Red Rocks, Nevada, New Years 2000-2001
Maybe it was hubris, but somehow five pitches of 4th class climbing to get to the base of the Solar Slab seemed like it should take around an hour. And the hike in couldnít take more than an hour either, right? Jeff, Mike, Colin and I were starting our first day of multi-pitch climbing in Red Rocks National Park, Nevada. We were going to learn some lessons.
Starting at around 5:15am, we parked outside the park and began hiking. Being outside the park we were further from the climbs, but since the gates to the park were not unlocked yet we could get an earlier start and thus make better progress; or so we thought. Somehow the hike in took over two hours. Exhausted, we wasted at least an hour at the base racking up and preparing for the climb. As we started up the Solar Slab Gully we discovered that the ď4thĒ class climbing ended up feeling more like 5.7 in many places and we decided it would be best to rope up. Although we saved some time by turning the five pitches into four, we still ended up at the base of the climb around noon. Here more time was wasted, but being resolute and determined we plunged upward at around 1pm. Ahead of Colin and I, Jeff and Mike reached the top of pitch 2. This was the last place our party could bail. They called down to us and asked if we thought we should continue up and try to finish the climb or cut our losses and rap off. Being aware of the time of day we decided to bail. The fact that it was the right choice became apparent as we hiked out in the dark.
There are many reasons why multi-pitch climbing in Red Rocks is tricky. The gates to the park donít open until 6am and then close shortly after dark and a ticket awaits the slow. To complicate things further, it was winter time and the days were short. Also, we didnít have a broad range of experience with preparation, route finding, transitions at the anchors, and rapping off, which made all these things time consuming. None the less we were determined to send some of the incredible multi-pitch routes that towered around us.
Confident from a day of trad cragging at Moderate Mecca we were determined to try again. This time we opted for the later start and shorter hike. We picked a climb with only an hour approach and had pre-packed a lot of our gear the night before. We made good time on our approach hike and found the base of the climb. But here we wasted quite a bit of time racking up and getting ready to climb. We split into two teams and got started. Though the climbing was good, progress was slower than expected. As Colin and I reached the top of the second pitch we did a time check and realized that we would not make it to the top in time. We yelled ahead to Mike and Jeff, and they, being the faster party, decided to go for it. Colin and I rapped and leisurely hiked out. For consolation, I got to boulder on a great block that I had seen coming in. As darkness approached there was no sign of Mike and Jeff. The sun had set behind the cliffs and closing time for the park had past. Still there was no sign of them. Finally, as the last light was fading, we received word over the radio that Jeff and Mike had summited. All they had to do was rap and hike back around to pick up their gear. A mini-epic ensued. Due to the lack of headlamps they got lost in the dark and without approach shoes the hiking was slow and painful. Inevitably, while we waited, a ranger showed up to ticket vehicles still in the park. Luckily she was really friendly and since we were in radio contact with the other group she told us as long as we didnít leave the vehicles she would not ticket us. Three hours later, Mike and Jeff straggled to the car. Once again the logistics of multi-pitch climbing had defeated us.
The next day was spent viewing the other type of climbing that Red Rocks is known forÖSport. We slept in late, had a short approach and quickly found ourselves cruising up line after line. We went to the Black Corridor and found plenty of moderate routes. The highlights were my near onsight of a 10d, Crude Boys, and Mikeís near send of an 11a, Rebel Without a Pause. The climbing was vaguely reminiscent of my home crag, the Red River Gorge. The sandstone was harder and the friction was not quite as good. The day was refreshing and by the end of it we knew we were ready to go back and try another multi-pitch route.
Cat In The Hat
Having learned that the key to multi-pitch climbing was time management, we decided that this attempt we were going to do it right. We spent New Years eve packing all of our gear, photocopying and studying the topos, and discussing tactics. We went as far as packing our ascent packs inside of our approach packs so we could just pull them out and start climbing at the base. Since Colin had to head back to Boulder there would be three of us in one party and we knew we would have to be fast. We even made the painful decision to skip the New Years eve party and get to bed early so we would be in top form. We arrived to the park right as the gates opened and maintained a good speed hiking into Mescalito. However once we got there we lost time trying to find the base of the route. I realized that this was a skill that just takes lots of experience to develop. Using the topos we finally were certain we knew where it started and our pre-packed gear allowed us a quick start. The leading took longer than anticipated but we made up for the lost time with quick following. There were plenty of interesting holds, and black varnish on the sandstone made the rock warm. There were some interesting traverses but for the most part the route was straight forward. As we finished the final 5th pitch we realized we were right on schedule. We ate lunch and enjoyed the view of desert scenery from the top. Afterwards, as we rapped down we got stuck behind a slower party who was bailing. Luckily, they didnít delay us too long and we arrived back at the cars right at dusk. We smiled as we realized that we finally nailed a multi-pitch route.