In March of this year, my husband Seth, a few friends, and I headed out to Red Rock Canyon for our third annual Red Rocks climbing trip. I’ve been waiting to write this trip report. Not because I didn’t know what to write, but because I couldn’t write it without acknowledging that at the time of this trip, I was 8 weeks pregnant (yep, we’re adding a baby adventurer to the family). We were still in that “secret” time where you don’t really tell anybody.
Eight weeks pregnant means that I was fully in the throes of first trimester morning sickness. Constant nausea, fatigue, lack of energy and endurance, just in time for a week-long climbing trip in the desert of Nevada. Not planned that way, of course, but one can never quite predict these things.
On one hand I was relieved to not have to be at work pretending that I felt just fine, which was a challenge in itself (we waited until 12 weeks to share the news). On the other hand, I wasn’t sure how my pregnancy was going to affect the trip. Nobody tells you about the sheer exhaustion and lack of general stamina that comes with the first trimester. Maybe they do and I just missed it, or didn’t believe it. It really surprised me, and I definitely had a worry that I may drag the rest of the crew down with me.
These guys led my pregnant self up routes all week without complaint. Thanks so much, guys! (photo from halfway up Geronimo)
Before we left, I made the decision that I wouldn’t be doing any trad leading (traditional routes require one to place their own protection as they go. There are no fixed bolts except, sometimes, for anchors). Even though we pIanned on sticking to easy and moderate routes, I didn’t want to risk any big falls. I was pretty bummed about that, especially since I had just gotten to a point where I was feeling fairly solid (check it out). But, for me, not leading traditional routes this trip was the right thing to do, and that left most of the leading to Seth and Paul. They were both super awesome about letting me just follow and for that I was immensely appreciative.
So, without further ado, here’s how our week went:
Seth, Paul, and I flew out together on a Sunday and stayed for an entire week. We steered ourselves towards shorter, easy to moderate traditional routes. Nothing super adventurous this trip, just fun, solid climbing.
Day 1- Monday
The long Minnesota winter means we don’t touch rock between November and April, so the three of us started the week with a couple of nice, chill trad routes for a refresher. The Willow Springs area is perfect for this.
Paul belaying from the top of Little Black Book
Seth’s route – That Ain’t No Tortoise, Seth Climbs the Rock – Our first route of the trip turned out to be a bit of a mystery. Seth began at the base of Senior Moment, but took a variation to the left. He ended up at a dead end about 70 ft up, so he built an anchor, brought us up, and we all rapped down from there. It’s very possible this route has a name already, but I can’t find any mention of it, so Seth named it “That Ain’t No Tortoise: Seth Climbs the Rock.” We all agreed it’s in the 5.5-5.6 range.
Little Black Book (5.4) – A nice, long 160′ single pitch trad route. This one was a cruise-fest, but I really enjoyed it. The crux is a bouldery move right off the ground, and there’s a big section of hueco’d rock covering the middle third of the route (I do love some good huecos!). Paul led this one and we rapped off a tree at the top of Sleeper.
It’s me! Rapping off of Sleeper
Day 2- Tuesday
On our second day, we checked out an area new to all of us. First Creek Canyon is outside of the main Red Rock loop. The hike in is about an hour, but fairly straight-forward (although, as with any of the desert hikes, I wouldn’t want to be hiking out in the dark). We got a few pitches in and had a fun day overall. I’d love to explore this area more next trip!
Paul leading Buzz Buzz
Buzz, Buzz (5.4) – Pregnancy reared its head that morning. After our hike in, I needed a break. My stomach was not happy and I just needed to rest a bit. So, Seth and Paul climbed this single pitch route while I found a sunny spot below from which to cheer them on. Paul led this pitch,intended as a warm-up, and a lot of grunting and cursing ensued. The 5.4 rating is deceiving. Now that I look at the climb on Mountain Project, I can see that he’s not the only one with this impression of that climb. Seth followed and I heard similar grunting from him as well. Sounds like some of the other climbs on this wall would be better choices.
Rising Moons (5.5) – A bit of rest did me some good, so I joined the guys for the first two pitches of Rising Moons. This was an enjoyable climb. Paul led the first pitch up through a nice chimney. I brought up the rear and carried the bag, which I discovered doesn’t fit through some of the narrower sections of the pitch. I had to employ some creativity and grunting/cursing of my own. Seth led the second pitch, a long, fun face climb, to a set of bolts at the top. The belay stance on this one is a bit awkward. The bolts are set further over than is comfortable (my guess is to avoid stuck ropes when pulling). Seth brought Paul and I up at the same time. We rapped back down to the top of the first pitch and went WAY right to pull our ropes, which I would highly recommend (lots of rope pieces were stuck in a crack near the top). A scramble through to climbers left returned us to the base of the climb.
Paul rapping off of Rising Moons
Day 3 – Wednesday
We started the day on Wednesday at the Second Pullout. The Great Red Book is a route that Seth’s been eyeing since our first visit to the park. Although you can see the route from the parking lot, the approach is 30-40 minutes of boulder hopping and scrambling. When we got to the base, we were next in line, but as we were unpacking our things a large group appeared behind us, followed by a guide with two clients. Turns out this is a busy route! I wasn’t feeling well again that morning, and the scramble to the base had worn me out. So, I encouraged Seth and Paul to climb the route as a two-person team and I would hang out at the bottom and enjoy the view.
Seth following the first pitch of Great Red Book
Great Red Book (5.8) – Paul led the first pitch, Seth led the second. The route is beautiful. It’s a big, red, open book just like the name would suggest, and it looks like a really fun climb. Both belays are bolted, and one can choose to either rap the route or walk off. Although I didn’t climb it myself, the report is that the second pitch has some thin spots and a few bolts to help when gear options aren’t available. The climb is mostly trad, though.
My view while the guys climbed
Seth leading Ok Ok Ok!
After Paul and Seth returned, we had lunch and headed back over to Willow Springs to end the day with a pitch or two.
Ok Ok Ok (5.6) – This is a pretty chill route, 60′. Nice rock, trad anchors. Seth climbed it with ease, brought Paul and I up behind.
Paul rapped first, and I told Seth that I was done climbing for the day. By the time I had rapped down to talk to Paul, he already had his harness off. We were all pretty worn out by this point. As we were hiking back out to the car, it started raining. Time for a rest day.
We saw lots of these on our hike!
Day 4 – Thursday
Rest day! Our friend Fred joined us that morning and we decided to pack a picnic and head to Spring Mountain Ranch. There’s a nice, open grassy area there to hang out. We sat in the sun, looked at the rocks, and daydreamed about routes. A nice, short hike sounded good, so we grabbed our packs (they’re so light without climbing gear!) and headed out. We returned two hours later, so I’m not sure how much of a rest day that makes… but we tried.
Day 5- Friday
The day we had been waiting for! At the top of our multipitch list for the week was Geronimo. It’s a 4-pitch climb that I found last year, but we never got to climbing it that trip. The three of us were pretty excited to get on it this time around.
We started early, arriving at the trailhead right around sunrise. The hike in is about an hour. I was having another rough morning and wasn’t sure what to do, since this was a full-day venture. I packed my gear and rode out to the trailhead with the guys. Once we were parked at the trailhead, Seth and I talked and decided that I’d hike out to the base of the climb with them and see how I felt. If I wasn’t up to climbing, I could hike back out and come get them later, or just hang out and wait. That sounded like a good plan, so we set off. Once we got to the base of Geronimo, I was feeling a little better, but still low in energy and feeling less-than-awesome. We knew there were bolts to rap from at the top of the first pitch, so I could escape then if I needed to. So… I climbed the first pitch.
And that’s how I took that morning. Just one bite at a time. And by the time I arrived at the top of the first pitch I was feeling much better. Hooray! We all continued on together and had a great day. Just goes to show that you can’t judge a whole day on how it starts.
First pitch of Geronimo. Isn’t it a beauty?
Geronimo (5.6) – I loved this climb. I can’t wait to go back next year and lead it. The first two pitches are vertical, with good, solid holds and placements. There are a few spots where it feels a lot like gym climbing. Fun climbing, great views… we all had a good time on it. Plus, we had the whole route to ourselves all day (which, apparently, is rare).
Seth led the first pitch and brought Paul and I up together, which saved quite a bit of time. Paul led Pitch 2. The second pitch starts out very much like the first; a vertical, fun, jug-fest. Then, things change. The climbing gets slabby and easy, but exposed and run-out.
I was last in line and when I got to that point I had to do some serious self-talk to keep myself focused and calm. The path led up an exposed slab and then traversed around a corner to an even more exposed face right near the top. I was moving along slowly and talking myself through the exposure when a giant, brick-sized hold broke off in my hand about 20 ft from the anchors. I caught myself and didn’t fall (I was on top-rope, it would have been just fine), but a sound came out of me that I wasn’t quite expecting. Something halfway between a scream and a hiccup. Seth and Paul are still teasing me about it.
My viewpoint 2.5 pitches up Geronimo, while the guys explored above.
That hold breaking off on exposed climbing shook me up quite a bit. I was already running on less-than-full reserves, and found it affecting my mental recovery time as well. We took a short break and had a snack to give me a chance to recenter.
Paul roped up for the third pitch of four. This is where we got a bit lost. Paul went up a ways, explored his options, and took a right. We found out later that it should have been a left (or maybe straight?), but it looked ok to all of us. Paul knew he was off route, so he found a spot to belay and Seth followed. They brought me only part-way up, to a little cove with a slung tree, where I anchored myself in. I hung out there while they explored their options.
Paul scrambled up around the back of the formation and accidentally ended up at the top of the climb. It wasn’t the official way to get there, but it got him there! We’ll call it Paul’s Geronimo variation. He brought Seth up and they rapped from bolts directly down to where I was.
From there, it was a single-rope rap and two longer double-rope raps back to the base. And that’s where we made this little video, marking our little baby’s first multipitch climb.
Websites told us he/she was about the size of a grape at that point, hence the name.
We returned to the car 10 hours after we left. A full day of climbing with perfect weather and great company. I’ll definitely be getting back on that one next time, when I’m not incubating a tiny human.
Day 6 – Saturday
This turned out to be a pretty light day. We were all tired from the previous day’s efforts and not super-motivated. We headed back out to Willow Springs and Paul saw a line that looked interesting. So he said “what the heck,” and decided to climb it.
Crooked Crack (5.6) – We found out the name of the climb later from some other folks nearby. Another fun, moderate, trad route. Once at the top, we walked over to the top of Tonto and rapped from there. And then we called it a day (yep, that’s how not super-motivated we were that day).
Some other friends had come into town at this point and we had made plans to scramble up to a high point at the first pullout and watch the sun set. We met everyone there and two friends appeared with a surprise, fully-packed dinner for all of us! Amazing salads in bags complete with dressing, fruit, veggies, and lots of snacks to go around. Our little group sat there, watched the sun set behind the mountains, and enjoyed one another’s company. It was really nice.
Sunset over Red Rocks
A happy trad leader
Day 7 – Sunday
Sunday was our last day in town. We had a red-eye flight back home that night. Two friends, Lea & Galen, who are fairly new to trad climbing, joined us for the day. We decided to head back to one of the first routes of the trip, Little Black Book, and do a bit of trad school with them. Galen had done some trad leading years before, but it had been a while and he wasn’t confident about anchor building and top-belaying. So, Seth led the route and brought Lea & I up together. Then Galen led separately. I hung out at the top and helped him with anchors and belay so he could bring Paul up. After a week of letting the guys take the lead, it was nice to have a chance to do some teaching and use my knowledge and skills!
Lea on her first long rappel!
All five of us made our way over to the 160′ rappel and Lea and Galen got to do their first long rap back to the base. We showed them how to set up and back up their rappel, and I stood at the bottom and gave a fireman’s belay.
A fun day of climbing and teaching. We finished up the day (and the trip) with an attempt on Sleeper (5.9), had some snacks and called it.
High fives all around.
Last day’s climbing crew
I’ve gotten better over the years at listening to my body, recognizing where I am, and staying within myself. That doesn’t mean that I like it, though. Not doing any leading and sitting out a few climbs was hard to swallow, even though I knew that’s just what needed to happen. My kettlebells training has taught me how to listen to my body and know when I can push and when it’s best to back off. I think that helped me a lot this trip. I chose to sit a few climbs out, but there were quite a few climbs where I was able to push through and have a great day out on the rocks.
As of now, I’m 18 weeks pregnant. I’ve been able to climb and continue my workouts, (I’m just not leading anything anymore), but I know that as I move forward, listening to my body will be really important, and I’ll alter things as I go. It’ll be interesting to see what happens!
As a woman who can be quite stubborn and strong-willed, it’s not an easy thing to back off. But, I’m always learning, and learning not to apologize for it. As my kettlebells instructor often says, “we do what we can.” What we can do is different every day, and half the battle is being able to recognize when we can push ourselves and when it’s best to give ourselves a break.
All in all a great trip. Looking forward to getting back next year! Thanks again to Paul and Seth for taking the lead.