Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Keyhole Canyon Bouldering

A beautiful emptiness.

On a rainy day here in Vegas a few friends and I drove south to do some climbing in Keyhole Canyon.  The stone at Keyhole is granite which varies greatly from the sandstone found in Red Rock Canyon.  It was a new destination to explore, and we knew the rock would probably be the most solid out of everything around.  So we filled up Jason's truck with crash pads and cliff bars and bee lined it down south to the granite getaway.  As usual is was a pretty tight squeeze to get everyone inside the truck for the drive, but like off-width climbing sometimes it's fun to squeeze.  After about 40 minutes of driving we had reached our turn out.  This gravel road in the middle of a vast nothingness was easy to miss and the nearest landmark was a field of solar panels a few miles away, anything else was just passing by.

The road that leads to the canyon requires a high clearance vehicle to realistically pass.  The truck made easy work of the drive, but it certainly was bumpy.  After about ten minutes of being tossed around while listening to Bob Dylan we arrived at our destination. Right away we realized that this place was going to be well worth the drive.  The sun was peaking in through the slightly overcast clouds, and the granite stone canyons just called for us to explore.  It didn't take much walking from the truck to find some good boulders, and all of the problems we attempted were within a five minute walk.  The canyon itself had a lot of remains from days or years previous, and it almost seemed as if we had stepped into a time capsule.  It appeared that this area sees little traffic and doesn't get effected by changing weather very much.  If you looked around you could find old fire pits, dead spiders, petrified poop, and most interestingly ancient petroglyphs.   It seems that aside from a few bolts and random remains, not much has changed in Keyhole Canyon for quite some time. 

Tarantulas love bouldering, but not when they're dead.

The first noticeable concentration of problems is located on the Natural Selection, and Fluer de Lis Boulders.  These two boulders are opposite each other on the canyon walls, and offer a selection of climbs ranging from V0-V6.  A few of the problems follow attractive crack systems, and the disappearing crack on Adaptation V5 felt exceptionally hard for the grade.  This area provides a nice warm up with a few harder lines to really get the blood flowing.  After spending some time here we move further into the canyon to check out Lip Traverse, McMillens Egg, and the waterfall (now dry) that at one point in time gradually craved the canyon.  We all considered these next two problems to be a lot of fun, and pretty classic for the area.

Jason Molina slaps his way McMillens Egg V6.

Jason contemplating slopers on McMillens Egg.

As the name implies, McMillen's Egg V6 climbs a rounded egg like boulder that mostly features all rounded holds.  Although being pretty short, and certainly not the easiest way to the top of the boulder, this problem provided us with a good challenge that differed from the crack/face style problems we warmed up on. McMillen's Egg required using several bad sloper corner holds, while bumping and slapping your way up the egg.  The crux seemed to be getting your feet above the first good lip and moving to the finishing holds from the bad slopers and nonexistent feet.

Chris Keller squeezes his way up the dry waterfall.

Chris on Lip Traverse V3.

The Lip Traverse problem was a ton of fun and pretty sustained for a V3.  We all had success on this problem that day, even though it seemed that many approaches and techniques were used.   Everyone had a slightly different technique dialed in on this one.  Some of us tried going heel and toe hooks the whole traverse, while others preferred a low-rider feet down low ball technique.   Anyway you looked at it the crux was mantling up onto the boulder for the finish, and it seemed there were easier and harder variations of the final move as well.  What can be agreed on is that everyone found this problem to be well worth the stop, and every move as good as the last. 

A3 Traverse. 

Another surprise that day was a handful of excellent looking aid "problems" that we found.  Although this type of climbing is pretty much unheard of and is only good for practice, it is neat to spot different aesthetic lines that would otherwise be impossible to climb. Doing this would be unacceptable on already established free climbing routes due to risk of damaging the rock, but otherwise could serve as good aid combing practice. Pictured above is a short 10 foot aid traverse section that could only be done by pulling consecutively moves on progressively smaller hook placements. Rad!  Although most people wouldn't find this stuff that amusing, it is good to know that bouldering can even appeal to the "big-wallers" out there. 

So if it's rainy in Red Rocks, or you're looking for a new granite climbing destination climbing take a trip down to Keyhole Canyon for a day or two.  The scenery, history and climbing all combined make it a unique gem hidden out in the wide open spaces of the southern Nevada desert.  And if you look hard enough you're bound to see a ton of Petroglyths! 

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