Return to Red Rock Canyon

After my first season of learning how to climb outside, I visited Red Rock Canyon. A couple of friends and I piled into my Dodge Durango and we made the epic voyage south.

Here’s a short list of the things that I did wrong on that first trip: zero trip planning, zero climbing with my partner prior to hopping on our first climb together, insufficient weather checks for our short trip and long drive, lost a cam, lost a rope; just to name a few.

Quick flashback: my partner and I had never climbed together. He suggested we do Crimson Chrysalis for our first day and first climb together. Sounded fun, so I went with it. Well, we proceeded to climb into the sunset and then had a mini rappelling epic. One of our twin ropes got stuck as we were coming down. I remember looking up with my headlamp and seeing the rope extending into the blackness further than I could see. There was a mini panic and then a decision to abandon the rope and continue down with our remaining rope. To this day, this was the “worst” epic I’ve ever had.

Needless to say, the bar was set pretty low for Red Rock. When I went back this fall, I went with an open mind and an eagerness to give the place a second chance. Happy to report that I did it much better the second time around.

Partner Shoutout: Will, You’re the Best

I met Will in Seneca Rocks, West Virginia during my AMGA Rock Guide Course. I knew I liked Will immediately because he’s outrageously stoked about all things Seneca and climbing. He will tell you repeatedly that Seneca is the best. His friends will warn you that his stoke is outrageous. Will is great. When I mentioned that I was going to Red Rocks and that I didn’t have a partner lined up, he told me that he was coming and that we would be climbing together. Rad.

Just a couple of overstokers on Cloud Tower.

Will was much more than just a walking, talking, breathing human willing to give me a belay. He’s a strong climber known for his insane leads on gear. Like when he was at the center of a controversy involving a couple of bolts he tried to replace on a 5.12 route called Black Mamba. When one of the alleged “first ascentionists” discovered he’d replaced the bolts, he personally had them chopped for reasons unknown. Turns out, the guy that was so worked up and unwilling to see the route retrofitted hadn’t even truly been one of the first ascentionists at all. Unwilling to see the route go unclimbed, Will decided to just send the damn thing on gear. Like a boss. And no, this wasn’t a bolted crack. This was a guy with a mission to do a route regardless of the pro. Now, the route goes free on gear at 5.12a R. That’s pretty much all you need to know about Will to understand why he’s a likable dude.

Things We Climbed

In 5 days, we climbed over 50 pitches and 5,000 vertical feet. (HELL YEAH, WILL!)

October 22: Frigid Air Buttress (5.9+, 7 Pitches, Grade III)

October 23: Sour Mash (5.10a, 6 Pitches, Grade II, 600) Triassic Sands (5.10b, 4 Pitches, Grade II)

October 24: Cloud Tower (5.12a or 11+ depending where you look, 6 Pitches, Grade IV)

October 25: Risky Business (5.10c R, 4 Pitches)

October 26: Inti Watana (5.10c, 12 Pitches, Grade IV) to Resolution Arete (5.Chill, 9 Pitches from p15 to 24) on Mount Wilson (7,070.’)

October 27: Earned lazy morning and a few pitches on the Winter Heat Wall

Frigid Air (or in our case, Frigidaire)

I picked Will up from the Las Vegas airport around 11am on a Tuesday. I was thinking we’d do some chill cragging, you know, like normal people. Somehow in the few days since I’d left Seneca, I forgot how Will is. No, Will wanted to charge up a Grade III climb with our half day. It didn’t matter that we didn’t have plans.

So we picked up some fast food, chose a climb from our short tick list and drove out to get started. We originally set out to climb Frigid Air Buttress, but I got distracted by a lovely and climbable roof and put us on a route we’re going to call Frigidaire Buttress instead. It probably goes at 5.10- R-ish. The roof was all fine and dandy, but above it was some weird knobby climbing with minimal opportunities to protect. That was a Will lead. As I was following, several of the weird knobs broke off beneath my shoes. Hmmm. New route?

We topped out with enough daylight to find our rap stations and begin making our way down. Just like I’ve learned to expect: we made the better part of our descent in dark and did some substantial boulder hopping. It’s funny how when you arrive at Red Rocks, you think: oh! There’s my climb just over there. It’s fine if I descend in the dark. I’ll have no trouble navigating back to my car.

But then night falls. And then you find yourself in a maze of boulders. Maybe you can see the light blasting from the Luxor and into the sky, but that’s not always terribly helpful. We used a GPS and were able to save ourselves from truly epicing on the return to the car, but the darkness and the navigation challenges are not to be overlooked!

Sour Mash and Triassic Sands

The whole week, Will’s (and my new) friends Adam and Amber put us up in their apartment just minutes from the park entrance. We got to climb with them on our first full-day out in the park. None of us had climbed Dream of Wild Turkeys, which is a 5.10- mega classic. But when we arrived, as it goes with mega classics, there were other parties on the route. So instead, we shifted over and climbed Sour Mash (5.10a.)

Coming to Red Rocks fresh from my rock guide course, I was eager to start racking up Grade III climbs to put on my resume toward my Advanced Rock Guide Course. I asked Will if he would be willing to let me mock guide him up every pitch. He was psyched to let me practice, so I did! I thought Sour Mash was great and it was a relatively easy route to guide since it was straight up with a mix of trad climbing and bolt clipping. Fun.

We then wandered around the base for a while, deciding between climbs like Velvet Revolver, Dream of Wild Turkeys and Triassic Sands. Eventually, Triassic Sands seemed like the way to go so we shuffled our packs that way.

Pitch 2 on Triassic Sands rock climb in Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas.
Will at the top of p2 on Triassic Sands. Money pitch!

Triassic Sands is a gorgeous and wild climb. The first pitch is pretty whatever, but the second pitch is the money and quite in-your-face. You have to pull committing and exposed moves on thin fingers into a roof. I got to follow Will after he sent the pitch, so I can only imagine what it was like on lead. I ‘tronsighted’ the pitch, but not without a good fight!

We kind of shot ourselves in the foot on this one because we didn’t bring enough wide gear, which resulted in a lot of cam bumping and some serious runouts. I can’t remember what exactly we had, but definitely not enough 3s for the route. Spicy.

The final pitch of Triassic Sands, plus a stupid doodle on the danger flake. LOOK AT THAT CRACK!

The Mountain Project link for this climb says something about how the final pitch doesn’t get climbed very often. That’s dumb because the final pitch is AWESOME. It’s an Indian Creek style splitter that goes at 10a, I believe. Like an easier version of the final pitch of…

Cloud Tower

This was my favorite climb of the trip, and absolutely a route I wouldn’t have been able to do without my ropegun Will.

We didn’t start this climb terribly early, maybe around 10am or so? And we finished in the dark. If I could do it over again, I think I would’ve started a little earlier.

It took us about 45 minutes to navigate to the base. We referenced a combination of the guidebook beta, Mountain Project beta and Gaia to get us there. Gaia has an incredibly convenient dotted-line trail that will get you most of the way there and will save you from questioning every side trail, as there are a few.

We swung leads on this route with Will taking the two crux leads. The first two pitches weren’t terribly memorable, save the splitter 5.10 crack. It was pretty good, I remember placing BD 1’s and .75’s.

Super gorgeous tips-lieback crux pitch of Cloud Tower. Will giving it hell.

And then there was the crux pitch. The guidebook gives it 11+ whereas Mountain Project gives it 12a. You climb off a nice bolted anchor to make a few slab moves to a slanting crack. Then there’s another slab move or two into a right-facing tips lieback corner. Hard. I haven’t climbed enough hard sandstone liebacky cracks like this one to be able to ascertain whether it was an 11+ or a 12-. You’ll have to climb it and let me know. But damn, that was a gorgeous stretch of really challenging climbing. Grateful to Will for getting me up it.

The crux pitch finishes beside a little pedestal in a corner with some sketchy bolt hangers. (It would be really cool if someone replaced them!) And then there’s a 5.10c roof-to-wide pitch. This fall, roofs and wide cracks have been my thing. Feeling brave, I decided to buck up and give it hell as 10+ is usually my upper lead limit. To my great surprise, I got through the roof with ease… after getting a #3 cam mildly stuck to protect the move. (Will was able to retrieve, but I’m sure it was a bit challenging.) I guess it worked! I bumped my remaining #3 cam a ways before eventually deciding to break the pitch into 2 parts. I remember looking up a sustained wide crack and seeing how far I had to go with just a single 3 and a single 4 and not feeling particularly inspired. I don’t love trusting a single piece of pro runout 20-30 feet above the last. I’m bummed that the pitch doesn’t count as a send, but I did manage to send the two pitches I broke it into.

Pouty Mal fearing the 10c roof move.

Will lead the wide chimney with zero pro, which was exciting. There really wasn’t anything to place. Not really much else to say about this one.

And finally, we got to the gorgeous 5.11c splitter at the top. What. A. Pitch. It starts off kind of in your face, gently overhanging. You pull over this first piece and might expect to get a rest, but you don’t really. There’s another bulge to battle and then the route steepens again to gain the crux bulge near the end of a sustained 110′ of climbing. I remember panting and sweating and swearing and loving every second of it. The crack takes everything from .75 to a #4 cam. It’s crazy.

Risky Business

With a name like that and R-rated climbing, you shouldn’t be surprised when I tell you that leading first pitch could result in a ground fall at numerous times throughout the pitch.

You also shouldn’t be surprised when I tell you that a 40′ fall was a possibility several times throughout the 4-forever pitches that we climbed. You also shouldn’t be surprised when I tell you that hell naw, I didn’t lead any of that shit. That was all Will. Crazy. Like I mentioned above, Will has an affinity for scary leads on gear. And tricams. And other shenanigans.

His climbing reminded me of a preying mantis. Just creepin along, making very calculated moves. Falling wasn’t an option for the better part of the 5.10+ route. While he can climb grades much harder, the route wasn’t about the grade so much as mentally keeping it together and making a series of serious moves. In the climbing that I’ve done since this route, I have thought about Will often and how I’m literally not allowed to get wigged out about runouts because the runouts that I’m facing don’t even begin to touch what I saw him do. I’m not necessarily an advocate of sketchy climbing, but there is absolute merit to pulling off crazy routes like this one.

It’s amazing what you can do when you set your mind to it.

Inti Watana to Resolution Arete

I mentioned that this return to Red Rocks was much better than my first trip because I did a better job planning, researching, climbing with my partner, etc. I didn’t exactly do much heavy lifting in my route research, mostly I just asked friends what I should climb through my story on Instagram.

One of the recommendations that came through was Inti Watana to Resolution Arete and THANK GOD FOR THAT because this route was incredible.

Inti Watana is a mixed sport and trad climb, with all of the 5.10c climbing being nicely bolted. We linked all the pitches that it made sense to link. I started by linking 1 (10a) and 2 (10c.) Will linked 3 and 4. And then the rest kind of becomes a blur of bolts and gear and bolted anchors. I do recall that my notes seriously helped us out to determine which pitches we could and could not link. This was one of the takeaways from my rock guide course: for big long days, I have to have notes to reference. I feel 90 times better about not trusting my tired brain to recall important tidbits of information that could leave us stranded or off route, etc. More on this in a sec.

I will say that most of Inti Watana is 5.9 climbing and absolutely stellar. I remember joyfully cruising some patina flakes in a wildly exposed location and loving my life. If you have the chance, the partner and the energy, I highly recommend this route.

The transition from the top of Inti Watana to Resolution Arete was a little bit confusing to me. There are a few crack options to explore from the platform atop Inti. One was a left leaning crack on the left side of the headwall above us, whereas on the right side was a relatively low angle ramp into a funky roof that I ended up pulling around and stepping out right. (Of course we didn’t take any pictures here. But my advice: go right!)

From here, the climbing wasn’t always stellar or memorable. We made our way up discontinuous crack systems and eventually meandered our way to the top. I do remember Will pulling a sweet 5.7 roof move and leading a 5.8 chimney that wasn’t my favorite. Unable to wriggle my way into the crack deep enough to place good gear, I ditched my backpack at a stance, intending to drop a loop and retrieve it later. I forgot about the backpack and was pleasantly surprised when Will pulled a move into my view from the belay carrying not one, but two backpacks. Beer debts have been paid and all is well.

We ran into one other party of four (FOUR!?!?) intending to climb the same Grade V route that day. Fortunately, we encountered them on the approach around 6am still in the dark. They were kind enough to let us start first and after we shared a belay station at the top of p2, that was the last we saw of them.

Quick trip stats:

Start: 5:45am

Base: 7am

Top of Inti: 12ish

Top of Resolution: 4:20ish

Descent, top to ground: 2.5 hours

Car to Car: 15 hours

A few thoughts on the descent: we tried to do the rappel descent which was allegedly faster and was supposed to be easier on my achey knees. Apparently, there’s a first gully that is notorious for causing epics. We followed cairns straight to it before realizing our mistake. Moral of the story: TRUST NO CAIRNS. And do your homework for the descent on this one. It was a doozy.

That’s all you wanted to know and more about my trip. Let me know if you’re planning a trip and have any questions that you think I could help with!

Published by mallorie estenson

Mallorie is an alpine guide, writer and climber based in Seattle, WA.

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