2,240-plus feet of heart-racing chimney and face in Vegas’ wildlands
IN 1978, JORGE URIOSTE BOLTED HIGH on an airy extension — what would later become Epinephrine —to Joe Herbst and Tom Kaufman’s Original Route (5.9), on the Black Velvet Canyon’s eponymous wall. Then an insect bit him. While Urioste experienced an anaphylactic reaction, he and his wife, Joanne, rapped without delay and hurried to a Las Vegas ER. There, doctors had just enough time to save Jorge’s life with — you guessed it — epinephrine, and the climbers returned to the canyon that evening.
Later that summer, Herbst joined the couple to fi nish the climb in a merging of two often-confl icting Red Rock Canyon traditions. Calling themselves the “elves of route tinkering,” the Uriostes strove to create routes for the masses, even if that meant placing bolts to link cracks — a technique then derided by many peers. Herbst, on the other hand, was a tradster with a talent for offwidths and sparsely bolted FAs — on the Rainbow, Aeolian, and Black Velvet walls, among others.
The result of this unlikely trio is that, 31 years later, Epinephrine endures . . . despite its infamous 500-plus feet of chimneys. And with good reason: the line offers 2,240 feet of varied climbing on readily protectable, high-quality sandstone.
Park and head into Black Velvet Canyon through a low, prickly wash, until you reach a smooth, bolted face — pitch one, just right of the Black Tower. (Take note: guidebooks differ on pitch count, and it’s possible to link several pitches and rap from various points.)
Pitches three through six comprise the squeeze chimneys, with intermittent cracks and bolts for pro. Pitch seven heads up and then rightward to the Elephant’s Trunk, a 65-foot tower of angling blocks (pitch eight). Pitches nine through 12 combine delicate face with good 5.7 to 5.9 cracks, followed by a fun, speedy scramble that’s slowed only by a few exposed sections, up pitches 13 through 16.
Top out, ticking Black Velvet Peak, which marks the beginning of the two-hour descent — a pleasant, cairned ridge leads to the trail. But don’t drop prematurely into the gully — a fairly common mistake and one that requires fifth-class down climbing, sketchy rappels, and otherwise unpleasant epic-ing.
Guidebooks:Red Rocks: A Climbers Guide, by Jerry Handren (redrocksguidebook.com; 2007); Red Rock Canyon: A Climbing Guide, by Roxanna Brock and Jared McMillen (mountaineersbooks.org; 2005); Rock Climbing Red Rocks, by Todd Swain (falcon.com; 2000)
Equipment Shops: Desert Rock Sports — (702) 254-1143; Sports Chalet — (702) 255-7570; REI — (702) 828-9090
Season: Year-round, with early spring and autumn the best
Rack: Single rack to 5”; doubles from 1 to 3”
Camping: The Red Rock Canyon Campground, two miles east of the visitor center on W. Charleston Blvd. (SR159), for $10/night
Five more Classic at Red Rocks.By Luke Laeser
Lotta Balls (5.8) II, 4 pitchesNamed for the crazy balls that coat the face on the second pitch. Lotta Balls is a fun, moderate multi-pitch climb, not to be missed. Located in First Creek canyon, the route gets shade in the afternoon. A single 60-meter rope and standard rack will suffice.
Crimson Chrysalis (5.9) III, 9 pitchesA terrific outing with a mixture of crack and face moves. Carry lots of draws, long runners and a light free rack with a few larger pieces (only for the first few pitches). Since there is no seperate descent, (you rap the route) it can be very crowded. This route gets a little bit of shade in the morning and if combined with Cloud Tower can make perfect combo day.
Cloud Tower (5.11+) III, 7 pitchesCalled the Astroman of Red Rocks, this classic route has some of the most splitter cracks and corners at Red Rocks. Speedy parties can simul-climb the first three pitches dumping you at the start of the techy, thin 11+ crux. You do not want to climb the fourth pitch in the sun. If you’re going for Crimson Chrysalis also — climb Cloud Tower first. Carry a standard Red Rocks rack with extra small cams for the fourth pitch and extra hand size pieces for the seventh pitch. From here, either rappel, to the climber’s right, with two 60-meter ropes down busy ledges back to the start. Or, it is possible to climb a 12+/13- bolted pitch followed by some scrambling to reach the Rainbow Wall routes.
Prince of Darkness (5.10a) III, 6 pitchesBlack Velvet Canyon hosts many delightful fully-bolted face routes and the Prince of Darkness is no exception. Bring lots of quickdraws and comfortable shoes that are good at edging and slab climbing. A but bag (or belay seat) will make the hanging belays a bit more tolerable. Or skip the belays, bring tons of draws, skip a few on the way up and simul-climb the route in a couple swings. Bringing an extra rope will help get you to the ground a little quicker and get you back to the casinos for more oxygen, martinis and blackjack.
Original Route, Rainbow Wall (5.12a) IV, 13 pitches.This is an excellent route, in a beautiful setting, in one of the most remote places at Red Rocks. It either makes for a very long day or a more relaxed two-day wall. Late spring/early fall is the perfect time to climb this route because of its mostly shady aspect (it gets sun in the afternoon). The more daylight you can get is helpful due to the long approach and descent. A good strategy for climbing the Rainbow Wall in a day is to climb Cloud Tower first to dial-in the approach. More than a few parties have wasted hours wandering through the cactus and oak bushes. Once you make it to the route, it’s possible to avoid the crux 5.12b second pitch via a high quality 5.11c that comes in from the left side (when rapping the route you can toprope this cruxy move to see what you missed). Well-placed rap stations allow you to bail from any where on the route with a single 70-meter rope. Carry draws, slings and a standard Red Rocks rack to #2 Camalot with extra small gear.
Also check out:Dark Shadows (5.8-), II, 3 pitches, Pine Creek CanyonStory and photos by Jim Thornburg Sandstone Solitude a Stone’s Throw from the Strip - One of Red Rock’s best climbs, combining fun face and steep cracks, Dark Shadows is in deep shade all day; it’s best in early fall or late spring. Begin at a four-foot waterfall where stream meets cliff. The first pitch (5.5 PG-13) ascends a hueco’ed face, and though only two bolts protect the initial 45 feet, just enough jugs on the low-angle wall keep it from seeming too scary. The second and third pitches follow a lofty dihedral on perfect rock so black and varnished that it shines. Here, humongous grips and solid natural pro temper slick footholds and big exposure.