Levitation 29, Eagle Wall 5.11c
Red Rocks, Nevada USA
Avg time to climb route: 4-7 hours
Approach time: 2-3 hours
Descent time: 1.5-2.5 hours
Number of pitches: 9
Height of route: 1000'
OverviewLevitation 29 has long been named Red Rock’s best climb. Stellar and varied climbing up a deceptively long but sometimes vague crack system, Levitation 29 is impressive and intimidating. Starting over 1,000 feet above the desert, and near a drop-off into the Painted Bowl, Levitation quickly takes on major exposure with Las Vegas spread far below.
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HistoryFA: George and Joanne Urioste, Bill Bradley, 4/81.
FFA: Lynn Hill, John Long, Joanne Urioste, 5/81.
Levitation 29 on the Eagle Wall is the Uriostes’ ultimate route. On the first ascent, George led the difficult sections, using aid when necessary. Joanne was able to follow it free, rising buoyantly on one of those “low-gravity” days. Since the route was completed on her 29th birthday, it earned the name “Levitation 29.”
Due to Joanne’s efforts, they knew the route would go free; all that was required was a strong team to make a clean lead of it. As it happened, John Long and Lynn Hill were in town and living for the time at Randy Grandstaff’s rambling ranch house that during its era was something of a climbers’ nerve center. An invitation was extended and a plan was made. John and Lynn would join Joanne for the free ascent, while George would jumar the fixed ropes and take photographs. With a team of such high caliber, the free ascent was accomplished with no problems. The quality of the climbing was so high that this route became Lynn Hill’s selection in Mark Krause’s book 50 Favorite Climbs, which ironically left out Joanne’s name as a member of the FFA team.
There is a further irony. Each time that George has climbed the route since, there has been some activity to distract him from a pure free climbing effort. He is either drilling the bolts, or taking the photos, or cleaning the fixed ropes, or most recently, replacing the old bolts with new strong ones. So, although there is probably no other climber that has expended more energy on the route than George, he has not yet climbed the route free!
– Larry DeAngelo
StrategyLines are common at Levitation, even with the high grade and long approach. Start very early (needed anyway for most people to complete the route even without lines), and if you get stuck behind a slow party, jump on Eagle Dance or Ringtail. The first few pitches of Eagle Dance and Ringtail are excellent, easily rappelled, and offer a variety of challenges. All of these routes can be done with a light rack and a bunch of draws.
Despite the grade, the climb is a bolt ladder at most crux sections, and the steep nature of the cruxes make it a safe climb to whip on. However, the crux pitch is enduro, and those not leading to 5.11c will have trouble despite the many bolts. The last three pitches—including a burly 5.10d—are on slopey white rock of mediocre quality, and the lower angle makes falls more dangerous.
Strong leaders can skip bolts on the crux pitch and link it with the sixth pitch for an incredible 160 feet of overhung climbing.
Eagle Wall can get very hot on warmer days, and Black Velvet Canyon is a good alternative (for a route of comparable difficulty, try Only the Good Die Young). After a storm, the canyon bottom in Oak Creek can have a lot of pools, and so it’s a good idea to wait a few days (and it’s a bad idea to crank on Levitation if the holds haven’t thoroughly dried).
Bivy permits can be obtained for Levitation 29, and are not a bad idea, although the added weight of the gear, plus the lack of the water at the base, make bivying a major haul. You can get permits from the climbing rangers through the Late Exit permit system at 702-515-5050. A Late Exit Pass should always be secured for long routes such as Levitation 29 (unless you hike from the highway).
RetreatRappel. You will need two ropes for the rap from Pitch 3, although most other raps can be done with a single 60m rope.
ApproachThe approach to the Eagle Wall is straightforward, but extremely long because most of it involves scrambling over boulders. Hike the trail to the Solar Slab area and dive down into the canyon bottom when the bench ends about 200 yards past Solar Slab. Hike up the canyon, then up the north fork when the canyon divides. This is the only place you could get off route, so keep an eye out for the north fork/south fork split. Head up the north fork for a long while, looking for two HUGE pine trees in the middle of the drainage. From the right (north) tree, head up slick 3rd class slabs, and contour right along the easiest way up the slabs. After about 20 minutes you’ll reach the main wall and downclimb a 60-foot 3rd/4th class gully, then continue up for 5 minutes to the base of the Eagle Wall. Eagle Dance starts in a small black dihedral about 50 feet right of a large detached pillar. Levitation 29 starts 50 feet right of Eagle Dance, with a few bolts visible not far off the deck, and heads through a roof 150 feet up. Ringtail starts 100 yards right of Levitation 29 in left-angling cracks about 50 feet before the huge drop off into the Painted Bowl.
DescentRap the route with two ropes from the top of Pitch 9, or continue (30 feet of 5.6) to the top and walk off west, then all the way down the canyon. Rapping the route will take most people 1-1.5 hours or so; reversing the approach will take in the range of 1.5-2.5 hours depending on which route you take and how fast you hike.
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