Type: Trad, Alpine, 1100 ft, 9 pitches, Grade V
FA: Doug Bridgers, Peter Prandoni, 1979
Page Views: 2,753 total · 22/month
Shared By: Jason Halladay on Aug 27, 2008
Admins: Jason Halladay, Anthony Stout, LeeAB Brinckerhoff, Marta Reece, Drew Chojnowski

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Access Issue: Juan Tabo Canyon is subject to annual access closures from March 1 to August 15. Details
Access Issue: Seasonal raptor closure for some areas in the Sandias Details
Access Issue: Seasonal Falcon Closure Details


Rainbow Dancer is a committing route up the Shield flirting with the large arching roofs (rainbows) in the middle of the wall. Protection and route-finding can be difficult.

P1: (5.9+ R) Begin with some relatively unprotected face climbing following a bushy corner system up and then move right to left-facing corner and a bolted belay. 110 ft.

P2: (5.8) Enjoy really fun, clean corner climbing chock full of laybacking and stemming for ~160 feet to a nice belay ledge on top of the corner. Belay from two buttonhead bolt/hangers and a fixed nut. The cord attaching these fixed pieces could use replacing. 160 ft.

P3: (5.10+) Head pretty much straight up into a small right-facing corner with finger crack. Pull through the difficult but well-protected 5.10+ moves to gain a decent stance. From the top of the finger crack, head left traversing through interesting face moves passing a piton (maybe two?) before heading up vertical crack. Look for a fixed belay in the crack. In Aug. 2008 we could see slings up there but opted to set an uncomfortable hanging belay in the crack system about 12 short of the fixed anchor. 100 ft.

P4: (5.10- R) From the belay, place some gear high in the crack to protect the next slightly runout slab moves and then head pretty much straight right across the face. Before committing to the moves, plan ahead as protection is sparse and the moves may not be obvious. Tip-toe your way through the slab moves to the right to nice big, flakes. Continue traversing past two big flakes and then head up to the belay just below and at the right end of the big roof above. A piton and a buttonhead connected with shoddy webbing serve as the fixed anchor. This is the last place to rappel easily so take new webbing if you think you might end up rapping. 110 ft.

P5: (5.10) Bust out right out the end of the roof on some questionable rock and then move up. Once above the roof, traverse left above the roof through tricky 5.10 climbing aiming for the left end of the next roof. Finish up with some 5.10 mantle-like moves to a belay on a generous ledge next to a huge flake. 90 ft.

P6: (5.11-) Step left and mount the giant flake for some nicely exposed moves. A sling over the top of the flake will protect the moves to gain the top of the flake. Climb leftish towards a triangular roof, find some pro, and then trend right again to place yourself above the big roof and head towards a left-facing corner. Don’t get suckered up the right-facing corner directly above the big flake—it gets hard and hard to protect up there. (In Aug. 2008 there was some fixed gear up there apparently from someone that bailed from that point.) Follow the left-facing corner up towards a whitish bulge/roof but move left across the face before reaching the white rock. Clip a fixed pin and swing left around the corner on super thin moves (5.11-) to a good stance. Head up into the right-facing corner and belay. 150 ft.

P7: (5.10) Traverse right past some crappy rock into a cleaner right-facing corner. Stem and face climb up the corner to a belay at a decent ledge at the top of the corner. 150 feet.

P8: (5.7) Climb up and leftish through ledges, loose blocks, face moves and the occasional nice corner picking the path of least resistance and best rock towards some large vegetated ledges below some clean faces. A good-sized tree could serve as a nice belay anchor. 165 ft.

P9: (5.6 or 5.9) From the ledges and tree head right towards an angling 5.6 corner and to the summit. Alternatively, head left/up on moderate but unprotected face climbing to a large dihedral. Climb the large dihedral (5.9) to the summit. Some simul-climbing may be necessary. 200 ft.


Uphill (right of) Procrastination. Start right of a black colored arching corner (~30 feet left of the dark-painted bolt hangers on Promise Land.) Rapping with double ropes from the top of P4 is possible. After that, continue to the top or leave a bunch of gear.


A full set of nuts, including micro nuts, single set of TCUs, doubles of camalots from .3 to #2. A #3 was comforting for me and we placed it a few times but you could probably get away without it.


Josh Smith  
The first pitch is a vertical garden, but after that it gets a lot cleaner. On P1, after about fifty feet, you have a choice of going left to a prominent dihedral, or slightly right up groves to the main dihedral above. Both are kind of loose and dirty, but the right variation is more direct and slightly easier. Both end at the 1st bolted anchor.

Last pitch, I strongly recommend the left variation if you don't mind thirty feet of 5.6R at the start (the rock is great). The left exit dihedral is excellent 5.8/9. The right variation is fine but very easy.

This is a terrific full-on adventure route with good route finding challenges, some dirt, some loose rock, and some very fun climbing in between; classic Sandias! If Procrastination & Slipping Into Darkness get three stars, so does this one. Sep 11, 2008
LeeAB Brinckerhoff
  5.11 R
LeeAB Brinckerhoff   ABQ, NM  
  5.11 R
Rockenerring, I believe is what they call it.
-The first pitch is not really R, a yellow then a green alien fit nicely in some slots, then a bush or a tree tie off and a #3 camelot all in the first 30+ feet.
-The anchors on this route could use some love.
-Ripper and I both thought the crux move seemed to be quite a bit more difficult than 5.11a.
-The left finish is good except for that nasty spikey bush about half way up that you have to try to get around. Oh and it's more like 50-60 feet of 5.6R to get to the corner, still relatively easy and on some of the best rock on the route, so not really a big deal.

-On the third pitch we stopped at the bottom of the vertical crack where there is a nice shelf. Doing this makes the 4th pitch quite long, though you are further from the belay when you start the traverse which I think is a good thing since you have more rope out which would lead to a better catch in the event of a fall.
-The sling that is up there is not actually an anchor, it just runs through a spot in the crack where it pinches down, it is nice to clip it though before doing the traverse even though you have to do an extra move to get up to it.
-A couple of DMM Revolvers are sweet on this route to limit rope drag with all the wandering. Sep 21, 2008
Jason Halladay
Los Alamos, NM
Jason Halladay   Los Alamos, NM  
LeeAB wrote:-Ripper and I both thought the crux move seemed to be quite a bit more difficult than 5.11a.
I'm glad to hear that! Those moves did feel a bit tougher to me too. Sep 22, 2008
LeeAB Brinckerhoff
  5.11 R
LeeAB Brinckerhoff   ABQ, NM  
  5.11 R
OH, this should be a Grade IV not a V, as grade V implies 2 or more days to complete the route. The only grade V, I know of is Purple Haze which is 5.11 A4 or so, everything else is a long day. Sep 23, 2008
Morrison, CO
Monomaniac   Morrison, CO  
Isn't the "Steck-Salathe" on Sentinel a Grade V? I think nowadays people think one-long-day when they see Grave V. Grade VI in a day (Reg NW Face 1/2dome) is becoming pretty commonplace. Sep 23, 2008
LeeAB Brinckerhoff
  5.11 R
LeeAB Brinckerhoff   ABQ, NM  
  5.11 R
For starters, 2 points:

-First, The Scenic Cruise is a Grade IV, always has been as far as I know, even though many parties may spend an unplanned night up there, and most of the free routes on the Diamond are also Grade IV, or conversely V-, which seems kind of silly to me since basically everyone climbs those routes in a day, in fact most in half a day because of the threat of afternoon storms. Yet most of the aid climbs on the Diamond are Grade V. Also, Moonlight Buttress would make sense as a Grade V since most parties are probably still aid climbing that route.

-Second, anyone who gets on Rainbow Dancer is going to be a 5.11 or better climber so why should they get credit for doing a Grade V when the 5.8 climber that does the SW Ridge of the Needle or Procrastination, both of which are longer only get credit for doing a Grade IV?

Isn't the "Steck-Salathe" on Sentinel a Grade V?
I'm not sure if it still is, I know in the Valley at least with aid ratings basically everything has been down graded. However the Steck-Salathe is 16 pitches as opposed to 8 or 9 with I believe 9 of those pitches being 5.8 or 5.9, so again for someone climbing the grade the S-S would be a far more time consuming route than Rainbow Dancer would be for someone who would get on it. Looking at the 1994 edition of Yose Free Climbs however, all the routes that are definitely grade V and VI have that listed before the difficulty rating and just a couple of grade IV's have it listed. The S-S and Astroman both do not have a V prior to the difficulty which would lead me to believe that at that time they were considered Grade IV's.

-I'm not however saying that parties have not spent the night on Rainbow Dancer or that the FA only took one day. I just think that Rainbow Dancer has seen very few ascents and so there was very little input into the grade, both time commitment and difficulty.

-From Peter Crofts, "The Good, The Great and The Awesome"
I- Up to a few hours
II- About half a day
III- An easy to moderate day
IV- a full day
V- A day and a half to 2 days
VI- More than 2 days
These grades are for the average climber. . .

It would seem to me that if the "average" climber is not capable of the route then you need to base the time commitment grade on a climber that is able to compete the route. I'm not saying that Rainbow Dancer is too difficult for the "average" climber, since I don't know where exactly that barrier lies, but at some point as routes get more difficult that threshold will be passed, at which point everything would have to be Grade VI at least since they just would not be able to climb the thing, right? Sep 24, 2008
Morrison, CO
Monomaniac   Morrison, CO  
Obviously steck-salathe is not a grave V by modern stadards, but I prefer for the route to keep its historical rating (the FA took 5 days!). It serves as a good reminder of the challenges our forebearers faced.

I haven't done Rainbow Dancer, but the SW Ridge of the Needle is not a sustained climb. I think that, as much as anything, contributes to the lower commitment rating. The Needle is probably a longer day since the approach & descent are more invovled, but the actual rock climbing is mostly trivial scrambling that can be done in a few hours.

Also, isn't Purple Haze a grade VI in Schein's book?

Anyway, I think you are correct that some of these commitment ratings would not hold up elsewhere. But the Sandias are kind of unique (considering the difficulty of approach & routefinding) and I think, in this case, the Grade V serves the pupose of alerting the reader that this is one of the most commiting climbs in the range, and I think that is an appropriate use of the grade.

Either way, entertaining discussion.

Next we can debate whether Estrellita should have a bolted anchor... Sep 24, 2008
LeeAB Brinckerhoff
  5.11 R
LeeAB Brinckerhoff   ABQ, NM  
  5.11 R
I would agree that more climbers should take the time to appreciate the history of climbing, but the place to put the history is not in the current guide, though some of the new books that offer historic tales etc. about routes do provide this info in an appropriate way. Grades are simply a way for a climber to figure out what they should get on and what they are getting themselves into, as such they should be as consistent as possible from area to area so that they are not "local only" applicable, if that were the case, every area should use its own grading system.

About the Steck-Salathe, Yes the FA took 5 days, but it also involved quite a bit of aid climbing, the second eliminated most of that and took 2 days. So technically when put up, it was VI 5.9 A3, but you really can't give a commitment grade based off the FA since there is so much more of an unknown when putting up a route, I mean, does it even go? Drilling bolts, cleaning cracks, following cracks that deadened, etc.

I had not really paid that much attention to Purple Haze, since I have no desire to do anymore hard aid, but yes the Schein book does give it a Grade VI, which may or may not be appropriate, it does have 3 pitches given A3, one of which is called the 9 to 5 pitch which would imply that it took most of one day and additionally it has a pitch given A4+ which would take a pretty long time to lead in it's self. I also believe this was put up in the winter, so shorter days. Lastly my guess would be that it has not been repeated so the grade is solely based on the FA.

So, I guess that if Purple Haze holds the VI then possibly the Sandias don't have a single Grade V route since nothing else is more than a long day.

OH and George, I lack a scanner but I drew a topo that is more detailed than the one in Mick's book and an essay of a route description. If you want it let me know and I can find a way to get it to you, or I may photo copy it and leave it at Stone Age in the local area info binder. Sep 24, 2008
I sent Purple Haze w/ Kevin Jaramillo in 2002 I think it was. It took us two nights and three days on the wall plus one day hauling gear and fixing two pitches. The nine to five pitch took me about 5 1/2 hours to lead and haul plus I added a bolt at the anchor. Supposedly it took Ely Lynn from 9 to 5 but as Lee pointed out that was the FA and he drilled 2 or three rivets as I recall. The A4+ pitch is all that and took Kevin around 8 hrs. There is a lot of other involved free and aid climbing on this route. Perhaps someone could send this route in one night or even one day but I think it warrants the grade VI as the vast majority of climbers that would try this route would take at least two nights to send. I think that by 'average' climber what we mean is the majority of climbers that would attempt a given route. There are a ton of Grade VI's that have been sent even more than once or twice in under 24 hrs but generally that doesn't happen.

Orange Sunshine is IMO a Grade V. Climbed this in around 18hrs car to summit in JAN '05 but I don't think that means Grade IV.

I haven't climbed the Rainbow Route but maybe it's a Grade V. Then again maybe it goes all free. I would sure like to find out.

Oh yeah, in regards to older grade VI's: not only do climber's techniques and equipment evolve allowing time required to be lessened, the routes themselves evolve. This is especially true with aid routes. The Shield (on el cap) used to be A5 with like 30 rurps in a row. Now it goes virtually clean dramatically reducing the time required. It could be argued that the grade VI shield of el cap is an entirely different climb than when it was first put up. Sep 25, 2008
Cowboy's Delight is given A3 in Mick's book and is part of Purple Haze but it is more like A2. Davito graded it A3 because he put it up before he owned any cams. Sep 25, 2008
David Baltz
Albuquerque, New Mexico
David Baltz   Albuquerque, New Mexico
I've done Rainbow Dancer four times over the years, usually starting up the trail at 4 am and getting home at 10 pm. Bridgers and Prandoni took 2 days on the FA, which I am sure is where the Grade V originally came from. I would call it a Grade V due to the length *and* the approach. There are two ways to do the crux: face climb, or layback. The layback is probably 11a, while the alternative is 11c. I find the traverse on P5 to be harder, but I'm tall. On P7, make sure to traverse *across* the ugly red dihedral to much better rock to the right of the dihedral. Dec 1, 2009
LeeAB Brinckerhoff
  5.11 R
LeeAB Brinckerhoff   ABQ, NM  
  5.11 R
Hey Dave, I was wondering with how you started your post, do you start from town or the crest? and by "home", you mean the car? You also state "the length *and* the approach" There are those that would argue that the "approach" can not be included, I for onr think that any part of it that requires light for someone going in for the first time should be included which for me would mean from the top of the Sield around to the base of the route, nothing else. It would not be a big deal to hike out with a headlamp and it sound as though you've done that, or maybe without.

Jason, sorry I obviously do not know of all the other aid lines on the wall since that really is not of much interest for me personally, but it certainly sounds as though there are other routes out there that are Grade V. Depending on what may or may not go free, maybe I should start studying the old Hill book.

I'm in no way arguing that the Nose on El Cap should be considered Grade III of IV since there are loads of people who do it that fast. The average party that is capable of doing the Nose, climbs 5.9, maybe 5.10 and will be aiding a large portion of the route and take 3 or more days. It is most certainly a Grade VI.
Where as the average party climbing Rainbow Dancer climbs 5.11 and there are, what, 3 or 4 pitches of 5.10 and one of 5.11 then several easier pitches on either end. Really the time commitment comes down to route finding.

In the end it is still like a YDS grade and it is just an opinion letting the user know what to expect. I feel as though if I tell someone who is able to do the route even if just barely, to expect a full day of climbing that I'm not sandbagging them. Just don't get off route more than once. Dec 3, 2009
David Baltz
Albuquerque, New Mexico
David Baltz   Albuquerque, New Mexico
Hey Lee. I've done the approach from the bottom twice, and from the top twice. Either way, it takes close to two hours--which, admittedly shouldn't be part of the grade--but still something to consider. Descending the Knife Edge in the dark can take four hours. I could see it called either a IV or a V, depending on the strength of the team but choose to err on the side of caution. The bivi at the top of P5 is really a nice one for those that want to take a couple of days on something close to their limit (like me!). Hicks and I bivied there also on the 2nd ascent. And, yes, I have descended from the top of the Shield in the dark more times than I care to count (with and without a headlamp). Dec 12, 2009
Ken Trout
Golden, CO
Ken Trout   Golden, CO
Rainbow Dancer is the free version of Rainbow Wall, the first direct route up the Shield. This was New Mexico's first big wall on granite ('73 or '74). It took more than two days for Mike Roybal and his partner to put it up. Mike was the best climber in New Mexico then. He was well trained on many Yosemite test-pieces.

Jan 20, 2011
I just stumbled onto all the comments about Rainbo Dancer. I kinda expected not to find any!!! They're all a bit dated, but seeing as I just found an old notebook of climbs I've done over the years that includes an account of Doug Bridgers and my ascent of Rainbo Dancer, I guess I'll throw my two cents in. The account of our ascent was written down shortly after Doug and I did the first one day ascent,,, the third ascent,,, and it includes the exact times of the entire day; May 14th, 1981. Even the spelling "Rainbo Dancer" heads my account of our climb. The rating is given as "V, 5.10".
Below are extracts of Doug's and my ascent taken from six full pages out of a 10.5x8 notebook that has numerous accounts and dates of climbs my partners and I had done during the 70-s and 80-s:

"At 5:06 we began hiking in the early morning twilight." "One hour and fifteen minutes of hiking and we were at the base of "the dreaded Rainbo Dancer" " At 7:10 I start the first pitch placing a piton(3/4 " ) fifteen feet or less off the ground." ".....43 minutes.....off belay." "Doug flashed the second pitch in exactly 20 min!" "I flashed the third pitch in an hour and ten minutes but created problems when I down-climbed from Dave's bolt [added when Dave Baltz and I did the 2nd ascent in three days] to Doug and Peter's original belay a few feet lower." [ paraphrase= talking Doug into using Dave's free variation instead of the original tension traverse which was the old slings marking the end of the 4th pitch. This allowed us to combine the 4th and 5th pitches with a little simul-climbing for a 180 ' pitch.]
"I began the crux pitch (our sixth) at 3:35 pm. Thanks to having lots of equipment and two ropes I was able to be the first person to lead this pitch complete. On the first two ascents (Doug & Peter/Dave & me) the leader had lead half the pitch then lowered off to spend the night and continue the lead the next day after cleaning some equipment low on the pitch to reduce rope drag and be used higher up. I used one other 3/4" piton on the pitch other than the fixed piton at the crux. After the crux (no falls) I climbed to a comfortable stance beside an overhang. Here lost a lot of valuable time trying to get pitons for a belay. By the time I called "off belay" it had been two hours &five minutes... yet a "flash" for that pitch(six cruxes or more!). After I called "off belay"I still spent a lot of time looking for more anchors. Finally I got a deep knifeblade and a short lost arrow... " "Doug led off [ now the seventh pitch instead of the original eighth pitch] up a rotten corner and when he took a ten foot leader fall onto a knifeblade I tried to talk him into doing Dave's and my version of this pitch,,, a corner to the left." "Doug went ahead & did the overhanging traverse to a ridge and brought me up when he ran out of rope. As I seconded (carrying the pack) I left the piton at the traverse, took the pack off & let it dangle then did the traverse on the first try. However, as I was doing the last few moves some blocks came off in my hands and I fell with them in a most spectacular manner with some of them bouncing off my legs. The blocks just missed the belay I had had below! " "I lead the unprotected 5.8 above,,, motivated by the storm! Doug flashed the last pitch and brought me up as darkness loomed. It was 8:02 when I called 'off belay' and scrambled higher to untie and coil a rope. "
[ To paraphrase= Doug talked me into using the Ramp to get back to the base of the climb. I had been psyched out by the wind after reaching the safety of the summit and didn't want to face anymore danger. We got to the base of the climb about 9:40 and ,,,] "At 10:25 we started hiking down in the wavering moonlight stopping only to get a drink and a water bottle full of the Shield's glistening moonlight white wine! What flavor! Stumbling and jogging on we got back to the truck at 11:42 ,,, before the midnight deadline for a free dinner by Dave who thought we might not be able to do the climb in one day!" "..... we drove to my apt. where we sorted gear, drank beer & remineced [ is how I spelt it in my account :op ] over the day."
" Thirteen hours=two minutes for the climb. Third ascent and first one day ascent. Nine pitches.
1= 5.9 2= 5.8 3= 5.10 4= 5.9 or 5.10 5= 5.10 6=5.10 7= 5.9 or 5.10 8= 5.8 9= 5.8
5:06 am to 11:42 pm car to car. Three non belay pitons. One fixed. "

[ I guess I wasn't adding too well when I wrote in my notebook, "Thirteen hours, two minutes for the climb." 7:10 am to 8:02 pm should be 'twelve hours, fifty-two minutes' ] Aug 13, 2016