Basecamp Outdoor Gear Team
Bouldering Around Las Vegas: Where to go if the sandstone is wet
Are you planning a bouldering trip to Red Rock Canyon? It's a world-class bouldering destination! The rock is a luscious young beautiful soft red sandstone so esthetic and wonderful to the touch, it feels surreal. But if it rains, you have to wait 24+ hours to let the rock dry. Where else can you boulder if the Red Rock sandstone is wet?
FAQs about bouldering the Red Rock Canyon sandstone:
Sandstone Geology 101: What happens to wet sandstone?
Disclaimer: I'm not a geologist. For a scientific explanation, click here. There is, however, one takeaway that I think is important for this post. The Aztec Sandstone of Red Rock Canyon is a young sedimentary rock made of sand particles glued together by hardened minerals. Dissolve the minerals (with rainwater, for example) and you're left with sand.
Why do we need to wait for the sandstone to dry?
I'll give you 2 reasons: Ethics and safety. Ethics. When a hold breaks, it changes the integrity of the climb. You climb on wet sandstone, you break a hold, the climb is no longer the same. Safety. You climb, you break a hold, you fall unexpectedly, you break an ankle. Or worse.
How do you know if the rock is dry?
You don't know really. Some areas dry up faster than others. It depends on temperature, sun exposure, wind conditions, and so many other factors! Listen to this great podcast with Travis Graves, co-owner of Desert Rock Sports, explaining the ambiguity and issues surrounding wet sandstone. Please also familiarize yourself with these guidelines from the Southern Nevada Climbers Coalition. My rule of thumb: If you're in doubt, don't climb it. Call Desert Rock Sports. The folks there are always knowledgeable and up-to-date about current conditions.
So... Where else can I boulder near Las Vegas?
If you happen to be in Las Vegas for a bouldering trip when the sandstone is wet, you should check out other nearby areas. They may not yet have the same recognition as Red Rock, but maybe you'll discover some new classics.
Bouldering areas within an hour of Las Vegas
Keyhole Canyon - about 45 minutes from the airport, this is a small local crag with a high concentration of routes. Though it mostly offers moderate single-pitch trad lines, there are a few fun boulder problems fit for all levels. Note that you have to take a dirt road to get here. Passenger cars can make it in dry conditions, but go slow. Make sure you have a jack and spare tire.
Nelson Boulders - A few minutes south of Keyhole you'll find the Nelson Hills. Nelson is an interesting place. You might think you're on a movie set or part of a practical joke, especially if you accidently take a wrong turn and end up on someone's private property. In any case, anyone who goes to Nelson comes back with a great story to tell. Oh, the bouldering is OK.
Big Sandy - 25 minutes from the airport, this area offers a few fun boulders to explore. Plus it's an opportunity to see another side of Vegas that you never knew existed!
Jean Boulders (aka Prison Sex Area) - About an hour from the airport, depending how far down you go down the dirt road. There's very limited information about specific boulders here. It's cool just to drive out here and explore on your own, but you need a high-clearance 4WD vehicle!
Bouldering areas within 4 hours of Las Vegas
Joshua Tree National Park - You can do this as a day trip from Las Vegas if you start driving very early in the morning and have a partner to keep you awake and alert.
Trona Pinnacles - Southwest of Death Valley National Park you'll find this random gem of boulders and pinnacles. You'll drive down a bumpy dirt road, so go easy on the vehicle.
St George Areas - In case you're thinking of using St George as a backup for rainy days in Las Vegas, think again. Most of the St George bouldering areas have the same red sandstone as Kraft Boulders in Las Vegas. If it rained in Vegas, it probably also rained in St George. That being said, Moe's Valley is one of my favorite places to go to when the rock is dry!
Bouldering Gyms in Las Vegas
If it's actively raining everywhere and you absolutely must boulder, go to one of the below climbing gyms.
The Refuge Climbing and Fitness
Sport Climbing Areas
This isn't the subject of this blog. You can read about more climbing area alternatives at this Southern Nevada Climbers Coalition page and Lady Lockoff's page.
Looking for specific beta? Call the folks at Desert Rock Sports. They have all the answers!