Cat in the Hat, Mescalito South 5.6
Avg time to climb route: 2-3 hours
Approach time: 30 minutes
Descent time: 1.5 hours
Number of pitches: 5
Height of route: 500'
OverviewWhen it eventually comes into view, at first glance Cat in the Hat looks unimpressive. A nice first pitch crack leads to broken ledges, trees, and no obvious route. However, hidden above the trees are steep brown walls with awesome cracks, jugs, and a bit of slabby face. With great and consistent climbing, big belay ledges, and an easy rappel down the route, Cat in the Hat is the friendliest and most popular route of its grade in Red Rocks.
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HistoryFA: Bruce Eisner, Joanne Urioste, 4/76.
Historically, Cat in the Hat marked the conversion of George and Joanne Urioste into “Red Rocks climbers.” Even though they had arrived in Las Vegas a year and a half earlier, they had not done much local climbing. This was due to the unfavorable impressions of their first experiences. Thick, hostile flora, unsound rock, and oppressive heat combined to direct their climbing energies elsewhere.
In the spring of 1976 they started scouting the line that would shortly become Cat in the Hat. John Shirley, an airman stationed at nearby Nellis Air Force Base, accompanied them on the original reconnaissance. Miraculously, the climbing experience was the exact opposite of their previous misadventures. Brush was largely avoided. The rock was excellent. And the spring weather was perfect. To top it all off, the climbing was clean, aesthetic, and easier than expected.
They climbed the varnished headwall on the sixth pitch and set up a belay on a tiny stance. The crack above petered out on a white sandstone slab. George led up and drilled the protection bolt that certainly has to be a contender for the title of “most clipped Red Rocks trad bolt.” At the time, it was the only bolt on the route. Since it was getting late, and they were only halfway to the top, they retreated for the day. Ironically, schedule conflicts prevented George from participating on the summit day. Joanne teamed up with local climber Bruce Eisner to complete the final section of the route.
The high quality of the climbing on this route changed the Uriostes’s opinion and resulted in renewed interest in the local climbing potential. Within a year they accomplished a number of significant first ascents including the Kaleidoscope Cracks, Lady Wilson’s Cleavage, and several routes on Windy Peak.
– Larry DeAngelo
StrategyWith a sunny exposure and a short approach, Cat in the Hat usually has perfect climbing weather during prime season. That means crowds, and unfortunately the biggest hazard on the route is multiple parties—some going up, some down, and all getting ropes tangled. Thus, the best plan is to be there first—or to do it quickly late in the day.
It is well-protected in general, except for the last pitch, which has a moderate (5.5) slab runout above a bomber 1/2” bolt. However, those inexperienced at slab climbing sometimes decide to avoid the last pitch or retreat.
Like many rappels at Red Rocks, ropes can get stuck. Luckily, a new 5.10d bolted arête variation on the last pitch has an anchor in a perfect location to reduce the likelihood of a stuck rope on the rappel off the top anchor.
RetreatRappel the route. The route has good ledges and trees and is relatively well-protected in any sudden storm.
ApproachThe Pine Creek parking lot is most of the way around the loop road. Popular with both climbers and hikers, the rush is on as soon as the gate opens and the lot can fill early. The trail is large, well-worn, and easy to follow until almost at Mescalito, where one branch dives down left into the creek bed (almost always completely dry).
To get to Cat in the Hat, follow the left branch of the creek past a series of steep dihedrals. Stay in the creek bottom or gain the bench—both options are good. After the dihedrals, head up the large gully—Cat in the Hat starts on the right wall of the gully and is completely hidden until you are near it. The use trail to Cat in the Hat is major and easy to find, and there are no cliff bands to be avoided, so any of the several trails up to the base will work. Most people take about 30 minutes for the approach. Hopefully climbers and the BLM will get together and consolidate the many trails into a single marked trail to help reduce erosion at this highly popular spot.
DescentRap the routes, and reverse the approach. Please do not travel in the wash, the main trail was built specifically to reduce traffic in this sensitive riparian habitat, one of the few in Red Rocks which nearly always has flowing water.
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