Inti Watana

The spring climbing season in the desert southwest is coming to an end, so Blake and I flew to Vegas last week for a few more days on the rock.  These days I consider Red Rocks my “home crag” since it’s almost as easy to fly there (usually with frequent flyer miles) as it is to drive to the (far inferior) Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma.

Our primary objective for this trip was a route called Inti Watana (5.10+, 12 pitches), a 1500 foot route on the steep north face of Mount Wilson (which, at 7070′, is the tallest peak at Red Rocks).  Here’s how it played out:

Wednesday
We flew to Vegas early and headed straight to the crags to climb Adventure Punks (5.10d, 5 pitches), one of Red Rocks’ “rediscovered classics” .  We had visited this route last year, but I backed off the first pitch due to a dangerous runout.  This year I returned with specialized gear (a #1 ball nut) to protect the runout start.  Even with this gear, the consequences of a fall in the wrong place would be very severe.

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A #1 (blue) ball nut deep in a shallow hueco 10 feet off the deck is all the protection you get for the first 25+ feet of 5.10 climbing on Adventure Punks.  You can see the flake high above that offers the first real protection.

It was a spooky lead and it set the tone for the pitches to follow.  We got a late start and only did the first 3 pitches but they all had a bold, adventurous feel to them.

Thursday
Inti Watana has been on our tick list for a long time.  It’s a big route with a long, steep approach so we got up at 5am and were hiking less than an hour later.  I had stopped in Vegas the previous week on my way back from California to preview the approach with my friend Stan so I knew exactly where to go.  However, in my pre-dawn mental haze I parked at the wrong pullout and didn’t realize it until we had hiked the wrong trail for 15 minutes.  It didn’t turn out to be a big deal – since I had scoped the area a few days earlier I was able to correct the mistake, adding only about 10 minutes to our hike.  The approach involves a lot of 4th class scrambling and took us exactly 90 minutes – not bad considering that we were carrying full packs and did some “bonus” hiking.

The 5.10c crux of the route is on the second pitch and involves awkward semi-liebacking with poor feet.  Much of the route is protected by bolts but you need a light rack (single cams to 2 inches) to protect non-bolted sections.

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Pitch 7, the “S crack”, about halfway up Inti Watana

The weather was perfect and the pitches fell quickly so we finished the route in 5 hours, linking pitches 9/10 and 11/12.  Many multi-pitch routes feel like they’re pushing you down, guarding the summit, but Inti Watana seems to pull you up higher and higher.  The only downside was the lack of comfy belay ledges.  There are only two good ledges on the whole route so our feet were pretty beat up by the time we reached the top.  The route tops out on a pinnacle a few pitches below the true summit of Mount Wilson.  You can either continue up Resolution Arete and hike down the back of Mount Wilson (adding maybe 5 hours to an already long day) or rap down Inti Watana, which we did.  We rapped down in about an hour with two 60m ropes, linking 12/11, 10/9, 6/5, 4/3, and 2/1.  We ate a leisurely lunch at the bottom, hiked down, and were back at the car at 3:30pm for a car-to-car time of just under 10 hours (9.5 if you don’t count the parking error).  Inti Watana was a really fun route.  I wouldn’t say that the climbing itself is 5 star but the overall experience certainly is.  Highly recommended!

Friday
We expected to be pretty tired from the previous day’s effort, so we didn’t have any specific plans for Friday.  However, we woke up early and felt OK, so we headed to Black Velvet Canyon intending to do Triassic Sands, one of my all-time favorite routes.  However, one of the 4 climbing teams in the canyon was already headed there so we decided to do Wholesome Fullback (5.10a, 2 pitches) instead.  I had done this route before in 2008 and remembered that it was hard for the grade.  The overwhelming consensus on Mountain Project is that the crux move is significantly harder than 10a and I agree.  It felt more like 10c to me.  After finishing the route we top-roped the stellar third pitch of Our Father, a route that I want to come back and lead next year.

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Finishing the opening thin fingers crux on Wholesome Fullback

Temperatures at Red Rocks are beginning to top 90 degrees – a little warm for multi-pitch.  That means it’s time to move on to higher latitudes and higher altitudes.  Next stop – Eldorado Canyon…

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