Pete Lowe: Rolling the Dice in Sin City

posted by dpm on 03/21/2011


Many people walk away from Vegas with a story and less money than they came there with.  The slots and a hopeful mentality can leech the small jackpot you just won back to the house within minutes.  The drinks may be cheap and the breakfast buffets even cheaper, but 99% of the time you will not walk away a winner.  Pete Lowe has managed to strike it rich in the city and it did not come from watching Rain Man on repeat and then trying his luck at the black jack tables.  He’s found another “strip” to enjoy that sits outside of the city, deep within the numerous Red Rock canyons.  The jackpot he found has not only sustained him through several years, it has also allowed him to win day after day.  DPM caught up with Pete and asked him about his winning streak in the Las Vegas desert.


DPM:The Vegas bouldering scene has really blown up.  What do you think about the expansion?


Pete:Vegas bouldering is taking off. I think it has seen such growth because it is such an aesthetic and unique place to climb. Big boulders litter the hillside across the winding crown of sandstone walls and towers that surround an iconic desert setting. The rock supports a huge diversity of styles, textures, and problems, and the potential is vast. The new problems that are going in are superb. So many of them are unlike any other place I have climbed at.


DPM: What do you think are the top five lines in the Vegas bouldering circuit?

Pete: Without a doubt Ethan's three lines, A Clockwork Orange, Wet Dream, and Stand and Deliver, are the patriarchs of modern Red Rock bouldering.  I have done several lines that approach these in quality, but still fall short.  However, several projects are lurking deep in the canyons that will more than give these gems a run for their money.

There are two lines in particular.  The first is a project of mine that I just recently conceived of as a boulder problem.  The overhanging block rests forty minutes up Pine Creek Canyon on a water polished slab of sandstone.  The line climbs straight up an overhanging arête of chocolate brown bullet rock.  The grips are sparse and the crux dyno off of a terrible sloping pinch to a sloping edge sits at around twenty feet.  After that you still have ten more feet of technical climbing until you’re standing on the summit.  It is the most breathtakingly aesthetic and intimidating line I have ever aspired to climb.

The second contender is the entire line of Meadow Lark Lemon.  Paul climbed the upper portion of this improbable boulder, which rises from the wash like a grounded Viking hull, in 2009.  Ten feet below where Paul started are two perfect jug pockets that lead to several desperate crimps and pinches that link into the stand.  In my mind, and I'm sure in Paul's as well, the line is not completed.  When it is, it will stand as one of the most difficult and beautiful hard boulder problems in America.


Pete Lowe on Abstraction.  Photo: Alex Savage


DPM: When a new area blows up it is usually swarmed by large crowds?  In the eyes of the locals is the new guide and word of mouth a good thing or a bad thing?


Pete: Tom Moulin's new guidebook, Southern Nevada Bouldering, is a great gift to the community.  It represents more than just a handsomely crafted guidebook, but a vision of what a small group of highly motivated people have done with this area.  Ethan would not have climbed Stand and Deliver, or Wet Dream but for Tom Moulin and Brian Bowman who found these lines and pretty much every other great line outside of Kraft.  They have spent countless hours scouring the desert hillsides, cleaning boulders, and developing a world class area.

I am very appreciative of the work they have done, especially Tom, in putting all this information together so we can all go out and enjoy it.  Now, whether I enjoy the crowds or not is a different story.  But it is rather egotistical and unfair to feel more entitled than somebody else to enjoy all these amazing problems.  However, if on a particular day I'm feeling the tug of that ego, I better just lace up the hiking boots and visit one of the lonely canyons filled with incredible blocks where you won't see a soul.

DPM: You just filmed a segment with Alex Savage of Ethan Pringle's A Clockwork Orange. The crux is supposed to be a thin desperate pocket move. Describe the problem and how long you worked to complete the ascent.


Pete: It may not even be a third ascent. (Garret Gregor sent it about two years earlier). However, despite a lot of effort by loads of talented climbers, it has not been climbed a whole lot.  I first did A Clockwork Orange in 2009.  The problem climbs a line of pods and shallow pockets out a spectacular bulge of orange sandstone.  The crux comes at about sixteen feet.  It requires the climber to pull statically from a good undercling left hand into a very shallow one and a half finger pocket right hand.  The pocket is no more than a centimeter deep and is not incut.  Once you stick the pocket you must aggressively toe into a pocket, reach to a micro edge intermediate, and then spring to a big edge.  At this point your feet will come flying off and all that keeps you on the wall is a door jamb edge and a miserly one finger pocket.  If you stick that move, you only have to brave the chossy topout.


I worked the line for about four days intermittently over a year and a half period.  Unfortunately, it was hard to round up enough pads or people to climb on it.  Finally, on a cold winter morning with my psyche high but partners low (as in none), I just decided to go for it.  I borrowed a pad from a friend and hauled out two of my own.  I guess it was the fear of falling with insufficient pads and no spotters that inspired me to climb it first try that day.  About a year later, I re-climbed the line with Alex Savage shooting for his film Western Gold.


Pete Lowe on A Clockwork Orange.  Photo: Alex Savage


DPM: Why do you think it took so long for the problem to finally get another ascent?


Pete: The line is big, it has an intimidating jump move way off the deck, and the crux move revolves around a sloppy mono.  Need I say more?


DPM: People come to Vegas to boulder and then hit the strip.  What would you recommend for a day of climbing and a night of debauchery?


Pete: As I am married and have a one year old child, I am not too keyed up on debauchery at this point in my life.  You might need to ask someone else. (I have been to the Casinos maybe two times in three years.)  But I am full of advice regarding the climbing.  If you have not ever been here before, I must say Kraft is a good initial spot to visit.  But don't just stop at the Monkey Bars like everybody else.  Hike up Gateway canyon which is full of great problems and a surreal Dr. Suess-esque landscape of purple polka dots, and swirly sandstone rings.


That said; don't let the siren's call of convenient and condensed stone keep you there for the whole trip.  You must get out to some of the canyons.  Black Velvet is the most popular with the big guns and home to some of the finest stone in the area.  Windy Canyon and Oak Creek host a plethora of fine problems of all difficulty and a reasonable concentration.  Besides, the scenery is absolutely amazing in all three of these areas.


DPM: When people talk about Vegas they mainly talk about the sport lines.  Why do you think the bouldering has been so overlooked?


Pete:  The number one problem is a lack of vision.  Most people fail to see the potential of areas.  They become discouraged by the distance of the boulders, or the fear that they won't find anything good, but mostly just the apathy of having convenient already developed bouldering.  Kraft has kept hundreds of locals enslaved.  They keep climbing the same circuits on the same boulders year after year.


Once the guidebook was produced, suddenly it’s like there has been an awakening.  People are willing to hike forty-five minutes to Stand and Deliver because there is on-line footage posted of it.  It is like once something is no longer unknown, people will flock to it.  I know I am frequently like that.  The down side is that if you are always treading the worn path you rarely have an adventure and you’re not going to find that next amazing line.  Fortunately, Red Rocks still has plenty of unknowns and adventures waiting for the brave of heart.


DPM: Outside of Vegas where is your alternative sandstone location?


Pete: I grew up in Utah so Joe's Valley is the obvious answer.


DPM:  Craziest thing you have witnessed on the Vegas strip and in the bouldering field?


Pete:  It is not unheard of to run across a running production of a feature porn flick in the grottos of Red Rocks. (It is Las Vegas after all.)


DPM: Do you train or just boulder outside?


Pete: I have never specifically followed a training regimen.  I lack the discipline.  When I climb I try as hard as I can and I enjoy feeling wrecked after a good bouldering session.  The key for me is that I have so much fun climbing.  If it was not fun but just a work out I probably wouldn't do it.  I enjoy climbing on plastic when I can't get outside.  I used to own a gym in Utah.  When I can, I’d rather be climbing outside.  For six months of the year I climb very little inside.  Vegas has the summer six. So unless I can get to Charleston or want to climb in 120 degree heat, I have the gym.


DPM: Did you ever climb the indoor wall at the M&M factory years ago on the strip?


Pete: No

DPM:  Do you have any sponsors? Who do you pull hard for?


Pete: I am not sponsored and never have been.  I am in the last semester of school before I graduate with a degree in law.  I have not had the time or really the mindset to want to pursue rock climbing as a profession.  For me it has been a part of who I am since I was fourteen, but it has never been something that I saw as a profession.  I rock climb because it is fun.  Over the years, experiencing a constant state of progression both physically and mentally has become seriously addicting.  I admit that I am obsessive about rock climbing.  I still can't fall asleep at night because I am thinking about a project.  While rock climbing has been, and always will be, recreational for me, it is serious recreation.


DPM: Your proudest send to date?


Pete: I have a couple close to my heart.  My two most significant are: Mask of God (F.A. V13 in Joe's Valley) and Twilight's Parasites (F.A. 5.14b/c in Causey Utah).  Mask of God was an amazing experience because I climbed it ground up.  The send crux is at about eighteen feet.  But what made the climb very memorable is that for five days I fell from the last move because I was skipping a hidden two finger side pull.  Instead, I was using this tiny mono dish as an intermediate to lunge to the lip.  One time out of desperation I reached into this seam where the pocket was hidden.  With the new hold, I easily sent to the lip where I promptly fell off the v3 mantle.  After that, I soon did the problem.  It was fun progress and a new level in difficulty for me.  Twilight's Parasites was very memorable because I helped my friend, Anthony Chertudi, bolt the line when we were about sixteen.  I then had to use the next eight years to get strong enough to climb it.  As of now Anthony and I are the only ones to have climbed it.


DPM: How did you get introduced into the Vegas bouldering scene?


Pete: I moved here in the summer of 2008 to attend law school at UNLV.  I had bouldered at Kraft years ago but had not been that impressed.  The second day I was here, I braved the 120 degree heat and walked out to A Clockwork Orange.  Upon seeing it I knew I had to climb it.  Shortly thereafter, I explored Black Velvet, Oak Creek, Pine Creek and the Enclaves.  A new love affair began and my constant explorations and projects make it a miracle that I am actually graduating from law school in less than two months.


Catch Pete’s send of A Clock Work Orange (V13) and numerous first ascents on Alex Savage’s new flick Western Gold due out sometime in the next several months.  More info on Alex's movies, photos and travels can be found here: