Type: Trad, 1000 ft (303 m), 14 pitches
FA: FA: Joe Herbst & Larry Hamilton - April, 1973FFA: Leo Henson & Dan McQuade - 199?
Page Views: 129,107 total · 555/month
Shared By: Josh Janes on Feb 19, 2004
Admins: Justin Johnsen, Luke EF, Larry DeAngelo, Aaron Mc

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Access Issue: Red Rock RAIN AND WET ROCK: The sandstone is fragile and is very easily damaged when wet. Details


The Original Route on the Rainbow Wall is perhaps Red Rocks’ finest route. It is certainly a crown jewel in terms of achievement: Once you’ve climbed it, things like Levitation 29 and Cloud Tower seem like cragging routes.

Once and strangely still a popular aid route, the Original Route is now all-free. During the free ascent in the mid '90's, 40-some-odd bolts were added to the climb. This is indeed absurd, and shortly thereafter all the bolts were chopped. Since then a handful of protection bolts have been replaced as well as bolted belays. It's too bad there are so many blemishes on the rock (both patched and unpatched bolt holes, and plenty of old relic bolts that need to be pulled). However, were it not for the scars from bashing pins, the route probably wouldn't go free at all.

Sustained, technical climbing, flawless rock, corner after steep corner of stems, locks, and intricate face sequences, and generally good gear lends this climb classic status. In my opinion, all of those factors, combined with the ability to climb the route with a light rack and a single rope, an incredible view, and an approach that keeps the crowds away, make this one of the most perfect rock climbing experiences imaginable.

First things first: a WAG bag should be standard equipment for any Red Rocks climber. Pick one up before you hike in there, use it, and hike it out with you when you're done.

The line is obvious: The major dihedral system in the center of the wall. A couple landmarks include the half-way ledge (Over the Rainbow Ledge) and the Red Dihedral – a striking left-facing corner at the top of the wall. The Original Route launches directly up into the corner system from below with a stout 12b pitch close to the deck, then follows some terraces up and right to Over the Rainbow Ledge and finally traverses back left and up to the Red Dihedral which is followed to the top of the wall.

The major variation to the climb is Dan McQuade’s Rainbow Country (5.12d) which straightens out the line by skipping the terraces leading up to Over the Rainbow Ledge in favor of some steep, hard face and crack pitches that link almost directly into the Red Dihedral. One should also note that Rainbow Country includes a variation to the left of the Original Route's first two pitches that avoids the 12b second pitch in favor of some very high quality 5.11d climbing, though the best way to climb it is via the harder, direct path.

A second major variation is that of the Swainbow Wall – basically an easy escape route that launches straight up from Over the Rainbow Ledge, avoiding the Red Dihedral altogether.

A sensible way to climb the route for the first time would be to climb the left-hand variation of pitches one and two, thus avoiding the 5.12b corner, then continuing with the Original Route to the top. On the last pitch of the Red Dihedral, one might consider taking a minor left-hand variation which is slightly easier (see the description for pitch 13 below). This path would maximize the high-quality climbing while keeping the difficulty in check at around 5.12a.

Perhaps the next time on the route, or for parties looking for the greatest challenge possible, the route could be climbed via the right-hand variation of the first two pitches (5.12b), the Rainbow Country variation (5.12d), and then the right-hand variation of pitch 13 (5.12b).

Some other minor notes: The climb is north facing and receives shade. Actually the Red Dihedral sees morning sun, but your chances of being there for it (barring a bivy on Over the Rainbow Ledge) seem slim… dress accordingly. The approach is semi-arduous, and although it can be done in around 1:30, picking a path through the drainage of Juniper Canyon can be challenging the first time. Once underneath the wall, steep slabs present a final obstacle – these are sometimes made easier by perennial fixed lines. If the lines aren't in place, the slab can be climbed at 5.2 left of the fall line.

P1&2: Two options: 1) Begin directly below the corner system and climb 5.6 ledges and face to a belay at a modern bolt and a quarter-incher. This short pitch of 5.6 can easily be linked into the next one. Continue up into the blank corner past two bolts. A reachy 5.12b move will get you to a bolted belay. Excellent climbing. 2) Alternatively, begin well left of this start and climb up a leaning corner system past six bolts (being careful getting to the first bolt) to the belay above the 5.12b section. This checks in at 5.11d and is also excellent.

P3: Step up into a wide layback immediately off the belay continuing through some decent stances. Head up the corner until reaching an obvious point to wildly step out right onto the face (the aid line goes straight up). Clip a bolt and then climb up the slightly past-vertical face past a second bolt before stepping back into the corner and continuing to a bolted belay. Sustained, reachy, awesome! 5.11d.

P4: Continue straight up the crack system at mid-5.11? This pitch is much easier than the last. Belay at two bolts.

P5: This pitch is rated 5.11c but 5.11a might be more accurate. Carefully ascend a long, hollow flake (decent gear), passing a bolt, then continue on easier ground up to a roof. Undercling and jam around it to the right. Skip the first anchor (just past the roof) which is used for rapping, and belay above at another bolted anchor. A long pitch.

P6: Continue up the right facing corner, deciding whether to continue up the Original Route or to take the direct line of Rainbow Country* The rock is lower quality here but only slightly so. Mid 5.10. If following the original route, belay at some bolts by a small tree which at the start of the ledgy terrain. There is a bit of fixed line here which you may wonder about – it facilitates rappelling the route with a 60m rope.

P7&8: Perhaps best simul-climbed… Walk and scramble up and right and up and right, passing a few short, steep sections. There’s maybe a move or two of generally well-protected 5.9 here and there, but most of it is 3rd and 4th class. Eventually this reaches a bolt at a left-facing corner where the ledge system terminates. Belay here.

P9: Traverse out right and around the arête onto the very exposed face. Follow this up junky, but easy, rock to Over the Rainbow Ledge. This is a short, exposed pitch of 5.6 or 5.7.

From this point decide whether to continue up the Original Route or to take the easy Swainbow Wall** escape.

P10: Traverse straight left off the belay on narrow foot ledges. Exposed! Gear is not too great here, but there is one old bolt and a cam placement or two. Out to the left there’s a bolted anchor used for rapping, but the goal is to launch straight up to the base of the huge left-facing corner above (the Red Dihedral). Belay at bolts at the base of the Red Dihedral. 5.7-5.8.

P11: If you chose to avoid the 5.12b second pitch and Rainbow Country, this is the crux pitch. Although it is rated 11d, I believe it deserves 12a. Launch up the corner via liebacks, stems, and long reaches. The gear is quite good but some holds are better than others for placing it. The crux itself is not too far off the belay and is protected by a bomber glue-in bolt; creative stemming and reach helps here. Perhaps the best pitch on a climb full of amazing pitches. 5.12a.

P12: Continue up the corner with more of the same style of climbing. The first 20 feet are the hardest and it is more sustained than the previous pitch. High on the pitch there is a place to traverse left to a stance on the face and belay at a bolted anchor, despite the obvious path (the old aid line) continuing up the corner. The traverse itself has the potential for a nasty penji back into the corner – especially if the highest bolt, a 1/4 incher, were to fail. 5.11d/5.12a.

P13: Two options: 1) Traverse back into the corner and continue up to a stance beneath the roof. Move leftwards with creativity, trusting one's shoe rubber, eventually turning the roof system at it's left end. 5.12b. This is a Rainbow Country variation. For easier climbing... 2) Alternatively, from the belay downclimb and traverse left to a shallow left-facing corner. Climb up this to merge with the other variation just before it turns the roof. 5.11a. Both variations pull through the roof at the same point on decent gear and some fixed pro. Belay at bolts up in a cave/alcove.

P14: Pull through the top of the cave on 5.10 flared hands and then continue up on easy ground, skipping a bolted belay out left. A short low fifth class scramble leads to a tree with rap slings and the top of the wall. There are also bolts way back from the edge.

Raps will take you generally down the route but sometimes onto the face to the left. The entire route can be rapped with a single 60m rope but a 70m makes it easier.

*Rainbow Country. This basically makes an awesome climb completely superb by straightening out the line, avoiding all the ledgey crap, and adding several amazing pitches. First, do the harder starting pitch. Then, from the anchor at the top of P5, head up the right-facing corner, but instead of going right at the top, head up and left, skipping an intermediate anchor out left and heading up a system of steep flakes and cracks. Runner your gear well as there is rope drag. Belay at a bolted anchor above a huge hollow block. 5.11a, a long pitch. From here, head up a crazy overhanging chimney system. A few bolts protect. At the top, pull over a bulge (wild 5.11) on jugs to a bolted belay. Next is the crux (5.12d) pitch: Do some interesting face climbing sequences past a few bolts to a stance below a shallow right-facing corner. Using the corner and arete, perform a difficult to read sequence up to a precarious stem. A few more moves lead to a thank-god hand jam and then a really exposed move back out onto the arete and up the wall above. 6 bolts and a single medium/large stopper placement near the top lead to a bolted belay. Finally, traverse straight right (5.12a move) past three bolts and then up into the Red Dihedral, belaying at the base of P11 as described above. Finish with the 12b upper Red Dihedral variation.

**Swainbow Wall. This is an easy escape to the top of the wall from Over the Rainbow Ledge. I haven’t climbed it and won’t attempt to describe it until I have, but I honestly can’t imagine doing so… perhaps it would make sense if you find yourself at the ledge without enough daylight remaining to complete the Original Route. Nevertheless, I would sooner bail from the amazing climbing of the Red Dihedral than miss out on it entirely.


Guidebooks generally recommend a full set of cams through #4 Camalot, a set of wires including RP's, and draws. I recommend:

1 ea. Purple TCU's or equivalent
2 ea. Blue TCU's or equivalent
2 ea. Yellow TCU's or equivalent
2 ea. 0.5 Camalots
1 ea. 0.75 through #2 Camalots
1 set Wires
A dozen slings or draws

A single 60m rope is sufficient for getting up and getting down, but a 70 is nicer.