Catwalk, 5.6+, Celebration Wall (in the back of Oak Creek Canyon)
Spring is one of the better times to drive through the desert. Moderate temperatures and light bending colors made the day long drive enjoyable. As expected the Red Rocks campground was full. Luckily we found a walk-in site late in the afternoon where we could sit, eat and rack.
Basic eavesdropping reassured that we were going to be alone up in Oak Creek. “Froglands will be bunged up tomorrow.” laughed Steve as he made PB&Js for our approach.
We were up and on the trail by a quarter to five. The approach was magical. Weather perfect as a poem, flowers blooming everywhere, tree branches swaying in the gentle breeze, babbling creek as white noise, and not a soul around. This was the wilderness experience we were looking for.
We paused and basked in the moment watching the sun ignite the canyon walls.
Now it was either the Urioste ('84) or the Swain ('95) guide that said the approach was about two hours. That's wrong. I mean unless one is Uli Steck best to plan on a four hour approach. [Note: SuperTopo RR guide doesn't mention Celebration Wall].
Then through the trees we see our line for the first time.
"The left leaning crack across black ski tracks."
“The climb starts somewhere up those slabs.” Steve noted. We filled our water jug and stashed our packs under the pine. “Like the guide says-” I said, beginning to laugh, “scramble up as far as you dare, then belay from there.”
The rock quality was excellent despite the route seeming so obscure. Couple loose rocks here and there and only one bonafide 'death block' but you Factor that into a 1000 foot route and you get a four star adventure.
And with not one bolt on the whole thing it kept our experience feeling back country wild.
The belay (seen below) for the penultimate pitch, as described in the Swain guide: “pussyfoot up the steep, black finger and hand crack above.” was without a doubt our crux. After the steep crack one traverses across a very exposed ledge – presumably the catwalk – to then make two hefty mantles, after which there is a wonderfully frightening stretch about fifteen feet or so of sandy peeling sandstone flakes.
Everything is exposed and the gear isn't good enough to be stoked for a fall. It's a thought provoking part of the route indeed, the good news is that it ends on a huge ledge. By ST guide standards the ledge would make a “good bivy for four”.
We dared to finish as we had started, opting to solo the last pitch, turned out to be a good call on account of the cactus that appeared near the top. So we kept the needles out of our cord and continued to pussyfoot our way to the summit of Celebration Wall.
We were back to our bags in less than thirty minutes where we ate and hydrated and cooled off for a few before the long hike out the canyon.
Some 12 hours later we were back at the car quaffing cold beers and building burritos the size of a burro and still beaming about our day in the desert.
Tomorrow we are going to explore the "First and Second Pullouts"...
man how I love climbing trips and bad 'that's what she said' jokes.