Red Rock


“One thousand feet of fourth class takes you to the summit,” our guidebook boldly states. Above the last bolted anchor of the climb I peer up at what looks a lot like chossy 5.6 climbing. Fourth class. Sure. Turns out I was right — our attempts to grab the summit in a couple of blocks of simul-climbing end up turning into a pitched-out wander through towers and a 5.8 squeeze chimney.

After rapping off of a small bush we landed in a loose gully that finally deposited us near the summit, where we teamed up with a rowdy pair of grad students from North Dakota that had just finished Epinephrine for the three hour descent. Entertaining companions made loose rock and stumbling into sharp cacti while wandering lost in the dark desert a more palatable experience. All in all, a memorable experience that probably doesn’t bear repeating. I can see why most parties rappel the face after the first five pitches of the climb.

Riley following upper pitches. P/C Marcus Russi.
Riley following upper pitches. PC Marcus Russi.

That’s just the second half, though — the climb itself was great. Linking the squat first 5.6 pitch into the long and featured 5.9 handcrack of the second pitch was a cool experience for me. Looking down at all 70 meters of rope and just about every piece of the rack flowing down to the ground is a memorable image in my mind.

A traversing pitch pops you into the base of a long 5.8 off-width capped with a short slab crux to a belay. After a few more slab by crux pitches, you cruise a long series of super fun 5.9 edge-pulling pitches, which seem to be the calling card of the tall sandstone walls at Red Rock. This, apparently, is where most people bail to ground.

At this point in the trip we were keen to have an adventure whenever possible and we continued up, venturing past the Turkeyland ledge into the land of the nebulous “fourth class.” This was a fun introduction to the longer climbs (and their descents) at Red Rock.



My car headlights flash on the battered exterior of a white Ford Taurus as we swing into the pullout. Something immediately feels off. Maybe it’s the car — mismatched wheels, broken taillight and amateur bodywork — or maybe it’s the fact that we pulled off of a remote desert highway into the blocked gate of an abandoned campground at four in the morning and there was somebody else there. And maybe it was the people sitting on the hood of the car: both in black, both wearing hoods; a woman with a scabbed face and tottering step, a guy with a scrappy goatee and leather jacket.

I shut the car off and flash a glance at Marcus before stepping outside. Uh-oh, it said. “Morning!” I say cheerfully to our new friends. They sit on the hood of the Taurus with their hoods on and say nothing. They continue to stare in silence until I strap a headlamp to my face and light up the pullout. The girl bounces off the hood, a bottle of vodka flashing in her hand, and proclaims loudly with her head and body swaying to and fro, “Flashlights! They must be afraid! Of the dark.” She follows this with a cackle.

I try my best to hide my wide-eyed glance at Marcus before starting to rack up, pretending to not be completely freaked out by our new friends. My headlamp beam flashes on aluminum while I shove cams and biners into a backpack. “Look,” the girls says, “They’ve got all the gear.” We laugh nervously and share another glance. Please leave, I think. The guy shoulders a backpack and the pair climb a fence to amble off directly into the pitch black of the Nevada desert. They apparently are not afraid of the dark, as they have no light of any kind.

“Tweakers, dude. Bad news. We can’t leave the car here,” I say to Marcus. It doesn’t take much to convince him. We decide to drive a mile down the road to a different pullout. Feeling mildly safer, we stumble through a wash in the dark until we get back on track for the approach for our objective that morning: a linkup of Inti Watana and Resolution Arete, a long sport route that dumps one onto the final upper pitches of an adventurous trad climb on the face of the Aeolian Wall on Mt. Wilson.

Looking down at all twelve pitches of Inti Watana
Looking down at all twelve pitches of Inti Watana. A party can be seen below us.

This involves walking through an abandoned campground with cultish-looking stacks of rocks everywhere. “They must be afraid of the dark,” and the ghoulish face of the woman circles round in my head. Combine this with the dark, the desert, and the nerves of hiking into a big climb and it makes for a pretty weird morning.

The sun rose, we didn’t get attacked in the dark, and the approach got steeper. Pretty soon we found ourselves squeezing a slot and standing at the base of the Aeolian Wall — two thousand feet of bolted sandstone soaring up into the rising sun. Linking the majority of the pitches and breaking it up into one lead block each, we climbed all twelve pitches of the route in four and a half hours. The last four wandering and dirty trad pitches of Resolution Arete took almost as long, but we topped out Mt. Wilson and signed the register feeling accomplished.

Riley on Mt. Wilson
Riley on Mt. Wilson

Deciding to ignore the beta spray down on the descent, we pulled up a topo map and shot ourselves down the most obvious drainage. This ended up being quite beautiful, faster, and easier than all the descent info we had access to. Thirteen hours after our bad-juju encounter with the Desert People, we were back at the car (all windows and contents intact) with our first grade V rock route in the bag.

Marcus squeezing a slot on the descent drainage
Marcus squeezing a slot on the descent drainage

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *