Stateside Show 1

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Calum Mayland - 13/10/2001

It's 3am in the morning. The baggage reclaim area is almost deserted. Small clusters of human life are scattered around. Patiently, they wait for the delayed flight from Minneapolis to unload. The carousel begins to roll. One by one, they slowly disappear into the night.

It's 8pm the same day. Fiery red sandstone glows under the sinking sun. The rope is pulled through the chain anchors as the day's final route is complete. This is Red Rocks canyon. Desert wonderland, 20 miles from Nevada's Sin City - Las Vegas!

The United States of America contain some of the most amazing geological structures in the world, and is consequently home to some superb rock climbing. A trip to America is not just about the climbing - it's an adventure! The States possess wilderness in a sense that Europe simply doesn't. In its vast open spaces the scenery is breath taking. It's well worth the extra effort to experience some of it. Having climbed and travelled in the States on numerous occasions, I was drawn back.

Flying into Las Vegas the first stop was Red Rocks. The most popular area here is the Gallery, and it's also a good place to begin as you can warm up on the 5 routes on the left hand side. Starting at 5.8 (5) on Sport Climbing Is Neither and ending at Running Amok 5.10c (6b), it's a chance to familiarise yourself with the fingery climbing style. You either rise to the occasion or fail miserably! Hang in; you get used to it - but it pays to move quickly. For something harder go for the excellent A Day in the Life 5.11b/c (6c+). This is one of the longer routes in the area, starting with an overhang, moving onto a face and finishing with a wicked mantleshelf.

Just round the corner is the Wall Of Confusion. There is a good selection of routes here including American Sportsman 5.10c (6b), Desert Pickle 5.11b/c (6c+) and Big Damage 5.12b (7b). The Black Corridor is another popular area. It has the advantage of climbs in both sun and shade depending upon your preference. It's popularity is mainly due to the fact that it contains a high concentration of easier routes from 5.9 (5+) to 5.10a (6a). Recommended at this level are Vagabonds, Bon Ez and Bonaire. Harder routes in this area are Rebel Without A Pause 5.11a (6c) and Crude Control 5.12a (7a+). Rebel Without A Pause is an overhanging piece of rock with huge holds but no rests, hence the name. Crude Control has moves on it which remind me of the start of Monty Python's at Kyloe. The difference is you're further off the ground when you're cranking them! About 5 minutes from the Black Corridor is Sweet Pain Wall, where you will find Glitter Gulch 5.11b (6c/+), probably my favourite route in the whole Red Rocks area. It is almost 30m in length with no good rests, and the hardest technical section is in the first 10m, which requires intricate balancy moves between small edges. Then the scene changes totally as the wall steepens, leaving the climber fighting against lactic acid.

Other areas which are worth a visit are Tsunami Wall and Dog Wall. Tsunami contains mainly routes of 5.12a (7a+) and above including one named Poseidon Adventure... A couple of easier routes to check out are the two 5.10bs (6a+) on the right hand side - Tremor and Low Tide. Look at On The Edge number 40 for a picture of one.

Over at Dog Wall are two absolute classics. Start off with Cat Walk 5.10a (6a) and then move up a few gears to Here Kitty, Kitty 5.11c/d (7a). The first route is a stamina trip on big holds and the second a crimpfest on tiny edges. Fortunately the holds improve the higher you go so it's a good incentive to keep pushing on.

But that's enough about the climbing! No visit to Red Rocks is complete without exploring Las Vegas! The first hours are like entering another world where luck is religion, the language is money and time is measured by the revolutions of a roulette wheel. Las Vegas is home to the world's largest hotels, with each one based upon a different theme. Watch the fire breathing dragon at Excalibur, the Pirates fight at Treasure Island or the erupting volcano at Mirage! If that's too much you could always relax in the revolving bar at Circus Circus, and empty the cocktail cabinet whilst circus artists perform. When you leave, you're not sure if the alcohol or the spinning bar is responsible for your headache! The action goes on night and day...

Food and drink are inexpensive as is accommodation. A room in a reasonable motel (2 people) can be taken for $30. In the cheaper Down Town area prices drop as low as $16 but signs outside warning of prostitution and drug abuse tend to put you off! But then again, this may have been just what you were looking for!?! If you get bored by the climbing and Las Vegas then there's a couple of alternatives. Valley of Fire, about an hours drive north, is a spectacular array of red sandstone towers. It's also where the western Gunfight at the OK Corral was filmed. If you're still running out of ideas then you could spend $35 and get married! Apparently the most popular place is Graceland Wedding Chapel. Home of the King - an Elvis impersonator will act as best man, give the bride away or serenade you. Unfortunately, he can't legally perform the service. My ex-girlfriend wanted to go there. I didn't take her - perhaps that's why she's my ex!

Our next climbing destination was American Fork in Utah. As an alternative to the 400 mile drive up the freeway we extended the journey to 1000 miles. This option took in some of the world's natural wonders - Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and Rainbow Arch. Watching sunrise over the famous 'Mittens' in Monument Valley was one of the trip's highlights. The whole area is Navajo Territory and it's really like being in another country. Rainbow Arch is a sacred Navajo monument as well as being the largest natural bridge in the world. There's only two ways in - horseback or boat. We took the latter, though the water was really rough - so maybe a horse would have been a better option!

When we arrived at American Fork we picked a campsite 10 feet from the nearest route! Patty Baby 5.10b (6a+) was a good one to start on. The whole Division wall is located in the camping area so rapid access is gained to any of these routes. Bridge your way up Less is More 5.10a (6a), egyptian on No Where To Go 5.11c (6c+/7a) or power your way up Liquid Oxygen 5.12a (7a+). The most attempted route here is The Abyss 5.12c/d (7b+/c). Over at the Hard Rock is Suicide Blonde 5.11b (6c+) and at the Membrane, the classic jug haul, Caress of Steel 5.10a (6a).

Situated, as it is, near to Salt Lake City, beer is lamentably hard to find - luckily we had loaded up the boot before crossing the border! However, our stay at American Fork was cut short by the weather - the influence of El Nino extends far and wide. Consequently, we made a decision to head west to the sunshine state - California, where you can surf in the morning, ski in the afternoon and climb in the evening, all on the same day! We stuck with the climbing - but we did encounter snow! Clark Canyon is situated at about 8,000 feet, near the Mammoth Lakes ski resort. There was snow at the base of the crag but warm sun on the rock made it pleasant enough to climb. The rock is like a honeycomb and riddled with pockets. The best routes are in the 5.10b (6a+) to 5.10d (6b+) range, and Pick Pocket 5.10c, Pocket Pool 5.10d, Craters 5.10b, Eight Ball 5.10c and Dr Jekyl 5.10b all provide interesting moves on excellent rock.The air is clear and the crag offers extensive views over to Mount Morrison.

From Mammoth we dropped down 3,000 feet to Bishop. To a Californian, Bishop means outdoor pursuits. It's an excellent base for rock climbing, hang gliding, cross country skiing and fly fishing. To a rock climber, Bishop means Owens River Gorge. Owens is a spectacular venue for sport climbing, with 600 climbs of all grades. Each time I've visited, the guide book has been updated! My favourite climbs are Tsing Tao 5.10a (6a), Gary Gray 5.10b (6a+), Light Within 5.10c (6b), Warning Signs 5.10d (6b+), Ghengis Khan 5.11a (6c), Expressway 5.11b (6c+) and Fresh Squeezed 5.11c (7a). There are numerous other routes to go for but I'll leave them for you to enjoy discovering yourself. To relax, try visiting the Keough hot springs with a beer. A number of micro breweries are starting up in the area and Navajo Red Ale comes recommended! Tired and weary after our exploits in American Fork, Mammoth and Owens River Gorge, we drove down Highway 95 and back to Las Vegas. The sandstone quarry area at Red Rocks was home to my final climb. Native Son 5.11c (7a) felt tough for the grade but maybe it was because I was exhausted! After 23 days and 3500 miles of driving it was time to head home. The last night in Las Vegas was spent eating and drinking well into the early hours.

What's next? Boulder Canyon in Colorado, Wild Iris in Wyoming, New River Gorge in West Virginia or Red River Gorge in Kentucky? The possibilities for future trips are endless. To quote one American activist - 'Give me 3 people with drills, bolts and hangers and I could keep them busy for years'. That's only referring to the limestone in the Las Vegas area! Go over and join the party! In fact, since this great trip I have returned again to re-join the party! More to follow...later.

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