The WTF 5.7 Tour: Red Rock Canyon

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The author en route to climbing every 5.7 route (minus one x-rated climb) in Red Rock, Nevada.

The author en route to climbing every 5.7 route (minus one x-rated climb) in Red Rock, Nevada.

Raise your hand if you have ever experienced Elvis-leg, puckered a little, or said “fuuuuccckk” out of frustration, surprise, or even panic, while on a 5.7 climb. If so, good on you for admitting it. If not, then you haven’t climbed enough 5.7s—especially old-school trad 5.7s.

Although there are many suitable adjectives for 5.7 trad climbs, if I had to choose one, it would be “unpredictable.” 5.7 is the kitchen sink of grades—one climb can be cruiser, while another comes at you from left field, and both can occur within the same climb. I often wonder how a first ascensionist decided to assign a 5.7:

  • “Yeah, that one section was hard but the rest was easy, so let’s call it a 5.7.”
  • “Yeah, those were some really funky moves; I have no idea what to grade it. How about 5.7.”
  • “Chimney... 5.7.”

My relationship with traditional 5.7s started off rocky. Actually, they pissed me off. It was off-putting, as a new trad climber, to get my ass kicked by a grade that is supposed to be “5.easy.” I wondered, What’s wrong with me? At the time, I could comfortably onsight sport 5.10s, even an occasional 5.11, but a trad 5.7 would make me question my mental fortitude. The more I climbed 5.7s, the more I realized it wasn’t me, it was them. 5.7 climbs are two-faced and unpredictable.

Despite being sideswiped by 5.7s again and again, I kept returning to them like a Pavlovian dog—the reward somehow outweighed the ego bruising. In a self-reflective moment I wondered, What is it that actually draws me to these climbs? Of course, it’s the unpredictability.

I get bored with repetition. Although I climb a lot, I rarely climb the same route twice—which is probably why I’m not a crusher. Instead, I’m an onsighter who appreciates a challenge. I enjoy it when a climb delivers the perfect blend of spice within my means. Traditional 5.7s fit that bill. They push me in fresh new ways, but rarely get me in over my head. This leads me to my current endeavor, The WTF 5.7 Tour: Red Rock Canyon.

With The WTF 5.7 Tour my husband, Rick, and I are attempting to climb every single 5.7 in Red Rock Canyon (sans one x-rated route). That’s 237 climbs (48 sport, 10 toprope, and 179 trad climbs) and 50,085 vertical, fifth-class feet (excluding approaches). Thirty-one of those climbs are over 500 feet in length, with the longest at 1,800 feet.

Why do this? Rick and I recently settled down in Henderson, NV after living on the road for a few years mapping rock climbing areas, including Red Rock Canyon. Red Rock, one of my all-time favorite climbing areas, is now at our beck and call. Yes, we’ve been climbing there frequently, picking off the classics and hopping on what sounds interesting at the moment, but it felt unfocused, scattered.

I began to joke that we should do every climb we can onsight (or complete in two attempts) starting from Red Springs, moving through the loop, and ending at Chocolate Rocks. Every time I mentioned the idea Rick would either laugh, raise his eyebrows, or tilt his head sideways, then continue with whatever he was doing. He let me know in his own gentle way, “That ain’t gonna happen.”

In reality, I agreed, but something about the concept wouldn’t leave me. Then the idea hit me, What if we climbed every single 5.7 in the park and gave it some sort of WTF rating? We always referred to many 5.7’s as the WTFuck’rs, but with this game we could expand the meaning of WTF: What the FUN. What the FUN-K. What the FAIL. And, of course, when some derivative of the word “fuck” exited our mouth during a lead (excluding “fuck yeah!”) and we felt sideswiped by the climb, then it would be deemed “What the FUCK.”

Stef and Rick, bright eyed and bushy tailed, with hundreds of 5.7 routes left to climb.

Stef and Rick, bright eyed and bushy tailed, with hundreds of 5.7 routes left to climb.

That was the magic carabiner! Rick was game on. So in June of 2019—yes, in the heat of summer—we began our WTF Tour: Red Rock Canyon. As of the time of publication, the stats are:

  • Climbs: 20
  • Pitches: 20
  • Climbs remaining: 216
  • Vertical feet climbed: 1,280
  • Vertical feet remaining: ~48,805
  • Falls: 0
  • Takes on lead:
    • Stef: Several (all on the same WTFuck climb, Miniwanka)
    • Rick: 0
  • Found dirty underwear encountered to date: 3
  • What the F____?

At the end of each climb, Rick and I consult and identify an F-word that best describes that climb. Most of the time we agree on the descriptor, but occasionally we don’t. In the cases where we don’t see eye-to-eye, we defer to the person who lead the climb. For topropes, we discuss and negotiate until we reach agreement.

The author, pleasantly surprised while leading Happy Acres (5.7).

The author, pleasantly surprised while leading Happy Acres (5.7).

For the two “What the fuck” climbs we’ve encountered to date, we both strongly agree that The Young and Restless on Three Peaks Cliff is a full-on WTF’r. However, we don’t agree on Miniwanka at Yin and Yang.

What makes The Young and Restless a full-on WTF’r? Rick, who lead the climb, said “fuck” in some form seven times. I even said “fuck” as a second. There was crap rock such that you don’t want to pull on anything, challenges placing protection in said crap-rock, and then a near-complete disappearance of holds for hands and feet, with the exception of the shallowest, sand-filled teaser-monos, for a desperate traverse. It was a complete sideswipe for the grade.

Compared to The Young and Restless, Miniwanka was certainly a lesser-WTF’r, but I still have to give it a WTFuck rating. First and foremost because I lead it, and I said some form of “fuck” three times. I also took on gear. The start was overhung and challenging (yes, the upper section was easy). What looked like holds from the ground weren’t. And, the lower gear placements were tricky, requiring long, tiring stances. I didn’t trust the lower placements. If anything popped on a fall, I’d deck. I took on gear to check, test, and reset, as needed. As a second, Rick agreed the start was challenging, but he cruised up the climb with a toprope. This is why we defer to the leader to make the final call.

In addition to the WTF’rs, we’ve also encountered some pleasant surprises, like Happy Acres at the Happy Acres wall. The Handren guidebook gives it zero stars and says very little except “bushy chimney.” The average Mountain Project rating is half a star, with comments like “loose and dangerous.” We dreaded this climb but ended up loving it. There was loose and dangerous rock, but the climb was fun with a bunch of funky, whole-body moves. We rated it “What the FUN-K,” and we’d do it again in a second. Well, once we finish the remaining 216 5.7s.

With the unpredictability of 5.7s and our poor memories, we are tracking this endeavor with photos, short videos, a spreadsheet, and blog posts. And, although the WTF 5.7 tour is for our own fun and entertainment, we thought there might be a few climbers out there wanting to experience a WTF 5.7 for themselves (or, perhaps, the “What the FUNs”). You can follow along on our blog and download the spreadsheet for your own planning and tracking. If you did a climb and agree or disagree with our rating, let us know on Facebook or Instagram. (We know you’ll be nice.) Lastly, we’d like you to reassure you, that it’s really OK to get your ass kicked by a 5.7. We do it all the time.

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