Carly and I had plans to ice climb with friends in Ouray for this weekend, unfortunately plans fell apart just days before we planned to leave. Eric ended up getting a mild case of COVID so we ended up bailing on Ouray in favor of Red Rocks.
We haven’t been to RR in quite a while—Thanksgiving 2018 in fact. I’m not sure why, the climbing here is amazing and varied. It is possible to boulder, crag, or do multi-pitch alpine routes. Perhaps the drive and the crowds kept us away. I think the trick is to go on an off-holiday weekend like we did, or pick areas that take forever to approach, again like we did.
First day we cragged in Calico Basin at a zone called the Fringe. Mainly moderates with a few two pitch climbs as well as some harder stuff. We sampled the easier routes and one 5.10d which was quite good. I’d like to go back and try some of the harder ones when I’m in rock climbing shape.
Back for Thanksgiving 2016 we attempted a route called Catwalk (5.6+, 1200′) in Oak Creek Canyon. During that attempt we did most of the approach and when we did the math at the base we figured we wouldn’t have time to get off the route before sunset. There were many reasons for this, too late a start, short days, slow approaching, conservative attitude, etc. While the route is not an uber classic, it bugged me we weren’t able to do it. This visit we revisited the route with better style.
We had a pre-sunrise start and headed out from Rt. 159 parking for Oak Creek Canyon. The approach is about 2 miles of mostly flat hiking, which brings you into the mouth of Oak Creek Canyon. From here it is another mile or so of classic Red Rocks wash approaching which is a form of bouldering and route finding through the boulders.
This time around with the earlier start and better fitness we got to the base of the route with lots of time to do the climb. The climb is about 1200′ and follows a left leaning weakness up usually rampy terrain for about 8 pitches. The first part is easy but runout slab until established in the weakness.
While the sun was warm it wasn’t too hot because of an occasional breeze. There’s also a couple pitches where the midday sun was shielded from us by a large buttress that forms the left edge of the weakness.
The climbing is moderate, with only one or two tricky parts. We brought a single rack to #3, a set of offset cams, and nuts. This proved to be plenty for us and I found I used basically all of the pieces at some point, though less so on the nuts. The offsets were handing in many spots where the rock was flared.
I think the best pitches were P6 and P7. These brought you along the right edge of the large block high up on the route and P7 was on the black plated rock which is so good, similar to Armatron (5.9).
The walk-off was actually fairly easy. Once on top make your way down the gentle slabs to the base of the drainage and then follow the drainage down to your packs. While we were climbing we could see some of this descent and it appeared there were some steep waterslide type slabs from our vantage point. In reality the slabs were moderate and grippy enough in most places to walk down confidently. One short section had a handline around a boulder to assist. On this descent we actually found some ice which was pretty cool to see. Not something you’d climb, but some of the water had frozen on the slab. The relative shade, higher altitude and cold clear nights must have formed it.
After getting back to the packs we headed out and back through the labyrinth of boulders in the wash. The approach in and out aren’t too different in time, perhaps 30 minutes quicker on the way out.
It was a good moderate alpine day in a beautiful setting. There were zero other climbers that far up in the canyon, even on Levitation 29. We did hear some climbers on Jonny Vegas or Solar Slab as we went passed, but no one where we climbed—a welcome change from many prior Red Rocks climbing days.