The intimidating but moderate second pitch of Five Pack
Rock climbing is one of those sports that tends keeps your ego in check. You’re always one mishap or bad decision away from being in a sticky situation (or worse). This is particularly true of multi-pitch trad climbing, where you have to deal with gear placements (or lack thereof), route-finding, weather, exposure, rope management, variable rock quality, fatigue, hydration/nutrition, and of course the climbing itself. It’s a challenging endeavor, which is one of the reasons I love it! With that in mind…
Blake and I had big plans for last weekend’s trip to Red Rocks. My personal goal was to onsight Levitation 29, a route considered by many to be the best route at one of the world’s best climbing destinations. Lynn Hill calls it her favorite route of all time. L29 consists of 7 pitches of mostly 5.10 and 5.11 climbing guarded by a grueling 2 hour approach hike. It’s a big objective for a 42 year old weekend warrior that lives 3 hours from the nearest crag, but I had been training hard and climbing strong (albeit mostly in a gym). Also, on a recent business trip to Vegas I onsighted Running Man, a route similar in difficulty and style to the crux pitch of L29. So I figured I’d see how things went and if I felt strong maybe I’d give it a shot. The best laid plans of mice and men…
One of many training sessions in the man cave.
We flew to Vegas on Thursday morning and drove straight to Red Rocks, selecting Y2K and The Next Century as our “warmup” routes. I had climbed both routes before and the crux pitch of The Next Century felt just as spicy the second time. After 12 hours of flying, driving, hiking, and climbing we grabbed dinner and headed to the hotel.
For our first full day we decided to climb Sweet Thin, one of several mega-classic routes on the remote Brownstone Wall. The approach to Brownstone involves about 2 hours of steep hiking through boulders, talus, and slabs. It was worth the effort – the 5th pitch of Sweet Thin is one fo the finest I’ve done at Red Rocks.
P7 of Sweet Thin – sweet indeed!
We finished the climb, scrambled to the summit of Juniper Peak (2200′ above the parking lot) and began the descent. Maybe it was the heat or the fact that I hadn’t done much hiking or trad climbing in months, but we were thrashed by the time we made it back to the car.
At that point it dawned on me that I had already burned too many matches on this trip and Levitation 29 probably wasn’t in the cards. Humbled part one.
Adventure Punks was put up in 1983 but was all but forgotten until recently. Now it’s considered one of the best routes at Red Rocks. It’s been on my tick list for a while, although I had read that it has an unprotected (i.e. dangerous) start. Sometimes these things get over-exaggerated online so we hiked up Pine Creek Canyon to check it out for ourselves. Unfortunately the runout was worse, not better, than advertised – definitely X-rated. The first protection (which is marginal) is about 20-25 feet above a sloping ledge (which probably wouldn’t stop a fall) and is guarded by greasy-looking 5.10 face climbing (or an equally dicey 5.9 traverse). If you were to fall, a medivac would be your best case. Even though it’s highly unlikely that I’d fall, it’s just not worth the risk with a family back home. Too bad because the route looks absolutely amazing. Humbled part two.
The 5.10X start of Adventure Punks
That flake looks even further away in person!
(picture from Mountain Project, this isn’t me)
As a consolation, we hiked back down the canyon to climb The Walker Spur, yet another classic among classics. I can’t emphasize enough how good that route is – even though it’s only 2 pitches it’s as fine a 5.10 as you’ll find anywhere.
P1 of The Walker Spur – Yosemite-style climbing at Red Rocks
To cap off the day we hiked around the corner to Dark Shadows Wall and climbed Parental Guidance. This route has a scary start and at 5.10 c/d it’s near my trad lead limit. Considering how tired I was from the day’s events, I was very psyched to get the onsight. Even though we only climbed 3 pitches, with all the hiking it felt like a long day and three straight 7-8 hour days of hiking and climbing were beginning to take their toll.
The heat and our sore bodies pretty much ruled out the long routes we had planned for this trip (maybe we’re getting soft) so we picked a lesser-climbed route on shady Magic Mountain called Five Pack. When you do a route that doesn’t get climbed a lot you never know what you’re in for and this route felt like a handful. There was lots of loose rock (I pulled a dinner plate sized rock off on P2 that almost hit Blake) and the climbing, while moderate, felt serious. The “5.9” third pitch felt sketchy and after misinterpreting the route description I was forced to set up a horrible hanging belay 20-30 feet off route. By the time Blake made it to me I was pretty spooked. I rarely bail from routes (I’ve now done it exactly twice) but when I spied a makeshift rappel anchor 15 feet below us it made the decision too easy. Looking back, I wish I had taken a little time to collect myself, moved our belay to the right location, and fired the last pitch. Humbled part three.
We rapped down and traversed Magic Mountain to a nice little single pitch crack climb called Small Purchase. It was a nice finish to the day and the trip.
Nearing the top of Small Purchase
As an added bonus, we discovered a great raw food restaurant called Go Raw Cafe. I’m not a vegan or raw-foodist, but I try (with limited success) to eat a high-raw, high-vegetable diet.
Portabella wrap at Go Raw Cafe – Raw, vegan, and delicious!
Overall it was a great trip, even if we did have to reset our expectations. As Blake says, “Red Rocks always delivers.” And that’s what keeps me coming back.