“Just leave footprints and not a whole lot of them,” says Mike Ward, a veteran climber who’s been scaling Red Rock’s cliffs and cracks since the early ’70s. The former owner of Desert Rock Sports and Powerhouse Climbing Center, Ward’s now semi-retired, but he still makes it out to the rock three or four times a week and guides trips as well. He still works on first ascents, too. Don’t ask where. He won’t tell.
Why do you love to climb?
When you do first ascents and you’re the first one on a route, it’s kind of a cool place to be ’cause you know that no other person in the universe has ever been in the same spot. Think about that. ... And if it’s a really good route, you’re creating a masterpiece in your mind. If it’s a really good route, you’re creating a really good piece of physical art. ... It’s going to get repeated; it’s going to be a classic; and it’s going to be done for however long climbing is popular for.
Do you have a favorite route at Red Rock?
It’s not the hardest route, it’s not the easiest route, but it’s a really good route. It was put up by a couple friends of mine, and I think it’s as good as any for its grade and its length. It’s called Epinephrine. I’ve been climbing here since the early ’70s, so that’s quite a statement actually.
Do you do mostly first ascents now?
I do established routes, I do sport climbing, I love mountaineering, ice climbing. I just like anything that has to do with a rope and a harness. Last year, I did my eighth El Cap route. It’s in Yosemite, El Capitan. It’s one of the biggest walls in the country—3,000 vertical feet. I’m no spring chicken—I’m 55—but I think it’s a sport that keeps you healthy mentally and physically.
Is there a route or a mountain anywhere that you really want to climb?
I always figured I’m not a really good climber unless I climb the nose on El Cap. ... People have died one pitch from the top on that in a snowstorm. Even though it’s in an area really close to the road and they have rescue services and all that, it’s still climbing. It’s still dangerous. I just love climbing for the sake of climbing. If I can keep getting up stuff, that’s good. I’m excited.