The winter’s a perfect time for climbing in Red Rock Canyon

Shaina Savor rock climbs at Red Rock Canyon.
Photo: Wade Vandervort

When Phil and Bekah Craik boarded their plane in Nova Scotia, it was 8 degrees outside in the Canadian province. One 2,700-mile flight later, they were hiking up a trail at Red Rock Canyon, armed with backpacks dangling with ropes, harnesses and carabiners on a pleasant 70-degree day.

With hundreds of rosy-hued, sandstone walls towering thousands of feet in the air, Red Rock is a climber’s wonderland. The nearly 200,000-acre area offers everything from a 13-mile scenic drive to miles of hiking and trails for horseback riding, mountain biking and running. The destination attracts more than 2 million visitors every year, many of whom are climbers eager to scale the walls at Red Rock.

“People come from all over the world in the wintertime,” says Bill Ramsey, president of the Southern Nevada Climbers Coalition. “It’s about the most perfect winter climbing vacation you can take.”

Phil and Bekah Craik have turned traveling to Red Rock into an annual tradition, starting three years ago for Bekah and two years ago for Phil. “The rock here is just phenomenal,” Bekah says. “It’s one of the destination spots in the U.S. and all of North America, really.”

Southern Nevada’s temperate winter climate allows climbers to enjoy Red Rock well into the winter months. From November through February, the average high temperature is a moderate 56 degrees.

Southern Nevada’s lack of precipitation is also key; climbing is only possible when the cliffs are dry. It’s even more important with sandstone, which is softer than most cliffs and requires two to three days after a rain to dry off before it can be scaled. Red Rock averages only 10.5 inches of rainfall per year, which means that climbers can come here to get their fix when it’s far too cold to climb in their hometowns.

“It has everything you could want,” Phil Craik says. “It has quality, consistency and concentration.”

Not only are Red Rock’s climbs plentiful, they aren’t widely spaced out. This allows visitors to cram as many climbs into their day as possible without wasting time traveling in between. “You can walk 10 steps and you’re at a new climb,” Bekah Craik says.

The Craiks make as many as eight climbs per day while visiting. “The rock is all different from this side of the Valley, to the back, to the side, to over in the quarry. It’s so diverse, and the rock all feels different wherever you go. The variety here is amazing and the concentration.”

From Bridge Mountain to the Calico Hills to the highest point at La Madre Mountain (8,154 feet), Red Rock offers a vast variety of climbs. “People come from all over the world to do bouldering [a form of climbing without ropes or harnesses],” Ramsey says. “Then there’s a number of cliffs that have sport climbing. The protection is already in place, and it’s bolted into the rocks ready to go. They also have easy access.”

Red Rock’s unique sandstone cliffs lend themselves to many different styles of climbing, from trad (traditional) to sport climbing. Their beautiful color schemes are just a bonus.

“There are actually holds on sandstone,” Phil Craik says, laughing as he compares the cliffs at Red Rock to the slick granite cliffs in Nova Scotia. “There it’s mostly bouldering, which is why we come here for sport climbing.”

Red Rock also features multi-pitch climbs in which climbers can ascend more than 1,000 feet over the course of an entire day of climbing. The area has seen a massive increase in visitors, from about 20,000 per year in 1982 to more than 2 million annually. “There have been lines of cars at the front gate,” Ramsey says.

And for tourists there’s the draw just over the horizon when the sun goes down: the Las Vegas Strip. “You get the double-whammy, with great climbing plus the vacation town of Las Vegas,” Ramsey said. “You can climb during the day and enjoy the great restaurants and shows at night.”

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