Southern Nevada Bouldering: A Photo Essay

by dpm | 09/05/2011

Southern Nevada Bouldering: A Photo Essay


Every time I receive a new guidebook to review it surprises me just how much an author’s style and effort can have an effect on my impression of an area.  My previous thoughts on the bouldering in and around Red Rocks Canyon, Nevada were that it was OK.  Not necessarily destination worthy but possibly a pleasant alternative if you were already there for the great route climbing.  After thoroughly reading through Tom Moulin’s new book Southern Nevada Bouldering, my outlook has completely changed.  The bouldering in the Las Vegas region looks world class and Tom did his best to let us know it.

I’ve heard the book referred to as ‘the black book’ or ‘the Bible’ and when I picked it up the reason was apparent.  A simple glossy black cover with gold print urges you to look inside, much like the early explorers of Red Rocks bouldering heading off to find the unexplored treasures lurking in the dark canyons.  A flip through the contents reveals 416 pages of ultra-glossy, full color photos and flawless directions and route descriptions.  For many of the far-out boulders, the detailed directions will be crucial in winding your way through the endless canyons and boulder fields.  Nearly every boulder is given a photo with topo lines drawn in for the individual problems.  Most photos include a climber on the boulder to give scale and action to the sometimes boring photos of plain old rocks.  The full page ‘action shots’ are unparalleled in any guidebook I’ve seen.  Most of the photos were taken by Tom himself and there is no shortage in the quantity of psych-building photos.

Where the book really sets itself apart though is in the introduction.  No guidebook author has ever created a more detailed introduction to an area.  In fact, this is the only climbing guidebook I’ve ever picked up that has a reference page citing nearly 50 other books that include multiple climbing related references as well as titles like ‘The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior’ and ‘Archeology of the Southwest.’  Some might think the introduction is a little bit overkill but I thoroughly enjoyed reading through the 46 pages that encompass topics like the natural environment of Southern Nevada, the geology of Southern Nevada (beginning with the birth of planet earth), and the people of Southern Nevada (beginning with the Clovis Hunters circa 9000 B.C. and ending with the prominence of the casino and Las Vegas’ rise to super city).  In addition, the history of bouldering is thoroughly documented and includes stories of the discovery of areas and boulder problems as well as killer photos of guys like Russ Clune wearing spandex and EB shoes. 

Overall, I have to say that this far and away exceeds the expectations of any climbing guide.  It is by far the most detailed guidebook I’ve ever picked up and Tom’s attention to detail is unmatched.  The only downside of the book is also its greatest attribute: the size.  I can imagine some weak-legged boulderers cursing the weight of it as they trudge into the canyons in search of boulders.  In my opinion, the detailed directions that will get you straight there instead of being lost and its value as an entertaining read when stuck in a rain-soaked tent far exceed the benefits of a small pocket guide. 

Moulin has created the guidebook I always wanted to write.  A book that not only does its job as a climbing resource but also captures the biological, geological, and archaeological uniqueness of one of America’s best climbing areas.  The bouldering season is right around the corner so if you’re planning a fall or winter break trip consider picking up this book and getting psyched for some of America’s best bouldering.  To purchase the book or find more info, including updates, check out Moulin’s website at


Tom has also been kind enough to provide some action photos from the book with detailed captions.  All photos courtesy of Tom Moulin.



Unlike many of the Jurassic-age sandstones of the American West, the Aztec Sandstone of Red Rocks is well cemented and often has a dark varnish which makes climbing on it especially enjoyable. Here Ben Williams glides through All Nightmare Long (V6). The problem, established by Bill McLemore, is one of the many moderates to be found near Oak Creek Canyon. 



Garrett Gregor sticks the first move of Wet Dream (V12). Since it was first climbed by Ethan Pringle in 2004. Wet Dream quickly became one of the most sought-after trophy problems in Red Rocks. The problem receives a full spread of photos in Southern Nevada Bouldering by Tom Moulin, and will be featured in the forthcoming film, Western Gold by Alex Savage.



A historic problem in a historic area.For thousands of years, people with ties to the Anasazi and Patayans, and later Southern Paiute people, used Willow Springs as a seasonal camp from which to gather pinyon pine nuts, agave hearts, and hunt for game. Today, visitors come to marvel at their roasting pits and rock art while climbers take to the surrounding boulders. In 1982, when John Bachar established this problem, Willow Springs served as the impromptu camping area for Red Rocks; a pseudo camp 4 in the winter months. The Bachar Problem (V7) requires delicate and balancey, yet powerful technique; amazing considering that Bachar had no sticky rubber or crash pads. Here, Chad Umbel breathes life back into this once forgotten classic.



If you’ve ever been to Red Rocks, you know it’s vast. Intricate sandstone monoliths go on for miles and, seemingly, so do the boulders below them. One of the better boulderfields to be found is near Windy Canyon, in the southern reaches of the Red Rocks Escarpment. Home to a handful of test-pieces and many moderates, such as Swordfinger (V2), here climbed by Kelly Sheridan.



A handful of relatively new problems have become quite popular in recent years. One such problem is The Fountainhead (V9). The problem climbs an overhanging double arête of immaculate sandstone to a “full-value” top out. Here, Ethan Pringle prepares to start the mantle as Dave Graham and friends look on. The problem is located in Black Velvet Canyon, a bit off the beaten track for boulderers, for detailed approach beta check out Southern Nevada Bouldering.



Pat Olson takes an early morning lap on the area-classic 25 cents (V4/5). Established in the early 2000s by Brian Bowman, this problem can be found while en route to Stand and Deliver, one of Ethan Pringle’s “Big Three” Red Rocks problems. The Aztec Sandstone of Red Rocks was deposited in a Sahara-like dune environment that lasted in the region for roughly 24 million years. This boulder makes a dramatic display of a geologic feature known as cross bedding where bedding planes abruptly stop and change direction. Cross bedding occurs when the prevailing wind direction changes and the eroding windward side of a sand dune becomes the depositional leeward side.



The bouldering in Red Rocks is stacked with easy and moderate problems from the popular Kraft Boulders in Calico Basin all the way down to Windy Canyon near Blue Diamond. A great example is Le Cheval (V2), here climbed by Norah S. Siller. Immaculate rock, interesting movement, an engaging height, and the beautiful Nevada climate, what more could you want?



The past few bouldering seasons have received a jolt of energy from the affable Pete Lowe. With a humble manner he has quietly established a slew of classic problems, most at the upper end of difficulty. (Check out a DPM story and interview with Pete Lowe and more on Tom's site) Here he is pictured on one of his additions,Americana Exotica (V9), which is showing up on cards from around the world.