Sandstone Solitude a Stone’s Throw from the Strip
Come June, heat devils shimmer in the smog above Las Vegas Boulevard. On the street corners, sweaty smut peddlers hand out baseball cards advertising escorts.The sidewalks are hot enough to melt your soles. You can duck into a casino to escape the inferno, but it’s only a matter of time before Vegas’ sinister racket prevails, leaving your throat parched from air conditioning and your pockets emptied. You’re in hell, nature boy, and you can’t escape. Or can you?
Try driving west. Once past the strip malls and sprawling housing developments, take the Red Rock Canyon loop road. The smog lies over your shoulder now, and the sky has turned blue again. Hiking into the shady north fork of Pine Creek Canyon, to climber’s right of the 1,000-foot, pyramid-shaped Mescalito formation, you’ll enter a pristine wilderness that becomes darker and cooler with each step. Shimmering red walls extend skyward. Deep pools fed by underground streams teem with croaking frogs, and the water is so clear it borders on invisible. It’s a wonder that an ecosystem so healthy can exist next to another so ravaged.
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.
The crux comes on pitch four (70 feet), where you’ll tackle an offwidth and squeeze chimney. Here, however, the sandstone gods have been kind: fortuitous face holds moderate this intimidating and strenuous-to-protect fissure. Finish under a large roof roughly 350 feet up, where you can either make three double-rope rappels to avoid a long and tricky descent, or summit after another nine adventurous pitches. The view is sublime — savor it before descending anew into gamblers’ heaven (aka, your Hades).
Guidebooks:Red Rocks Climbing, by Greg Barnes (Supertopo, 2004); Rock Climbing Red Rocks (3rd Edition), by Todd Swain (Falcon, 2000)
Equipment Shop: Desert Rock Sports: 8221 W. Charleston Blvd., (702) 254-1143, climbvegas.com
Rack: Standard Red Rocks free rack, with an emphasis on hand/finger sizes
Five more Classic Climbs to do when it’s HOT 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 separate 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 longer 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.
Epinephrine, 5.9, IV, 18 pitchesBlack Velvet Canyon hosts many classic routes, all shady, but some consider Epinephrine to be their favorite. This whopper is featured in the book 50 Favorite Climbs and is one of the longest climbs in Red Rocks. The monster-moderate trad route, infamous for the chimney pitches, has been the scene of many an epic since retreat could be dicey. A skilled party can simul-climb most of the route in about four hours. Carry a standard Red Rocks rack and lots of long runners. The most complicated part is locating the descent. Do not descend down the first gully or you will epic! Continue to the top of Whiskey Peak before descending to the parking area. Note: Due to this routes popularity prepare for traffic by getting an early start.
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 most 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 12b second pitch via a high quality 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 #3 Camalot with extra small gear.