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Mojave Limestone

Excerpts from the guidebook

Following are some sample pages from the Mojave Limestone climbing guide. They include the complete introduction and random pages showing the various maps, topo's photo-diagrams, and descriptions used throughout the book. The featured area is Blue Sky Bluff in Mount Charleston's Kyle Canyon, one of the excellent new limestone crags in Nevada.

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Mojave Limestone

By Jerry Handren

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From the Guide

The Land, Rules and Regulations

Almost all the cliffs described in this guidebook are on public land. The two agencies responsible for this land are the US Forest Service and the Bureau Of Land Management. However, there is a veritable smorgasbord of different designations within those two jurisdictions, each with its own set of manage­ment policies and rules.

The designation most relevant to climbers is "wilderness". Currently, no new bolting is allowed in wilderness areas; bolt replacement is permitted but only with hand drills rather than power drills. Many cliffs were bolted before the current rules were formulated and so there are quite a few cliffs described in this book where the existing routes are tolerated but new bolting is not allowed. To make this clear I mention where any cliff is known to be in wilderness. Unfortunately, the wilderness boundaries are not always perfectly obvious and so some cliffs may be mislabeled; when in doubt the best policy is to contact the local land management for guidance.

Fixed quickdraws in wilderness areas is an is­sue that hasn’t been fully dealt with yet, but it is probably tempting fate to have cliffs that are in wilderness areas festooned with draws. In recent years the managers of Arrow Canyon have asked that all fixed draws be removed from that location and it seems likely that this request will be repeated elsewhere.

It is worth remembering that land management agencies are capable of completely erasing a climbing area. This is something that happened in the Las Vegas area in the early 2000’s when around 30 great routes were completely removed from a cliff called the Shamen Cave in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. The land managers sub­sequently completely banned climbing anywhere in the refuge, an action that was largely taken because they didn’t feel that climbers could be trusted to act responsibly. Climbers operating on cliffs in the wilderness need to tread lightly or risk losing the privilege.

Much of the rest of the BLM and Forest service land is open to climbing with few restrictions at present. One of the really nice aspects of this land is that wild camping is also relatively unrestricted and often very pleasant. The only rules being to observe fire restrictions, limiting stays to 14 days and to pack out all trash.

More localized rules, restrictions and guidelines are dealt with in the introductions to the various regions and climbing zones.

The Rock

Although Southern Nevada is best known for the great escarp­ment of Red Rocks, Red Rocks is really just a tiny island of sandstone surrounded by a vast sea of limestone. One of the nicest aspects of this limestone from a sport climbers perspective is that it is a rock that offers incredible variety, and that particular quality is especially true of the cliffs described in this book. Not only do the individual routes tend to have many different types of hold which makes for really enjoyable, unpre­dictable, 3-D movement, but the different cliffs offer all types of terrain from immaculate grey slabs to huge, drip-featured caves and everything in between.

The biggest drawback to this limestone is that it can be sharp, sometimes razor sharp. In many situations it doesn’t take much at all for the rock to chew through the sheath of a weight­ed rope. It is important to be on the lookout for sharp edges, to pay attention to the path of the rope and to have strategies to help mitigate any potential issues.

As well as being hard on the ropes, the rock can be hard on your finger skin. Tape, clippers, a file and some type of new skin/glue to help patch flappers are essential parts of your daily climbing kit. In general, it’s best to slap on the tape as soon as a hold starts to chew your skin; worn skin recovers quickly but a hole that’s deep enough to bleed can take a while to repair.

Much of the rock is fantastically solid and reliable, but loose, blocky rock is also quite common and often not as easy to spot as you would like. Furthermore, in the author’s experience, it is quite common for blocky bits to suddenly become apparent in sections that had previously seemed solid. The bottom line is that you should climb cautiously when confronted with blocky rock and be aware of the potential consequences for your belayer and other climbers in the vicinity. If you are at the base of the cliff it’s a good idea not to camp out inside the potential drop zone of someone who is climbing.

Unlike the nearby sandstone of Red Rocks, Snow Canyon and Zion, limestone is only slightly weakened by being wet. Also, in general the rock tends to dry almost instantly after rain. This makes the cliffs described in this book a really useful alterna­tive to the sandstone areas after rain. Once the rock is visibly dry it is reasonable to climb. The only caveat being that after long wet periods certain parts of some of the cliffs are prone to seepage which, once it has started, can linger for a while.

Overall, thanks to the superb rock and despite the negatives mentioned above, this area provides some of the best sport climbing in the USA as well as some of the most reliable year round climbing conditions.

Bolts, fixed quickdraws and anchor hardware

Limestone is not a rock that lends itself to natural protection, and so almost all the routes described in this book are fully-bolted sport climbs. For better or worse, people who climb on these routes are completely reliant on bolts for their safety. It is outside the scope of this book to try and educate climbers on the ins and outs of bolt safety, but the bottom line is that bolts occasionally fail and that, as much as possible, climbers must try and avoid situations where their safety is entirely dependant on a single bolt. It is worth any climber’s time to try and learn the basics of bolts so as to be able to recognize a suspect bolt. Report bad or suspect bolts to the Southern Nevada Climbers Coalition for the areas around Las Vegas. For the areas around Mesquite contact the Southern Utah Climbers Alliance. Mountain Project and Facebook are a good way to do that. When reporting a bad bolt, it is very useful to the re-bolters if you include a picture.

Climbers should have a small adjustable wrench in their pack to snug-down loose bolts, but understand that it is vitally impor­tant not to overtighten as this can cause damage.

As well as the bolts themselves there is a certain amount of fixed hardware on almost all the cliffs throughout the region. Most commonly, anchors have chains, carabiners and other hardware that is in place for convenient lowering from the top of the routes. This hardware tends to wear out quite quickly and climbers should be prepared to check and evaluate all fixed hardware prior to committing to it. The same is true of fixed quickdraws which are becoming increasingly common on the most popular routes and sectors.

It is important to remember that all this equipment has been placed ad hoc by a random assortment of climbers over many years. Although the Southern Nevada Climbers Coalition and The Southern Utah Climbers Alliance do a fantastic job of maintaining hardware in their respective areas, these are volunteer organizations with nowhere near enough time and resources to do this work in a complete way. It is every climbers individual responsibility to be able to evaluate the equipment that they are trusting their lives to.

The American Safe Climbing Association helps provide a lot of the hardware that local organizations use for the upgrade and maintenance of local climbing areas. If you are a rock climber in the USA then this is an organization that deserves your sup­port. Donations can be made through the ASCA website; www.safeclimbing.org. The website is also a useful source of mate­rial for those who want to try and learn more about the details of the placement and evaluation of bolts for rock climbing.

Staying in the Area

Transport

There is no public transportation system, so when visiting the area a vehicle is essential. If renting a vehicle, it is worth considering spending the extra money for an SUV since quite a few of the access drives are on dirt roads, some of which can be quite rough. Gas stations are nonexistent throughout large swathes of the region. It is a good idea to be conservative and to fill up when you can.

Camping and Accommodation

The best way to enjoy the Mojave is to camp out in the desert. For most of the region, other than the immediate Las Vegas area, wild camping is relatively unrestricted and often very pleasant. The only rules being to observe fire restrictions, limiting stays to 14 days and to pack out all trash (this includes toilet paper, burying is not an acceptable option).

Around Las Vegas camping options are more limited. Wild camping is not allowed anywhere in Clark County. The Red Rock campground is an established campground near the entrance to the Red Rock Scenic loop road. It is open from September to May, but is often fully booked. There is some open forest service land in Lovell Canyon to the west of Red Rocks and also on the southwest side of Mount Potosi. Mount Charleston has seven established campgrounds that are open during the summer season, but again these are very popular and often get fully booked up. There are also a few pockets of forest service land on the mountain where wild camping is allowed.

Hotels and Air B&B are popular options for Las Vegas and Mesquite. In Mesquite especially, hotel rates are very reason­able and this is certainly an option worth considering if the weather really craps out.

Groceries

Las Vegas, Mesquite and Saint George have large grocery stores, but most of the rest of the region is limited to a handful of gas-station convenience stores.

Climbing Equipment

Desert Rock Sports at 8221 West Charleston Blvd. in Las Vegas is a fully-stocked climbing store (702 254 1143), open seven days a week. In Saint George there is The Desert Rat at 468 West St. George Blvd. which is closed on Sundays (435 628 7277).

Climbing Gyms

are four gyms in Las Vegas. Origin Climbing and Fitness, The Red Rock Climbing Center, The Refuge and Southern Nevada Climbing Center. All four gyms also offer showers. At the time of writing a gym, "Contact Climbing" was being built at 2865 E.850N. Street in St. George.

Weather and Conditions

The cliffs described in this guidebook sit at a wide range of elevations. At 2000', the Virgin River Gorge is the lowest, at 10,000' the Icehouse on Mount Charleston is the highest. As a rule of thumb, the temperature goes down 5° F for every 1000' of elevation gain. What this means is that on any given day throughout the year there are likely to be at least a few cliffs where temperatures are perfect. Spring and fall are the seasons when you will have the most options, but summer and winter both have a lot to offer as well.

This is the Mojave Desert, one of the drier places on earth. Although rain is not very common in general, the region is sometimes subject to weather patterns that result in rainy periods that can last for several weeks or longer. Almost all of the cliffs are composed of limestone which is very quick to dry, and only slightly weakened by moisture. The rock is therefore climbable shortly after the rain stops, just don’t climb on rock that is still visibly wet. Even during the rainiest spells it is usu­ally possible to eke out plenty of climbing.

Limestone cliffs are sometimes prone to seepage after longer periods of rain, this is particularly true at the higher elevation areas if it has been a wet winter. Accumulations of slowly-melt­ing snow can keep some of these cliffs (particularly the cave sectors) seeping well into the spring and early summer. Most years this problem is limited to a few individual routes on a few cliffs, but some years it can be more widespread.

I have included a paragraph with some basic information about conditions for each crag and/or area. This usually includes information about elevation, sun versus shade, exposure to wind, the range of workable temperatures and the best seasons to visit.

The almanac numbers for Las Vegas, which sits at an eleva­tion of around 2000' are as follows. Average temperature 66.3 degrees (19 degrees centigrade). Average yearly rainfall 4.13 inches (10.64 centimeters). Average daily humidity 29 percent. 211.5 clear days annually, 82.4 partly cloudy days, 71.3 cloudy days. The numbers for Mesquite are almost identical.

Month Average Daily Low (˚F) Average Daily High (˚F) Sunny Days Average Rainfall (inches)
January 33 56 24 0.5
February 37 67 22 0.46
March 42 68 25 0.41
April 49 77 26 0.22
May 59 87 27 0.22
June 68 98 28 0.09
July 75 104 27 0.45
August 73 101 26 0.54
September 65 94 28 0.32
October 53 81 27 0.25
November 41 66 24 0.43
December 33 67 24 0.32
Access

The entire area is served by Interstate 15 which runs from Los Angeles in California to Salt Lake City in Utah and beyond. In general driving from one of the areas in this guidebook to another is fast and easy, although it’s best to avoid rush hour in Las Vegas and driving to Clark Mountain on a Sunday afternoon.

One of the key factors with transportation in the area is that access to the majority of the cliffs involves driving on dirt roads. Many of these roads are well-maintained to the point where you could comfortably roll up to the crag in your lowrider. However some of the roads are very rough and require four wheel drive, decent clearance and a bit of experience. The author drove to every cliff in this book multiple times with a Toyota 4-Runner, but he wasn’t always happy about it!

For each crag and area I have included a paragraph about access which provides the basic information that you need to get to the point where you have to start walking. What follows are a few notes about how to use this information.

Odometer readings

The mileage numbers used in the descriptions and maps to indicate landmarks, turns etc. were read from the author’s vehicle and can really only be considered a rough guide. Different vehicles, tires, road conditions etc. will knock these numbers off to a certain extent.

Road Conditions

I have usually tried to give an impression of what to expect on the dirt access roads. However, a point to bear in mind is that all these roads are always changing. All it takes is a big rainstorm to wash out a section of road and make what was previously casual, impassable. It is very important that you understand your own experience and the capabilities of your vehicle and be prepared to retreat if the road looks too rough.

Road Closures

Depending on the prevailing policies of the various land management agencies, dirt access roads will sometimes close. This has especially been the case for a few of the areas close to Las Vegas where driving on the traditional access routes is no longer allowed. Be prepared to turn back rather than driving on roads that are closed.

Remoteness

Aside from being rough, many of the access roads take you to very remote places where getting help for a broken down vehicle is not even an option. A charger kit in case of a dead battery is a sensible precaution. A functioning spare tire and knowing how to change it is mandatory. Every vehicle should carry emergency supplies such as extra water, food and warm clothing.