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Calico Basin and the Gateway Canyon
posted by John : October 19, 2014

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Those of you that have known me for a while know that I haven't always been the most outgoing. It was a major, major departure from my introvert personality when I contacted someone I knew only through Twitter and arranged to climb the highest peak in Arizona on an overnight expedition. That worked out well so I figured when I was in Las Vegas for a security conference I'd give it a go again.

And where better to find a partner than through the friend I climbed Humphrey's Peak with? That's where I met Manny. In spite of living in the middle of the desert in Las Vegas Manny climbs big mountains and snowshoes!

We had originally planned on climbing Frenchman Mountain, mostly because it was close and even if it got dark before we were done it'd be ok. However, I was ready a little earlier than planned so we had time to drive 45 minutes west of town.

When I go somewhere new I love to experience what's truly unique about an area. In Las Vegas, Manny thought we'd find that in Calico Basin and the Gateway Canyon. Boy, was he right.

From the parking lot we were confronted by a blinding heap of red rock called Kraft Mountain. We'd be circumnavigating it. All around its base were huge boulders that were falling off its flanks as the weather broke it down. On almost all the boulders were chalk marks where climbers tried to solve the "problems" of the boulders. I honestly don't get the thrill in trying to climb to the top of a 20 foot high rock, but I bet a lot of people don't get the thrill in trying to climb to the top of a 14,000 foot mountain either so who am I to judge?

Our trail wound through the yucca and agave (you eat one, drink the other even though they look remarkably similar) and climbed to the saddle between Kraft and New Mountain. As we got closer to the the pass the rocks became more and more amazing. They had swirls of red shot through the yellow and white stone. Manny assured me it got even better. The climb was about 900 feet of vertical gain, but it was all worth it.

From the saddle we looked down to the Gateway Canyon and across to red and white striped cliffs on the other side. Way off to our left, up the canyon, was Turtlehead Mountain. We took the trail that dropped straight down into the canyon through a series of smooth, candy-cane colored, twisty-turny chutes. It was amazing.

I've never done any canyoneering before, but I think I might need to go to some of the slot canyon parks now. But even they don't have the crazy coloring that were here. As we twisted and turned so did the colors and the patterns. In some spots they swirled and in others they were perfectly straight and parallel. When we reached the gravel of the bottom of the wash itself we backtracked a few feet and Manny pointed out where the stripes abruptly turned from red to yellow.

Why? Don't know, but COOL!

We looked for bighorn sheep, which frequent the area, but saw none. We did see a few climbers and some bolts high on the walls. At several spots along the canyon there were big drops. We had to reroute a couple of times and do some creative scooting/sliding/falling at others.

We returned to the car just before we'd need our headlamps and I thanked Manny profusely for showing me such an amazing and special place. Next time I come back I'll be sure to plan for more than just an evening of adventure. Mt. Charleston, just an hour from downtown looks mighty interesting. Especially if I happen to be here in winter...

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