Sour Mash, Black Velvet Canyon 5.10a
Avg time to climb route: 4-5 hours
Approach time: 45 minutes
Descent time: 2 hours
Number of pitches: 7
Height of route: 700'
OverviewOften overlooked due to its extremely popular neighbors, Sour Mash is one of Red Rocks' finest climbs. With varied climbing, tons of thin cracks, tightly bolted face climbing cruxes, and an intriguing traversing roof to crack, Sour Mash is endless fun. To top it all off you will end the day rappelling off the middle of the giant roof!
Climber Beta on Sour Mash
Which SuperTopo guidebooks include a topo for Sour Mash?
Find other routes like Sour Mash
HistorySummer climbing in Red Rocks can be an interesting experience. The intense heat makes it impossible to climb in the sunshine. During their work on Sour Mash, George and Joanne set up a camp in Black Velvet Canyon. In the morning they would wake up and relax and maybe take a dip in one of the pools. Around midday, the wall would go into the shade and they would jumar to their high point. George, ever the gentleman, would go first to confirm the integrity of the fixed lines. If the climbing was hard and required much bolting, they might achieve only a single pitch before nightfall and return to camp.
The name of the route hangs on the end of a long chain. Sour Mash connects to a number of routes with whiskey themes. They all relate to “Black Velvet” which is the name of a particular brand of whiskey. Black Velvet evolved from the name “Velvet Wall” which had been chosen by Betsy Herbst to reflect the texture of the rock. But now the rest of the story… Joe Herbst and his climbing friends from the early days referred to the canyon by the code name “Crud Gulch.” They worried that a name such as Velvet Canyon would sound too good and entice a flood of climbers, thus ruining the wilderness solitude that they then enjoyed.
– Larry DeAngelo
StrategyLike most routes in Black Velvet Canyon, winter provides little sun and frigid temperatures. In spring and fall, the wall can be crowded, but Sour Mash is less popular than Prince of Darkness and Dream of Wild Turkeys, and is often free even with a late start. While Sour Mash has fewer bolts than its neighbors, most of the protection is thin.
The first pitch crux is thin and technical liebacking with tiny rounded edges—a good pair of micro-edging shoes helps. The traversing crack on the second pitch requires good footwork and is often easiest if you step below the lower crack onto small edges. The two cruxes of the fifth pitch are tricky—a good selection of thin cams combined with hidden holds can save the day. The sixth pitch has tightly bolted thin edging to a lieback crux reminiscent of Yosemite cracks, but only a few moves gain a bomber hand jam. The last pitch has a slabby crux that is easier than it looks due to good, but not obvious, edges on the left.
If you get to the top early, consider double-rope toproping some of the pitches of Fiddler on the Roof, especially the pitch above the roof, with 5.10d climbing on bullet-hard, clean brown rock with amazing horizontal thin cracks.
RetreatRap as shown on the topo with two ropes. If you are at the top of the second pitch, retreat will be difficult, and you may need to sacrifice a few biners on bolts to regain the first pitch. There may be other options below the traverse such as slung horns or trees, but anchors are unknown.
ApproachBlack Velvet Canyon is at the southern end of the escarpment and thus the approach road is not off the gated Loop Road, so you can start in the middle of the night if desired. The approach trail is straightforward until almost at Black Velvet Wall and takes about 45 minutes. Just before the wall, climb a 100-foot 4th class cliff to the left of the wash bottom. It is steep and some may want a toprope from an experienced leader.
The routes along the main wall all start from a huge brushy slope/ledge system. Prince of Darkness, Dream of Wild Turkeys, Yellow Brick Road and The Gobbler start about 60 feet left from the bottom left of the huge arch. Sour Mash climbs up to the right end of the gigantic roof. For Epinephrine, from the top of the 4th class, walk down back into the canyon bottom, then about 100 yards up the wash to a point below the right side of the huge tower (Black Tower). Look for bolts up the gray wall straight below the ominous chimney above. The left line of bolts is 5.8, and the bolts have all been replaced by the ASCA. The right line has bad bolts and crumbly rock. While this first 50 feet of 5.8 is fun, linking it to the next part of the pitch creates a lot of rope drag, and many parties skip it by ascending the unprotected 5.4 ramp to the right.
DescentRappel the upper pitches until you end up on the raps down Fiddler on the Roof (see topo). Pitches 2-4 of Sour Mash involve large traverses and are difficult to rappel. While there is no fixed anchor at the top of Pitch 1, there are trees which could be slung for retreat. To rappel from Pitch 2, use a draw or two for directionals to regain the start of the pitch.
Everything You Need to Know About Red Rocks
Search the internet for beta on Sour Mash
Other Routes on Black Velvet Canyon