Rock Climbing at Red Rocks
Expectations are a dangerous thing, goals on the other hand can be productive and sources of motivation. Ever since I learned about the wonders of granite in the climbing world El Cap has been at the top of the list. A few years ago, I attempted to climb the nose (in as free as can be style). We bailed early on for a few reasons, but I have always dreamed of going back. So, two years later with far more climbing under my belt I now have the goal to free climb the free rider with a friend of mine. I work full time and my partner is in nursing school, so this was a trip we had to plan relatively far in advance and just pray the weather would hold for us. The week before we were supposed to go we had two friends who were on the route giving us somewhat real-time updates. It wasn’t looking good. Our friends were climbing through flowing water on the route from snow melting off the top, and to top it all off there was a storm coming in that would give us one less day to do the ascent. We decided to save this trip for better weather. It was difficult to let go of the idea of trying to be up on a big wall, these opportunities don’t always present themselves and free time is more valuable than anything with objectives that large.
My climbing partner suggested that we go check out Red Rocks instead. It would still be a trip where we could look at trying some larger harder multi-pitch climbs. There is a gorgeous wall in Red Rocks called the rainbow wall. The rainbow wall has some of the hardest and cleanest-looking lines at Red Rocks. The whole wall is this psychedelic combination of red, green, blue, yellow, and every color in between. And the routes are gorgeous looking with, obvious clean lines you can spot from miles away. We picked a few routes we were interested in trying on this wall and the stoked returned, I had a goal. We make the long drive from Bend to Red Rocks and spend half a day sampling some of the smaller things you can go do without actually entering the park. We began in the calico basin by climbing the Fox, this incredible right-facing corner that starts with small hands and widens to an off-width at the top. A gorgeous sandstone crack 10/10 fun value requiring the trusty Black Diamond C4 #6 at the top (yeah it gets pretty wide). From there we went and played around on the cannibal crag, which although crowded had some really fun sport climbing to mess around on. With a few hours of daylight left we decided to continue the sampling of climbing by ending the day at Kraft boulders. Deciding not to bring crash pads we cruised around trying boulders other people were trying and romping up easier high balls for the fun of it. Of course, we had to go in and out of the plumber’s crack several times as one does when they visit the Kraft boulders.
In the back of my mind, I was still holding onto the idea of getting out to the Rainbow wall the following day. Looking forward to every aspect of it, the long approach, the route finding, the challenge of harder pitches high on a wall we had not been to before. We woke up early and got to the park as soon as the gate opened. With pre-prepped bags packed with a rack of C4 cams, totems, a pro trax (for hauling a bag), and our trusty rope we cruised out from the parking lot towards the rainbow wall. If you have never been to Red Rocks, don’t underestimate the approaches. There are many trails crisscrossing this way and that, and even though you can see the wall you are trying to get to it is not that straightforward. It is nice on these long approaches to have the lightest gear that you can, we felt lucky to be using the Edelrid Swift protect 8.9mm which is one of the most durable and lightweight ropes you can find.
We finally picked our way through the desert and the wash to the steep slabs leading up to the rainbow wall. There is a bit of 5.easy soloing at the very beginning of the slabs that feels pretty exciting with a bag full of climbing gear on your back. Although Red Rocks is in the desert during the winter it can get quite cold and the elevation changes quickly in the park. It became evident quickly that we might be a bit in over our heads as we were forced to skirt around the ice on the approach slabs just to get to the base of the rainbow wall. After sorting gear and such we committed to the first few pitches of the original route. Several pitches up it became quite clear that this would be a very cold climb if we chose to continue. Being forced to find resting stances every few feet to warm up numb fingers in order just to feel the next holds. On top of this, my climbing partner was feeling sick and we concluded that being in the cold for an entire day probably would wreck our chance of being able to climb much else together for the rest of the trip. Thus we bailed and came back to the ground after a few pitches of climbing.
Bailing never feels like an easy decision (unless of course someone gets hurt), but bailing on this climb felt even harder. This meant we probably were not coming back to that wall for the rest of the trip. Working full time I don’t get to take all that much time off and I have no idea when I will be able to make it back to red rocks. Lucky to get a week off at a time, a week is hardly enough time to be able to “accomplish” something in rock climbing, especially in a new area on unfamiliar terrain. I am someone who enjoys setting goals for myself in climbing and have many routes I would like to someday complete. I am very lucky to be able to go rock climbing as much as I do, I get to go climbing for fun almost every weekend with little regard for much else. It feels different though to go on a trip somewhere to go climbing with a goal to attempt a route, and not even get to touch the route.
As we walked back to the car we discussed what the remainder of our trip should look like. This is another piece of climbing that doesn’t always get highlighted. Although many climbing accomplishments are individual (so and so sent their project), there are always at least two people in the equation if not more. Everyone’s feelings and desires should be heard and respected in climbing and sometimes these things don’t align and compromises happen from one side or the other. This is imperative to a good climbing partnership, it is always about longevity, you support your partner when it is right and they support you. I personally wanted to go back up to the rainbow wall but knew that we both needed to be stoked to go up there, with my partner feeling sick and the conditions being frigid it just didn’t seem like a good idea.
We came to the conclusion that we should just focus on having fun the rest of the trip, sunny, fun, rompy climbing. To say something is one thing, to feel it is another. I felt ridiculous, we were in this beautiful climbing area, and should be able to have the most fun in the world, but I just felt frustrated.
The following day we dedicated ourselves to sport climbing in the front corridor in the morning and going up the multipitch ‘unimpeachable groping’ in the afternoon. The front corridor is a small shaded sport climbing crag with a handful of routes from 5.11-5.13b on a gently overhanging sandstone wall. Sandstone sport climbing is an absolute blast, there are usually not many small painful holds as the soft sandstone breaks away to leave larger edges, pockets, and seams. This is quite the contrast to what I am used to at Smith where the holds do break but usually end up sharper and smaller than they started. My favorites of that morning were the 12c Sound of Power and the 13b Monster skank. The afternoon of cruising up Unimpeachable was an absolute delight, with fantastic face climbing and bolted belays on a never-ending perfect sandstone patina. It was fantastic to finally get a bit higher off the desert floor. Climbing always has this impeccable way of bringing us into the very real perspective of how small we are as individuals which you become acutely aware of at the top of any of the formations in Red Rocks. We opted to do the alternative finish to Unimpeachable, three more pitches of beautiful aret climbing. Although these were a bit chossy the position was insanely exposed and felt incredible, 10/10 would recommend this finish as opposed to the usual 5.8 slab pitch.
Romping around and feeling free is why I rock climb. I don’t need to climb the hardest thing, I just want to climb all the things. I had lost sight of this when we set the idea of going to the valley months ago. When nothing panned out I felt like we failed. In reality, this was just a false sense of pressure I had placed upon myself. I don’t make my living off of rock climbing and at the end of the day I love it, and really just climb rocks for enjoyment and a sense of freedom. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little bummed that none of our objectives had worked out on this trip, but a day of romping around reminded me why I rock climb.
We spent the entire next day in the front corridor, both redpointed the 12c sound of power. My partner redpointed sun splash 13b and we both played on the moves of Monster skank (13b) but were not able to put it all together. That evening we spent exploring around just scrambling in approach shoes hoping to catch that beautiful desert sunset that bathes the land in blue and gold.
On our final day, we opted to climb Night Crawler in the morning and play in the kraft boulders again in the afternoon. NightCrawler is a stellar five-pitch 5.10 in the juniper canyon. This route has everything from a bit of chimney climbing to laybacking/jamming to beautiful face climbing. The route follows a clean corner that is relatively linear, which is fantastic because you can link really any of the pitches that you would like. We just linked 3 and 4 but would have linked 1 and 2 as well if there was not a party ahead of us. The canyon is incredible and as usual, the views from higher up are incomparable. It was fun to move efficiently enough to get to the kraft boulders with enough time to mess around some more on routes we had tried previously.
Red Rocks is really special, there is truly every style of climbing there (except ice) and it is all really fun. You can crush classic multi-pitches in the morning and boulder in the afternoon. The rock is unreal, the amount of colors that can be brought out in sandstone is truly mind-blowing. Anyone who calls themselves a climber regardless of their skill level will be able to have a stellar trip to Red Rocks. Although none of the goals we had in mind came to light while we were there, I was reminded of the most important lesson in climbing and life. It is always important to follow your fun. If you are not having fun, it might be time to reassess what you are doing or your head space.
Special thanks to Next Adventure for providing some of the gear for the trip!