This year was my second time attending the Las Vegas rock climbing festival known as Red Rock Rendezvous. It's becoming an annual get away for my wife Nancy and I. Last year's festival marked my first time climbing at Red Rock Canyon, so it was truly eye opening. You can read about my 2015 trip HERE and HERE. Doing something the second time you always try and tweak your operation for a better performance, which is how I planned year two. We felt like we were running around way too much and lacked more to time to relax, so this year we signed up for a couple less things and kept our curriculum more low key. We also skipped the option to take a Friday clinic this year.
We left Los Angeles after work on Friday and arrived at the Mountain Ranch around 10pm. We pitched our tent and checked and fell asleep to the raging sound of the wild donkeys mating in the park. It was so over-the-top it was almost comical. Melissa and Brad came out a day early and gave me an pro-tip to bring earplugs, which helped.
The Red Rock Rendezvous sells out every year and clinics are limited to a small number of participants on a first come first serve basis. It's worth the effort to sign up months in advance. I printed out my workshop itinerary and cross referenced my classes on Thursday before we left. I noticed an additional workshop that wasn't being offered during my early registration last October.
The opportunity was to create art with Jeremy Collins, a professional adventure artist and creator of the apparel company Meridian Line. His trail paintings are soulful and sincere. He's best known for a very playful and whimsical use of contour lines within nature landscapes. Jeremy's art is a big inspiration to me.
Everyone who attended RRR got these rad shirts provided by Meridian Line, with an illustration by Jeremy Collins. I love the touch of the cowboy boots outside the tent, Red Rock Canyon really feels like the Wild West! The graphic is serene and understated, avoids hitting you over the head as a promotional souvenir. Last year North Face provided shirts that reeked of a logo drilled Nascar, and although it was made of performance fabric, I can report I never wore it once. This years' shirt is going immediately to heavy rotation in my wardrobe.
The write up for his workshop said to bring artist materials and that the time would be spent creating art together. Without a shadow of doubt, I said "I'm crashing that." It was too late to sign up but I wasn't going to be stopped! The opportunity was too good. I've been developing my own style of trail painting over the last 2 years, and when the heck else would I get to do my thing with the guy who does it the best?
I woke up early, disregarded all my previous notions of relaxing, and headed to intrude his session. We all hopped a fence into a premeditated horse ranching area that would pose as our landscape muse. A POND IN THE DESERT?! I think we all (including Jeremy) were astonished by the beauty and rarity of a scene like this around Red Rock Canyon. Water, mountains, desert, ducks, seclusion, nothing could have been better. Jeremy showed us some of his latest sketches from a trip to Nepal and briefed us on his process and materials, then we all broke out to begin creating. I had some extra water color boards to share and even convinced Nancy to indulge her fine artist within. It was great. After 20-30 minutes Jeremy put his pen down and came around to chat with everyone individually.
I was enthusiastic to say the least. I had some light weight and a couple heavy hitting questions for him. We chatted about contemporary inspirations, social media and it's effect on marketing art, and the pros and cons of higher education. We talked about how he feels (and deals) with imitators and intellectual infringement, and then I showed him some of water color paintings.
One of the more interesting things we talked about was the journey to follow your dream. Many people talk about when they decided to commit 100% to their own projects, but I'm always fascinated to hear about the time paying dues. Before Meridian Line, and before North Face and before Prana and before Rock & Ice. Jeremy used to draw caricatures at parties and outside bars, humbling handiwork I presume. I loved humanizing an idol. While Jeremy is only a few years older than me (but looks a few years younger than me) he's super down to Earth with the attention he's garnered and deserves. Was a real trip to draw with him and connect artist to artist. It wasn't a small talk chitchat with a hand shake, it was very truthful and straightforward conversation.
Above is the painting I made in the field. Pretty content on the result as I'm growing to embrace my own form of abstract impressionism. I'm not sure if I should frame it for the memory or display it in my Los Angeles exhibit coming April 29th (click HERE for more details).
After a couple hours we headed back to the festival, but before we left Jeremy signed and gifted me his drawing of our scenic subject matter, it was quite surreal! I had been questing to procure an original piece of his, but good look finding one. At this stage, around 11am, I thought... "Well.... whatever with RRR and climbing, I could leave now and be inspired." Stoke level was at a maximum.
To establish full fan boy level 100, I saw on my drive back to Los Angeles that he started following my @ForeverOutside instagram account, posted a photo of his drawing and tagged me with a personal thank you for the paper. WHOA.
Honestly it was all whatever to me after that. Art is my life, and climbing is occasionally the subject matter of it. But HEY, WE JUST GOT HERE, SO LET'S DO THIS!
Nancy and I demoed some shoes from the LaSportiva booth and headed to our first clinic: CRACK CLIMBING. We went to the Hidden Falls Wall inside Red Rock Canyon State Park. Up until this crag I can admit that I've been guilty of saying "oooh Red Rock grades are soft, Joshua Tree, Tahquitz blah blah blah" well.... I got my fat slice of humble pie.
I "warmed up" (i.e. pumped out and hang-dogged) on "Bigfoot aka Sole Slasher" 5.10a. This was not a good warm-up for me. The climbing was steep and super reachy. My forearms were screaming by the end, fingers just jacked, besides it wasn't even a crack climb, it was all face climbing!
After that we climbed a Red Rock single pitch classic called "Black Track" 5.9. I would say I climb a fair amount of crack and this was a pretty sandbagged grade too. You can see Nancy in the yellow helmet starting the awkward stemming/squeeze chimney thing, which leads up to a real grunt-worthy semi off-width section just northwest of the gentleman in red climbing Sole Slasher.
I wouldn't say I learned a damn thing about crack climbing in this 4 hour top roping session, but we made enough jokes with our guide, Jim Shimberg to break a rib laughing. I think I wanted to learn some hand moves and special feet jam techniques, but at the end of the day I was BEYOND happy to just climb with my wife, push my climbing grades, laugh my ass off and meet some great people. I would love to climb with Jim again, or maybe just go swimming, ha!
Above is Nancy from another angle on Black Track, this was announced as an advanced clinic, which was good. A smart ass like myself needs a little slice of humble pie, not everything is soft in the park!
We got back from crag and it was time to party. There's a massive BBQ every year. This time around they stepped it up with a bunch of vegetarian food to boot. Here's Jaime with what I would describe as "moderate" portion control compared to the volume I consumed. We grubbed hard, won some stuff at the vendor booths, collected enough free stickers to wallpaper a cabin, and did a little meet and greet with some athletes.
Still in geek mode from my art session this morning, I kept my stoke modest but got excited to chat with Peter Croft and have him sign a poster for me, this dude is a legend. If you're unfamiliar with him, check out his interview on episode 81 of the Enormocast where he talks about fee soloing Astroman (5.11c, 1000'). Click HERE for the podcast link.
Sunday morning, Nancy and I used our strategy to break everything down first thing in the day, which works well when you're leaving a festival. We were up at 5:30am stuffing sleeping bags and rolling up air mattresses. Loaded the car up before breakfast!
Every year the festival organizers host a huge pancake breakfast on Sunday morning. They had several 5 gallon buckets and power drills with wisks attached to stir all the batter. Tons of blueberry pancakes, bananas, oranges, and coffee.
While waiting in line I tuned around to see none other than Hans Florine standing behind me. Another legend, this guy holds the speed climbing record with Alex Honnold for the Nose of El Capitan in 2 hours and 23 minutes. What was really rad is a couple years ago my buddy Sam had scored us this awesome Yosemite mountain house rental for a little family vacation. The house was Hans' base camp in the park, so I had a great ice breaker for our conversation. Another real gentleman, we joked about the 1990's sport climbing VHS tapes I watched at his place. He went on to straight up give me some insight on climbing fast and light while we waited for our pancakes. Since it was still 7am, I didn't bug him for a photo or beg him for a belay on El Cap this Summer, next year maybe. Red Rock Rendezvous is a real trip, it's an intimate event with some legitimate community vibes.
After breakfast we headed to First Pull Out to climb at the Tuna and Chips Wall for a footwork technique clinic. There are mostly moderates on this wall, so I brought my full rack hoping to lead some. After really trying to negotiate with the instructor to allow me, he was ultimately pretty rigid, saying he was directed that no participants can lead climb. Which was a bit of a bummer since the year before I was lead-climbing in both clinics, weird. RULES!!!! WHO FOLLOWS THEM?!?
I let it go and focused on taking something positive away instead of just ticking routes on lead. He gave us some exercises to try that included moving our feet twice for every one time we moved our hands. We also practiced footwork by climbing these routes using foot placements no higher than our knee. It was actually really great. It made you truly think about what you were doing instead of just high stepping and hauling yourself up. Made you reserve strength, and in some essence added to the grades of these climbs by forgoing some of the obvious sequences.
We also trained smearing and edging, really was some legit instruction, but lacked the the majority of the humor we had Saturday with Jim.
Above is what I think turned out to be one of the most bad-ass top roping photos I've seen! Ha! the instructor Andy from the AAI took this photograph while he was at the anchor. I love the round pedestal shaped rock Nancy is standing on for the belay. Just a really interestingly composed shot. So good I'm going to forgive the guy for not letting me lead even a 5.3 pitch!
Nancy was in great spirit, she sent a couple routes in 5.10+ range like a boss. It was really great to watch her fears fleeting behind her and enjoy the challenge. I have several friends who attended the festival and it's amusing for me to hear what clinics everyone is taking. I was sort of surprised that we're the only couple that does all the clinics together, it's awesome bonding, like a mini-vacation with my best friend, and the amenities included! I'm really happy to be able to capture so many great action photos of Nancy this weekend. She really crushed it!
I'm already brain storming what I will do different next year, maybe show up earlier and lead some of my own climbs? Maybe skip all the clinics? Maybe take MORE clinics? No matter what, I am already excited!