Adventures with Sandstone

We have been bouncing around quite a bit since the last update and our time at Joshua Tree seems long ago already. This kind of traveling is tiring, and has a noticeable impact on our climbing abilities and sometimes enthusiasm level. However, it doesn’t take long for the amazing places we have been lucky enough to experience to put things in perspective. Frustration and fatigue don’t last long when we step back and remember our surroundings and the privilege it is to enjoy them.

The occasional hotel shower doesn’t hurt either. I’m writing this post in a large bed, in a large room, with an absurdly large TV relaying the most current episode in the train-wreck that is the US presidential administration. If you visit Las Vegas, do it during the weekdays if possible. Even with somewhat sneaky “resort fees” we got a room at a 3-star hotel within our modest budget. They offer these rooms at such a discount because the assumption is you will make up the difference in gambling losses, food, or by getting sucked into a timeshare. Little did they know our only interest in Vegas is the boulders west of the city in Red Rock National Conservation Area.

Red Rock

The rock is great. Excellent sandstone climbing in a variety of styles. The Kraft Boulders are the epicentre of bouldering in the area and they get busy – I’ve never felt like I was inside a gym more than at the Monkey Bar Boulder, a popular overhanging boulder with typically powerful, crimpy climbing.

The Pearl, a similarly popular boulder.

Due to the traffic, the lack of sites at the campground, and our general dislike for Las Vegas proper, we decided to head north-east to Mukuntuweap or Zion National Park for some “rest” and a change of pace. Originally we thought Zion might serve as a day-trip. A quick diversion from bouldering in the area. We ended up spending three days hiking and exploring this amazing park. Similarly busy to Joshua Tree and Red Rocks, the campground alive with the sounds of screaming children and car alarms, once wandering through this canyon formed by the Virgin River (an unassuming yet prolific river in terms of geological impact) we hardly cared. For those looking for a more subdued experience, the Park is massive and much of it is little traveled. I can’t recommend this National Park enough, and I think a few pictures will make my case:

View from beneath Weeping Wall

Zion Valley

Watchman Trail on a rainy day.

Waterfall at Upper Emerald Pool

Of the two iconic hikes in Zion, one (The Narrows) was closed, so we decided to attempt the Angel’s Landing trail, an about 8.4km hike which follows switchbacks and small canyons up to a high point semi-detached from the West Rim at about 1500 feet above the canyon floor. Despite the “strenuous” rating and significant exposure for the final stretch, there were hundreds of people attempting the hike, and we even encountered line-ups where the narrow trail created bottlenecks. One thing we have noticed about those traveling in National Parks is that they acquire a strange determination when faced with getting to the ‘top’ of something. While at times commendable or inspiring, this determination was just as often inexplicable or dangerous. Flip flops are not hiking gear. Strollers are not all-terrain. While I appreciate that everyone get a chance to appreciate these amazing places (I don’t mind waiting in lines) the frenzy to get to the top without taking the challenge seriously can be baffling and frustrating.

Line at the start of the narrow section of Angel’s Landing Trail

Some goofs at the top of Angel’s Landing.

All that said, we left Zion deeply satisfied. Though the volume of hikes constituted more of an ‘active rest’ than actual down-time, we felt ready to head on to our next climbing destination, Moe’s Valley in St. George, before heading back to Las Vegas.

Moe’s Valley, like Red Rock, is a sandstone area with beautiful dark varnish faces and sculpted, sandy, jug-laden roofs. The boulders here have what could be called character; odd holds, strange features, and hollowed-out caves. The boulders seem to ‘rot’ from the inside out, creating incredibly unlikely lines.

Moe’s Valley

We had a lot of fun at Moe’s, and the free camping in a gorgeous location didn’t hurt (the land around the Valley is owned by a School Trust and has been set aside for the time being for recreation). We also came to the realization I expressed at the opening of this post. Going hard for three days straight on boulder problems at our limit is tiring. Not showering and sleeping in a van is tiring. Cooking every meal outdoors in the wind and dust is tiring. Driving to a new place every few days is tiring. It is a huge privilege and wonderful experience, but we also need to adjust our expectations of ourselves to fully enjoy our time. In the climbing community it is somewhat of a cliché to suggest that the process of projecting is paramount to actually sending; that you learn more, that it is a more satisfying experience. Some of this is certainly true, however, when we have a limited time at these areas, it can sometimes be hard to remember.

Back in Las Vegas, and headed to Red Rock today* to get in some climbing, we will try to focus on a balance between challenge and fun. Then on to Death Valley, and our main destination: Bishop, California!

-Kent and Merissa

*Since it was raining in Red Rock, we decided to move on to a quick stop in Death Valley, and then to Bishop. Since sandstone becomes very friable when wet, it is a bad idea to climb on it after rain. In Bishop now, taking the time to post this while doing the pile of laundry we have accumulated.


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