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Reinhard · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2013 · Points: 0


Some solo ascents (and ropeless descents) at Red Rocks

Traverse of Mescalito

March 15, 2016: my first full day at Red Rocks for this year's trip. A month earlier than last year and, indeed, the temperature is more accommodating. My plan: to solo Cat in the Hat, continue to the summit and descend into the south fork of Pine Creek, ideally all without a rope.

Since the descent description is anything but clear, I determine that my first day will be a reconnaissance – see if I can find the descent route from below and ascend it. All the way to the summit of Mescalito, hopefully as far as the top of the 5.7 chimney, perhaps try to down- and upclimb it. With that accomplished, I could indeed leave the rope behind the next day.

Packing and breakfasting in the parking lot. Rock shoes, in case I decide to attempt the 5.7 chimney. No rope.

Behind me I hear French being spoken; as the couple pass me on the way to their climb, I ask “Vous etes canadiens?” They are, are on their way to Dark Shadows, are happy to hear some French. The man of the team is meticulously taping his hands; I mention that I stopped taping in1983.

I hike up the creek; soon after having passed the approach to Cat the trail peters out; I can choose between wading through pools of water and following a faint trail that heads up the slope opposite Mescalito. I choose the latter, which soon gets very faint indeed and essentially becomes bushwhacking – Manzanita and oak: twisted gnarled branches that catch on every loose bit of clothing or pack, often I have to crawl on hands and knees.

After a while I see that I am way too high on the slope and descend right to the creek – where I realize that's where I should have been all along. The creek is now dry and the going reasonable.

Looking up to the right, I take note of the deep saddle behind Mescalito, the long ridge extending west from the saddle. Ahead I can see the high limestone mountains which the guidebook assures me affords “a walk down” -- many miles yet away.

After another while I see another dip in the ridge, and a promising-looking ramp heading up and right toward it. While this doesn't at all resemble the descent as described in the guidebook, it looks, well, promising, and I think, what the hell, let's give it a try, this is after all a reconnaissance.

Hardly have I started up the ramp when I see the first cairn: whoop-de-doo, we are really on route! For the next hour or two I follow cairn after cairn, and without the slightest technical difficulty ascend to the ridge. There I find more cairns, and in a pleasant light breeze I pursue my favourite alpine pastime: ridgewalking.

Then I arrive at the saddle before the red sandstone of the summit, and find this to be dismayingly deep. The going also gets more arduous, the routefinding more involved. But cairn after cairn keeps encouraging me. For the most part the route manages to avoid the worst of the bushwhacking; from the low point it traverses left before heading up – to false summit after false summit – finally I am at the highest point, no obvious 5.7 chimney visible below me, it is almost 3 PM, turnaround overdue.

Looking back down to the saddle, I can see a line, as promising as the morning's ascent line, heading down to the north branch of Pine Creek. A much shorter descent, only down, no up.

So I start down my line, and, hardly have I started it, what do I see – more cairns!! Not the ones I had been following previously: these head down the line I had scoped. Again I had chosen the right line with no more information than what I could see. Somebody obviously had taken to heart the remark in Handren's guidebook about the northern descent route that “nobody ever seems to find”.

With a spring in my step I skipped down the slabs, suddenly no more cairns on the inviting line ramping down to the left; I look right, and there is a monster cairn telling me very emphatically to go straight down to some very unpromising chimneys. Soon my misgivings are confirmed: rappel slings: this is going to be a line which, ropeless as I am, will only get me into trouble.

With my (dare)devil sitting on my shoulder, I continue down, thinking of all the “rappel routes” I have downclimbed in my life. Though a dozen times I start contemplating reascending at least to my originally chosen route, I manage to find ways to descend; several moves are at least a stiff 5.6, I think of Chris falling 50 metres and only breaking a leg: am I getting overconfident?

Tout au contraire; at the last crux I have to stop my knees from shaking; I also have to think of my descent attempts from Cube Point in the Tetons 2014, followed by reascents after reaching impassable dropoffs only 100 feet from the valley bottom, a night in the open with no water, a retracing of my original ascent route in a pouring rain. It is March, at this elevation freezing temperatures could be expected. Not to mention explaining to the authorities why I flouted the 7 PM curfew in this park.

I climb back up the crux, looking for a traverse to easier ground on the right. Back down; no go. But I finally do slither down to the creek bed and find the going much easier than on the south branch in the morning. Moving steadily, I actually pass Dark Shadows without noticing it, and in due course am back at the parking lot with 15 minutes to spare. Rock shoes still in my pack. I'll have to tell Alik how well the “amphibious sandals” he sold me at Track 'n Trail perform on rock!

Will have to post this with Mountain Project: the next guidebook edition will have to include a clear warning that the northward descending cairns are a rappel route.

Still when I do the Cat, perhaps not tomorrow, I will head down to the north again, but this time follow my nose, further left, where the terrain looked far more reasonable. Climbers and guides choosing descent lines have a predilection for shortest lines and greatest technology for max speed – my old-school approach will no doubt be met with for the most part blank incomprehension. At 70 years of age, I and the majority climbing community are clearly no longer on the same page.

One project for this summer: solo the Kain route on Louis without a rope: descend my ascent route, as did Kain et al. Maybe then Alberta with a shoulder stand? But, I forgot: you can't stand on your own shoulder!

Postscript: Cat traverse

Pre-dawn, March 17, in the free desert camping area.. As always, I'm awake before my telephone (alarm) goes off. Get to the park entrance at 10 to 6: there are 5 cars ahead of me. At Pine Creek trailhead, eat 2 more slices of last night's pizza. The same sandals as 2 days ago, but this time sans socks (in case I have to wade). Light pack; no rope, no harness. 1/2 liter water with a bit of salt added.

The trail to the Cat not hard to find, but just relying on the guidebook descriptions of the terrain and features would have engendered some uncertainty. At the triangle where the trails diverge I get out the sunglasses and put them in the cargo pocket of my Kuhl zipoffs. A little later, at the last spot of shade, I change into my rock shoes (5.10 Spires, unobtainable for years now). Decide to keep going to the start of the climb without sunglasses, it's not that bright yet.

Arrived at the top of the approach gully, I look at things, consult my three descriptions, hem and haw a bit: there is no crack in the right side of the gully; the gully has no right side, but OK, the crack in the left side looks like a likely line. Sun bright on the rock, reach into the cargo pocket – where are the sunglasses? After much searching I decide it's not that late yet, leave the pack up there retrace my steps as far as the triangle trail junction: no shades to be found. So, back up to the pack, decide to tough it out.

The route description shows several traverses to the right: every time I tried a likely-looking line it led nowhere. Whereas if I kept following the open-book system straight up, I seemed to run into rappel slings every 100 feet (but never saw a single bolt). Occasional short moves leftward. I had three route descriptions/topos: never could I figure out where I was. But the climbing was OK, quite sustained, harder than Solar Slab, Group Therapy, Romanian Ridge among others [I'm wondering now if I didn't get onto the upper pitches of The Grinch by accident]. After a while I saw an opportunity to move left onto an easier slab; I knew that the last pitch was supposed to be challenging/run-out, but the slab was perhaps runout but not challenging. This kept going for several hundred feet, and then I could see the red rock above me with the obvious chimney.

The chimney looked very classic, a bit too narrow for my shoulders to fit through. Unfortunately, turned sideways, my pack didn't fit through. No harness, no biner, no sling. Only 20 feet at the most, but impassable.

Fortunately I had scoped the terrain from below and had seen a possibility to escape leftward onto the arete. This involved a bold step onto a small foothold and some more dramatic moves, but still no harder than 5.7. Thereafter it was easy going to the summit, where I met 2 parties that had continued Dark Shadows all the way to the top; they reported several more pitches of 5.8 above the three standard ones. On Cat I had the mountain to myself, unbelievably.

I told them about the rappel route I had stumbled on two days earlier, and they headed with their ropes down there. I wanted to explore the continuation of the westward-leading ramp I had seen then. An hour sufficed to convince me that this only led to major drop-offs. So I headed back up – at first I wanted to follow a somewhat promising line straight up to the ridge, but the terrain led me back towards the saddle, so I decided to just reverse my ascent line of 2 days ago.

Arrived at the saddle, I saw a cairn, then another – and then I realized that this line of cairns was not leading up the ridge from the saddle, but horizontally around to the south face. So I decided to give this a try.

This was followed (horizontally) for a good mile, with several times losing the cairns, especially when I thought they were pointing me downward. Every deviation from the prescribed line got me into incredible bushwhacking, e.g. slot canyons completely blocked by mostly dead oak trees/bushes. At one point I followed a downward-pointing line quite a ways: at the point of no go (it was getting late), decided to try going straight up rather than retrace my steps a long ways back horizontally, and, sure enough, was able to intercept and regain the line of cairns, a couple of hundred feet above.

This kept going, first up, then horizontal, for another long time, then some very unlikely steps around aretes etc, and at long last a major gully system was reached and the cairns finally started marching downward—and led to the “dirty” gully described in Handren's guidebook.

So, there are in fact two completely separate descent lines on the south side of the west ridge, that meet the wash at two different points. The one I had just descended I failed to see or find on the way up two days earlier.

With the light of the waxing moon I hiked down the creekbed, which got quite arduous at the mouth of the canyon (where I had thrashed through the bush above the wash the previous trip). This time, bare feet in sandals, I just waded through the pools of water whenever useful (didn't get thirsty on this descent; there was also water on the north slopes I had explored that afternoon). The moon kept shining, the headlamp stayed in the pack. Finally I left the wash on the Cat approach trail, and soon after back down again, through trees, presumably the same trail I had ascended twice in the morning, --- what's that on the ground in front of my foot glinting in the moonlight? Yup, there were my sunglasses, not even scratched!!

Back at the car, no parking ticket under the wiper, one more vehicle in the parking lot. I can see the headlamps approaching from Oak Creek, they had done something on the Rainbow Wall.

A traverse that I can warmly recommend. If I hadn't let myself be sucked into exploratory digressions, I would have been back comfortably early. But the exploring was fun.

Solar Slab linkup

A ropeless circuit. Johnny Vegas, Goin Nuts, upper Solar Slab, all straightforward. At the highest point of the Solar Slab dome, looked up: the climb up to the top of Rainbow Mountain up an obvious gully did not look like it would be all that difficult. In front of me, right next to to the steep upper wall, a gully/groove led diagonally downward to the west to easier ground, it was so intuitive that I just gave it a try, without consulting the walk-down descent beta I had gleaned from Mountain Project. (In retrospect, I find the instructions to “go to the rappel anchor, then climb back up” needlessly confusing.) This brought me to a pleasant landing, with an inviting slab leading downward. It soon became evident that this was leading to a big drop-off, so I consulted my beta, headed back up and to climber's right, and there was the rest of the descent as described. The flaring chimney looked suicidal and I looked for alternatives, but when I finally swallowed hard and tried it, it was really only 5.4.

Mr. Z/Peanut Brittle

Peanut was the harder of the two routes. The chimney at the bottom of Myster Z was easily bypassed on the left. The 5.7 may have looked like 5.7 from below, but with bomber holds and jams was really not that hard. Whereas, if the short “overhanging” chimney on Peanut Brittle was the 5.7 crux, there was a lot of more sustained 5.7 higher up. Like Cat, hard to figure out just where you were. The “pull over the roof” at the start of the last pitch maybe really was only 5.5, but only once you had figured out the moves. A very classic/exposed traverse problem.

Contouring from the top of Jackrabbit to start of Peanut got me into a fair amount of bushwhacking, but any exploring around here can't avoid that. The descent from the Gunsight was also ropeless (didn't use the handline), but the main chimney near the bottom would be nothing for short people: my own legs just barely reached across.

Ridge between Icebox Canyon and Pine Creek

I had looked at this from the road many times, and after plans to do Bridge Mountain with Wayne were scrubbed I decided to try ascending this ridge to see how close it got me to Bridge.

Striking out diagonally leftward from the parking lot I soon found myself ascending a gully toward some steep cliffs. Bushwhacking not too bad, mostly rocks in unconsolidated sand. Once one the size of a small refrigerator “lost its footing” in the sand and headed down the slope – I was just able to jump out of the way in time.

The cliffs I turned on climber's left and soon saw my first cairn. These cairns followed a ledge system one or two hundred feet below the ridgeline, a bit like my descent from Mescalito.

At the point where one entered the red sandstone the cairns did exactly what I had anticipated and headed upward, leading me into a devious route that wove its way through pillars and chimneys: thank you, I would never have figured it out on my own!

At one point the cairn showed a route up a strenuous-looking corner: I quickly found a better route just to the right that involved partial climbing of a small tree – at the top of this I built a small cairn of my own.

In best alpine tradition a bit of fifth-class climbing at the very top. Grand views in all directions. What I assumed was Vista Point was still 1/2 mile away and looked like it might involve some technical difficulty. Bridge Mountain itself looked like about 2 miles further.

Incredibly, when I turned on my phone, it informed me that it was connecting me to wi fi. The signal was not really strong enough to do anything with, otherwise I could have Skyped with a few people and showed them the view!

Man's Best Friend

As never fails to confirm itself: the closer to the ground, the stiffer the ratings. 5.7 here far more challenging than high up on huecos. As I had anticipated, an absolutely straightforward descent led left, down, and around to the start of the climb. Technically easier than the step down into the gully on the approach. Even for parties with a rope, the rappel makes no sense whatsoever.

First Creek Slabs

Having done considerable research on Mountain Project, I came to the conclusion that a ropeless descent from the upper ledge system should be possible. I would reconnoiter the route by ascending it. Key would be a descent of Rising Moons. From the top of Moons one could reverse the descent scramble from the top of Algae on Parade described in Fun Climbs; from the top of Algae there would be an easy ascent to the upper ledges – described in a Mountain Project post as a way of accessing the top of the rappel route (!)

I followed the trail to the base of the cliff, where I immediately saw a 4th class ascent to the terrace above the chimney of Pitch 1. On the second pitch was a roped party, so I ascended the face to the right of the corner: done this way the pitch is easier than 5.5. P 3 is also easier: as stated above, the higher you get, the softer the ratings.

So far so good. The key to the route would not be a problem.

Nor was the continuation. From the top of Moons a 45 degree chimney invited me easily up, hard up against the steep wall below Sunset Slab. At the top of this I could see the bushy traverse leftward to the top of Algae, but the line straight on up looked so inviting that I decided to give it a try. A series of slabs, that more or less paralleled the rappel route. Never harder than 4th class.

But, almost at the top, only perhaps 200 feet below the big pine tree, a headwall. The main corner (rappel route) looked forbiddingly slick. A crack a few yards to the right had a spot with bomber fingerlocks, but continued on a frighteningly slick scoop. However a horizontal traverse on slabs to the right for 25 feet looked like it could bring me to a possible line. This was followed, with at least two awkward 5.6-ish cruxes and many twists and turns, to the ledge and the pine tree.

Here is a concise description for the descent (I got off route more than once, even though I had just ascended it): 50 feet west (northwest) of the tree, and west of the big cairn, there is a smaller cairn that points you diagonally up skiers left from the ledge, away from the rappel route. Follow your nose, and some cairns, first up and over and then down, with many twists and turns and some very awkward spots. When you finally arrive at a small pine tree, do not continue on down, but traverse absolutely horizontally skiers right toward the main corner and the rappel route. From here the descent is never harder than 4th class. When, about halfway down to the top of Rising Moons, you come upon a huge cairn, traverse skiers left, past a rappel anchor, into a pleasant 45 degree chimney/groove, which takes you all the way down to Moons. Descend Moons; if you traverse 15 feet right from the chimney of Pitch 1, 4th class terrain leads you down to the top of the approach trail.

Conclusion: while the ledge system can be reached/descended from this way, climbing to/from the top of Algae on Parade will probably prove an easier alternative. My project for 2017.

Healyje · · PDX · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 456

First rule of soloing is...

MojoMonkey · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2009 · Points: 66
Healyje wrote:First rule of soloing is...
...brag about your decades-long abstinence from tape? I'm sure that guy was impressed.
William Thiry · · Las Vegas · Joined Dec 2011 · Points: 45

Hey Reinhard. Thanks for posting the very nice write-up on your wanderings around Red Rock. I enjoyed reading your trip report better than most. I believe we are kindred spirits in our pure appreciation for exploration and adventure in high dramatic places.

Seth Jones · · New Lenox, IL · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 25

Good story. Just kidding, it's way too long for me to read.

earl mcalister · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 186

Im thinking all this narcisistic spray should be in the trip report section and not here. Keep your adventures to yourself, lest you encourage others to go kill themselves soloing rarely touched choss so they can boast about themselves on the internet. No one cares how cool you are dude.

frank minunni · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined May 2011 · Points: 92

I threw up in my mouth. Do you not have any friends to spray in person? When we soloed, we didn't talk about beforehand and we certainly go spraying it for the world to hear. To say I'm unimpressed would be an understatement. I don't see how anyone could read that entire post.

Doug Foust · · Henderson, Nevada · Joined Sep 2008 · Points: 165
Healyje wrote:First rule of soloing is...
Making bad decisions then spraying on Mountain Project
Dave Miller · · Boulder · Joined Feb 2006 · Points: 0

Soloing IMHO is a very personal style of climbing. If you are doing it for anyone but yourself you are a dangerous and your days are numbered..

Tylerpratt · · Litchfield, Connecticut · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 35

I was a couple paragraphs in before I got so fucking bored I just skipped to the comments.

Seth Jones · · New Lenox, IL · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 25
Dave Miller wrote:Soloing IMHO is a very personal style of climbing. If you are doing it for anyone but yourself you are a dangerous and your days are numbered..
Let's not shit ourselves. It's dangerous regardless of your reasons for doing it.
Bill Kirby · · San Francisco CA · Joined Jul 2012 · Points: 480

I found the story full of beta for roped climbing and pretty wild that a 70 year old guy would be capable of such a day. It was a long story but it was time well spent in the head this morning. It took me about five minutes and was better reading than redundant cords and everyone talking shit to what's her face.

Seth Jones · · New Lenox, IL · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 25
Bill Kirby wrote: I found the story full of beta for roped climbing and pretty wild that a 70 year old guy would be capable of such a day. It was a long story but it was time well spent in the head this morning. It took me about five minutes and was better reading than redundant cords and everyone talking shit to what's her face.
Oh Bill, shit talking is always more entertaining than unsolicited spray.
Bill Kirby · · San Francisco CA · Joined Jul 2012 · Points: 480
Seth Jones wrote: Oh Bill, shit talking is always more entertaining than unsolicited spray.
Not even, I've had enough conversations with her, even plans to ice climb, to know.. She sits around with her friends and laughes at the replies she gets. Kinda like my first post on MP.

But hey I only lead 5.6 and will clip a bolt so what do I know.

Back to trading.. Now there's unsolicited spray!
Adam Stackhouse · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 13,335


Your post has been moved to the "Trip Reports" section of the forums

MojoMonkey · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2009 · Points: 66

Teasing aside - glad you had fun out there and I'm sure the descent info may help someone else out. Even if after a while I switched to skimming.

Seth Jones · · New Lenox, IL · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 25
Bill Kirby wrote: Not even, I've had enough conversations with her, even plans to ice climb, to know.. She sits around with her friends and laughes at the replies she gets. Kinda like my first post on MP. But hey I only lead 5.6 and will clip a bolt so what do I know. Back to trading.. Now there's unsolicited spray!
I don't even know who you are talking about. Trollenor?
Bill Kirby · · San Francisco CA · Joined Jul 2012 · Points: 480
Seth Jones wrote: I don't even know who you are talking about. Trollenor?
Don't say it two more times or this thread will turn on a dime. Think Beetlejuice :)
Walter Galli · · Las vegas · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 2,267

Have any pics?

Josh Noe · · Seattle, WA · Joined Jun 2013 · Points: 0

Great write-up Reinhard. Nice to meet you downclimbing our rappel route this weekend. I hope I can even make the approach to Cat in the Hat at 71 years old.

Greg Decker · · Reston, Virginia · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 10


Loved your trip report. I climbed all 10+ pitches of Dark Shadows a few weeks ago and like you ended up following cairns aimlessly until we hit a huge chimney rappel (in he dark no less). We finally made it back to the car around 10pm in good spirits. What an adventure!


Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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