Caltech Alpine Club Visits Red Rock Canyon

Just 30 minutes out from Las Vegas, under a brilliant blue sky, a ragtag group of Caltechers crawled out of their tents, took a deep breath of fresh, natural air, and realized they felt more alive than ever. It really is amazing how much your mood lifts when you leave campus for a day!

This was Red Rock Canyon, Nevada, the site of the Caltech Alpine Club’s latest organized outing. For everyone in attendance, it was a much-needed change of pace. The previous night, we had all left our respective, disparate parts of academia — a quiet library, a geology laboratory, or a desk at JPL — slightly-more-than-slightly frayed out from a long week on The Grind™️, but energized enough that the 5-hour drive through Friday night rush-hour traffic on the 210 felt like a breeze.

Alpine Club trips are open to the entire extended Caltech community, and it’s always a lively and diverse bunch. This time we had a medley of grad students and post-docs from several departments; JPL planetary scientists; a staff member or two; and, of course, the undergrads (one from Harvey Mudd!). Some are international, some have lived in California their whole lives; some were newbies to outdoor rock climbing, some had been doing it for 5+ years; some had an entire bike route pre-planned, and some came only with their gear and a guidebook. (Or, in my case, just the gear! And even that was rented for the weekend from the Caltech Y.)

The main attraction at Red Rock Canyon is the rock climbing. Top rope, lead climbing, and bouldering all hit way different when you’re on real rocks with no pre-marked routes, with the sun shining down on you and sometimes birds trying to dive-bomb you because you’re near their nest?? The hike to get to the climbs is amazing and scenic, too. Plus, all the rock faces with good climbs have such… interesting names, like “Panty Wall” and “Viagra Tower” (we got lost and ended up at the Hamlet instead, but it was still a great spot).

There were a lot of great bouldering routes, too; just outside the park borders, there’s an expansive field of huge, well, boulders. Some of them have petroglyph drawings from the land’s original inhabitants! Those boulders are just for looking at.

There’s something about the feeling of finally pulling yourself on top of a massive rock and being like, “Yeah, I climbed that” which just can’t be replicated in a climbing gym. Just don’t forget your sunscreen and crash pads, safety first!

At the end of a long day of frolicking in nature, free of responsibilities back in the real world — actually, scratch that, THIS is the real world; whatever’s back in L.A. is definitely the fake world — we returned back to the group campsite and prepared a delicious dinner of chicken and veggie tacos + minute rice. Those meals, shared around a campfire while telling stories of our day’s adventures, are some of the tastiest I’ve ever had. Camping truly is the best spice!

Nick Abel, community member and 1/3 of the Alpine Club’s Trip Planning Consortium, shared his motivation for organizing these outings, of which there are several each term.

“I want to make these premier outdoor destinations: Yosemite, Sequoia-Kings Canyon, Mammoth, Lake Tahoe, Bishop, Red Rock Canyon, accessible to the population of students that might not have the means or knowledge to visit by themselves,” he told me. “It shouldn’t matter that you don’t have a car, or that you just moved here and haven’t made the connections, or learned about the confusing reservation system. You should have as much a chance to experience all these awesome places as someone who has been in Pasadena, or California, or the US, their whole life. I want people to remember these trips as a highlight of their time at Caltech.”

If you’d like to get involved with the Alpine Club or learn more about upcoming events, you can join the mailing list by emailing Also make sure to join the Alpine Club Slack (scan QR code below) for discussions about trip plans and spontaneous outings!