Chris Daymartin approaches Rainbow Mountain in Red Rock National Conservation Area through desert flora. Our early morning group make an alpine start on the classic Crimson Chrysalis III 5.8****. The route climbs the largest tower in the Right side of Mountain.


Red Rock Recreational National Conservation Area (NCA) just out side of Las Vegas was my stomping grounds for three weeks this October 2008. 13 Mile BLM campground was my home. I hit the road this fall with the intent to once again focus on technical climbing and not on guiding. This was a long time coming. As a guide chasing my AMGA certification I felt this development to be a necessary in order to raise the bar. Idling the grade of 5.10 for the last ten years it was time to step off the plateau. I chose Red Rocks as one of three key destinations this year for a two-and-a -half month tour de climb in the Southwestern United States along with the Sierras and Joshua Tree. I have avoided this nomadic circuit out of love and time in the Northwest. This time I captured it with both hands. During any length of time in one place I get to see the coming and going of new and old faces. The ebb and flow of social waves is an appreciated part of the climbing life. The reunion of acquaintances is turning us into friends; an effect out of common goals in interests. This year this was highlighted in the deserts of Nevada.


Re-entry into Red Rocks
I teamed up with some great climbers this year. The day I dropped into the area I was already sharing a rope with Todd Passy on Unimpeachable Groping (A climb referring to Clinton during his trial). This is a popular 8 pitch, 5.10 sport clip-up on Rainbow Mountain. It was a reflective moment for me. The last time I had any interaction with this climb was when George Urriosity and Paul Van Beaten, the two first ascentionists, were finishing the climb in 1997. The two climbers pick up me and good friend Matt Anderson hitch hiking into the loop road of Red Rocks during our first visit. George and Paul hounded us to try their new route. I was too intimidated to try the second ascent as an unseasoned 19 year-old. It was the time my climbing was naive and reeked of epic. Twelve years later it sounded like a fun day out.

Todd Passey climbing the Rainbow Wall on Bird Hunters Buttress III 5.9*. This is a partial retro bolted route that climbs to the top of the Wall. Quite the adventure climb on one of Red Rocks proudest features. ~ Photo Mark Allen

Todd and his wife Winslow are veteran Alpine Ascents guides and live in Salt lake Utah. I met both of them in Alaska on the Kahlitna glacier during an ascent of Denali and later became friends in Antarctica when we all worked on Vinson. Todd is a great partner. His quiet humble character is refreshing to be around. He doesn’t talk things up much but then takes the pitches that others don’t want to. We rack up with little conversation. The gangster rap that he religiously listens to on the way to the rocks contrasts his demeanor.

Todd floated the first pitch which oddly began by climbing a tree for 20ft. The climbing was steep and not terribly positive, though the movement was easy to unlock. The wall's steepness and hanging belays try to grind you down. Small roofs and exposed cruxes of 10b and c kept each pitch going. The momentum of our climbing and the partnership gained on every pitch. We had linked too many pitches and shortened the route into a 6-pitch route by climbing longer pitches. We were left standing on the summit out of rock to climb and were almost disappointed we had made it to the summit so fast. It was good to be back at Red Rocks.

Some of my favorite routes climbed this season:

Fox 5.10c****
Unimpeachable Groping II 5.10c **
Triassic Sands II 5.10b ***
Wholesome fullback 5.10a ***
The Warrior III 5.10d (first 4) ***
Purblind Pillar III 5.7 *
Epinephrine V 5.9*****
Bird Hunters Buttress III 5.9*
Mushroom People 5.10c**
Out of Control 5.10c***
Community Pillar III 5.9**
Dark Shadows 5.8****
Bird Land 5.8**
Sour Mash III 5.10b *****
Crimson Chrysalis III 5.8****
Eagle Dance IV 5.10c****
Dream of Wild Turkeys IV 5.10****

Black Velvet Canyon. This wall holds many Red Rock classics like Dream of Wild Turkeys IV 5.10****, Sour Mash III 5.10b *****,Epinephrine V 5.9***** The list is long. This would become my favorite place to climb this October.


The next day Todd and I teamed up with co-guides Jonathan Spitzer (AKA The Bigspitz) and Andy Rich. Todd and Andy are down getting ready for their AMAG rock guide exam and John and I are just climbing. Groups of climbers who have similar interest pal around together like a band, each member having a different strengths. On top of that you have to enjoy each other’s company. John, Todd, and I share campsite 12, Andy next door. Every morning we woke up just before dawn to avoid the sun turning the tents into a convection oven. Todd was the other coffee junkie so we could count on one another to make it. Todd was the elder. We would all make decisions together, but Todd’s word usually stood. We referred to him as the Todd Father. This resembled the name I gave him when the two of us worked in Antarctica. After summating Mt. Vinson in 2008, Todd performed the marriage of AAI lead guide Vern Tahas and Vern’s girlfriend on the summit of Mt. Vinson. Todd pronounced the bond and I pronounced Todd “the Reverend”. Todd and Andy had a good history. It was easy to see Todd’s respect for him as a climbing partner, co-worker, and friend. Andy is what we call solid. Even that is an understatement. Todd, John, and I had the humbling experience a few times watching Andy from the belay climb the crux pitch while laughing and hooting, then we all grunted up behind him. (Todd I bet you're mumbling under your breath..."I didn't do much grunting.." . True. But Andy climbs like a cat, we climb like football players by comparison).

The four of us rolled out to Black Velvet Canyon for some cragging. John 28 and myself 30 teamed up while the two "old boys" Todd and Andy made plans for a whipfest on Our Father a 3 pitch 5.10d. John and I climbed the classic Triassic Sands a 4-pitch 5.10c finger and hand crack and linked it up with Wholesome Fullback a two pitch 5.10a (which is much harder than any pitch on TS). This is a classic AMGA exam problem and it made for good practice. That day was my transition back into Red Rocks crack climbing. I led all the pitches. I also got five cams stuck. Jonathan was more than patient with me. On occasion, we used water to wet the sandstone in contact with the cam lobes which puts the calcium carbonate matrix of the sandstone into solution and makes it slippery. A technique often used by climbers in sandstone providing a good chance of getting the welded cam out. When found without water on route the climber resorts to spitting or even urinating on the piece. Desperate measures for desperate times.

Willie Benegas follows pitch 3 on Bird Hunters Buttress III 5.9* on the Rainbow Wall.~ Photo Mark Allen


The motivations of climbers rarely stay unanimous in a group. This creates an swapping of partnerships in small groups of climbers. Eventually, you all will have had a turn with one another and you will go with whom ever is matching your wavelength for the current moment. My second main partnership would be with Willie Benegas. I can’t begin to say enough about him. He is a very accomplished alpinist, sponsored climber, and renowned guide. He and his twin brother Damian cut their teeth in Patagonia Argentina. The two became prolific climbers through their unique partnership. The North Face picked up the dynamic duo and now sends them all over the world on test piece adventures. All of this made perfect sense to me during our climb on the Red Rock super classic Epinephrine a grade V 5.9.

Willie Climbs pitch 4 of the Epi Chinmeys with fantastic speed. I was impressed by his confidence and form. This was still within the first 45min of climbing ~Photo Mark Allen

His fitness was hinted to me when we started running to the base of the climb from the car. He was already a very different partner from my two previous. While running up the wash and pulling over a boulder amazingly we were still able to have a conversation about the ins and outs of his current adventurous love life. We get to the base in 15min on an approach that always has taken me 25. No moment was wasted. We ate and simultaneously racked up. Willie was climbing in no more than 3 minutes after arriving at the base of the 1500ft rock climb. We climbed it in two blocks. Willie took all pitches to the ledge atop of the chimneys (1-5) and I took all the pitches leading off the ledge to the top (6-13). Willie climbed like he had jet packs on. Sometimes I couldn’t pay rope out fast enough when he was on easy ground. We climbed 5
pitches in 1 hr 15min. It was now my lead.

Willie seconding Pitch 7 on Epinephrine. My favorite pitch of the whole climb. Steep finger crack that locks your fingers into place. The climbing was steep and fast~ Photo Mark Allen

I was concerned that during my blocks the momentum would brake down, though I found myself in a zone and was able to climb fast. The way the cracks and holds unfolded felt secure, comfortable, and familiar. This was my type of climbing and I had lead these pitches before. We flew up steep and slightly kicked back featured finger and hand cracks. My leads still did not quite have the same snappy clip as Willie’s did because I was placing about 200% more gear, which still was not a lot. We broke down the system and climbed the last 400ft in simul-climbing. We summiting in 3hrs and 40min. We were really excited about our achievement.

The two of us on the Summit of Whiskey Peak after climbing the Epinephrine in 3hrs 40min. We topped out at Noon and went to the casino for lunch. This was a very cool day. ~self Photo

Willie taught me a lot during our short day out. Mostly he showed me a new potential. If you want to go-fast, go fast all the time. It was incredible to watch him work, be fast, and remain calm. Small time saving tricks were always used if one could. Every trick saved time like gaining points. It felt like we received these points back in energy. I have never climbed so much rock and not felt tired. He also reinforced the need for a high level of fitness. His ability to not fatigue, later recover, and climb with equal intensity the next day were unparalleled. He is alarmingly swift on 2nd and 3rd class terrain. I often had to slow down so I didn’t hurt myself during our descent. He crushed me and once again I found myself running on the tail to the car. This was my favorite day at Red Rocks

The following day Willie would asked me for an equally long day. I was feeling a bit torn, since I was neglecting my other travel companions from IMG and feeling the need to train for my AMGA exam coming up. It was hard to not give in to the offer. Willie sensed my predicament. He took the high road. "No problem, I think I will solo something tomorrow?".."I think I will solo Epinephrine!" And that is exactly what he did. By trimming the fat of a partner, he shaved 1 hr 4o min off his day. It was very good to get his phone message after he got back to the car and hear his excitement. Now you know what I am speaking of when I said that "All of this made perfect sense to me.." with regards to his ability.


My co-workers Max Bunce, Eric Gullickson, and Dan Otter came down for an extended rock trip. I had worked with all summer on Mt. Rainer. It was good to see them in a totally opposite environments. After we got them acclimated on a few route these young bucks were throwing themselves out of the nest. They chose routes at were testing their limits and skills and every time they went out they got 200% better. It wasn’t a smooth ride for them. After two weeks they finally ticked off a test piece route and got back to camp before dark. We were all stoked for them.

Mark Allen and Eric Gullickson on top of Community Pillar 5.9 III in Red Rocks, NV~ Photo Mark Allen

My brother Jay and his climbing partner Chris Daymartin flew down for four days. They too are in the early stages of efficient climbing. Jay, is one of the most supportive people I have in my life and it’s always cool to have him join me for segments of my adventures. This was my first time around Chris. I’m glad my brother has him as a climber partner. I love taking Jay out because he is always so enthusiastic. Every climb is the best climb he has ever done. Its fun to be around him and his partner because they have gained some good skills in the past two years through trails, the best way to learn why we do things. I was glad to take them to places they wouldn’t normally go.

Jay Allen and Chris Daymartin Hang at belay 8 of Crimson Chrysalis III 5.8****. We climbed the dividing the pitches between the three of us. I think it was huge hightlight of their trip.~Photo Mark Allen

I see these friends being part of a similar social wave to me. I had similar climbing relationships with them. They are all friends to good friends. We are a closer knit. The people that know you best, the good and the bad. I also see them going through much of the same steps I went through not so long ago with my climbing. I took this as a good opportunity to give them some of what I have learned and not taking the long way like I did. In return, I was able practice my guiding techniques that I was being tested on by the AMGA in the weeks to come. Even though is was not test-piece climbing for me, it was some of the most enjoyable. I learned something every climb and proves to me again that there are many levels of climbing to appreciate. Comradship and a good partnership are two of the most important.

Jay Allen climbing Neon Sunset 5.8*** at one of the many sport climbing areas at Red Rocks. This was a day that we all took turns falling on lead to improve our head space. Jay's climbing improved ten fold after he took several lead falls. ~Photo Mark Allen


The climbers jokingly refer to the campsite as Afghanistan. The location of the BLM campsite is less than desirable. Climbers come back from long day, to cook in the open desert on cement slabs and metal tables exposed to the wind and sun. The wind picks up sand and anything not heavy enough to overcome its force make a long list that include full beer bottles, camp chairs, and tents. It is not uncommon to see an unseasoned car camper come back and find their tent 10 sites over in a cactus or still in motion like nylon tumble weed. Just over the hill to the east, less than a ½ a mile away, the LVPD has a private shooting range. Many officers hit the range before heading to work and several times we were awakened to the sound of a semi-automatic weapon unloading a monster clip. To top it off the camp managers rule the place with martial law. Armed federal law enforcers are often tending to the trouble makers who are escorted by the senior citizen couple who drive the camp host golf cart complete with “W” stickers. One can only stay for 14 days. My friend was once escorted off the premises by a federal lawman after 15 days with the same methods used in domestic violence scenes from COPS. The transient climber planning to stay longer adapts several techniques to effectively disappear and yet still reside in the campsite. We call this action “going dark”.

Tactics On “Going Dark”
1. The volunteer camp host records your stay via license plate. By storing an available vehicle in a Casino parking garage allows you to swap cars around when needing more days.
3. It is good to delegate a camp host liaison that only deals with host during the span of current vehicle on the pay stub. By association it appears your stay is shorter that it is.
3. Taking the rain fly off the tent making it appear like a new resident
4. Switching camp sites with new swapped cars and tents
5. Hair cuts
6. Fake mustaches
7. Fake accents

All of these techniques have proven to be effective. This situation provides for much entertainment during your stay. A long stay here is a testament to how much we enjoy the climbing. I also see it as a blessing. This will never be camp 4 of Yosemite but Red Rocks will never have the crowds that are an epidemic in the Valley. It will never have the nostalgia either.

South Fork of Pine Creek Canyon. ~Photo Mark Allen


Red Rock Canyon was designated as Nevada's first National Conservation Area located 17 miles west of the Las Vegas Strip on Charleston Boulevard/State Route 159. The area is 195,819 acres and is visited by thousands of climbers each year. In marked contrast to a town focused on entertainment, bling-bling, and gaming, Red Rock Canyon offers hundreds sport climbs, moderate multi-pitch rock climbs, and long Alpine routes. "Alpine Routes" you ask? Absolutely. The nature of the red rock terrain is such that it yields climbing that requires the skills of an alpine rock climber. Tall faces and towers, interesting approaches, adventure climbing, and complicated descents evoke many of the same strategies required to climb in places like Washington Pass in the North Cascades or the High Sierra in California.

Mt. Wilson, the largest massif in the Spring Mountains. This is home to the longest routes at Red Rock~ Photo Mark Allen


600 million years ago, the area later to be Red Rock, was part of a deep ocean basin. This captured many marine fossils making a huge deposit of limestone. By around 180 million years ago the terrestrial basin area east and South of the Sierra Volcanic chain in California had become part of a massive desert with shifting red sands and huge dune fields. Visitors today can see evidence of the lithophytes dunes preserved in the sandstone as a crosscutting sweep. After the sand was deposited more sand would be deposited on top of the pervious layer by yet another migrating sand dune. This system was repeated depositing thousands of feet of sand. The weight of the sand combined with minerals in the ground water would bond the sand with two types of matrix, or glue, Calcium Carbonate making the sandstone appear tan and iron oxide Hematite making the sandstone have a rusted look...hence the name Red Rocks.

Beginning approximately 65 million years ago, during a phase of the Larimide Orogeny, famous for shaping most of Idaho and Western Montana, the earths crust also was tectonically active this area. A large system of thrust faults extending south and as far north as Canada developed. Thrust faults result in some rather unusual effects. This particular thrust fault created one of the most interesting features of Red Rock Canyon, the Keystone Thrust. Here older layers 600 million y/o Limestone with seashells and extinct corals were tectonically thrust over younger layers of 180 million y/o Red Quartz Sandstone. This amazing contrast of not only age but is also visually striking. This appears as a line shooting across the Spring Mountains between the gray and red stone.

This area was tectonically uplifted to be 2000ft-3000 above sea level. As always when terrain is above see level it gets carved down by water shed. Ephemeral streams and washes have cut deep canyons and faces in the rock making the perfect venue for rock climbers such as ourselves to test our skills.

More recently, the ancient Anasazi left their mark on some of the rock faces in the form of petroglyphs. Unfortunately due to vandalism, many of the Petroglyph areas are unmarked and their locations are kept secret.

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