After looking at lots of pictures, reading reviews, and studying topos, Jan and I decided to give this wall a “college try” about a month ago. This wall has a reputation for rock climbing difficulty, sustained climbing (continuos difficulty), excellent climbing, and great rock. We were both stoked to see how we did on this famous Red Rock gem. Our plan was to hike in and bivy (camp without a tent) at the base of the climb on Sunday evening and then wake up nice and early and get on the climb Monday morning. I picked up Jan at Ash’s house on Sunday afternoon around 2:30 and we headed to Red Rock. Our rack consisted of a double set of aliens, a set of c3’s (from purple through yellow), a set of Metolius ultra light nuts, some DMM offset brass nuts, 6 alpine draws, 4 quick draws, and singles of Black Diamond c4’s 0.75, 1, 2, and 3. We used a nice 70m rope. The entire route can be rappelled with a single 60m rope which makes the rope handling really nice! Since we opted to bivy for the night, we also carried my titanium cooking pots, a MSR pocket rocket, pre-cooked spaghetti, extra water, and oatmeal with fresh blueberries for breakfast. Well worth the weight!
As we drove into the park, I was amazed at how many people were there. Parking could be an issue… but just as we pulled into the Pine Creek parking lot, a van was pulling out front and center of the parking lot. What luck!
We organized our gear, took one last bathroom break, and headed onto the trail. The hike in was rumored to take between 1 1/2 to 3 hours. Our bivy strategy meant we would be carrying extra weight (sleeping bags, mats, stove, food, extra water), but allowed us to not be stressed out on the approach. Red Rock approaches can be quite confusing, and we didn’t want to risk getting lost on a car-to-car push.
The approach is basically the same as for the Brownstone Wall, (home of Nightcrawler, and excellent 5.10+ climb), which I was familiar with. We took the Ecology Fire Trail short cut and headed up the canyon. If you know the hike, it isn’t really that bad of a hike. If you don’t know the approach, it could be pretty nasty. Luckily we nailed the approach and soon were at the approach slabs to the Rainbow Wall proper.
There was no fixed line in place, so I ended up doing some easy fifth class soloing up about 40 feet of rock. I tagged a line and brought Jan up behind me. We located some rappel anchors at the top of this section; very handy information for the hike out! They are marked by some cairns and are on the climber right side of the water fall formation. Nice new anchor bolts, although somewhat difficult to locate since they are painted sandstone brown. There was still water running down the slab face as we climbed up.
From here it was just a big slab slog to the base of the wall and our bivy spot.
My friend Josh Janes gave me some “secret bivy spot” beta; a really nice sheltered spot below the mossy slab at the base of the climb. After we finished the calf burning approach up the slab, we found the nice bivy spot and got settled in for the night.
The view on the hike in was incredible and intimidating. The wall ahead of us boasted mostly hard 5.11 climbing with a couple 5.12 pitches thrown into the mix.
The next morning the alarm went off at 5:30. The sun wasn’t up yet, and we ended up rolling over and hitting the snooze button until 6:30. At 6:30 it finally felt warm enough to get out of the sleeping bag, cook some oatmeal, and get prepped for the day. Finally at 7:30 we hiked up the last 100 feet to the wall and got set up. Jan took the first lead up a 5.11d pitch.
About this time I heard some voices approaching. I yelled to Jan “we have company!”. Soon two climbers approached the wall, one of which was Peter Croft! It seems like every time Jan and I get together to climb something rad, Peter Croft shows up. I chatted with Peter at the base of the climb while belaying Jan for a while. The upper section proved to be somewhat strenuous and difficult to read for Jan; we were taking a while and I didn’t want to make Peter wait for us. I offered to let him climb through, which he readily accepted. The belay spots on this wall are somewhat problematic for climbing through. Peter ended up leading up after Jan and building his own anchor underneath the existing bolted anchor. This made for a bit of a crowded situation at the anchor for a while, but we managed.
After I scrambled up to the belay, Peter brought up his second, and they climbed on up the second pitch. This was nice! I got to see Peter on lead; I got a bit of a sneak peak of the beta on the second pitch. Unfortunately, allowing the second party to climb through cost us about 45 minutes of daylight. However, this was well worth it considering the passing party included a climbing legend. I noticed while I was following this first pitch that the rock quality was amazing. The rock was clean, sticky almost. Stoke was high!
Now it was my turn to lead. I started up the wide lieback, clipped the first bolt, immediately popped a foot and fell onto the bolt. Well, so much for that onsight. Now I could get down to business. I climbed up a bit higher and was happy to have brought my #3 c4. This pitch ended up being committing, with lie backing and crimping well above some gear to a bolt. I hung on this pitch several times; it was the hardest pitch for me for the day and I feel it was fairly rated at 5.11d.
The pitch ended on a nice ledge. I arrived just as Peter was finishing leading the pitch above me, and his partner was getting ready to follow. Jan followed up the pitch; I could tell this pitch was very difficult for him.
The next pitch didn’t look as bad, although it did hold a 5.11c rating. Originally Jan and I were going to swing leads, but after the second pitch, Jan asked if I didn’t mind leading a couple more. I readily agreed. It was a beautiful face/dihedral pitch, and I love dihedrals!
This pitch had some committing moves above a green alien to a bolt. The green alien placement was crucial to me feeling safe on this pitch, and it was not an obvious placement. I was happy to have that piece in as I pulled through some sustained 5.11 face/dihedral moves well above my green alien.
The next pitch ended in a roof, and included some tricky foot work. The grade was definitely easier than the previous pitch, although there were still a couple 5.11 moves on it. I was happy to have brought a double set of aliens, although I might have been able to get away with doubles in green through yellow and single red and grey.
Finally it was Jan’s turn to lead again, and he set off up the 5.10c pitch. I could tell the previous pitches had really taken a toll on him; he was climbing quite slowly and placing a lot of gear!
After the 5.10c pitch, Jan led the more moderate (but run-out/weird) pitches on the rainbow ledge.
This brought us to the 5.8R traverse pitch. Jan wasn’t stoked on it, and eyed it suspiciously for a few moments before committing to it.
About this time, Peter Croft and his partner were rappelling back down the route. Peter shouted over a bit of beta for the traverse climb as Jan led across towards him. Rock climbing beta doesn’t get much better than that!
After Jan arrived at the next anchor, I followed over and we discussed our strategy for the rest of the climb. We had decided that 5:00 PM was going to be our “stop time” for ascending and we would begin descending at that point. This would allow us to hike down the slabs at the bottom of the route in daylight.
It was now 4:15, and I was looking at the infamous red dihedral pitch. Absolutely beautiful and yet a bit intimidating.
Jan agreed to let me give it a go, so I racked up and went for it. Clipping the first bolt is definitely a no-fall situation. If you fell from the clipping stance, you would land on a ledge/and or your belayer. I lay backed up a couple moves and made the clip. Whew… A couple more somewhat strenuous moves landed me on some good feet on the left side. From here, it was still a good distance to the second bolt, far above the crux sequence. My climbing in Joshua Tree definitely paid off here. The bolt was still protecting me for the harder moves, after which a few easier moves led up to where I could clip the second bolt. If you break down climbs in this fashion, the run out doesn’t seem as bad. After looking over the sequence for a few moments, I high stepped (really high!) with my left foot, crimped down on one of the holds in the corner with my left hand, pressed hard with my right hand, and stood up on my left foot. This let me grab a huge hold with my right hand, bring my feet up, and make a few more easier moves to the second bolt. I had done it first try! Wahoo! From here it was just keeping my head together for the rest of the pitch, which was mostly moderate 5.10 climbing. Wonderful gear (mostly small) protected the climb, and soon I was at the anchors. I had onsighted my first 5.12a trad lead!
It was now 4:45, and Jan and I decided I should just rappel from here. I looked up at the second red dihedral pitch. “Some day (soon) I will be back for you”…
We rappelled down the route, packed up our things, and made it down to the base of the slabs by around 7:15, just as the light faded. Nice timing!
This was definitely one of the best climbs I almost did in Red Rock, and I will definitely be back to finish this awesome piece of rock!
Some valuable lessons learned/reinforced on this climb: set a cut off time for ascending and stick to it; finishing a climb is never as important as your friendship/relationship with your partner. We didn’t finish the climb, but we had an awesome time!