 pitch Crimson Chrysalis. This claim was met with a modicum of disbelief from some readers and Tony proceeded to substantiate his speed with further claims, testimonials, etc.

Top of the route at 11:10 where we took at 40 minute break to eat and drink. I was wasted and had to talk the Trashman into taking a break. I felt continuing without eating wouldn't be wise. But my problem was water although I didn't feel that thirsty and it didn't feel that hot yet (probably 80+ still).

We coiled the ropes and soloed the 700 feet of 4th class. We did take out the rope and belay one exposed traverse on a 12" ledge, but in retrospect it wasn't necessary as the climbing was more like class 2.

We summitted at 12:15 and took some photos and killed the last of our water. We started down, light of head and noodly of leg at 12:30. The descent goes smoothly, thankfully, since my legs weren't responding to my commands. George led and I stumbled behind. We reached the car at 1:50 for a car to car time of just under 9 hours. I was so parched that speaking was to be avoided.

We threw the gear in the trunk, jumped in the car, set the air conditioner on "Antarctic", threw up a cloud of dust speeding for the Quickie Mart. Once there multiple quarts of liquids were sucked down and sanity slowly returned.

Big, black bees that look like black, flying Vienna Sausages. These babies are nasty looking, but none attacked us.

Mes·ca·line: An alkaloid drug that produces hallucinations and other psychedelic effects.

Naturally the day after Epinephrine we were not getting up early. But we were certainly not sitting around. We agreed on a 5.8 route called Dark Shadows on a formation known as Mescalito; normally it is 4 pitches but you can also continue "a bunch more pitches" to the top. We got out of the car at 10 a.m., and it was incredibly cold. A nasty wind was blowing and a cold front seemed to have passed. Bill had left most of his clothes at Jerry's house, a bone-headed move for a supposed elite alpinist, and I didn't have enough extra to cover him. So we had to drive back for Bill's wardrobe, and I gave him a lot of shit about this. It was after 11 when we started the walk in.

Climbing at noon. Great first two pitches, which I combine, but the real gem is the third pitch. Just awesome! Up a beautiful, dark dihedral. Very solid rock, quite steep, interesting moves. Fourth pitch is also beautiful, but much shorter. I take a good look at Heart of Darkness. The roof itself looks like it will go well, but the hand traverse to get there looks desperate. The fifth pitch is great also. Steep moves up to a bolt and then a neat roof to clear on big jugs. Long pitch.

I put the next two pitches together (according to the Urioste guide), up a 5.6 squeeze chimney and then up a pillar and into a chimney/gully system. I run it out about 200 feet (some simul- climbing obviously) to a big ledge with a blooming tree. George combines the next two pitches into a 250 foot simulclimbing affair up a giant gash in the rock. It is mostly easy fifth class with some 4th class. He belays from cams stuffed into huecos on a steep wall.

The tenth pitch is a full rope length. It heads up steep ground via the heucos, then into a chimney system, passes a chockstone, exits the chimney via a steep face on the left and then traverses back right to a big ledge below two steep crack systems. The Trashman then led a brilliant pitch up the steep, rotten crack. I was optimistic that it would reach the summit. Wrong! I found the Trashman belaying from a big tree on a jungled terrace. I led up through the 2nd class bushes to the base of a 5.7/8 offwidth/flare/chimney.

The 13th pitch is another long one. It climbs the offwidth via secure armlocks (Trashman followed this via chimney technique but said he wouldn't have led it this way) but there is no protection. The offwidth is about thirty feet long. Then it heads up the chimney via stemming to a hand crack in the chimney to a big chockstone that provides the last difficult move of the pitch. I belayed beneath a house sized chockstone and envisioned being crushed by this massive boulder. It was an oppressive place to be. George up through a hole and I followed to get out from under the Chockstone. George led up half a rope length before we decided to unrope and scramble. A hundred and fifty feet later we were on the summit of Mescalito.

It was 5:30 p.m. We ate, drank, and photographed before starting out descent. This descent is a real adventure. We downclimbed slabs and steep sections to some rappel anchors that lead into a slot canyon. followed this out and onto more slabs that rolled off to an incredible drop off. Some scouting found more rappel anchors that led down into a big chimney. A double rope rappel, two single rope rappels and some downclimbing led to the canyon floor and we picked our way through the oasis back to our packs. This is a very beautiful section of the canyon.

We were back at the car by 7 p.m. Home at 7:30, showered on on our way to the best buffet in Vegas at the Rio by 8:15 p.m. We stayed up until past 1 a.m. that night bullshitting.

Or·phe·us: A legendary Thracian poet and musician whose music had the power to move even inanimate objects.

The next morning we moved slowly once again. This day there would be three of us as Mark would be joining us. After mulling over a number of routes we chose to attempt Black Orpheus, a ten pitch (15 pitches in the Urioste guide and this would prove to be enlightening), 5.9+ route in Oak Creek Canyon. We left the car at 9 a.m. dumped two of our three packs in the wash at the base of slabs leading to the route. We started climbing at 11 a.m.

I ran all of a 55 meter rope to the first belay, bypassing a double bolt alternate belay. George then led a 5.8/9 leaning dihedral and up easier rock to a big ledge. It was another full rope length. Now it was Mark's turn to lead the 5.5 third pitch. He did a nice job and it ends on lower angled rock.

Now we coiled one of our ropes and we all tied into a single rope, half a rope length apart. We simul-climbed the next three pitches which were rated 5.0 and 4th class. This put us at the base of the best pitch on the route. I led this 5.9 pitch which starts with an airy traverse to the base of a steep, hanging dihedral. The climbing on this pitch was exciting and varied. Stemming and face climbing got me higher where the crack in the dihedral opened up enough to accept thin hand jams. This pitch then opens up into an exciting chimney with a difficult exit move onto a sloping ledge.

Mark followed with eyes wide. He had never done a climb so long and so airy. He called it the best pitch of his life. The next pitch is the crux pitch and fell to the Trashman who disposed of the difficult moves in short order. The crux involves cranking hard on a two finger hold while high stepping to a good foothold. It was short, but powerful. The pitch then led up easier cracks to a small ledge.

Mark was supposed to lead one of the remaining pitches, but he was so freaked out by the position that he delegated those leads to Trash and myself. I led the 5.7 lieback and found it to be a continuous pitch. Hanging off lieback holds and placing gear is always a strenuous proposition.

This pitch ends at a bolted belay out on the face of some questionable red rock. The Trashman led the final pitch (another full rope length) up the runout face that was thankfully protected by not the two bolts shown on the topo, but four bolts. We topped out at 4:30 p.m. onto a gorgeous summit where it appears to be an improbable descent. After eating we found the descent to go extremely smoothly. An hour later we were at our packs in the wash and an hour after that we were back at the car and headed for showers.

Mark flew out that night and after a monster meal at the truck stop at I-15/160 (highly recommended for quantity, if not quality), the Trashman and I headed out to the dirt road leading into Black Velvet Canyon. We threw down the bags only a short distance from the highway and slept in until the heat drove us from our bags.

Lot·ta: (slang) A large quantity.

After a big breakfast back at the truck stop we headed for First Creek Canyon and the Lotta Balls Wall. We were hiking by 9 a.m. along the flat, hot trail into the canyon. We at the base by 9:45 a.m. and I was lethargic. Resting in the shade and drinking water it was hard to get motivated. Finally we heard some approaching climbers and lept into action.

George led the first pitch and I led the crux second pitch. This route is great, steep, exciting. While leading the second pitch the Trashman was going on and on about the name of this route: "Hey, Bill, how are those Lotta Balls? Are you grabbing the Lotta Balls? This route should have a Lotta Balls. You need a Lotta Balls to lead this pitch. I think we should go to What-A-Burger after we do Lotta Balls."

It was hilarious. I think his recent close association with Dr. OW is rubbing off on him. He is getting crazier and crazier. The descent is relatively easy with scrambling and two short rappels. We discover a party of three at the base racking up for Lotta Balls. After rest and relaxation we decide to run up one more route before heading to the airport. This time is was Black Magic, a four pitch route to the right of Lotta Balls. This route is harder and more exciting than Lotta Balls and just as high of quality. We hiked out, packed, changed, hydrated and caught our flight home at 6 p.m. My most successful trip to Red Rocks. Fifty pitches in four days. Five routes and most importantly, no backing off!

Emphasis on "dude", of course

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