Solar Slab, Solar Slab Wall 5.6
Avg time to climb route: 4-6 hours
Approach time: 3-4 hours
Descent time: 3-4 hours
Number of pitches: 7
Height of route: 1500'
OverviewSolar Slab is one of the best moderate climbs in the U.S. In combination with routes below, it offers 1,500 feet of climbing, with sunny and warm weather even in winter. It follows the obvious system of cracks and flakes up the middle of the huge white slab, and the climbing is predominantly face climbing with finger and hand cracks for protection.
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HistoryFA: Joe Herbst, Tom Kaufmann, Larry Hamilton, 1/75.
This was truly the A-team of early Red Rocks climbing. Joe Herbst, with either Larry or Tom as his partner, was responsible for the ascents of the Big three walls of Red Rocks (Velvet Wall, Rainbow Wall, and Aeolian Wall). The dramatically blank appearance of the Solar Slab hides the fact that the climbing is surprisingly easy. The first ascent of the 1,500-foot wall took this well-polished party a mere 6 hours. They made it back to the base with sunshine to spare on a short January day.
Later that spring, the well-traveled Fred Beckey showed up in Las Vegas in his endless quest for new routes. Spying this piece of rock, he attacked it as a big wall project, and spent two days completing an early repeat of the route. Unaware that it had seen a prior ascent, he submitted the climb to the American Alpine Journal with the name “Solar Plexus.”
– Larry DeAngelo
StrategyThe biggest problem with a classic 5.6 is, not surprisingly, the crowds. Start early, and even then there is usually a “race” up the first routes to the base of Solar Slab. Luckily, the outstanding route Going Nuts, also 5.6, is a great alternative to the first two pitches of Solar Slab (see below). Still, a traffic jam on the upper pitches of Solar Slab is often unavoidable.
The first pitch is the psychological crux for most, since the original route ascends an unprotected face for half a pitch straight up to the beautiful crack. You can climb to the right with protection, but this requires breaking the pitch in two. At the start of the third pitch is a short traverse protected by thin nuts in plates, followed by a shallow fingercrack. The start of the fourth pitch also has a traverse, this time followed by a lieback section with intermittent protection.
In warm weather the climb is way too hot, but in colder weather it is usually perfect.
RetreatRappel the route with two ropes from any pitch. See the topo for rappel options.
ApproachThe approach is relatively flat and takes about 1-1.5 hours. Oak Creek Canyon is at the end of the loop road. You can also park at the old Oak Creek Campground or at an unnamed old road along the main highway and avoid the hassle of the Loop Road (an extra 20-30 minute hike in each direction).
From the Oak Creek Trailhead (there is a bathroom here), follow the old roadbed up into the canyon. Here, the road winds gently down into the streambed, with a trail departing on the right about 100 yards after the road heads downhill. Do NOT take this trail—take the next one, about 50 yards further along. Hike up the canyon, passing some large boulders via a bit of scrambling past oak trees, then head up to the base of the Solar Slab area on a variety of well-worn trails. There are two main gully systems on this wall: the major one, extending from the top of the wall to the bottom; and the left-hand one, which goes up about 500 feet before ending below the huge white slab. Solar Slab Gully is the left-hand route, yet the upper part of the right-hand one is also called “Solar Slab Gully” and is an optional (not recommended) descent for the upper routes. Head for the smaller left-hand gully—all the routes begin within 100 yards of the bottom of this gully. Beulah’s Book and Johnny Vegas start to the left of the tree-filled Solar Slab Gully; Horndogger Select starts to the right. If you reach a point where the right wall meets the wash, you’ve gone about 300 yards too far.
DescentRappel the upper routes with two ropes. Most of the lower routes either have no fixed rappel stations or lots of knobs to snag ropes, and so the recommended descent is to rappel Solar Slab Gully with a single rope, keeping the second rope coiled. This is because most of the raps are very short, and it allow you to climb back up to retrieve snagged ropes. A couple of the rap stations are in very exposed positions, and a belay is recommended for anyone uncomfortable reaching the bolts.
It is also possible to do the longer Painted Bowl descent to get off these routes, and it is the only way to descend the upper tier routes with a single rope. See the descent description in the Black Orpheus descent section.
Once at the base, reverse the approach to the car. With rappels, it takes most people 3-4 hours to descend from the top of the upper tier; from the top of the first tier routes, it takes about 2 hours.
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