Christmas for me means going to Elkford briefly to visit the parents, and come Boxing Day, heading to Vegas to climb. This year was no different, despite the fact that I’ve been on vacation for over a year and I could go to Vegas anytime I want. Why break tradition?

This year all my usual climbing buddies bailed on me…they had to work or something. Instead I found four beautiful girls to fill their place. Beth, Shawna, Tess, and Susie. Beth is an oldschool VOCer, an aggro girl who climbs way harder than I ever will. She’s tiny and talks like a muppet so you’d never guess her ardness. Shawna is my girlfriend/specialfriend/askherwhat’sgoingonbetweenusandI’llslapyousillyfriend. She’s rad and despite the fact that she hasn’t climbed much, her attitude makes up for everything. Heck, she’s climbed a 90m crane with me, fully intending to swing off of it (unfortunately we only had a 60m rope). Tess and Susie are friends of Shawna who could count the number of climbs they’ve done on one hand. But whatever, I’m not a climber Nazi. Redrocks means good times, relaxing in the sun, and beautiful 5.8s. And if the girls weren’t into climbing, they could always take the car to town.

I told you he’s alive.

So spirits high, we left rainy Vancouver for a week in the desert sun. A mere four hours later we entered the United States of America (the Canada-US border is a 20km drive from Van). I guess the States just recently raised its “Homeland Security Advisory Level” to Orange, the highest it’s been since 911. What dummies, those yanks…with their color-coded nonsense. I just want to know at which level I’m supposed to wear my anti-terrorist helmet.

So anyway, crossing the border was mayhem. We were coming from Canada after all: terrorist harbouring capital of the world.

Typically the Vancouver to Vegas drive takes 24 hours of non-stop driving. We planned on sleeping in shifts, giving the drivers a chance to sleep. However if you were watching TV over Christmas, you might have noticed there were crazy blizzards all through Western US. They started precisely the moment we crossed the border, and didn’t let up until we entered Nevada. So given my winter driving experience (having grown up in the Rockies) it ended up being me who drove most the way down. The roads were terrible, and the visibility hopeless. Thankfully there was a continuous line of cars in the ditch to mark our way.

Suzie, Shawna, Ard, Tess, Beth.

The weather turned the standard 24hour drive into a gruelling, stressful 36hour one. For the brief moments that I slept, the underside of my eyelids projected the screensaver-esque vision of snowflakes rushing towards the windshield. But we made it…quite an extraordinary feat methinks.

Oh, except for one flat tire at 3am, approximately 40miles outside of Boise Idaho. No you da ho. Something looking suspiciously like a link of chain punctured the tire clean through. Probably the result of some yahoo Idahoian using his winter chains on bare pavement. So began the task of trying to find a replacement tire, at 3am Sunday morning in Boise Idaho.

“A man who seeing his mother starving to death on a path kicks her in the stomach to clear the way, will cheerfully devote several hours of his time giving wrong directions to a total stranger who claims to be lost.” – John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: in Search of America.

Not that we saw anyone ruthless enough to kick his own mother, but we did get our fair share of wrong directions to tire shops. And of course each shop was closed on Sundays. This left us no other choice…Wal-Mart. We sell (our souls) for less. If anywhere was going to be open at 3am on Sunday it was Wal-Mart. And yes they were open.

We slept in the office chair display area until the automotive shop opened at 9am. By 9:30am we were outta Boise, spirits high. I can’t say that this experience changed my opinion of Wal-Mart…but it almost did. As much as I like to support smaller independent businesses, sometimes convenience is…well…convenient.

picMechanic: “Well that’s your problem right there.”

Avoiding any further eventualities, we rolled into Sin City, ready to party / sleep for a month. A quick perusal of the strip was in order, as reward for our grueling experience. Yup Vegas is still bright. And the new Treasure Island sign (or ‘ti’ as they like to call it these days) is pretty dope. I wonder what they did with the previous 100ft tall skull? It’s probably sitting in a garbage dump somewhere. Man that would be a great back-yard decoration. Fear ME pink flamingos.

I won’t eat at McDonalds, but I’ll use their bathrooms. I guess this is along the same lines.

We spent the next day recuperating and did a little shopping at the Goodwill. I got some nice records. Some guy off the cast of Fubar was picking records right before me and had a huge stack. I hate it when that happens. And it always happens – some guy pulls a copy of “Headless Heroes” right before I get there. Anyway, this guy was a tweaker. He turned to me and said “look at this…. LOOK at this…” and showed me a beat up copy of Village People saying, “some people just don’t know how to respect records. Man I’ve been looking for this FOREVER, and this… THIS is an outrage.” I was safe. I had no interest in his stack of ABBA Gold and Trooper records. I calmly pulled Billy Cobham’s “Crosswinds”, and Ramsey Lewis’ “Sun Goddess” right after he finished flipping past them.

Deep in the Nevada desert resides a small group of people claiming to “live in Arvin.”

We bought some camping stuff and headed to the loop road to do some climbing. We got to the crag at about 3:30pm. Unfortunately the loop road closes at 5:00pm, so we only managed to get in a climb each. I climbed some scraggly 5.7 trad route with little to no pro. It was great. Beth climbed some 5.10a, which looked quality. The other girls top-roped. Then it snowed.

Snowed. In Redrocks? Las Vegas? Nevada? The middle of the frickin desert? Yup, it snowed. It doesn’t snow there. Ever. It doesn’t even rain there. I’ve been to Vegas for the last five winters, and it hasn’t snowed.

People were building snowmen everywhere. Snowmen on lawns. Snowmen in parking lots. Snowmen propped on the hoods of cars, driving the strip while onlookers cheered approvingly. Cars stopped in the middle of the freeway while it’s occupants frantically built snowmen before the snow melted. Only it didn’t melt. Beth said jokingly, “I hope I didn’t come all the way to Vegas to climb one crappy 5.10”. Well she did. After the second day of snow, Beth left with her boyfriend to go to Las Angeles. The rest of us stubbornly stayed, camping in the snow.

What’s the difference between a Range Rover and a cactus? A cactus has the pricks on the outside.

We decided to make the best of it and take in the sights and sounds of Las Vegas.

Last time I was in Vegas, I read a book all about Roulette. Ask me anything about Roulette…I know it. How to clock the wheel, visually track, system bet…I know it. So last time I tried this sure-fire betting system, which consistently beats the 5.26% house advantage. And it worked great. I bet small, but consistently won. I think I made $50US (yeah, yeah, big spender). This year, I figured I’d try the same system with a little more capital. I figured, why make $20 when I could make $200. Well things went great for a good couple of hours, and then all of a sudden the dealer hit the “you lose Karl Miller” switch, and I lost $200US. Don’t ask what went wrong…cause I’m not really sure. I think the problem was that I didn’t stick out the nine time losing streak. Come on though, nine times losing on a 50/50 bet!?! That’s like flipping a coin nine times in a row and it coming up tails every time. Do it. I’ll buy you a Coke if it happens. I’ll buy you two.

So yeah, gambling was done for me after my first night in the casinos. Instead we took in the sights and sounds of the Vegas. And thus begins my little rant on the town that I’m learning to hate. (If you don’t like rants, then skip down a couple paragraphs).

Not bad after not showering for a week.

Vegas = Sin City. Yeah I guess I agree, only the new Vegas is much cleaner and sterile than the Vegas of old. You won’t find tweakers, prostitutes, drug dealers, or other lowlifes. Not even a single pan-handler. I get hit up more times for drugs in Vancouver on my nightly stroll to Tim Horton’s then I do walking the entire Vegas strip. And I live in a nice part of town. Hunter S. Thompson would be appalled. Why is this? Well local government and casinos both realized years ago that the money in Vegas doesn’t lie with the vagabond, the romantic, or the druggie; but instead with the businessman, the lawyer, the Midwestern family. Hence the new Las Vegas’ family fun oriented image. It’s one big Disneyland.

The old Vegas seems much more quaint. Gunfights on the streets, people knifing each other over a game of cards, and high class hos everywhere. There’s nothing crazy about Vegas these days, instead there’s the fountains of the Bellagio.


However, the lack of “sin” in Sin City is more than made up for by the amount of money wasted there. It’s a different form of sin, more acceptable, yet more sinister. Imagine the good that all the money wasted at gambling could do. Just look at the billion dollar casinos. They’re torn down and rebuilt every 5 years. Where does all that money come from? Yeah… but it’s more fun losing your money on a roulette wheel than to saving some less fortunate person’s life by providing a simple meal. Sorry to get preachy. End rant.

Did you know that no matter where you are in the world, you can find someone who likes county music?

We did witness one thing reminiscent of “Old Vegas”. One night, as we were driving towards the loop road, an oncoming car had its high beams on. I flashed my lights at the driver, who proceeded to turn around, chase us down, and beat us to death with a blunt mallet. See? You’re parents were right. Its true that there’s gang members just cruising the highways waiting to beat on unsuspecting drivers.

No but seriously, here’s what happens when you flash your lights at punk-homie-G-wanna-be gangsters who are driving way to fast in a stolen car: they are temporarly blinded and crash. Yup. Right after I flashed my lights the car spun out of control, and into the ditch, narrowly missing us.

I stopped to investigate, feeling both concern for their lives and rage that they almost took ours. Before I even had time to stop the car, six punk-homie-G-wanna-be gangsters piled out (yes I was serious about that part) and ran down the road, making no indication that they wanted to be picked up. At this point I realized the kids, who were way too young to have drivers licenses, were actually punk-homie-G-wanna-be gangsters driving a stolen car.

We drove to the nearest payphone and reported it. They had a long run back into the city and I’m sure the cops offered to hitch them a ride. Stupid punk-homie-G-wanna-be gangsters.

Cold but happy.

So we stuck out the snow. The snow never did melt but we decided to climb anyway. What troopers. We decided on “Cat in the Hat”, a splendid five pitch 5.6, as a party of four. Of course some aggro-gasbag-climber spewed advice as we prepped in the campsite. His main conviction was that Cat in the hat would be way to popular today, and that we’ll have to wait in line. Perhaps he failed to see the snow?

I’m no Navajo tracker, but I think wading through a foot of fresh, untracked snow to get to the base of a climb means that we’ll be the first on it. I was correct in this assumption.

To make our party of four move as quick as possible, taking into account the limited experience of the other climbers, I came up with a system that I am most proud of:

Step 1: I lead, trailing an extra rope.
Step 2: Affix extra rope, and belay up Tess on lead rope. Tess cleans the gear. Shawna simultaneously climbs up affixed rope using my Ushba top-rope ascender device. Susie (never climbed before) waits at the base of the climb for Shawna to finish climbing, pre-tied into the end of the fixed rope.
Step 3: Shawna and Tess arrive at top at approximately same time. Shawna belays Susie on the fixed rope. I grab the free end of the fixed rope (which is now on belay by Shawna) clip it to the back of my harness, grab the gear from Tess, and Tess belays me on the lead rope.
Step 4: Repeat.

In theory, this system should work with no loss in speed compared to a party of two. Unfortunately no system can overcome one’s inability to climb the route (besides Z-pulleys). So we turned around after the second pitch, but hey… we all had a great time regardless.

We went into town that night and celebrated our climb with an infiltration of the Caesar’s Palace swimming pools. Well the girls did. I’m still not sure how they got in. Infiltration is hard to pull off in Vegas as they have security cameras everywhere, and a pool policy which states “all persons must present a valid room-key”, which they enforce at the door.

While the girls had their first shower that week, I had a panic attack upon discovering that my money belt was missing with a substantial chunk of US cash inside. I knew it wasn’t robbed, as it sits under my clothes and is hooked to my leather belt with a chain. I figured it must have slipped off while changing back at the campsite. It also could have slipped off while I was in the campground bathroom. I raced back to find my money belt safely hidden among my clothes in the tent. Phew. I celebrated by losing more money gambling.

Ard wishing for more hands.

We spent our final night in Vegas at the Monte Carlo, a treat from the freezing cold campsite. It was nice, but for $200 it could’ve been a lot better. The towels weren’t nearly fluffy enough. I made a breakfast burrito using my MSR and almost burnt down the hotel room. Good times.

Another quote from John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley”, but this time I’m paraphrasing. Essentially he says that all trips must have an end, but that they don’t always end when you physically return home. Sometimes they end sooner, sometimes they don’t end for months or years after. It’s a mind state.

The morning after our Monte Carlo stay, while walking through the casino, I noticed some random girl’s fly was unzipped and her panties showing. The weird thing was that she seemed fully aware of it, and was doing it as a fashion statement. So Shawna, not to be outdone, pulled down her pants to her ankles.

Being the modest person I am, I immediately tried covering her up. At this precise moment Tess came out of the bathroom, shoved me and screamed, “Get off her! It’s really starting to piss me off!” And that’s the precise moment the trip ended. With Shawna’s pants down in the middle of a crowded casino.

The Bellagio.