Red Rocks Guide Book

Excerpts

Following are some sample pages from the Red Rock climbing guide. They include the entire introduction, and random pages showing the various styles of maps, topo's photo-diagrams and descriptions that are used throughout the book. The featured route is Frogland in Black Velvet Canyon, one of the classic moderate rock climbs in Red Rocks Canyon, Nevada.

Extras

Red Rocks features a vast surface of exposed rock on which the volume of routes has been growing at such a pace that it now barely fits in one book. In order to save some space in this edition the following four articles, which appeared in the first edition, have been moved from the print version to the website. They give a flavor of the history of rock-climbing in Red Rocks.

From the Guide

The Land, Rules and Regulations

The climbing in Red Rocks lies within the boundaries of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The land received this designation in 1990 to protect and preserve what was then recognized as a resource of national importance. The land is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, from the Las Vegas District Office, (702 515 5000).

There are two wilderness areas within Red Rock National Conservation Area, Rainbow Mountain Wilderness area, which includes all the canyons, and La Madre Mountain Wilderness which includes the Kraft Mountain area of Calico Basin.

Scenic Loop Hours
November 1 to February 28/29 6:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.
March 1 to March 31 6:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M.
April 1 to September 30 6:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M.
October 1 to October 31 6:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M.

Entrance Fee Schedule (AS OF Jan 2016)
Daily Car $7.00
Motorcycle $3.00
Annual Passes Red Rock $30.00
America the Beautiful Pass. (Interagency) $80.00
Golden Age $10.00
Cabs, Buses Etc. Per Passenger $2.00

Most of the northern half of Red Rocks is accessed from the Red Rock Scenic Drive. This is a gated 13-mile-long loop road which requires an entrance fee, and has restricted access hours.

Vehicles left inside the Scenic Drive after hours are subject to a heavy fine ($120 in 2016). Please note that this includes the parking area beside the fee station at the Scenic Drive entrance.

Late exit permits are available to provide an additional three hours after the normal closing time. These permits are available only for multi-pitch routes, not for the Calico Hills or Willow Springs.

To obtain a permit, you can call up to seven days in advance. No permits are issued after 4.30 p.m. There is no paper permit to pick up, just call 702 515 5050. If you do not reach one of the climbing rangers, you will need to leave the following information. If using a cell phone make sure your signal is clear.

  1. Your name, address, and phone number.
  2. Your vehicle license number/state and description.
  3. The date of your climb and location where you will park.
  4. Which permit and route you are applying for.
  5. An emergency contact name and phone number.

If you have additional questions or comments feel free to call a climbing ranger (Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) at 702 515 5000.

For multi-day routes it is also possible to get an overnight permit.
These are issued for the following walls only:
Mt. Wilson 1-2 nights
Eagle Wall 1 night
Rainbow Wall 1-2 nights
Buffalo Wall 1-3 nights
Hidden Wall 1-3 nights
Bridge Mountain 1 night

With the exception of the Red Springs parking area in Calico Basin, all the areas outside the Scenic Drive are not subject to the same time restrictions.

Camping is not allowed anywhere in the National Conservation Area. In particular, this includes the network of dirt roads, accessed from route 160, which provide access to Black Velvet Canyon and the other areas at the southern end of the range. The rangers regularly patrol this area looking for campers, and the fines are stiff.

There are several other rules that relate directly to climbers.

  1. It is prohibited to chip, glue, chisel or scar the rock.
  2. Climbing is not allowed within 50 feet of any Native American rock art site.
  3. It is prohibited to place bolts in either of the wilderness areas. This includes all the canyons and also the Kraft Mountain area of Calico Basin. The fine is $300 per instance, so if you are unsure about the status of your proposed route contact the climbing rangers.

An important development in May 2007 was the release of the Preliminary Action Plan. This plan was created by the BLM in cooperation with various interested groups, including the Climbers Liaison Council. It includes a proposal for a permit system for new routes that would allow for the addition of new bolts, with certain provisions. As of 2016 this state of limbo was dragging on with no resolution in sight.

The BLM runs a visitor center just inside the Scenic Drive entrance, there is an exhibit which provides interesting historical and geological background information on Red Rocks. This is where you can get current information about the National Conservation Area.

The activities of climbers are under close scrutiny in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. It is very important that climbers treat Red Rocks with the utmost care. This means using Leave No Trace Ethics, treating other users with respect, and observing the rules and regulations.

There is a twenty-four hour limit to parking along route 159. If you are planning to park here for a multi-day objective you will want to make sure that this is ok with the rangers.

The Rock

Red Rocks is composed of a three-thousand-foot thick escarpment of Aztec Sandstone, which has weathered into a series of ten major canyons which drain from west to east. This rock is generally quite well-bonded, being more solid than that found in the other great sandstone areas of the west, such as Zion or Canyonlands. Another major difference is that much of the rock is covered with a thin layer of desert varnish which, on many of the faces, has partially weathered to leave behind a sea of good incut edges. It is these edges which allow routes like Dream of Wild Turkeys, Eagle Dance, and Crimson Chrysalis to climb such impressive features at a reasonable standard. In general, the unvarnished white and red rock can be soft, sandy and rounded in its natural state, although it cleans up well on popular routes to give very enjoyable climbing. The varnished rock provides superb climbing, especially on some of the north-facing walls where the varnish has resisted weathering and there are far fewer face holds. On these walls the long, clean, crack and corner systems provide some of the best routes in Red Rocks.

The edges that are the hallmark of so much of the climbing in Red Rocks can be quite fragile in their natural state. On popular climbs the loose holds and fragile lips are gradually cleaning up, but even on these routes it is not uncommon to pop a foothold or two. Some of the more recent and/or less travelled routes can feel very fragile and require careful climbing. Climbers also have to be aware of larger blocks and flakes which crop up from time to time and can be amazingly unstable.

By far the most important factor affecting rock quality is precipitation. The Aztec Sandstone is porous and easily absorbs water; when waterlogged the rock becomes much weaker, causing holds to break with alarming ease. During long stretches of dry weather the rock will dry out in a few hours after an isolated rainstorm. However, after a long spell of heavy rain, it can take up to three days for the rock to dry out. In fact, during a wet “El Nino” year the rock can feel snappy all winter long. It is important to stay off routes when the rock is wet, especially in the Calico Hills where the rock is particularly soft after rain, and the loss of a crucial hold can easily destroy a classic route for good.

Despite these words of doom, the rock in Red Rocks is generally superb and a joy to climb, many of the classic routes rank with the best of their grade anywhere in the world.

The Weather

The numbers say it all: Red Rocks is often blessed with perfect climbing conditions for months on end, with the spring and fall each usually having three months of perfect weather.

Average temperature 66.3 degrees (19 degrees centigrade). Average yearly rainfall 4.13 inches (10.64 centimeters). Average daily humidity 29 percent. 211.5 clear days annually, 82.4 partly cloudy days, 71.3 cloudy days.

Month Average Daily Low (˚F) Average Daily High (˚F) Sunny Days Average Rainfall (inches)
January 33 56 24 0.5
February 37 67 22 0.46
March 42 68 25 0.41
April 49 77 26 0.22
May  59 87 27 0.22
June 68 98 28 0.09
July 75 104 27 0.45
August 73 101 26 0.54
September 65 94 28 0.32
October 53 81 27 0.25
November 41 66 24 0.43
December 33 67 24 0.32

Red Rocks is one of the few areas that can genuinely claim to offer year-round climbing. It is possible to find reasonable climbing conditions on all but a few of the hottest days of the year, when temperatures creep up towards 110˚F or more. Nevertheless, during the hottest and coldest times of year, comfortable climbing depends on making good choices and being prepared to adapt your objectives to suit the prevailing weather of the day. In particular, warm weather climbing takes some getting used to; sunny approaches must be tackled early in the morning and climbing is not feasible until your chosen route goes into the shade. Climbing in the canyons during colder weather also requires some thought. The difference between sun and shade is often dramatic, 30˚F or more. It is quite common to be comfortable in the parking area and freezing on the route. The temperature in the canyons is usually at least 10˚F colder than town and can feel a lot colder yet if there is any wind. A windshell is almost always a good idea. By contrast, the south-facing walls in the Calico Hills can feel hot on all but the coldest days, so bring plenty of water and some light clothing.

Wind is an important factor to consider at all times of year. The reason is not so much how it affects the climbing as what it does to rappel ropes. The sharp flakes that cover many of the faces are always a problem when rappelling, but with the wind whipping the ropes all over the wall, the chances of a snagged rope are greatly increased. Some of the taller walls in Red Rocks are very exposed, and if your chosen route involves a rappel descent, strong winds can pose a serious hazard. Walls such as the Eagle Wall and Crimson Chrysalis are best avoided under these conditions.

It is worth remembering that the weather data are only averages. During El Nino years, when a huge bubble of warm water shows up in the Western Pacific, Red Rocks will often have a miserable wet winter. During any winter, snowstorms can happen any time from October until April, with the snow sticking around for many days in the canyons. In the summer, a sudden storm can cause very cold conditions on long backcountry routes, and any canyon can flash flood without warning.

Transport

Although some hardy individuals do without, a car is pretty much essential for climbing at Red Rocks. There is no public transportation system, and the distances involved are just too great for walking to be a reasonable option. Las Vegas is one of the least expensive places in the country to rent a car.

Camping, Groceries, Showers Etc.

At present, there is only one campground close to Red Rocks. It is located at the end of a one mile long spur road on the southeast side of route 159. The spur road is called Moenkopi, and is on the right 1.9 miles east of the Scenic Drive entrance, and 0.5 miles east of the Calico Basin Road. Alternatively, if you are driving west out of town along Charleston Boulevard, it is on the left, 3.2 miles west of the Charleston/215 interchange.

It is a relatively primitive campsite with pit toilets, picnic tables and a water tap, all for $15 per night. The sites are available on a first come first served basis and there is a 14 day limit. The Campground is closed June, July and August.

Unfortunately there have been quite a few instances of theft in the last couple of years, so don’t leave valuables in the tent.

Within five miles from the campsite, and getting closer every year, the west end of Charleston Boulevard is one of the main suburban shopping areas in Las Vegas with all manner of grocery stores, coffee shops, casinos etc.

Showers are available for $4.00 at the Red Rock Climbing Center, 8201 W. Charleston Blvd. Phone: 702 254 5604

Sahara West Library (9600 West Sahara Ave; 702 507 3630 is at the corner of Grand Canyon and Sahara. Surprisingly, Las Vegas has a very good library system, and if you’re here for an extended visit it is well worth getting a library card. It’s free, and a photo ID is all that’s required to get one. The West Sahara Library has twenty seven internet terminals that you can use free for an hour.

Free wireless Internet service is provided at Desert Rock Sports, located at 8221 W. Charleston Blvd., a few doors up from the Red Rock Climbing Center. As well as being a retailer of all things climbing, this store often puts on special events such as slide shows and film screenings.

There is dispersed camping in Lovell Canyon, the canyon to the west of the Red Rock range. It is accessed from route 160 by taking a right at the bottom of the hill to the west of Mountain Springs. There are no facilities, and it’s a long drive (25 miles from the Scenic Drive), but there are some nice spots to spend the night in a pinch. Stays are limited to 14 days.