Tuesday, August 12, 2008

GAME OF SKILLS, JUST OUTSIDE LAS VEGAS

Hiking and Rock Climbing

The moment Las Vegas comes to mind, one thinks of the casinos, gambling, spectacular shows and all the adult entertainment that the city has to offer. The city thrives on the pleasure principles and has been nicknamed as the ‘Sin City’. It has some of the grandest hotels and fanciest malls in the world. Though Macau has fast grown in gambling opportunities, however, it is not at the cost of Las Vegas, which still remains as popular as ever. Undoubtedly Las Vegas is known more for its casinos and gambling, yet it has many other activities and recreations to offer. The state of Nevada boasts of two very popular recreation areas just outside Las Vegas: the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area and the Red Rock Canyon Conservation Park. The austere wilderness of both the areas is home to several plant and animal species that are unique to these areas; however, what attracts the adventure sports enthusiasts is the unique and varied climbing environment. Mountain peaks rise thousands of feet off the desert floor and the mountain faces are among North America’s most unrelenting formations.
If you happen to plan a vacation with Kush, you will find yourself invariably landing into some hiking or climbing spots. So even if our itinerary began with man made amusements like Las Vegas or Los Angeles, it ended with a day-long visit to Mount Charleston in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area which lies west of Las Vegas at about an hour’s drive from the famous Strip of Las Vegas. Mount Charleston is an imposing peak at 12,000 ft rising from the meadows below.



We drove from our hotel, Flamingo, and soon left the hot and humid weather of Las Vegas behind and entered the town named Mount Charleston in the valley of Spring Mountains. The air became cool and pleasant and soon we sighted the Mount Charleston Lodge, a rustic hotel which must have been a popular joint with Las Vegans to escape heat. If I tell you the population statistics of this town nestled in the valley, you will laugh. As of the census of 2000, there were 285 people, 133 households, and 80 families residing here. The population density was 9.7 people per square mile (3.7/km²). Such low density of population in India is just not thinkable, or may be, some village in far North-East or high up in Himalayas could match it.
The area is full of hiking trails for easy walks, and mountain faces for rock climbing enthusiasts looking for adventure. We chose an easy trail of 5 km for our hiking. Kush was not carrying his climbing gear, so we were comfortable in our thought that he would not insist on initiating us into this difficult and technical sport. Towards the end of our trail, we came across a group of young women and men, some on the ground and two of them high into the air with nylon ropes and slings around them on a mountain face which was sheer vertical. One girl was climbing up with nylon slings and harness gear, and a rope trailing between her legs. The climb was totally vertical and to our unaccoustomed eyes appeared totally smooth. How she was going to climb there, we wondered. ‘But small cracks and protrusions from the rock would provide passage up’ explained Kush. That explained why she would stop intermittently and scan the route above before reaching for such a crack or protrusion. It required subtle balance, long reaches and precise footwork for her climb. One thing was sure: this girl could not be suffering from acrophobia, that is, fear of heights. I wondered what happens to the depth perception on such height and open spaces.
After all the glitter, fun, excitemen, and tensions of Las Vegas, time spent in the green environs and fresh air of Mount Charleston was quite refreshing. Kush will return here quite soon with his rock climbing group; we may also come here in future, but only for our easy hikes.

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