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Routes in Chaos Crag

Duck Soup T 5.10 6b 20 VII- 19 E2 5b R
Edge of Chaos T 5.11a 6c 22 VII+ 22 E3 5c
Mucho Jale T 5.12b 7b 26 VIII+ 26 E5 6b
Type: Trad, Alpine, 600 ft, 4 pitches, Grade III
FA: Rick Meleski & Doug Bridgers, FFA Paul Horak, Mark Dalen, Andrew Embick
Page Views: 665 total, 9/month
Shared By: Mark Dalen on Feb 1, 2012
Admins: Aaron Hobson, Jason Halladay, Anthony Stout, LeeAB Brinckerhoff, Marta Reece, Drew Chojnowski

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Duck Soup began life as a partial aid climb (5.9, A3) with short sections of hooking & thin nailing on P2 & P3 & a short bolt ladder over a red wall on P4. Established by Meleski & Bridgers in the summer of 1976 it soon drew the attention of Paul Horak & Mark Dalen who free-climbed that Fall to the base of P4, returning Spring 1977 with a new partner.

In the scope of his lifetime I wonder if anyone even remembers Andy Embick's adventures in New Mexico. They fall between his exploits in the Kitchatnas & his later career as promoter of Valdez ice climbing, extreme kayaker, irritable defender of human-powered travel, ocean paddler & of course, through it all, physician. In 1977, fresh out of Harvard Medical school & interning at the Gallup Indian Hospital, Andy was lured to Albuquerque with a shot at freeing the last pitch of Duck Soup. There was no doubt Paul could handle it, Andy just brought unique skills to the project. As his work on Crack of Heraclitus shows Andy was never one to let a little thing like free or even clean climbing stand in the way of an FA. By the same token when free climbing was called for he would spare no expense in creating the most elaborate nettings of opposed stoppers & tied-off blades offering at least psychological protection if nothing else. His skills came into play during the FFA of Duck Soup with Andy contributing to the last pitch wearing his signature red-white-&-blue ski cap with the elastic chin strap. Here is how it went on the FFA link-up:

P1: Andy led the initial 'disconnected cracks' of the Hill guide (5.7) as a kind of warm-up leading to a belay below the big red roof.

P2: After clipping the bolt above the belay Paul re-led this dicey straight-across traverse (5.10) to the start of the main crack, then about 20 feet up it to a nice belay ledge. As this traverse is run-out the leader can take comfort knowing his second faces the same big whipper he does.

P3: Ten feet above the belay ledge is a quarter-inch Rawl that was placed (& promptly tested) on the first free-climb attempt. After clipping this bolt thin face moves (5.10) led up to a finger crack that soon widens to 5.9 hand & fist through the overhang which seems tame by comparison. Run up the rest of the crack protecting at will until just below the red overhang.

P4: Disregarding the bolt ladder to the right ascend broken humpy rock (5.10) to an alcove on the left. Here Embick placed his first anchors since leaving the belay, a preposterous netting of wonky nuts before moving out the left side of the alcove. Here the leader will find a feature that makes the whole climb possible: a thin blade of rock wedged in a crack tightly as if the rock has grown around it. Pulling out & over requires total commitment that is rewarded by a stimulating romp up rock steps of impeccable quality to the top.

Descend per photo/topo via full rappel off backside (facing Torreon).


Duck Soup generally follows the diagonal fracture plainly visible from across the canyon. First two pitches are spent mainly in getting to this line ...


Single bolt on P2 & P3, 3-bolt ladder on P4 for the aid finish. Full trad rack including small wireds. Two sections of serious runout may well have kept crowds down on Duck Soup. Doug Bridgers was advised about these sections before he went up to do the second free ascent (3rd overall) BITD, but if he took along a bolt kit he didn't use it, deeming the bolts unneeded. I disagreed with him then, would still disagree with him now & if the FFA team has any say in the matter, as I think they should, I would advise anyone repeating this route to add a bolt in each of these places: 1) midway through the traverse on P2, & 2) either at or below the alcove on P4. This is in addition to upgrading the two existing 1/4" bolts, the one starting the P2 traverse & the other just off the belay on P3.


Mark Dalen
Albuquerque, NM
Mark Dalen   Albuquerque, NM
George - thanks for the catch ... descent beta has been modified accordingly ... Jun 25, 2017
George Perkins
The Dungeon, NM
George Perkins   The Dungeon, NM
For this and other climbs on the right side of Chaos Crag, it's probably simpler and preferable to not try to traverse the ridge over to the Edge of Chaos raps; rather, go off the back side (toward Torreon) as shown on the photo/topo (1 ~150' rappel, but might be able to make it work with a single rope and shenanigans). Jun 24, 2017