Misadventures in The Great American West

Photo- Chelsea Harris

” When everything goes wrong- that’s when the adventure starts”- Yvon Chouinard

I feel like when  Chouinard said this he was referring to epic adventures which likely involve failed gear, getting lost, unpredictable weather, and a complete absence of the technology we all rely on. But there is a subset of adventure, the misadventure: the dorky bumbling fool that comes along and ruins an otherwise good day. Sure, your life may not be in danger but your nerves will sure feel a kick and your sense of humor will be tested. The best way to navigate a misadventure is to stay positive, be thankful for the breath you breathe, and beer. Lots of beer.

Red Rocks Nevada was the location of my latest grand misadventure which took place with my close friend and climbing partner Chelsea Harris. Red Rocks and I do not have the best history together. Trips to Red Rocks have resulted in a 10 foot whipper onto a ledge resulting in a badly sprained ankle, a break up with a boy, a very scary and dangerous multi pitch repel down a mystery canyon which could have ended very badly, wind storms, no camping, stuck ropes, the list goes on and on. It is interesting how the bad memories start to fade and end up turning into good stories. A mythology of a place can draw you back again and again. Every time I have left Red Rocks I think  “fuck Red Rocks” yet a few years later it always seems like an awesome idea to go back. The drive out to Red Rocks is always filled with stories of misadventures in Red Rocks. Will we ever learn our lesson?

The Red Rocks misadventure of 2016 can be partly blamed on piss poor planning. Chelsea and I had planned a spontaneous weekend trip to Utah to climb Castleton tower. Because we were not sure if the weather would hold out we decided to stay local and Red Rocks came to mind as a good destination. Unfortunately it was also springs break, and Easter weekend.  No camping could be found, even the hotels were booked solid. The internet failed us; all it could provide was directions to a seedy “campground” on the fringes of North Vegas. Americas Campground: faded motor homes in a pavement wonderland. We decided to high tail it to the mountains but even there we were faced with NO CAMPING and CAMPGROUND FULL. Now I fully realize we could have just bivied or driving further out on BLM land to camp but at the time we were so over it that we just settled on a nice hotel. The hotel was probably the only thing that ran completely smoothly the whole trip, we booked the last available room and had a killer continental breakfast.

The next day we set out to tick a couple climbs off our list. After some back road navigating we started out on the hike to Black Velvet Canyon, and then starting it a second time when we realized we forgot a helmet. Back on our way again we were ready to climb but the gods of Red Rocks had other plans for us. After a decent approach we got to our climb to see a party already there, and as we waited for them to finish the wind picked up. It’s amazing how those desert canyons can turn into ice boxes with the right weather. We decided to try for another area with more sun.

Which brings us to the longest wrong turn ever. If you have been to Red Rocks you know of the loop, a one way scenic drive which is driven slowly by motor homes and sports cars alike . Do not take a wrong turn into the Red Rock loop, you will be rewarded with beautiful scenery and an extra 30 minutes of driving in your day. After our lovely detour we finally made it to the trail head we wanted.

Which brings me to the highlight of the trip: the Desert Tortoise. I saw one. it was my first. I can die happy. Oh and we climbed a sweet but horrendous little splitter crack. My hands and ankles still hurt in that special kind of way that can only be manufactured by crack climbing.

Red Rocks did to us what Red Rocks does. A little over 24 hours and we were ready to get the hell out of Red Rocks! It’s as if the City of Las Vegas seeps into the canyon lands, they look pretty and shiny and everyone wants a piece of them, but the more time you spend there the more you get screwed by the house, losing a little bit of your sanity in the process.

Which brings me to beer. Without beer our misadventure would have most likely turned south much sooner. Can’t find a camp ground? Have a beer. Can’t climb the route you want? Another beer. Finish the day one climb deep with busted hands and ankles? Definitely take that beer. I’m not big drinker but even at 30 I still feel like a naughty teenager drinking a beer in public and that always lifts my spirits.

As a disclaimer I should say that Red Rocks is a beautiful place. The sandstone varies from light tan to dayglow orange and florescent pink, and I’m not exaggerating. When the sun sets over Calico basin, eyes  almost hurt with all the amazing colors they are taking in. And although this trip may have been a bust I know that in a couple of years I’ll come crawling back. Here is to hoping my next trip to Red Rocks will have a lot less misses and a whole lot more adventure.

Photo- Chelsea Harris
Photo- Chelsea Harris


Photo-Chelsea Harris

But, The Misadventure does not end there! I know you probably thought with all that driving and beer drinking those girls were ready to head home! Oh no sir, not when you can drive 4 hours through the barren and beautiful high desert of Nevada and end up in the Eastern Sierras of California! Chelsea had the great idea to drive to Bishop from Las Vegas. Neither of us had ever taken this drive and I’m glad we did. By the time we left Red Rocks it was already getting dark. We drove until 10pm which happened to coincide with when we were deep in the middle of nowhere. We pulled down an unmarked dirt road and slept, all cozy like, in the back of the car. Waking up in a place where you see no other people, no structures, and no telephone poles is something special. After our fancy pants hotel room it felt good to get back to our dirt bag roots.

The rest of the drive was long, lonely and breathtaking. We winded up small mountain ranges, and plunged down into valleys filled with sage scrub. We took pit stops to climb up hillsides so we could better see the white peaks of the Eastern Sierras poking up out the Owens valley. We eventually made the final decent out of the Inyo forest into Big Pine.

After Lunch in Bishop we started back down south. We stopped to check out the hot springs and could not resists sliding in for one last bit of relaxation before heading back home.

Maybe Yvon Chounard is right, adventure can only happen when everything goes wrong but I would like to think of adventure in terms of the misadventure. Misadventure is making the best out of a situation when nothing goes as planned. On Friday morning when we left for Red Rocks I would never had guess we would end our trip two days later in a hot spring in Bishop California. The very process of nothing going to plan on this trip is what made it fun. It also forced us to explore new parts of the country neither one of us had ever been to before.

In order to have a grand misadventure you really only need three things. Spontaneity, flexibility, and the ability to laugh at stressful situations. And beer – that’s four, but beer is very important too.


Photo- Chelsea Harris
Photo- Chelsea Harris


Photo- Chelsea Harris




Photo- Chelsea Harris


5 responses to “Misadventures in The Great American West”

  1. I checked on the Atlas and that is some serious navigating you guys did. Where in the world do you get fuel? I love to hear about these trips… after you get back. Love U


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