Epinephrine, Red Rocks, NV

May 11, 2008 / 5.9, ~16p, trad.

Today, we climb Epinephrine, the ultra-classic long 5.9 at Red Rocks, for the second time. It's Sunday so we are anticipating a crowd. We get up at 4AM, have the usual pre-climb oatmeal breakfast and drive to the trailhead after a quick stop at the gas station to dump our trash.

Dawn is breaking as we drive the long dirt road to the mouth of Black Velvet canyon. We haven't seen any other car so far. Then, as we get closer, we spot a Toyota 4 Runner at the parking area. Shit! This has to be another candidate for Epinephrine. Why else would they be here this early? I check my watch: it's 5:30AM. Eric checks their engine to see if it's still warm. It is not! Just our luck, it must be a party bivying at the base (not uncommon but not the best way to do it in our opinion)… If that's the case, there is no way for us to be the first party on the route, and we certainly aren't going to follow another party on such a long route.

Eric takes the binoculars out to try and see if there are people on the route. He can't see anything. I check the inside of the car. I see a rope, a chalk bag and a pair of climbing shoes. Weird. If they have hiked up and bivied to climb, what are the chalk bag and the rope doing there? Perhaps it's just somebody spending the night somewhere for fun.

I check my watch again: 5:50AM. Time to make a decision. I tell Eric we should at least do the approach and reevaluate once we reach the base. We hike the familiar wash and reach the base at 6:30AM. Nobody else is there. Strange. I start flaking the ropes. Soon, we see somebody hiking down the drainage toward us. It turns out that this guy - apparently a climber - hiked to the top of Burlap Buttress the day before and got stranded for the night… In any case, we have the climb to ourselves. Wish we had not lost so much time hesitating at the parking lot, but it's only 7AM, so there's still plenty of time.

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Black Velvet Canyon in early morning light.
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Epinephrine follows the obvious chimneys, cracks and corners in the middle of Black Velvet Wall.
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The drainage leading to the base of the route.
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Eric on the slabby first pitch (5.8).
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Pitch 2 traverses toward the chimney.

The plan is for us to lead in two blocks. Eric will lead the lower pitches to the top of Rose Tower (p1 to 5), I'll take the upper pitches (p6 to 11). We have one pack, stuffed with our shoes, 4 quarts of water, and lots of food (20 Gus, bread and dried sausage). The second will carry it. Eric is carrying another water bottle on this harness. I'll add it to the pack just before the first chimney pitch.

Eric heads off on the slabby first pitch just after 7AM. He combines the first two pitches into one long pitch (some rope drag).

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On the first chimney pitch (p3, 5.9).
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You can avoid some of the chimneying by climbing the right crack system at first.
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Then, it's pure, beautiful chimneying. Eric starting the business.
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The bolted belay is on a small ledge on the right.
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Looking back down the first chimney pitch.

The chimneys go easily, though they still take a lot of energy. As is often the case with old memories, they don't seem nearly as "splitter" or as runout as we remember them, from our first time on this route way back in 1999. Still an amazing 3 pitches!

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Starting pitch 4, the crux chimney pitch (5.9).
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Eric looking very relaxed.
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Higher on pitch 4.
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The belay atop pitch 4.
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Views.

Climbing on doubles as always, we are able to haul the pack most of the way up the chimney. I simply clip the pack to one of the ropes just above me, then "help" it when it gets stuck. On the most sustained pitch of wide chimneying, Eric hauls the pack up on one rope before I start climbing: he pulls one rope from above and tosses it back down, hauls the pack up, then tosses it down again for me to tie back in (don't try this with a single... if you cannot toss the rope back down, your second will have no way to climb up, or rap down!). This makes the pitch must more pleasant for me (I still have vivid memories of hauling the pack between my legs the first time we climbed Epi; it was very hard on my back and sooo much work!).

We reach the top of the tower around 11AM. We exchange the gear and have some food and water. We are now baking in the sun, so we take our jackets off. I did not remember much of the upper pitches from 9 years ago, but I am pleasantly surprized as the climbing turns out to be very pleasant and varied.

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Eric starting another fun chimney pitch (p5, 5.8).
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Facing right first...
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...then left.
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The bolted belay atop the Rose Tower.
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Lucie on the black varnished face of pitch 6.

The first pitch (to the base of the Elephant's Trunk) has the least interesting climbing. A couple of easy face moves (mostly bolt protected) lead to a 5.8 bulge. I try to tackle it on the right, but it does not seem straightforward, so I go left, but going left is much steeper, so I downclimb and try the right side again. Eric starts to get impatient, reminding me that we do not have all day... After the overlap, I start traversing right on a black varnished face (easier than it looks). I am worried about the pro at first but I find plenty. The face leads to a big ledge with some loose blocks. I put in a directional piece to keep the ropes from knocking anything down onto Eric, and set up an anchor.

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Starting the Elephant's Trunk pitch (p7, 5.9).
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Taking a rest on top of the Elephant's Trunk.
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On the crux section.
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Views toward the mouth of Black Velvet canyon.
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Starting up pitch 8 (my favorite pitch).

The next pitch is IMHO the crux of the upper pitches. A short section leads to the top of the Elephant's Trunk and a black face with two thin seams (there is an optional anchor atop the Elephant's Trunk). Stemming and good finger locks gets you up to a good ledge and a bolted anchor. This pitch is short and bolts protect the hard moves.

The following pitch is my favorite: a beautiful 5.9 corner leads to another bolted anchor at a small stance.

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Look at that gorgeous 5.9 corner!
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A very sweet pitch.
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The great handcrack of pitch 9.
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Higher on the same pitch.
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Looking at a party on the third pitch of Refried Brains.

Above that, the climbing gets easier. A great handcrack which narrows down to fingers brings you to another bolted anchor on a good ledge. A long but very fun pitch. Taking advantage of the good ledge, we take a break, gulp down some GUs, and have some water.

The next pitch looks a bit intimidating from the belay ledge, but turns out to be easier than it looks. I am a bit concerned because Supertopo talks about a 5.7R face to reach the roof. As it turns out, this is not the case. There is one bolt and I am able to find decent pro to complement it. In addition, the climbing is sweet and secure on typical Red Rocks thin edges. Getting over the roof is the crux. I place a green Alien under the lip of the roof and sort of layback using the main crack, because I cannot reach the large holds on the left. Eric does not layback, using the big jugs instead. Go figure.

Above the roof, I go left and reach a big ledge, passing an old anchor (old rusty 3/8"). I set up a trad anchor and bring Eric up.

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At the bolted belay atop pitch 9.
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Starting pitch 10 (5.9). After a few moves in the crack...
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... you climb the face below the small roof.
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Taking a rest before tackling the cruxy roof.
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The last pitch follows an easy crack system to a big ledge (p11, 5.6).

The last pitch follows an easy left-facing corner to a good ledge. Note that the bolted anchor shown on SuperTopo is not there anymore. I set up an anchor on the small ledge just above where it once was. It is 3:45PM when Eric joins me on the ledge. The most difficult pitches are behind us. From here, we're just going to simul-climb to the top.

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Views of Sin City from the top of pitch 11.
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Simul-climbing the rest of the way up.
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Climbing up the ramp to the tree is pretty easy (mostly 4th class) but it may be best to stay roped up (big air).
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Eric belaying at the tree (and cairn) that marks the end of the climb.
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Views from near the top of the buttress.

We exchange the gear again and Eric starts up, but quickly starts experiencing too much rope drag to go on. He stops and belays me up after one long pitch. Once I join him, we short-rope (30m apart) and start simul-climb. The tree and the big cairn marking the end of the climb is still quite a ways away, but it goes pretty fast since we are not pitching. We end up staying roped up until we gain the ridge.

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Starting the descent down the ridge.
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Playing with the camera.
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Big cairns show the way.
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Scrambling down.
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On the trail leading back to the parking area.

Once on the ridge, we unrope, change into approach shoes and drink the rest of our water. It is about 5PM. This time, we don't bother hiking to the top of the buttress (having been there before), but start the descent. Pretty straightforward. An hour and a half later (going slow because our knees are pretty sore), we are back at the car.

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Still some flowers.
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Back at the car.
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Oh no! This may be the end of my beloved Kaukulators. Nobody makes decent trad shoes anymore!