I’m talking about big routes in late May, not silicone fakies on the strip – get your mind out of the gutter!!
My friend Mark and I went to Red Rocks for a week of medium to long adventure routes. We had tried the same trip exactly a year ago, but were thwarted on the first climb of the first day when I tore at least one intercostal muscle in my ribs when pressing into a stem move on an easy pitch. We climbed for one pitch beyond that and knew that I was hosed…
We had to pack up the next morning and head home - one of the most disappointing climbing trips ever. So, this year had to go better – right?? Despite a few nagging injuries that put a damper on the training regime, we both managed to get into decent shape before the trip. The drive out was uneventful with a standard I-70 bivy.
Before you know it we were pulling into the parking lot at Black Velvet Canyon a little bit before noon on Saturday after leaving Boulder Friday night.
It was hot, probably in the low 90s. We grabbed our gear and did the relatively short but sweaty hike into Black Velvet canyon.
First up was Triassic Sands, a four-pitch 5.10C crack route that follows a beautiful line for about 500 feet. Mark led the first two pitches, then we swung leads to the top, it was a super fun route.
We rapped down and headed over to the main wall in Black Velvet to climb Yellow Brick Road – a really nice five-pitch 10c face climb.
It was getting to be late afternoon so the wall had emptied out except for one very loud guy and his girlfriend who were sitting at the base after they had completed another route. Eventually they took off and we enjoyed the rest of the route in silence.
We rapped down, hiked out and reached the car just before dark – a really fun start to the week!
The next day it was even hotter so we made sure to climb in the shade. We did some short routes in the Hidden Falls area, then the Mescalito area where we did a really great two-pitch 10d route called the Next Century and also the first two pitches of Risky Business – an excellent route that certainly keeps your attention.
That was it for day two as the high temps took a bit out of us, even in the shade. The next day we rested and made plans for Tuesdays outing – a long day where we would combine Inti Watana (12 pitches, 10C) with the upper five pitches of Resolution Arete which gives the full length tour of Mt. Wilson. Unfortunately the weather forecast for that day was 101 degrees – the hottest day of the week for what was the longest climb of the trip….not to mention most of it would be in the sun.
But, when you only have a week for an agenda, you can’t always get what you want… So, we packed up a light rack, a single rope and 6.5 liters of fluids between us. We were hiking by 5:15am, but it was already 80 degrees...
It’s basically a two-hour hike/scramble to the base of Inti Watana with a good hour of that groveling up a steep gully system – a fine warm up!
By the time we reached the base of the route, my camelback straps and shirt were already encrusted in salt. It was going to be a long, hot day. We had a short reprieve from the heat at the base as the first 1.5 pitches were still in the shade. Nice!
At the top of the second pitch, we were in the sun for the next 1700 feet of climbing as well as the long descent off the summit.
We were able to climb Inti Watana in just under 4.5 hours but it was pretty darn hot.
When we got onto the upper pitches of Resolution Arete, we were starting to drag a little from the heat and dehydration.
The upper pitches of Resolution Arete are nothing special, but it’s a worthy adventure that takes you to the true summit of Mt. Wilson at just over 7,000’, where it was still hot!
We signed the summit register and began the long walk to the northwest for the descent.
The information available regarding the descent is mixed, but it seemed relatively clear which gully we should descend after walking the ridge for about a mile. As we found out about 30 minutes later, we were hasty in our gully choice.
We made good progress down the gully and thought we were on the right track until we came to a 300’ drop-off... We had less than 1.5 liters of fluids between us at this point and it was still stinkin’ hot, so bonus exercise was not high on the list! However, we were forced to do about 45 minutes of gully see-sawing before we got far enough north and hit the correct drainage.
From here, it was still over two hours to the car. Still hot. Really hot.
We kept trudging east through the Oak Creek Drainage knowing that once we got to the trail junction in front of Mt. Wilson, we could drink our cans of ice tea we stashed on the way in. When we got to the junction, we both slammed our 24 oz cans of tea – yeah baby!
40 minutes later, we arrived back at the car on route 159 – 13.5 hours after leaving. We were both thrashed. We stopped at a convenience store and downed 4 liters of fluids between us. At our friend’s house, I weighed myself for grins and even after gorging on fluids, I was still 6 lbs down from the day before. Desert weight loss plan…
The next day was a rest/rehydrate day for sure! We started the rest day by pigging out at the Red Rocks Casino buffet and spent the rest of the day lounging and trying to decide if we were recovered enough to do the biggest objective of the trip the next day. By dinner time, it was clear we had not recovered from dehydration sufficiently for another big climb so the next morning we took our time and decided to just do a few short routes in the shade.
That evening we packed and planned for the biggest outing of the trip; The Original Route on the Rainbow Wall. The Rainbow Wall is an amazing 1,000’ face that graces a beautiful cirque, topping out at 7,000’. For us mortals at least, this route would require an absolute 100% effort. The route is guarded by a steep two-hour approach hike, then follows an amazing system of corners and cracks for 13 pitches. The pitches go free at 11c, 11d, 11a, 11b, 10c, 10a, 8, 8, 11d/12a, 12a, 11b, and 10b. Yowza. This was going to be hard for an old Q-tip like me!
A couple of years ago, I went up to do the Original Route with my friend Dick but I decided to bail on the second pitch when three yahoos came up behind us French-freeing asking when they could pass before even reaching us, right when I was in the crux of the pitch. This blew my concentration when I needed it most. I really didn’t want to attempt a route at my limit with a bunch of distractions, so we bailed and went over to do The Nightcrawler instead...
Anyway, back to the present – Mark and I had the entire Rainbow Wall to ourselves and the temperatures were actually quite nice thanks to a thin layer of high clouds.
Mark did a really good job leading the first two pitches with only one quick taint as he grabbed a draw to clip in the rope in a very strenuous section.
I barely followed the pitch cleanly. I congratulated Mark on his excellent effort on the sharp end. That 11D pitch is a serious pumper! I led the next two 5.11 pitches which were thankfully a fair bit easier and that put us at the base of the 5.10 corner pitches.
At this belay, it was cool to check out the really old bolts that had been placed during the first ascent in 1973 by Chiloe/Larry Hamilton and Joe Herbst. I took some photos of the bolts and after returning home, sent them to Larry.
He confirmed that yes, indeed, they were the originals he placed 40 years ago almost to the day. Pretty cool! Mark combined the two 5.10 pitches and soon enough we were on a nice ledge taking a quick break.
Doing the Original Route free is quite a treat logistically as the rack is pretty small and you can descend with a single 70 meter rope. Hence, we travelled light – just our climbing gear, three liters of water, and five food bars. The next 300’ or so is comparatively easy 5.8 climbing that takes one up then over to the base of the crux red dihedral pitches.
Here it’s about 800’ straight down to your packs and 250’ of hard climbing above. Very cool.
To give us the best chance of free-climbing the next few pitches, we ate a bar, tanked up on fluids and left the camelback at the belay to lighten the load.
I led the first red dihedral pitch which involves very technical stemming then somewhat easier climbing for the rest of the pitch.
The crux section was baffling at first, with virtually no holds in a near vertical corner. I couldn’t make myself commit to the crux moves even with the bolt just two or three feet below my waist, so I aided up one move on the bolt and pre-placed a high cam. Although obviously a taint, I was pretty tired by now and it was just the best I could do. I lowered down to a no hands rest below the crux, rested a couple of minutes, and then tenuously pressed into the bizarre stemming moves. Seriously, the left foothold was the size of a BB and the right wall was essentially blank. I’m not quite sure how you stay on the thing, but after a few feet, I was able to reach a good hold in the corner! The crux of this pitch, at least, was over.
The rest of the pitch is probably 5.10c and continues up the beautiful corner to a belay. I cringed at the thought of Alex Honnold free-soloing this route a few years ago – simply amazing. Mark followed the pitch fairly quickly with no falls, firing off the stemming crux first-try! Excellent work!
At the belay, Mark racked for the next crux pitch, took a breather and headed up. This pitch is hard! Right off the belay is a weird stem-press kind of thing onto some tiny holds. And from there it just gets harder with reachy, powerful lay-backing up the thin corner.
Then the crack in the corner pinches off and one is forced into more bizzare stemming maneuvers followed by committing face climbing to the belay.
Mark had to take a couple of rests on this pitch, but he did an excellent job – better than I could have done for sure. Excellent work MC!
I started following the pitch and realized by the grunts I was making and the cramping in my forearms, it was at (or above) my limit. I climbed with desperate movement and thought I might just be able to pull it off - when I fell out of the stemming section about ¾ of the way up the pitch. After a short rest, I was able to finish the pitch, but just barely.
We were both hammered!
The next pitch was pretty steep 11b face and corner climbing that starts off with some funky down-climbing and traversing.
I was low on mojo by now, so the pitch felt hard right from the start. I was really tired but we really wanted this climb! I pushed on and was barely able to finish, the 5.9 layback at the top nearly pitched me off!
I happily rolled into a cave like belay feature below the final pitch.
Mark did a great job and seconded the pitch quickly and in good style. I gladly handed him the gear for the final 5.10 pitch to the summit. As Mark jammed out the roof above me and got into a corner system, he yelled down “It’s over!” Yeah!
A few minutes later, I was seconding the last pitch and continued up past Mark to the amazing views on the summit of Rainbow Wall.
It was about 5:15pm – we’d been on the move about 11.5 hours at this point. Mark scrambled up to the summit and we posed for some hero shots.
Both of us agreed this was one of the top five free climbs we’d ever done. Although we couldn’t climb the whole thing clean on-sight, we gave it all we had, so no regrets. Larry and Joe did a great job putting up perhaps the finest line in Red Rocks! It really is a fantastic route. We hung out on the summit for about 15 minutes, but the rappels and hike out lay ahead of us.
The descent went smoothly and pretty quickly we were eating a snack at the base and prepping for the hike out. A half-moon had risen and was now perfectly situated above the Rainbow Wall. It was a beautiful sight for sure.
The hike out went fine, and again we enjoyed cans of tea that we’d stashed on the way in. We got to the car shortly after dark giving us just over 15 hours car-to-car. We were both super-tired but really psyched to have done the Rainbow Wall. It was an amazing day for sure!
The next day we took our time packing up the car and started the long drive home. My hands were cramping just driving. Obviously the Rainbow Wall took everything we had. It was great to get home to see CG and relax a bit. The next day I returned to the harsh reality of life in the cube-farm... Rainbow Wall – DO IT! :-)