Sending the Seven Cs

Tom Moulin crushing Velvet Tongue.
Pic from Jerry Handren's excellent guidebook.
7c is the French/Spanish rock grade that translates to about 5.12d on the Yosemite system used in North America. About a year ago I invented a challenge for myself, which was to climb the classic "7c" long route in all of the great climbing areas of North America. The idea began as a discussion with a friend about all of the amazing routes in this grade range (give or take a letter) and the best part about inventing this goal myself, is that I can tweak things (within reason) to make sure that a stellar .13a or .12c is not ignored just because, strictly speaking, it is not one of the "7c"s. But more than just the individual pitches that make up these climbs, I want this ongoing challenge to focus on climbing partners and amazing areas I have yet to see. Ideally it will result in me seeing new ranges and parks (The Incredible Hulk, for example) and climbing more with a far-flung crew of partners.  I made progress this spring, with the Neo-Classic Red Rock climb Velvet Tongue in Black Velvet Canyon.

I was in Red Rock for about 10 days in April, teaching at the Red Rock Rendezvous, and climbing in the huge sandstone canyons outside Las Vegas. I got lead climb Epinephrine for my first time, with a friend from Washington who had never climbed a multipitch before, and I had one day to go up on Velvet Tongue. I figured I'd need more than that to send the route.

Chris Weidner on Velvet Tongue
Joining me on day #1 were Nik Berry, Chris Weidner, and Bryan Gilmore - a diverse group of 3 very accomplished climbers from across the western US. We all came away very impressed with the climb, as well as Nik's onsight of the absolutely unforgettable 5.12d pitch, which is pretty reachy (I think Nik is shorter than I am) and involves falling out of, then back into, a blank corner. I wonder if this was the crux's first onsight? The other 5.12 pitches on the route proved challenging and memorable as well, with Nik's assessment of "heinous slab-campusing" making them sound not nearly as fun as they really are. We stashed a little food and water on the wall and I took a couple rest days teaching classes.

I indoctrinated my Red Rock Rendezvous students into the anti-cordellette and pro-GriGri philosophical camp, while I rested and recovered over the weekend. For those who have never been there, the Red Rock Rendezvous is a big climber camp-out that takes place on a state park with a big lawn, about 5 minutes from the Red Rock loop road. There are tents/booths from many outdoor gear and food companies, ongoing contests, gear raffles, presentations, charity auctions, a pancake breakfast,  a New Belgium Brewing truck pouring beer and wine, and 2 days of clinics. Folks who attend the clinic can camp in a big field and they generally take classes on Saturday and Sunday. The classes range from backcountry cooking to crevasse rescue to bouldering. The quality of the instruction widely varies, but often students will be in classes of only 2-8 people with 2 instructors, one of whom is a climbing guide from AAI, and the other is someone brought along by one of the outdoor companies (employee, owner, sponsored athlete, dirtbag friend, etc). It's not impossible to get a "dud" class, but odds are that if you sign up for classes, you'll get the amount of time and instruction with a competent teacher that would cost much, much more if you hired a guide under normal conditions.

 I taught about multipitch efficiency. We threw away our daisy chains and PAS thingies. Then we ditched most of our lockers and rap rings and webbing and quick links and radios and telex, telegraph, teletype, and morse-code machines. We learned to communicate a few simple commands through the rope. We learned to build anchors quickly, we talked about why NO anchors are SEReNE (that one took some convincing) and we did several mock-multipitch scenarios. I had fun and hope everyone else did as well. But then it was back to the Velvet Tongue.

Myself high on the .12a pitch. Very Index-y.
Chris Weidner shows all the beta for falling intentionally.

Despite some high winds and a little snow, Chris Weidner was psyched to go back up the route, so we came back armed with an arsenal of winter clothing, gloves, and cautious optimism. I lead almost all of the route, including the .12a and .12c pitches I'd lead on day #1. Chris lead the .12d pitch (as he had on day #1) and we traded off and on with the big puffy jacket and belayer patience. The long .12a pitch (which the guidebook accurately calls "an immaculate pitch of wall climbing") felt a tad easier than it had previously, which was a good omen for the rest of the route. I fell a couple times while leaving the corner low on the .12d pitch, and lower back to the belay each time. This pitch is very well protected and almost entirely bolted, with both cruxes being lateral moves that occur after clipping perfectly-placed bolts. On the third try I used a little more crazy body english and trusted my foot just enough to "stick the dismount" on the hands-free corner exit. I definitely recomend a new, stiff pair of edging shoes for this route. You want to be able to high-step onto a nickel that is glued to a blank wall 5 feet out and 4 feet up from the floor. After re-gaining the corner with another hands-free fall move, I nearly fell off just a few feet before the belay. I hadn't worked out the climbing on this part of the pitch and probably up-down-up-down climbed 8 times to a kneebar rest before committing to a powerful slappy crux, just before the belay. Here I was rewarded with the bag of discounted Easter candy we'd stashed the week prior. I took over for the following .12c pitch, which is without a doubt one of Red Rock's finest, and not nearly as bizarre as the prior lead. This pitch feature a v5-v6 bouldery sequence off the belay, using blind slaps and crimps on the right, and blank stemming for the left. It then zigs straight left, where you monkey-bar and undercling your way directly left along a big roof, before pulling up past the roof and high-stepping onward to the belay. This roof is clearly visible from even the parking lot outside Black Velvet, and the position was amazing. I belayed up a very patient (and this point, very cold) climbing partner, and took the lead for the route's final independent pitch, an .11+ patina face with gear and some bolts, which leads to the top of the Texas Tower. I climbed this one slowly and very methodically, definitely realizing that I was making things much harder than they had to be because I didn't want to have to pull the rope and re-lead. Near the top, where we had joined Texas Hold 'Em, I finally relaxed and just had fun, savoring one of the best stretches of stone in the desert and happy to have the route behind me. Chris was a great partner for both days, and it was awesome to have a chance to hang out a bit with he and his wife Heather. The Velvet Tongue definitely lives up to the guidebook's descriptions and inspiring photos. It's one of the best climbs in the desert, but nothing like the long, thin splitters that often define hard sandstone climbing. Go do it!

While in the desert I was also able to re-connect and climb a bit with Washington transplant Nate Farr, and do a "2 pitch" simulclimb ascent of Johnny Vegas to Solar Slab with Madaleine Sorkin and Bryan Gilmore. This was the first route I ever did in Red Rock (also as a team of three) back when I was a student at Western Washington University, but it had taken us all day, rather than 45 minutes this time around. When I climbed it with Madaleine and and Bryan, our car was the only vehicle in the Oak Creek parking lot and we had an ongoing snowball fight up the route, gathering handfulls of white slush that had accumulated on ledges during the night. I had forgotten just how good the route really is! Solar slab doesn't just feature a ton of junky and easy rambling, it actually has excellent cracks and memorable features that definitely put it rightfully high on the list of the country's best long moderates.

  • Velvet Tongue Beta:

Single rack to #2 camalot

15 slings/draws (yes, that many)

no wires, or just a few.

1x 70m rope is ok. A 2nd rope makes hauling and rapping easier. 

70m beta: P3 (the long techy .12-) if you untie from the end and throw it down from atop the pitch, i am 99% sure you can haul the pack up the top ~70% of the pitch, which would be once the follower has climbed the easy first part of the pitch, but before it gets harder than 5.10.

The final pitch is 40m but can be rapped with a single 70m straight down. 

P3 is 55m or something, but has an intermediate rap anchor, so one rope is ok.

The second-to-last rap before the ground will likely require using a tree to rappel, or perhaps a lone bolt on a slab, or a 5.8 downclimb. Nothing too weird, but not involving an in-situ anchor.

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