Trip ReportAdventure Punks and Drifting in Red Rocks
Despite many trips to Red Rocks over the last five years I have yet to do many of the shady spring-time routes. One reason is that I haven't felt ready to test my mental limits while maxing out my physical abilities. So in the past I have stayed away from a number of routes in Red Rocks that were established in an a more exciting style that required equal parts mental fitness and physical strength.
One stronghold of these "adventure" routes is the Challenger Wall in Pine Creek Canyon. The climbs on this wall were established more than two decades ago by a group of hard men who took boldness seriously. In modern terms this means running it out and avoiding bolts by any means necessary.
Jet Stream and Challenger Wall Overview. From MountainProject.com
My introduction to this area was Adventure Punks, a five pitch 5.10d with an implied R rating. Having come off a solid week of climbing in Indian Creek I knew that my fitness was solid and I would just have to kept the mental demons under wraps. I often joke that I'm no mental warrior, but my greatest strength is doing moves, even when runout, that I have utter confidence in. Once I'm convinced I know what to do, I have the ability to execute. In these situations I rarely, if ever, fall off.
With this in mind I set off up Adventure Punks, moving with calculated confidence on the un-protected 5.9 slab at the start. The rest of the pitch fell in to place with a smattering of marginal to bomber gear. For the most part it was a do-not-fall pitch, but 5.10b is well within my ability.
Next up was perhaps the sportiest section, above the pitch one belay. The climbing was stimulating and the gear occasional but solid. You would be taking long falls, but perhaps the climbing was not as serious as the first pitch. The route continued in this fashion for the first four pitches, with a mix of face and crack climbing on excellent varnished sandstone. The fourth pitch, with a steep feeling finger crack, deposited you at the base of a long off-width.
The fifth and final pitch is the crux of the route and was climbed hard-man style before there were any big cams. It was the definitive crux of the route for me, with a hard section of squeeze chimney about halfway up. Pushing a #6 camalot made this part safe, but I almost slid out, having climbed that section with the "wrong" side in. I can't imagine doing the pitch without any wide gear, big props to the first ascentionists!
We rapped the route, replacing some old slings at the top anchor with ASCA rap rings. It was really nice that the route had recently been cleaned up courtesy of some Las Vegas locals and the ASCA. Having two solid bolts at each belay was a nice way to relax after pushing my mental limits while climbing each pitch.
Adventure Punks was a great mental warm-up that reacquainted me with the Red Rock sandstone. The next day we decided to kick it up an notch and climb Drifting on the Jet Stream Wall, another place I'd yet to visit.
Scenic approach to the Jet Stream Wall
When I was getting ready for Drifting, I was slightly nervous. 5.11c could be challenging and a friend, who is a Vegas local, had told me the route might be more like 5.12 and bold! All of these things embodied the experience I was looking for. Drifting would be a solid challenge and a good way to test both my fitness and mental strength. We took the strenuous approach up the Olive Oil descent, but the second half of the hike was beautiful. An exposed ridge brought us above the Jet Stream Wall and the "trail" dropped down through a scrappy forest of pine and manzanita. The wall itself was a blank and endless expanse of varnish. It was tricky to try to figure out the line of the route, an opposite experience to the natural weakness we climbed on Adventure Punks.
I knew Drifting, which has a healthy number of bolts would have more face climbing than I had done in a while. I was happy to have gotten some beta from Mountain Project that allowed me to take a selective rack on each pitch. Even the full rack, a touch more than a single set of cams, was nice and light. I needed every advantage I could get since the route would put up quite a fight for this wanna-be onsighter.
Right away the route was interesting, with the first pitch starting 80 feet up under a small roof. Some third class ledges lead you there and the route did not wait to deliver inobvious cruxy climbing. I was only at the second bolt and I'd been stalling for over five minutes. I tried to figure out what constitutes a "hold" and where I need to go. As I commited to upward progress, each bolt I clipped was a small victory. I stalled out again below a challenging sequence, psyched to have figured out a nearly hands free rest. I needed to have power to waste and I went for it, full on 5.11 crimping with the bolt below my feet. Magically, the holds, which seemed to point the wrong way, provide just enough purchase as I got my feet high on perfect sandstone edges. I kept up the dancing routine, savoring the hidden jugs and amazing varnished crimps and made it to the belay.
Steve on the first pitch of Drifting
Starting off the second pitch, I had confidence. I ran it out to the second bolt, finding great edges and stances. The next 15 feet followed a varnished edge that undulates up the face, forming a type of flake against the softer white sandstone. There were just enough slots and crimps along the edge allow for passage upwards. Having clipped the final bolt on this section, my forearms wanted to explode. I climbed and down climbed twice, trying to figure out the right sequence. Finally I committed and pushed my feet hard against the soft white rock, praying for them not to slip. Luckily I got the sequence right and made it to the big crimp I had been staring at longingly. As the climbing eases you run it out a touch on good holds until you make it to a nice varnished crack. I learned on Adventure Punks that it is important to put in gear when you can and I fired in a couple of pieces. I followed this routine for the next thirty feet, getting in gear when the crack opened up, and face climbing quickly between the stances.
Some unknown bad-ass (ie not me) at the end of the tips laybacking on Pitch 2. Photo from MountainProject.com
The next section of pitch two was perhaps the mental crux of the route. The climbing was never hard, but you go for a little journey away from your gear. In many ways, I'm glad there is not a bolt in this section. If you have sent the route to this point you are physically capable of doing the moves. As I ventured 5, 10, and then 15 feet away from my last piece, I made sure to test all of the sandstone crimps before committing fully. Eventually, I wiggled in some gear and made it to the lone bolt that protects the final crux, a short thin 5.11 traverse.
Having gotten fully pumped on the first two pitches, I was properly warmed-up for the next pitches. The third and fourth pitches flowed well with lots of thin balance moves and exciting positions. Some airy laybacking on pitch four brought us to a small stance under the large roof. In some ways this bit of climbing makes you feel like a hero as you pull over the massive roof on solid holds with heaps of exposure. Above the roof we were greeted with slabby crimping up softer red rock with a smattering of varnish. This pitch really backs off in difficulty, after the roof, until the final moves to the belay, where you climb into black varnished rock that last until the end of the climb.
Post crux on the second pitch.
The final pitch of Drifting is full value and perhaps easier for taller people. Unlike the larger holds on the previous pitches, the crux on this pitch is finding which holds are usable and figuring out where to go next. It was a good fight for me as the pump level went back up through the delicate yet powerful crimp sequences. The pitch was sustained the whole way and only after I finally clipped the anchor could I relax.
Climbing Drifting was one of the best days I have had in recent years on a multi-pitch. It is rare for me to get to onsight a long route at my limit and this route pushed me both mentally and physically. The climbing provided a perfect challenge and I really enjoyed leading all the pitches. What a good time! You can easily rappel the route with a single 70m rope. The rappels are close so do watch your ends. We replaced tat on one of the anchors with rappel rings courtesy of the ASCA. The Pitch 5 anchor could still use some ASCA or rebolting love. See mountainproject.com for details.
Steve Rapping down P5 of Drifting
Now that I've seen the Jet Stream Wall I'm psyched to return to try the namesake route next time I am in Vegas! There are also tons of other routes on the Challenger wall to test me and push me to grow my mental strength.
I was inspired by BrassNuts to post this trip report from last April. I think that Drifting, while much shorter, ranks almost as high as Rainbow Wall
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