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I first met John on the PCT in 2015 in Oregon, then randomly again further up-trail in Washington where he was camping with his family. He is always positive, cheerful, and LOVES to talk trail and gear – a real joy to be around! It was awesome to get to hang out and see the gorgeous Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area west of Vegas, where John, a self-taught climber, is credited with several routes and first ascents as a teenager, before he moved on to gain international renown as a technical climber. 

Name / Trail Name: John Williamson

What’s your primary activity on public lands? Hiking, Climbing and Skiing

What do you do when you’re not hiking, climbing, or skiing? Planning for hiking, climbing and skiing… Formerly I was an environmental engineer.  I designed air monitoring instruments and air pollution control equipment, and conducted health effects and air quality research studies.

Why is Red Rock Canyon National Preservation Area special to you? I grew up in Las Vegas, a small town back in the 50s, and fell in love with exploring the nearby Red Rock canyons and mountains.  The topography at Red Rock provides a spectacular desert landscape where you can see forever and encounter an unusually high diversity of animals and plants. 

My first encounter with Red Rock marked the beginning of a lifetime of exploration and adventure.  During high school I taught a few close friends and myself the necessary rock climbing skills to put up the first technical climbing routes in the area, including the first ascent of the huge east face of Mount Wilson, and the east faces of Rainbow Mountain, Mescalito and Bridge Mountain. 

As late as the early ‘70s, Red Rock hadn’t been “discovered” yet.  We never encountered other people and had no contact with other climbers.  It was like our own personal wilderness area.  We had no idea that Red Rock would become a major climbing and tourist destination.  I moved away after high school, but return each spring to enjoy this amazing desert landscape just outside of Las Vegas.

When did you first learn of this place? I grew up in Las Vegas in the ‘50s and ‘60s and discovered Red Rock while on family outings to the Calico Basin and Calico Hills areas.

Any other favorite spots you recommend? Within a few hours drive from Las Vegas you can visit Mt. Charleston, Sheep Mountain, Valley of Fire, Lake Mead, Colorado River, Grand Canyon, Supai, Zion, Death Valley and Joshua Tree.  The Southwest is packed with these scenic places.  Unfortunately the more popular areas are overflowing with tourists during peak seasons.  If you explore a bit and get off the major tourist tracks you can still find desert solitude.  As an example, my daughter and I walked from Bad Water Basin to Lone Pine on the Lowest to Highest hiking route across Death Valley a couple of years back and didn’t see a single other person.

Hit these links to learn more about John and some of the routes he invented on his first ascents of what are now premier climbing destinations in Red Rock!