A Brief Alpine Adventure in Red Rocks

21 03 2009

Snow crunched under my feet. Where had I gone, the morning had been brisk but this was the desert.  The snow was wet, the temperature was above freezing. I went further  up the gully,  crawling around and through a hole to surmount the final chockstone. Everything was covered in snow now as I went hand over hand up a frozen rope. Were we lost? Could our route be in this frozen corridor. I kicked another step, trying not to slide back down the gully. Ice covered the mossy walls and was slowly melting as the day warmed up. The sun had risen over an hour ago and the upper part of the Aeolian wall was baking in the morning sun.  I stepped up and immediately fell through the icy crust up to my waist, a mix of snow and ice  now filled the narrowing gully floor.   I found a tree and a small  boulder and kicked out a small platform  so I would not loose my balance and tumble down the gully.

Scanning the walls I found our route. A Uristoe bolt followed by a long string of shiny hangers lead up the wally through a large smear of ice to a high ledge.  Lucasz now made his way up to my position; happy the mini cascades of snow and ice, I was causing, had stopped. The conditions were sub-optimal to say the least but the first pitch was mine and I hoped that if I could get up it using a bit of aid we would have a chance at the upper pitches, which should be in the sun and possibly free of snow and ice.

Thoughts of the previous night echoed in my head as I racked for the first pitch. When Lukasz and I drove in from LA he remarked on how much snow was on the mountains. I dismissed this, thinking there was always snow in February and thought nothing of his observation. Now as my hands quickly went numb I wondered why I had been so naive. I clipped the first bolt and thought about the out plan. Inti Watana was long, around 8-12 pitches depending on linking, but mostly bolted and all under 5.10 except for the 2nd and the last pitches. This was to be a recovery climb since my left hand has been functioning at only about 50% of its capacity.  I got the bolt clipped and was standing on good edges as I scraped ice off the rock with my nut tool. I found some decent holds and made my way above the bolt. Without the feeling in my fingers I resorted to aid and stepped on the first hanger but I was still unable reach the safety of the first shiny hanger.

I was warm but my fingers were wet and cold and I couldn’t feel anything. I had to leave my stance on the bolt and move up through a slabby section on some wet edges to get the next bolt. After much hesitation I made the few move sequence and clipped in. Just as the rope went into the quickdraw a loud echoing noise came from above that sounded like rock fall. Lukasz had been hit with small ice avalanches while I had been climbing  but this we though this could be a big one. He hunkered down as I sucked into the wall as baseball sized climbs of ice rained down into the gully.

We were both fine but decided to reconsider our alpine adventure. There are many other places to climb in Red Rocks and it would be silly to get hit with ice when we could be wearing t-shirts elsewhere. I left a biner and lowered off so we could pack up our gear and do some climbing. Before leaving we got hit with an even bigger ice fall that validated our choice. Back at the car by 10:30 we had taken a bit less than 2 hours each way hiking. The majority of the approach is on the main fire road with a mandatory scramble up a gully on the way in. This is the 2nd gully you pass and is aptly named the white rot gully. It is a steep, narrow and sandy passage (of white sandstone) that ends with a bit of  tunneled under and then over a large chockstone.  We descended via the main Aeolian gully and rapped the final bit  with a 70m rope which just reached. To avoid the rap you must do a  mandatory 5th class down climb which looked bad and was wet. For reference we could have easily gone back down the white rot gully (how we approached) with 3rd and 4th class scrambling but I wanted to check out the rappel option.

This Approach photo is very useful! Thanks to  Eric and Lucie

We spent the rest of the weekend clipping bolts and enjoying warm February weather despite our out of place encounter with snow on Mt. Wilson. I should have realized that the north east facing Aeolian wall would be cold and could still be holding snow.  Despite my injured fingers I stubbornly tried a bunch of routes that ended up making things worse. I manged a few fun onsights at the sweet pain wall and Lukasz redpointed the namesake route. We also spent some time at the gallery where I momentarily dabbled on Fear and Loathing before turning the sharp end to Lukasz for a 3rd try send !!!(6 or so overall). He crushed the route and made me wish that I could crimp again with my left hand.

Overall I had a really fun weekend despite staying mainly at the Second Pullout. We climbed at the Sweet Pain wall,the Tsunami wall,  checked out California 12a, which was wicked steep, went to the Gallery and the Wall of Confusion.  This was only my third time or so solely sport climbing at Red Rocks despite many visits over the last 3 years.  I really prefer the longer routes in Red Rocks and look forward to some warmer weather where you can climb in the shade. Regardless the sport routes are well worth it and are fingery and pumpy though not always on the best rock. I guess I am just spoiled after climbing on the East Coast in places like Rumney, the New River Gorge and the Red River Gorge as well as the Obed in Tennesse.