I posed the question to Homie after all my qualified partners backed out of a one day attempt on Mt. Wilson's Resolution Arete, the longest climb at Red Rock Canyon Recreation Area near Las Vegas. This 21 pitch monster sports a crux 5.11+ roof and a couple more 5.10 pitches. Homie leads 5.8 on a good day. Hence the question. I was predicting around 20 hours car to car. Hence the question.
Hardly answered for him: "Tough enough..." We'd see about that as Homie agreed to go - jumars at the ready.
I was supposed to do this route with Eric Winkelman - a much better, faster climber than myself. That was going to be an adventure. Now with Homie I knew we were headed for an epic. I told him so and he still agreed to go. Better, more experienced climbers turned down the opportunity saying that they weren't fit enough. Homie was fit, but the big difference is that Homie is tough. Or so we'd see. I knew he had the right stuff. Hardly, Homie, and I along with Mark Oveson climbed the East Face of Longs Peak on this past New Year's Day. After 50 minutes of sleep the night before, we pushed through a 14-hour winter day. But could he climb hard rock long enough and fast enough to do the RA in a day?
Hardly and Trashy need no justifications of toughness. I know no greater companions than them. They're better and faster climbers than myself so it gave me confidence having them along. They would climb the route directly in front of Homie and me. This allowed both teams to climb with a single rope. Our experience on this route two years ago, when we got stormed off after the third pitch, convinced us that hauling on this route was out of the question. The rock here is too low angle, too highly featured, and has an extremely high coefficient of friction. Our plan was to all wear "adventure packs" so that no hauling was necessary. Having two teams gave us the needed confidence that we could retreat if required by combining our ropes.
The Resolution Arete is a recommended route in the Urioste guide, but not in Todd Swain's more recent guide. The route is bold and intricate. It is a beautiful job of route finding up the biggest feature in Red Rocks, but it is not very sustained and quite broken in spots. I liken this route more to a mountaineering route. Sort of deserteering. The route is as trad as can be. There are wide cracks, loose rock, big runouts, and difficult route finding. What you won't find is fixed protection. In 21 pitches, the only fixed gear on this route was two belay bolts (one at the top of the first pitch, which we bypassed) and the other at the top of the 10th pitch).
We read the trip reports and studied the topos. None were that satisfactory. The guidebook recommends going fast and light. The Trashman and I have some experience in this area. A few years ago we climbed Epinephrine, a 17 pitch 5.9, in just five hours and twenty minutes. But that route had a number of short pitches, which we combined. The Resolution Arete doesn't have short pitches and generally can't be combined. Plus the RA is harder. With a longer approach and a much longer descent.
In order to move as fast as possible, Hardly and Trashy went first since they would be slightly faster than Homie and I. The first team would do all the route finding and whenever they paused, we'd have a chance to close up ranks. I would lead everything in the second team even though Homie could have led some of these pitches. We decided before leaving the ground, that I would be much faster on the sharp end.
For this trip I was trying something new. Each year I come to Red Rocks for a few days of climbing in April, but this year I was bringing my family and staying at Circus Circus. My boys, Daniel (almost 5) and Derek (just 2), might enjoy the circus acts, pirate shows, and amusement park at the casino. My sister Kim and her two kids, Brennan and Kaitlin, were also joining us. The rest of the climbers, including Hardly's common law wife, Judy, and Allie (our sport climbing representative - now required at Red Rocks), would be camping at the 13 Mile Campground. We wondered about the name "13 Mile Campground" and I think it is probably so named since it is about 13 miles from the Strip. This is now the only campground in the Red Rocks area, as the others have been closed down.
Things didn't start off well. We arrived very late into Vegas on Friday night. Our scheduled arrival was late enough, but the plane was over an hour late. But the topper was that of the five bags we checked, they lost the big white duffel bag containing all of my climbing gear. We were supposed to do RA the next morning - meeting at the trailhead at 4:30 a.m. Clearly I wasn't climbing the RA the next morning. I also didn't have anyway to contact the other climbers. I went to bed that night at 12:30 a.m. with the alarm set for 3:30 a.m.
When the alarm went off, I ignored it. Sheri shook me awake at 3:55 a.m. She pushed me out onto the floor and I pulled on some jeans. I'd have to hurry to get to the Oak Creek Canyon Trailhead by 4:30 a.m. I made it just in time and a little before the others. I sat in the van and waited in the darkness. Apparently Homie immediately knew something was wrong because the van's engine and lights were still on.
When I broke the bad news, I didn't know what to expect. I think I might have gone for it if I had been in their situation. They had awoken early and were geared, ready, and psyched for it. Doing that all over again the next day would be tough. To their credit they didn't bitch or moan for an instant. Trashy almost immediately said, "Let's do it tomorrow!" What a guy. He didn't want to leave Homie and me behind. Hardly says, "If we go tomorrow, can we go first?" Heck, I wasn't in a position to negotiate. Hardly said he wouldn't abandon us if we proved much slower. He was viewing us as a team of four even though we'd move as two teams of two. What great friends and partners I have...
We all went back to bed with plans to meet up later that day for some sport climbing. I tried to sleep late that morning as I knew I needed to get some sleep for the next day, but Daniel was up at 7 a.m. and I didn't get to sleep much past then. After a breakfast in the hotel's McDonalds, we headed out to Red Rocks. The kids were all excited to hike around the desert and climb the rocks. I had promised to take them climbing, but the child harness was in the lost bag also. We did some 3rd/4th class scrambling and slab climbing and they all got high enough to be a bit nervous.
The others had all done a few routes by the time I arrived at the chosen location: The Pier. Hardly had yet another 5.11 onsight already under his belt (he’d get two more before the day was out). Homie had almost got up a 5.11b called Under the Boardwalk. Judy did it with a broken thumb. Judy had broken her thumb while hiking in the Flatirons the weekend before this trip. She was quite disappointed by the awful timing and didn't expect to do much of anything on this trip. Turns out she could climb 5.11 without her left thumb!
Alli was directing her crew of belay monkeys (anyone within sight but mainly Homie and Judy) as she ticked off the warm-up routes and moved on to the 5.12's. When Hardly and Trashy showed up (coming from the California Crags), Hardly immediately offered me his shoes (only slightly big) and a belay. I had Sheri's harness on and I zipped up a route called Long Walk on a Short Pier (9+). Later Kim and Sheri would both climb this route free for their first 5.9. Really Kim's first time climbing ever. Yes, we thought the route was a bit soft for the grade, but that is still impressive. These chicks should climb more...
We were short ropes so I ran back to the car (half a mile away) to retrieve Trashy's 9mm half ropes. Not really warmed up, but with nothing else available, I started up Under the Boardwalk. This route has a very powerful opening sequence over a small roof with no footholds. I barely powered through this section and moved up over easier rock to the crux section, which is slightly more than vertical. I worked through most of this and was two moves from the top when I came off. The crux was devious to onsight because if you had your hands backwards (I did) then you were hosed. Nevertheless, the crux baffled me for five more tries. I had to latch and move off of an extremely sloping, rounded hold. I could not find a place for my right foot and repeatedly fell off this section. Finally I found something that worked and made the big reach to the two finger pocket and the route was done.
While Hardly geared up to onsight this route, I talked Trashy into heading back to the California Crags so that I could try a couple of the routes they had already climbed. Amazingly he agreed to come belay me. I first onsighted Far Cry from Jose (10c), which we felt was a bit soft. Then I onsighted Just in from L.A. (11b). This route was more sustained than Under the Boardwalk, but had no move nearly as hard as the crux sloper on Boardwalk. The general consensus was that this route was more like 10d. That is not to say I wasn't desperate on it. I was. But I'm usually desperate on 10d. The crux move for me was turning the roof near the bottom of the route. I was burning out badly and looking directly into the sun. I couldn't make out if the next hold was any good or not, but I had to do something. I dyno-ed for the hold and stuck it. The rest was balancy, dicey face climbing. Meanwhile Alli was onsighting Basement (12a) back at The Pier, but had trouble on either Thirsty Quail (12b) or Cling Free (12b) - not sure which one it was.
That was it for me and I headed back with the family to check on my lost bag (still lost!) and eat an insane dinner at the casino pizza joint. Insane because of the surrounding noise and the kids whining. After dinner my bag had finally arrived. I packed and made final plans to pick up the others.
I got up at 4 a.m. (DST - as the time changed that night) and picked up the others at 4:40 a.m. Hence, we were about 45 minutes earlier than the day before. We drove to the trailhead, threw on the gear and were hiking by 5 a.m. It was still quite dark, but all we had to do initially was hike along a closed road. Having done the approach before, we were able to navigate to the start of the route without any major problems, arriving at 6:30 a.m. We switched to climbing shoes, taped up, tied in, donned helmets and blasted off. We all carried about 100 ounces of Gatorade, a light shell, approach shoes, plenty of food.
The first pitch of this route is unusual and intimidating. We'd done it before so it wasn't quite so daunting, but it involves chimneying out horizontal (the chimney is below you) until you can make the transition onto the right wall and face climb further left to a hand crack. The protection on this section is illusory and a fall catastrophic as you rattle down into the chimney getting bruised, bloody, and most likely permanently wedged. Once at the crack it is advisable to run out the rope as far as possible to reduce rope drag. I ran out the rope about 35 feet on this 5.9 crack as the jams are perfect and the face holds plentiful. The crux of this pitch is turning a small roof where the crack is fist width. We all found this challenging except, apparently, Homie.
There is a belay about 45 meters up this pitch, but it is a horrible hanging mess via a loose bolt, a wide cam, and a stopper. Both teams climbed with a 60 meter rope to avoid this belay. Hardly had stopped too low on this pitch and Trashy had to move the belay up before continuing on the second pitch. This put me right on top of them at this belay. The nice part about following a team and leading every pitch was the social aspects. I always had someone to talk to at the belays. On the other hand, Homie climbed this route almost completely alone.
I expected Homie to have considerable trouble with the first pitch and that we'd be far behind. That wasn't the case as Homie zipped up the first pitch. Homie and I have climbed together a bit and he knows how I like to do things. This made for quick, efficient change-overs. Most teams are slow not because they climb slow but because of three things: slow setting up belays, slow change-overs, and slow or poor route finding. We're fairly efficient in these areas and I can usually lead 5.9 at a fast clip. I slow down considerably on 5.10 and incredibly so at 5.11 (usually aid). At the belays, Homie first ties himself into the belay (or I do it) and then he gets me on belay. Now I can unclip from the anchor and move, if necessary. While he's doing this, I can pull gear off his cleaning sling and transfer any flaked, hanging rope from me to him. Our change-overs never took more than a few minutes.
I blasted up the relatively short (eighty feet due to the 60 meter first pitch), mossy and easy (5.8) second pitch and caught the surprised Trashman. The next pitch involves a very technical 5.9+ stemming section protected by marginal micro-cams. Homie used a bit of aid to pass this section - more for speed than difficulty. I belayed right up against Hardly at the bottom of a dihedral/flare. Trashy was leading this section and had pulled his fanny pack around to the front as he anticipated some chimney moves. This proved to be a big mistake and felt like he was climbing pregnant. While following this pitch, Hardly bombarded us with rocks when he pushed up against a rotten section. Luckily the only thing hit was the belay cams. We all wore helmets for this climb.
I love this flare type climbing and swarmed up this pitch to a big ledge complete with four quarts of water left by a previous party. We quenched our thirst with this free water, trying to conserve our meager 100-ounce supply. The next pitch is runout, loose, and scary. It is rated 5.7 and is certainly that hard, but quite a psychological lead. Some guidebook or trip report states you can get gear every body length. This is patently an exaggeration. I had runouts of 30-40 feet. While I could have placed more gear on this pitch, certainly not much more. Just follow the line of easiest climbing up this face, but also follow the gear placements.
At the top of this pitch we went up, right across a slab to a tree and then down about thirty feet to some easy ground. We belayed this section. Then we went around the corner, along a ledge system, up a steep, easy 5th class wall to a notch and down the other side to a small belay ledge at a bush. This pitch brought us from the right side of the arete to the left side. We could now see Sherwood Forest and the crux roof above. On this side of the arete there are three possible crack systems heading up. The one to take is the one on the far left. It clearly looks the easiest as the other two are much more sustained. This left system is in a left facing book. While Hardly led the next pitch, Homie and I had a chance to down a sandwich and some GU here.
The climbing on this 5.10 pitch is fun, though a little loose. There is lots of good climbing and lots of good rests as you work up a broken corner. You're heading for a very improbable looking roof. Once there you'll find the only 5.10 move. Reaching way right around the roof, I got a decent fingerlock and swung my feet around the corner onto some good footholds. Homie took tension here when he didn't get on the footholds soon enough. The belay is a short distance above.
The next pitch (8th) is 5.9 and a bit runout. There is a big lieback lower down off a protruding flake that is mildly exciting. As I arrived at the belay above, Homie discovered his belay anchor wasn't. Apparently when we switched over at this belay, the sling became unattached to the bush. Mistakes like this will kill you. But only if you fall also. And only if I fell before placing any gear on the next pitch. This is why you can frequently get away with one very bad mistake. But eventually, you'll get caught. I did last August.
The next pitch was the 5.11+ roof. I shared the belay with Trashy and hence had a great view of Hardly climbing this pitch. Hardly got out to near the lip of the roof and felt the horrible off fingers width of the crack. He considered the huge rack he was carrying, the 100-oz of fluid on his back and the foothold-less terrain and decided that aid was the better part of valor. A couple of moves and he was over. We all followed suit on this section. The climbing looks extremely hard. Maybe something has broken off here, but even 5.11+ seems like it might be a sandbag.
Above the roof is some tricky, awkward 5.9 crack climbing and it is certainly possible to fall off here. I joined Trashy at the belay once again - too late to see Hardly do the crux 10c moves above, but I watched Trashy closely for the beta. Hardly said he had reached far to the left for a hand jam at the crux section. When Trashy got this hold he said, "That isn't a hand jam. That's a worthless piece of shit." Nevertheless, he did use it.
When Homie had joined me and it was my turn, I worked up the steep corner and placed an Alien. There is a very hard move here where I stretched for the worthless hold. Once I had it I could press against it a bit and stem my left foot over to an edge. This is a desperate move and once into this position, I wasn't done. I did get in another small Alien and finished out the crux section. All the while Hardly was shouting encouragement from above. Homie was mutely belaying me.
Above was a huge ledge with the second and last bolt on the climb. As I watched Trashy get off route on the next pitch, I was stunned that Homie fired this pitch without coming off. This is certainly the hardest pitch he has ever done clean. Granted it wasn't a very long section, but I thought it was solid 10c. Homie was climbing like he was possessed. Possessed by a much better climber that is.
While Hardly cleaned Trashy's off-route lead (Hey, they got to do an additional pitch because of this!), I led up and left, the correct way, along a ramp and under a roof until I got to a broken chimney area where I could go straight up to the ridge. This was a long pitch and apparently I didn't protect the traversing section below sufficiently enough for Homie's tastes. Get over it, Homie! Or get on the sharp end. Just kidding. I didn't know I was running it out so much. Maybe I didn't see good gear placements. This pitch was about 5.8.
We were now just on the other side of the ridge as the bivy, which is shown near the belay at the top of pitch 11. This bivy looked adequate for two people.
The next pitch was up and left along a blocky ridge with one hard (5.8) vertical step. This ends on a good ledge below a vertical wall. A right to left slanting crack, which ends in a chimney, bisects the vertical wall. We watched the Trashman struggle a bit leading this this 5.9+ pitch, but Trashy protected it nicely after running out the start.
Hardly didn't look casual following this pitch and now Homie was really worried. He instructed me to place a lot of pro. While I did place more pro at the beginning of this pitch, I too found the going difficult and sustained. I could move across the face okay, but didn't find many good sections to hang out and place gear. Unfortunately for Homie, I placed one less piece on the crux traverse than had Trashy. Of course, this was also one less piece for Homie to take out. This would be an advantage if he was going to climb it clean, but a disadvantage if he was going to fall off.
I setup a belay with Trashy deep in the base of the chimney and couldn't watch Homie climb any of this pitch. I detected what was going on by the movements of the rope and Homie's calls. Homie initially moved well, but started to get pumped at the start of the hard section. Homie describes what happened next:
"I got up over the first rotten overhang, around to the left of a small roof, to a yellow Alien - I knew this was where the hard section started. It is steep and the feet are a bit thin. The next piece was a fixed flexible Friend about six feet left and two feet up. I traversed just past the yellow Alien, trying to summon the courage to pull the piece. After trying to figure out the moves, I told Bill to watch me, that I'd probably come off. I called for slack and pulled the Alien. I tried to move, but it just wasn't there. I yelled "I'm off" and took the swing - it wasn't that bad, but it got my heart racing. Bill then had to haul me up as I tried to crank on thin holds up to the Friend. I guess I smacked my knee on the swing as it felt wet and I saw blood on my pants as I looked down. It stopped bleeding pretty quickly though. Now at the fixed Friend, I faced the same problem as the next piece was again up and left. Again, I got just left of the piece, called for slack, pulled the piece, and fortunately this time I was able to crank off some big holds up into the chimney."
The chimney above looked hard, but went nicely with good chimney technique. This was a bit difficult to do while wearing a pack, but I was able to just sort of rotate the pack out of the way enough so that I could use the side of my back. Above here easy climbing led to a ledge with blocks. Once again we were right on the ridge.
Hardly gave me the beta on the next pitch before disappearing out of sight. I climbed up easy ground on the right, moved left underneath an overhang and up steeply to a ledge. From here I saw a forbidding maw off to the right. You'd have to descend a bit to get into this chimney which angled up and left. Trashy's solution to this problem was to crank over an overhang on the ridge just left of the chimney and then up the easy ridge above. It is very difficult to describe the topology of this section. I placed a piece above the overlap, but had quite a bit of trouble pulling off this move. I had to lock-off on my right elbow and it didn't like that much. I felt this was a 5.10 move, but it was safe and short. I think Homie found a better way to do it and didn't think it was that bad.
Above this move the climbing is easy up the ridge a ways to a small, rounded ledge which you follow way left to a small tree at the base of a vertical offwidth crack. I belayed here and brought Homie up. The offwidth is about 5.8 but has a number of face holds to ease the struggle. I used a couple of large cams to protect this section. This pitch is short and ends on a huge ledge at the start of the Catwalk ledge.
There comes a time on long climbs when you've had enough. I had had enough. The climbing had been great fun, but I was ready to stop now. Unfortunately, the climb wasn't ready to stop. We knew we had at least three pitches to go. I wasn't dead tired. I just wanted to stop and take my shoes off. Relax a bit. We hadn't really stopped at all once we hit the wall. I had a chance to wolf down a sandwich while waiting for Hardly to lead pitch seven, but that was it.
Once Homie had joined me on the ledge, I scampered across the Catwalk - a very flat ledge built into a sloping slab. I went across this slab about a hundred feet where one tricky move (or a jump) got me to a brushy ledge where Hardly was belaying. Things are complex here, but we selected a wide crack to follow straight up.
Once again Trashy got a bit off route here when he went left away from the crack and out onto a steep face [the topo indicates this pitch ends at a tree, I was trying to find it!]. Something about steep, unprotected faces seems to attract the Trashman. I continued up the crack to a good ledge with some loose blocks. The belay was marginal, however. This pitch is long, wide, sandy, and probably about 5.8. As I belayed Homie up this section, Hardly climbed by me and up to the left over a loose, blocky roof. I followed suit when Homie joined me and the pitch ended on yet another huge ledge. The frequency of big ledges on this climb certainly eases the stress.
We simul-climbed the last 300 feet, including a couple of steep sections that were probably 5.8. I had set up a proper belay by the time Homie had to climb these sections. We unroped and I sent Homie on ahead, up the third class climbing to the summit. I coiled the rope and followed.
I joined the others on the summit a little before 3 p.m. The route, all 21 pitches, had taken us just under 8 hours from the start of the roped climbing to the summit of Mt. Wilson. We unroped probably after 7 hours and 45 minutes of climbing. The guidebook states that the route has been done in six hours so we didn't set any records. Heck, Hans Florine could do the route, solo, in under four hours.
Homie was the MVP. I couldn't believe he could move that fast (and that free) over such challenging terrain. It is by far the best he has ever climbed and I frankly didn't think it was possible for him to climb that well.
It was just under ten hours from the car to the top of the climb. We lingered on the summit for half an hour, enjoying the great views and eating most of our remaining food. The descent was easy to find, but tedious and tiring. The giant sandstone boulders in that wash seemed like they'd never end.
We stopped a couple of times for a brief rest and once to dunk our heads in the stream. Trashy ran out of water first, then Homie, then Hardly, and finally I ran out about 45 minutes from the car. We hit the road at the First Creek trailhead at 6:10 p.m. Hardly and I walked down the road for ten minutes to retrieve the van and drove back for the others.
That day Alli and Judy climbed at the Black Corridor and the Gallery. I think Alli was nursing her cut finger and stuck to 5.11's and easier. Poor girl. The Circus crew did the Adventure Dome and saw the pirate show at Treasure Island and generally showed the kids a great time while Sheri and Kim slowly went insane.
That night we went out to the nice Italian restaurant in Circus Circus. This is a good place with reasonable prices on excellent food. As we left our hotel room to eat, Derek waddled up and said, "I go too," so we brought him along and entertained him by drawing sharks of various colors on the paper above the table cloth.
That was the end of the climbing for me. The next day I played with the kids. I had brought a child's body harness and we played on a big boulder near Willow Springs, where the others were climbing. Sheri and Kim had had enough of Las Vegas and decided to leave the next morning (instead of in the evening). I could have stayed and climbed with the others, but decided to head back with the family. This combined trip didn't work out as well as I had hoped. We'll return as a family but when the kids are a bit older. And we'll probably end up camping instead of staying at a casino. Still, the trip was a success. After all, we blasted the RA!
Bill Wright Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.wwwright.com 303-544-4098
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