Drifting Away...

Glancing through Red Rock’s newest guidebook, one notices first ascent information from the 1970s, but few similar details for the park’s newest classics. Officially “anonymous” first ascents are now the norm. And we were keen to learn if these secrecy-inspired shenanigans were worth the trouble. A towering fin of white stone separates the Pine Creek and Juniper Creek drainages. Jason Killgore, Scott Bennett, Garrett Grove and I walked the crest single-file, comparing echoes down either side, and staring ahead at the Jet Stream Wall. Lacking the requisite skill, ambition, and four #00 TCUs for the sandbagged crux of Jet Stream (600’ 5.12c, AKA .13- "abstract stemming"), we set sights on Drifting (500’ 5.11c), a plumb line of patina edges, discontinuous seams, and illegally-drilled bolts.

Intricate face climbing and thin cracks typify the climb, and the easiest pitch of the route is an .11a which surmounts the wall's unmistakable arching roof. But it's not all "clipping bolts on the beach." Bring your gear skills for this one, especially on pitch #2, where an off-the-bat .11c crux leads to 120 feet of continuously intricate cracks, thin seams, and heady traverses. Unlike Levitation 29, Time’s Up, and older nearby routes, topping out on Drifting wont leave the bittersweet taste of bolted cracks in your mouth.

Pics Copyright Garrett Grove


Life On The Wide Side

Our fifth day in Red Rock was the first without a recurring fight for the shared belay jacket. I'd brought two pairs of shorts and one pair of pants on the trip. Pride, if not prudence, demanded I implement the unusued 2/3 of my wardrobe. But what was worn as a great choice for the morning's two-hour hike becomes a recipe for disaster.

Photo: Garrett Grove. Don't Steal

I'm on deck to lead the last pitch of Adventure Punks (5.10d, 600'). The route's crux looms overhead. And it's knee-scrapingly, ankle-gougingly wide. I'm always nervous about the ".d" grades, especially on routes like this one. The 'Adventure Punks' were a loose-knit cadre of 1980s hardmen who eschewed bolts in favor of a traditional ground-up style. This attitude contradicted the era's prevailing 'route construction' philosophy, but also lead to some of the park's best and hardest climbs. And as I rack up to lead, I recall how it was the crux offwdith on the group's signature route which nearly put an end to the Adventure Punks.

Richard Harrison had sent the the route's finale with a hip belay from partner Nick Nordblom, one #4 friend, and an apparently more-than-adequate set of brass nuts. Sixty feet of serious 5.10 separated Harrison's stance atop the route from his #4. And when following the pitch, the swami-clad Nick Nordblom violated one of the Adventure Punks' rules. He fell. With no other gear in the pitch, Nordblom pendulumed across wall. The shouts from both climbers filled Pine Creek Canyon and were joined by the metallic "PING" of metal coming undone. Harrison was pulled onto a piton the piton was pulled from the anchor, and both climbers were suddenly dangling from a single 1/4" Rawl which the bolt-shy Harrison had begrudgingly placed.

With courage derived from the presence of cams unavailable to the Adventure Punks, I squirm, squeeze, and chimney my way upwards and into the slot. Moving my chalkbag and #6 out onto my left hip, I walk up my #5 camalot and imagine the scene 27 years prior. Harrison, facing the same squeeze, adjusts his swami until his knot is to the side, places his #4 friend, and begins his epic and unknown runout. I place my big cams, clip the 2 retro-bolts, and finish off the lead. I'm able to claim success, if not exactly style. But hey, Harrison’s rack was a whole lot lighter than mine was. And he was probably wearing pants too.


The Meaningless "R"

It SNOWED in Denver yesterday (middle of May, mind you...) so I'll blame my purely-critical bloggery on the gloomy mood outside. Perusing the internet this afternoon, I came across a link to Hazel Findlay making the first female climb of Air Sweden in Indian Creek. And that's awesome. Air sweden follows a thin-hand and ringlock crack (Sweden-Ringle 5.12), then where the crack temporarily peters out (and Swedin-Ringle ends), one must use the incipent crack features and the nearby arete to continue straight up for ~3 body lengths without gear, until the crack reopens. This crack is then followed shortly to a second bolted anchor.

My problem? Air Sweden is "5.13 R"

I've always understood an "R" to mean that a fall is likely to result in injury. Hence in all but the most unusual of mountain circumstances*, I think adding an "R" is completely redundant when grading an alpine route, as very few don't feature some "fall and you're gonna get hurt" climbing.

Being above one's gear on a vertical or overhanging pitch is one thing, but climbing above one's gear with a strong likelihood of serious inury from a fall? That's something else. And it's something I generally seek to avoid. I don't want to just guess if that "R" stands for "rescue & evac." or "really clean airtime."

"I fell slapping quite high in the slot on my
second attempt, but it is a nice clean fall."

Dozens of climbers have been on Air Sweden, many of them falling repeatedly on film. (And here and here...) but not a scratch among them. It's not a dangerous route, and it shouldn't be "R" rated.

*an example of when I understand giving your alpine route an "R" rating is when falling from the route's crux, especially if it is several grades harder than anything else, would result in injury. A 5.11+ R with sketchy 5.9 and a well-protected 5.11 is different than a 5.11+ R where missing the crux onsight lands you in the hospital.


Knowing it all...

A couple years ago, my friend Brandon Workman and I climbed Index's Upper Town Wall via the 5-pitch sport climb called The Golden Road. A new route, the first pitch featured bolts next to a crack, with every other pitch being bolted face climbing. The first pitch also seeps water long after the upper pitches dry out, and it's not unusual to pull on bolts or a cam to get through the p1 wetness. That's what Brandon and I did, which had me remarking that the bolts on this pitch weren't even needed. I knew cracks shouldn't be bolted, and that-was-that. I mentioned it to a couple friends at the time.

And I was way wrong. Those bolts were placed to prevent folks from having to use the crack, which ran along the left-side of a solid-looking, but fully-detached block. A week ago, the Index guidebook author and climbing partner levered the whole block off the wall, while aiding through that section on a #3 friend. This is the exact same thing
Brandon and I had done, and with gear in the very same crack that I said should make those bolt unnecessary. Maybe the first ascentionist, someone who'd climbed at index for years and spent hours on the route, did actually know the rock a little better than a 21-year-old kid who did the climb one time. It's a good reminder...

There are few people who are more often in the wrong than those who cannot endure to be so.
Francois De La Rochefoucauld


You go Looking for an Adventure...

And you might just find one.

First Creek Canyon. Lady Luck reaches the dark band, Celtic Cracks is above.

One of our climbs in Red Rock proved to be obscure for reasons beyond the long approach and byzantine descent. It was also among the most memorable.

In an effort to try a few 'modern-moderates', Garrett, myself, and Rad Roberts hiked into First Creek Canyon, aiming for the 1000' slab climb called Lady Luck, and planning to link that into the 1000'+ Celtic Cracks on the Labyrinth Wall, which looms above the slabs.

For this day, our third in the canyons, the wind never gusted above 40MPH, a welcome change from the tempestuous chaos of prior outings. In fact, we all thoroughly enjoyed the calm on our first 7 pitches, lulled into a sense of complacency by the mellow climbing, solid stone, and sunny weather on the enjoyable Lady Luck.

While we snacked on a ledge, dark clouds flew in over Mt. Wilson, reminding us that Spring in the desert does not reward complacency.

By the time Rad lead the first pitch off the ledge, a steady mix of snow and hail covered positive handholds and ran down the cracks.By pitches 3 and 4, more than frozen precip would be falling.

Pitch3 of Celtic Cracks follows a left-arcing corner, which becomes a roof on the route's signature pitch. Unfortunately, this roof pitch sheltered us from falling snow only to shower us with falling dirt, gravel, flakes, and climbers.

Garrett knocks debris at Rad, scores several hits

Above this pitch, a short vertical sandbox brought us to a 600' offwidth and chimney crack. Snow continued to spit on us as for the 3 final pitches, where multiple 40' runouts, questionable flakes, and some stretches of suprisingly OK climbing crested the wall.

Bushwack canyoneering down a complex network of gulleys and rappel points provided ample time for contests like "what plant is poking me now?" and "who's got the most thorns in their boxers." Reaching our backpacks at Headlamp:30, we crowned Red Rock wildnerness as the day's only winner.


Making it Happen

Today was the 7th consectuive day of climbing in the most remote parts of Red Rocks. Lots of 12+ hour days and amazing routes. We haven't shared a route with another party yet, and usually have our entire wall (or canyon!) to ourselves.

Here's Scott Bennett sending the roof on "The Breathing Stone"...

See the B&W photo below for the perspective on the pitch. I'd lead as well, with Garrett Grove following for the top-down photos of Scotty sending...

Lots more cool videos, stories, and photos of our 70+ pitches to come later.