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Rainbow Highway 

YDS: 5.10+ French: 6b+ Ewbanks: 21 UIAA: VII+ ZA: 20 British: E3 5b

Type:  Trad, Alpine, 7 pitches, 800'
Original:  YDS: 5.10+ French: 6b+ Ewbanks: 21 UIAA: VII+ ZA: 20 British: E3 5b [details]
FA: Ben Collett and Josh Thompson, July 2012
New Route: Yes
Page Views: 9,288
Submitted By: J. Thompson on Jul 28, 2012

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Me following Brent Butler on the amazing dihedral ...


Here's the description, I'll give my personal comments and more beta in a comment below:

Start on The Emerald Highway.

Pitch 1: start up a shallow, left-facing corner. After about 40 feet, it ends at a ledge. Above the ledge is an arch. Follow the arch to its apex, and face climb up to a small, bushy ledge above below another arch, 80 feet, 5.10+.

Pitch 2: climb straight up off the belay aiming for a bolt, just above a bulge created by the arch. After clipping the bolt, do a couple of moves up and then traverse left to another bolt. Gain a left-facing corner and continue up this to a 2 bolt anchor on a very nice ledge to the left. Pay close attention to gear through this section, it's there and it's good, 90 feet, 5.10-.

Pitch 3: climb up and right through a lower angle and vegetated section. You are aiming for the obvious, huge corner system above. Splitter cracks will appear on the left side. Climb the crack system to a 2 bolt belay at a stance on the right, 140 feet, 5.10.

Pitch 4: continue climbing up the huge dihedral above. This is a stellar pitch, combining various jamming techniques with liebacking, stemming, and face holds. Climb out the left side of a roof and continue up to a bolt on the left. Traverse left past the bolt and gain a nice ledge system and a 2 bolt belay, 120 feet, 5.10+.

Pitch 5: traverse left on the ledge system to a hand crack around the corner. Climb the crack (if you place gear here use a double runner)and follow the weakness back right into a left facing flake/crack. Continue up this feature to its top. Use awesome chickenheads (one is a 3 foot long tufa!) to ascend the blank face above. The face is protected by 2 bolts. Traverse back left on horizontals to a clean jam crack, which is ascended to yet another awesome belay stance with 2 bolts, 100 feet, 5.10-.

Pitch 6: climb the face above the belay on more cool chickenheads. Clip 2 bolts that lead you rightward to a series of angling seams. Follow these seams back up left to a small roof with an obvious break. Surmount the roof and clip a bolt. Traverse left on really cool features to gain a thin crack. Continue up the crack to a grassy ledge. Climb left of the crack up a large flake/block. At the left side of this (it's turned into a small ledge), climb up the short arete and gain another nice ledge and 2 bolt belay, 120 feet, 5.10+ (5.11-??).

Pitch 7: face climb straight up off the belay on smaller chickenheads and horizontals. Place gear in the horizontals! Gain a stance with a small roof above it. Climb right off the stance, up a short crack and break in the roof. Gain another stance/small ledge and traverse back left. Find gear in a crack, then reach up and yard on the obvious chickenhead jugs to gain the next ledge. Traverse right to a bolt, after climbing above this bolt head back left to another bolt and a bit of cool slabby climbing below a roof. Enter a very short chimney/cave and climb out its right side. A funky move onto a ledge followed by 1 more funky move onto the summit ledges. The anchor is 2 bolts and is back quite a ways from the edge, placed high on the next(short) section off cliff. Runner your gear well! 130 feet, 5.10-.


This is located on the far right side of the Black Wall. There are several options for getting there.

#1: Hike down from the saddle and traverse the moraine to the base.
#2: Use the Black Wall rappel route(s). At the bottom of those raps, you'll need to scramble down to the base proper and traverse the base of the wall.

To descend...scramble up from the final anchor and walk off as for all Black Wall routes.


1 set of nuts, 1 black Alien/grey TCU.
Double set from blue Alien/purple TCU to #3 Camalot, optional #4 Camalot.

Photos of Rainbow Highway Slideshow Add Photo
Rock Climbing Photo: We were hit by some thunderstorms as we topped out...
We were hit by some thunderstorms as we topped out...
Rock Climbing Photo: Looking down from P6 belay with anchor locations m...
BETA PHOTO: Looking down from P6 belay with anchor locations m...
Rock Climbing Photo: The rappels for Rainbow Highway are on a large bou...
BETA PHOTO: The rappels for Rainbow Highway are on a large bou...
Rock Climbing Photo: Pitch 4.
Pitch 4.
Rock Climbing Photo: Route (photo taken by Matt Swartz).
BETA PHOTO: Route (photo taken by Matt Swartz).
Rock Climbing Photo: The upper pitches of the Rainbow Highway are in Bl...
The upper pitches of the Rainbow Highway are in Bl...
Rock Climbing Photo: Splitter cracks on pitch #3.
Splitter cracks on pitch #3.
Rock Climbing Photo: Near the crux on pitch 6.
BETA PHOTO: Near the crux on pitch 6.
Rock Climbing Photo: Cool 10 roof pitch.
Cool 10 roof pitch.
Rock Climbing Photo: Ben getting started on pitch #4.
Ben getting started on pitch #4.
Rock Climbing Photo: The belay for pitch #3.
The belay for pitch #3.
Rock Climbing Photo: Ben getting into the crux of pitch #6.
Ben getting into the crux of pitch #6.
Rock Climbing Photo: Looking back down pitch #4.
Looking back down pitch #4.
Rock Climbing Photo: Ben starting pitch 2.
Ben starting pitch 2.

Comments on Rainbow Highway Add Comment
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Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated Aug 27, 2017
By J. Thompson
From: denver, co
Jul 28, 2012

This is a great route. It mixes a wide variety of climbing styles and techniques to ascend the Black wall from its base to its summit. Not all of the routes on the wall do this.
I'd give over half of the climbing on this route 4 stars the remainder might bring the sum to 3 but its all very quality Alpine rock climbing.

The route was born from another, The Emerald Highway. Myself, Ben and Doug Haller did the FA of that route a couple of years ago and I noticed features heading up left from where we got into some much easier climbing on Emerald. Ben and I came back this spring and established what was going to be originally called The Emerald Super Highway. A crazy rainbow after we topped out on the FA changed the name(see picture).

While establishing this route we also added some bolts to Emerald to make it alittle more sane.
While you'll see some protection bolts on this climb we kept them to a minimum. Don't let the bolts fool you this is a Traditional climb.

We called the Crux on Pitch #6 might be's well protected you decide.

I truly hope folks will enojy this route as much as we really is a classic.

By Ben Collett
Jul 28, 2012

A third option for the approach would be to locate the top of the route and do 6 double rope raps from the bolted belays to the base. You'll have to leave the biners on the bolted belays and pick 'em up as you climb.

This route is rather excellent and, though is quite different in style from Good Evans, it seemed about as good. If I could give it 3.5 stars, I would.
By Guy H.
From: Fort Collins CO
Aug 5, 2012
rating: 5.11a 6c 22 VII+ 22 E3 5c

This is indeed a fun route with a good mix of face and crack climbing. All 7 pitches had some interesting climbing in the 5.10 range. The rock is still a little flakey in a few spots but nothing to be concerned with. The rack recommendation is right on, except we never placed any cams smaller than a blue Alien/green C3. The #4 was useful on P5, but you could do without it.

The moves on P6 might be height-dependent, so a 5.11- rating would be fair. Loved the chickenheads on the last few pitches!
By Gregger Man
From: Broomfield, CO
Aug 9, 2012
rating: 5.11a 6c 22 VII+ 22 E3 5c

Great route.
Placed 5 or 6 medium-sized nuts total.
Used the 4 smallest Mastercams and 4 smallest offset Mastercams.
Used the optional #4 a few times.
Nice job, guys!

Edit to add: double rope clipping technique on last pitch. I forgot and clipped as per twins (DOH!) and regretted the drag.
By Greg Miller
Aug 20, 2012

This route was very awesome! We were able to locate the top anchor easily and rap in the whole route, be careful not to miss the anchor in the corner on p3 on the way down, if you do it, it requires some sketchy downclimbing to the anchor. Bring some biners for anchor bolts. We linked p1 & 2 which seemed logical.
The double rack worked well, RPs definitely helped but nothing smaller than a red C3 for cams, a #4 was nice to have.
I thought this route had more like sustained 5.9 climbing with shorter cruxy sections feeling about .10b, I'm 6ft tall, so experiences may vary.
I thought it was a super fun route and would go back to do it again, there is still an adventurous feel to it, but with some more traffic it will clean up. Make sure you've been training on tuffs of grass for some sections, as it makes for some exciting moves.
Huge thanks to those involved in cleaning, putting in anchors, and putting together sweet terrain. It certainly looked better than its neighbor Emerald Highway. Also, it's nice to see you guys kept the protection bolts to a minimum.

By doug haller
From: Boulder, Colorado
Aug 20, 2012

Requires Double Ropes for the top 3 pitches and to descend via the rap stations.

Probably harder than 11a for short folks...I found the crux hard and am 5'7"-8" with a plus 2 reach.

Best to ascend during exceptionally dry spells.
By tooTALLtim
From: Boulder, CO
Aug 21, 2012

Great route! I agree that it will be a four star route with some cleaning. But I liked some of the grunge, it added to the adventure.

I left some bomber hardware on the second and third (from the top) rappel stations. I used Maillon Rapide quick links on all the bolts, and two Omega Pacific Rings on the second station, and a steel ring and two rolled Al rings on the third station.

If the next party down wants to add some Loctite to the threads of the quick links (and maybe change out the rolled AL for something longer-lasting), that would be fantastic!

Well done, gents, on finding a gem!
By J. Thompson
From: denver, co
Sep 4, 2012

"Requires Double Ropes "

Not true.
We climbed it with a single line (I led the last pitch in the rain) and with proper runnering had very little rope drag. Could double ropes make it so you don't have to runner as well? Sure. Are they required? No.

However. If you'd like to rappel the route, you'll need 2 ropes.

I'd prefer to do the rap route with a single and not have to deal with 2 ropes on the climb. But YMMV!

Have fun!

By 303scott
Sep 16, 2012

I got a little lost on p6. Here's what I think you are supposed to do: above the roof 30 ft off the belay, clip the bolt and traverse left 10-15 feet to the FIRST thin crack (heavily vegetated). Climb that to a grassy ledge that is between 6 and 12 inches wide. I don't think this is the "grassy ledge" described above. Continue more or less straight up to a bulge and take the path of least resistance working up and left to the "grassy ledge" described above and then presumably follow the description from there.

I made the mistake of thinking the first 6 inch ledge was the "grassy ledge," and traversed about 20 feet straight left to gain the arete- no gear, grassy footholds, no handholds, etc. I ultimately traversed back right, climbed straight up from the thin crack, and then broke right into the corner that leads to the right side of the belay ledge. It probably goes at .10 or so and isn't as bad as it looks.

If my description is wrong, please let me know and I will pull it.
By Ben Collett
Sep 17, 2012

303scott, you are correct about where we went. We wanted to find a way to avoid the corner that leads to the right end of the belay ledge, since it is often quite wet. It seemed like the obvious way to go, but dry rock is usually more fun than wet rock, right?
By dmsssssss Sinor
Sep 17, 2012

Thanks to the FA team for establishing the route and rappel anchors. The first and last two rappels still need some chains. I brought some quicklinks but managed to leave them in the pack at the top.

Rack: I agree with the other comments: Doubles or triples of Master cams, including some offsets is very useful. We didn't use the grey Metolius, and the #4 is not essential.

This is a nice way to climb the right side. Seemed less demanding and committing than Coffee Achievers and without the running wet chimney. An appreciation for alpine dirt climbing and grass pulling may increase your enjoyment of some sections. I would rate the crux (brief) .11a (I am 5'10"). Some good 5.10 crack climbing on the lower pitches that should get better with more travel.
By 303scott
Sep 18, 2012

I totally agree - lucky for us it was mostly dry. The proper route out onto the arete looks like it would give you some nice position too - have to try it next time.
Thanks to you and Josh for putting this up!
By Andy Hansen
From: Longmont, Colorado
Jul 23, 2013
rating: 5.10d 6b+ 21 VII+ 21 E3 5b

Pretty spectacular route with a lot of fun climbing. The route is a little crunchy still, but I suspect that with more traffic it will clean up. Here's a bit of beta from our experience:

Pitches 1 & 2 are easily combined with a single 60m or 70m rope. This makes for a great 190' pitch.

Pitches 3 & 4 can be combined for a 210' mega pitch with a 70m rope.

Pitches 5 & 6 could potentially be linked, but I suspect some heinous rope drag. Pitch 7 is relatively contrived. One can easily escape right to easier terrain or clip the bolts and fire through steeper terrain to the top. Overall, I think the route is roughly 725' as opposed to the 800' feet listed.

The climbing is great, sustained and diverse. The rock quality despite the typical alpine flakiness is awesome! If the Black Wall doesn't fall apart in the near future (see Ken Trout's comments about this theory), then this will be the neo-classic on the wall.
By Kevin Gillest
From: Arvada, CO
Aug 19, 2013
rating: 5.11a 6c 22 VII+ 22 E3 5c

Great route! Easy line to follow, very little route finding needed.

Rappel info using 2 70s:
  • From top out anchor to the top of the P6, 120ft.
  • From top P6 to top of P4, 220ft.
  • From top P4 to top of P2, 220ft.
  • From top P2 to route base, 170ft.
(All bolted anchors have carabiner or quick-links other than P2 & P3.)

Rock Climbing Photo: Looking down P3, Rainbow Highway.
Looking down P3, Rainbow Highway.

Rock Climbing Photo: Looking down P5, Rainbow Highway, 10a.
Looking down P5, Rainbow Highway, 10a.

Rock Climbing Photo: Just past the crux section on P6, Rainbow Highway.
Just past the crux section on P6, Rainbow Highway.

Rock Climbing Photo: Looking down P7, also entire route from topout.
Looking down P7, also entire route from topout.
By Kevin Gillest
From: Arvada, CO
Jun 13, 2014
rating: 5.11a 6c 22 VII+ 22 E3 5c

We went to the Black Wall today, attempted to descend the Rainbow Highway rappel. At least 20' of snow left at the first rappel, no way to find the anchor. We rapped the Good Evans rappel, thinking we could still climb Rainbow. After looking up the route and seeing that wall of snow, no way! It might be another month before that snow melts.

Tan Buttress looks dry, the descent to the base of the wall might be challenging today with all of the snow.

Climbed Good Evans, little wet topping pitch 4, but no problem.
By J. Thompson
From: denver, co
Jul 17, 2014

"Tan Buttress looks dry, the descent to the base of the wall might be challenging today with all of the snow."

A nice little trick to avoid the snow is to rap in Via Fallen Angel.

By Helen
Aug 19, 2014

The description for pitch 2 is completely incorrect. There is no bolt, and you do not climb straight up from the anchor. What you do is move right into the grassy crack system like it shows in the photo.
By Monty
From: Golden, CO
Aug 19, 2014

Helen, you must have linked the first 2 pitches which is easily done. That would make your "2nd pitch" the 3rd pitch as listed in the description :)
By J. Thompson
From: denver, co
Aug 26, 2014

Hi Helen.

It appears you linked pitch 1 and 2.
I'm not sure which picture you're referring to, but if you look at the one labeled "starting pitch #2", you'll see the bolt and where you head left.

I saw your blog on the accident you and your partner had, sorry to hear that she was injured.

The picture you posted of your partner right before she pulled off the block isn't the start of pitch 2. It doesn't appear to be on route at all. Sorry if some confusion led to her injury.

Also I'm curious what approach you took to get to the base of the wall? From the "approach" photo posted on your blog, it appears that you hiked up and over the Black Wall, then descended the approach to the Tan Buttresses (or in the area) and then hiked up to the base of the route? Is that how you did it?

By Wally
From: Denver
Sep 8, 2014

Rainbow Highway can be rapped with a single 70 meter rope. The last rap is best done angling to the rappeller's left into a gully. Rapping straight down on the last rap doesn't get you to the ground.

If you bring two ropes on your climb, I would still rap the line with a single 70 meter rope. Cleaner and shorter pulls with no knot to deal with.

All rap anchors are chains.

By J. Thompson
From: denver, co
Sep 17, 2014

For clarification; the route Rainbow Highway, as described above, cannot be rappelled with a single 70m rope. Apparently with the addition of anchors for the route "Sinners on Sunday", this section of the Black Wall can now be rapped with a single 70m. Wally is an experienced climber, and I personally trust his input. However, I felt this note needed to be added so folks know that you can't go anchor to anchor on Rainbow Highways anchors alone.
By claytown
From: Boulder, CO
Aug 22, 2015
rating: 5.10+ 6b+ 21 VII+ 20 E3 5b

Awesome route! A real alpine classic with lots of great climbing throughout. For rack, we felt that a set of nuts, a single blue Alien, and doubles of green Alien to #3 Camalot is plenty. We placed a couple of small nuts but no RPs. Double ropes aren't necessary.

Rapping the route (which actually uses an anchor or two from the neighboring route) was easy with a single 70m. Just keep rapping pretty much straight down on bolted stations with chains & rings. The final rap left us with an 8' slab downclimb off the end of the ropes. No big deal, but you could do a reepschnur on the last one to reach if you don't want to do the down mantle. Or maybe you could angle out left. Note that P1 doesn't have a bolt anchor, and that's why the last rap is a rope stretcher.

Great work, Josh & Ben! Such a cool climb.
By superjosh
Sep 12, 2015

Great route with awesome belay ledges! We rapped in and built a gear anchor at the top of P1 (just below the protection bolts on P2) to make the last rappel. A #1 Camalot and blue Metolius works well for this. Grab them on the way back up.

On pitch 6, we (accidentally) climbed into the 2-bolt crux of pitch 5 of Sinners, which was great. Makes for a nice continuous pitch of fun climbing on excellent rock.
By CharlesErickson
From: Evergreen, CO
Sep 27, 2015

Hello fellow climbers,

I dropped a 0.75 from the top of the 6th pitch today. It bounced off of some of the grassy ledges on the way down, so I am feeling lucky and hoping it survived! If you come across it and are feeling generous, please let me know.

Thank you,

By Tony B
From: Around Boulder, CO
Aug 14, 2016
rating: 5.10+ 6b+ 21 VII+ 20 E3 5b

This route is getting quite popular (AKA: crowded).

The lower pitches are easier than rated, unless you are short - then it might be at grade. The crux 6th pitch is 10+ briefly and given to techy slab work. The route is indeed good and has a casual and fun feel to it most of the time but for when it gets 'alpine' on you. I was jamming up P3 when I hit the thistles growing in the crack "shit just got real." I laughed....

Along those lines, I'd give the climb 3 stars. There is indeed some great climbing on it, but a 4-star route would have that without the 'price of admission' of some of the junk that's to be endured and not so ledgy and wandering. I'd say Good Evans, Road Warrior, and Cary Granite (the best) are more the 4-star standard, but I did enjoy this climb and think that it is a great addition to the wall. While it has a different feel to it, I think that's of value, and there should be room for a variety of experiences on a wall that large.
By Kat A
From: Bart and Lisa Ville, CO
Aug 15, 2016

Gear - double rack up to blue Camalot was comfortable for us (I place more gear than avg., FYI). #4 Camalot could be used, but there were other gear opportunities above and below the wide sections. If you *really* want to sew it up, I'd suggest extra green-red Aliens over the #4 Camalot.

Grade - felt very height-dependent through much of the route. I'm 5'3" and felt P1/P2 was 10+ (insecure climbing, decent pro, though I couldn't reach 1st bolt), and P6 was 11a/b (well-protected). If you're short but solid on 5.11, don't hesitate to lead P6!
By Owen Murphy
From: Fort Collins, CO
Aug 27, 2017
rating: 5.10c/d 6b+ 21 VII+ 21 E3 5b

Fun, adventureous route. Linking P1 and P2 seemed really natural, definitely recommend it. The amount of manteling onto grassy ledges is ridiculously comical. I get that it's an alpine route, but it definitely be a more exciting line if some more serious cleaning was done. Does anybody know if the cracks under and through the mega roof have been climbed? Look pretty sexy.

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