Can you say SPLITTER? Looking up at The Schwa.
Last month I made a quick weekend trip to Red Rocks. Blake was supposed to join me but injured his back right before the trip and I couldn’t find a replacement partner at the last minute. So I went solo…
I prefer to have a partner, but I do enjoy hiking and climbing solo (toprope) every once in a while. I’ll never be the strongest climber but within this little (meaningless) sub-discipline that combines orienteering, technical skills, and lots of decision-making and problem solving I like to think I’m pretty good.
I keep a running mental list of climbing objectives so when I found out I’d be solo on this trip a couple of specific objectives popped into my mind:
- A toprope solo of The Nightcrawler from the top of Brownstone wall. The Nightcrawler is widely considered one of the best 5.10 routes at Red Rocks. I’ve done it several times and thought it would be fun to try solo.
- The Schwa. I’ve got a list of about 15 of Red Rocks’ best pure crack climbs that I’m slowly working through. Most of them can’t be solo TR’d because you can’t reach the top without technical climbing but after studying some pictures of The Schwa it looked like it might be possible to rap into route from above — probably with some “shenanigans” involved.
With those objectives in mind, here’s how the trip played out…
Day 1: The Nightcrawler
The approach to the base of Brownstone Wall is pretty tough, with about 1700 vertical feet of steep hiking. But I was going to the TOP of the wall via Gunsight Notch, which adds another 600 vertical feet. Plus, because I was solo my pack was extra heavy with two ropes, gear, water, etc. And let’s not forget lots of snow and ice from a recent arctic blast. Let’s just call it “good training”.
Good times on the approach. A fixed rope in the gully leading up to Gunsight Notch.
Often the biggest challenge in multi-pitch solo TR climbing is finding the top of the route. Mountainous terrain always looks very different from below or at a distance than it does from the top when you’re right there. Usually I try to identify a major rock feature that I can locate once on top. Luckily I found a great photo on Mountain Project (probably taken from Cloud Tower) and identified a huge flake/chimney directly above the distinctive hourglass formation that Nightcrawler ascends. I noted the feature with a circle on the photo below.
The pic I used to locate the top of The Nightcrawler
The approach was tough but the view from the top of Brownstone is mind-blowing – one of the best at Red Rocks. It wasn’t too hard to find the big flake feature from the photo and as luck would have it I stumbled into a new-ish rappel anchor a few feet to climber’s left. This meant I wouldn’t have to leave any gear behind! I set up a double rope rappel and started lowering, keeping my eyes peeled for the familiar ledge at the top of the hourglass formation. I found it pretty quickly but it was a full rope length (60m / 200 feet) to the anchor at the top of P4 of The Nightcrawler. I had meant to rappel to the top of P5 but that anchor was about 40 feet to my right so I skipped it. From here is was pretty straightforward – anchor the rope, rappel, set up TR solo, climb, rappel and then repeat for the next pitch.
Below the incredible fourth pitch of The Nightcrawler
The climbing went smoothly and soon I was at the base of Brownstone. The hike down is much faster and I made it back to the car at 1:30pm – 6.5 hours car-to-car.
Day 2: The Schwa
I knew from studying pictures of The Schwa that it would be: a) hard to find a way to get to the top of the route; and b) way, way more hiking than it’s worth to climb what amounts to 100 feet of climbing. I thought it would be an interesting challenge and it ended up being even more than I bargained for. The route is located pretty high above the desert floor and I had to traverse across the mountain well above the top of the route. I ended up hiking/scrambling almost 1000 vertical feet with plenty of shenanigans along the way. Eventually I located the top of the route, built an anchor with old “booty” gear, and rapped to a ledge at the top of The Schwa.
Standing on the diving board halfway up the money pitch on The Schwa
The route is really good – it starts with a steep finger crack that slowly widens to hands, then fists, then offwidth. There’s a diving board rest stop halfway up which eases the overall difficulty quite a bit. The route is rated 5.10d but I found it quite a bit easier than The Fox, which is also 5.10d and has a similar style. I climbed the route twice then rapped down and hiked out. I wouldn’t TR solo this route again or recommend that anyone else do it – it’s way too much work for too little climbing.
After hiking out and grabbing a quick lunch I headed over to The Fox, which by comparison is super easy to rig. A couple laps there finished me off for the day.
Day 3: Mr. Choad’s Wild Ride
I decided to fly back home the evening of day 3 (I can only take so much time alone!) so I decided to keep it “easy” that morning and check out some sport routes on the back side of Kraft Mountain. My objective was Mr. Choad’s Wild Ride, a super-classic 5.11b, but I had no idea if I’d be able to reach to the top to set up a TR. It turns out that you can’t (or at least shouldn’t) reach the anchors at the top but I’m stubborn and with quite a few shenanigans was able to get there. I climbed Mr. Choad and the route next to it, Cirque de Soleil (also good). On the hike out I ran into some boulderers working Pork Chop, a gorgeous V2/V3 arete problem and I did a lap to finish off a fun day.
P.S. Whenever I post about solo toproping I always get questions about my setup. Here is some detail on my tried-and-true setup:
And here’s a couple more posts on multi-pitch solo TR: