Epinephrine, Black Velvet Canyon 5.9
Avg time to climb route: 6-9 hours
Approach time: 45 minutes
Descent time: 1-2 hours
Number of pitches: 15
Height of route: 2000'
OverviewOne of the longest and best routes in Red Rocks, and certainly one of the best 5.9 routes in the world, Epinephrine is huge and forbidding. The ominous 600-foot-tall black chimney that forms the core of the route turns most away, especially since modern climbers often just don’t have the experience needed to safely climb hard chimneys. By Yosemite Valley standards, the 5.9 chimneys on Epinephrine are “soft”—but as anyone who has climbed 5.9 chimneys in the Valley knows, they were all put up when the world’s hardest routes were 5.9 and everyone climbed chimneys all the time. Slick, continuous, and serious, the chimneys on Epinephrine are not to be underestimated. Stretches with no protection can only be navigated with calm, collected movement upward, and the slippery rock can easily rattle nerves. That said, the climb is beautiful, fun climbing that can go surprisingly quickly, and it offers a wide variety of climbing, grand views, and one of the largest walls that climbers without superhuman skills can climb in a day.
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HistoryAlthough Epinephrine was not climbed until 1978, the story really starts five years earlier. In 1973, Joe Herbst studied the wall and pieced together a possible route. His line followed the major chimney system to the top of the tower, then veered left to the base of the prominent ramp system. The question mark was the blank wall between the tower and the crack systems above. Joe and Jeff Lansing climbed the chimneys to have a look. The steep face above had no cracks for protection. Joe bouldered a few moves to get the feel of it. The climbing seemed doable in the 5.7 or 5.8 range, but protection was nonexistent and a fall onto the top of the tower would be a bone crusher. They descended to think things over.
A bolt or two would solve the problem, of course, but that was not Joe’s way. As a strong believer in the Doug Robinson philosophy of clean climbing, Joe had climbed the entire beginning of the route hammerless. All the chimneys were done with no pitons or bolts (and, for that matter, without cams, which had not yet been invented). Joe was not about to dilute the experience by bolting the headwall. He returned to the route with Tom Kaufman on a cold day in late December. They carried one half-bag to share for the bivouac, and no pins or hammer. When they reached the top of the tower, Joe led through into unknown territory, the rope dangling uselessly from his swami belt. He reached the crack system and ledge above. It was late in the day, so they settled in to bivouac on the small ledge. The following morning they followed broken rock left and reached the base of the huge ramp. The difficulties eased, and soon they completed the first major wall in Red Rocks.
By 1978, there were some new kids in town. George and Joanne Urioste had already climbed some big routes at Red Rocks when they started looking at the Velvet Wall. Joe’s original route wandered a bit, and included the easy ramp. Maybe they could do a little better. Up and slightly right from the top of the tower was a clean, straight dihedral. With a little face-climbing to connect the crack systems, it would be the perfect finish for the wall. They added a face-climbing pitch off the ground to straighten out the bottom of the route, then climbed up the chimneys and headwall to Joe and Tom’s bivouac ledge.
At this point they needed to bear right to gain the upper dihedral. The holds were there, but protection wasn’t, so it was time to drill. With bolts for protection, they reached the dihedral. The high quality of the route was already apparent, and this precipitated a bit of a break with tradition. The prevailing ethics generally valued a highly adventurous, committed, sometimes unprotected, single push climb from ground to summit.
This could involve treading some fairly dangerous ground. George and Joanne felt that such an approach would doom a great climb to obscurity, since few would be willing to take the risks. On this route, good protection was going to mean bolts. Bolts were going to mean work. Work was going to mean lots of time on the wall. The decision was made to fix ropes and put in the “route-construction” work that was necessary to make it a safe and first-rate climb.
The use of these “expedition” tactics led to an immediate rift between the Uriostes and some of the local climbers. Despite the quality of the climbing, this approach was exactly the opposite of the highly adventurous approach used by Joe Herbst just a few years previously. As it happened, the Uriostes were at work in the upper dihedral when they spotted a hiker in the streambed far below. They recognized none other than Joe Herbst out scouting additional new lines. After a shouted conversation, they invited him to join them for the upper pitches.... [full history for SuperTopo members only!]
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