Black Orpheus, Black Orpheus Wall 5.10a


Red Rocks, Nevada USA

  • Currently 5.0/5
Avg time to climb route: 5-6 hours
Approach time: 1.5-2 hours
Descent time: 3-4 hours
Number of pitches: 11
Height of route: 1000'
Black Orpheus ascends a break in a huge overhung headwall via a cleanly fractured dihedral and has some of the best moderate crack climbing at Red Rocks. An initial dihedral has a few awkward sections, then a long broad slab leads up to a traverse below the headwall. The reward is the excellent upper dihedral with tons of fun climbing and a short bolt-protected crux.
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George and Joanne Urioste accomplished the first ascent of Black Orpheus in April 1979. It was not a good time for the Uriostes. They were divorced. Though plagued by uncertainty and facing serious life decisions, they were united by a common love for climbing. A reconnaissance up the first few pitches looked very promising. The dark, south-facing rock was warm and pleasant in the still-cool spring air. The initial pitches went free and assured easy access to the spectacular crack and dihedral system on the upper part of the route.

They returned optimistically, with the intention of climbing through to the summit in one push. The climbing went well. They quickly achieved their previous high point and continued onto the upper cracks. As they reached the top of their thirteenth pitch, both daylight and crack were fading. Faced with drilling several bolts to protect the face climbing that separated them from the summit, they had no choice but to bivouac.
Even then, their options were limited. There was no ledge big enough to stretch out on, only big enough for sitting. And, ironically, there was no spot big enough for them to sit together, so the maritally torn climbers endured the cold April night on separate ledges high above Oak Creek.

When morning finally arrived, George set out to lead the face pitch. Tired, stiff, and debilitated from the rough night, he drilled the four protection bolts on the pink face. Above this pitch the difficulties faded and the climbers were soon unroping on the summit slabs.

The name Black Orpheus derives from a 1958 movie that modernized the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice to a setting during the Carnival in contemporary Rio. The movie was noted for its presentation of the Bossa Nova musical idiom, but retained the Greek myth’s bittersweet story of doomed love. The relevance of the movie to the Uriostes’ personal situation, combined with the darkly varnished rock, explains the selection of the route name.
– Larry DeAngelo

Often touted as one of the easiest long routes of its grade due to a short crux, Black Orpheus lures many into epics. While the route is not particularly long, the approach and complex descent demand an early start and rapid progress. Especially important is the near impossibility of retreating out of the upper part of the route.

The second pitch has a short but awkward section of liebacking/jamming and a large nut is the best option for protection. The eighth pitch has some scary face climbing off the belay, then an awkward chimney section followed by a tricky lieback. The crux, at the start of the ninth pitch, has two bolts protecting a tricky lieback/reach for an edge. However, due to the position of the bolts and the direction of the lieback, a fall could result in a short, hard pendulum into the belay ledge, and it is not possible to simply pull on a draw to bypass the crux.

If you finish the route early and have the time, consider running up Johnny Vegas or Beulah’s Book, then rappelling Solar Slab Gully.
Bolts were replaced by the ASCA in 2002.

From the first two pitches you can rappel with two ropes from bolts. From the top of the third, a long sling could be used to retreat. Above the third pitch, retreat is not recommended and would require experienced parties. A multi-pitch rappel while leaving gear, followed by a mandatory long traverse on 4th and 5th class slabs, followed by more gear-intensive rappels, means that retreat is basically not an option once you leave the initial dihedral.
Oak Creek Canyon is at the very end of the loop road. Because of this, you can also park at the old Oak Creek Campground along the main highway and avoid the hassle of the Loop Road, at the price of an extra 20-30 minute hike in each direction.

Black Orpheus is around the corner from Solar Slab, but the boulder-strewn canyon bottom and the long 3rd and 4th class approach takes about 2 hours. Hike past Solar Slab, then drop into the canyon bottom. Hike up the canyon for about 1/4 mile, looking for a cairn on top of a white boulder on the right. Black Orpheus starts well above the canyon floor after a series of slabs and bushy areas and is not obvious from the bottom of the canyon, so examine the SuperTopo picture to help you determine where to head up. The pile of rocks on the white boulder is just as the canyon bottom takes a vague curve to the left, and is well before the split in the canyon. Depending on exactly where you go up, you must negotiate usually at least one 4th class band of 40-foot cliffs, and some may want to rope up for these sections.

Once you reach the wall, Black Orpheus begins in the largest left-facing dihedral; to the left is slick polished rock and some bushes 40 feet up on a ledge.

Four descents are possible. Most people use one of the two Upper Painted Bowl descents, but you can also downclimb to the rappels for Solar Slab, or rap the long Upper Solar Slab Gully. We only describe the Upper Painted Bowl descents here; the Solar Slab descents should not be used unless familiar with them, and even then they often have other parties clogging them. None of these descents should be attempted in the dark without someone who knows the descent. It is far better to scramble up to wide flat ledges with bushes and bivy for the night.
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Source: SuperTopo Guidebook Staff Last update: November 9, 2008
Black Orpheus Wall - Black Orpheus 5.10a - Red Rocks, Nevada USA. Click to Enlarge
Black Orpheus ascends a break in a huge overhung headwall via a cleanly fractured dihedral.
Photo: Greg Barnes
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