Prince of Darkness (Red Rocks)
By: Jacob Wyatt | Climbers: Jacob Wyatt, Andrei Dorenbaum |Trip Dates: May 5, 2001
Photo: Gary Clark
Upon hearing that the old ¼" bolts on Prince of Darkness had been replaced with shiny new ones, I called my first real climbing partner, Andrei, and convinced him to meet me in Las Vegas for a quick weekend. Given that it had been quite a while since he'd done much climbing, it didn't take much effort to enlist him for the task. The plan was simple - fly to Vegas on Friday after work and meet at the airport, sleep a couple of hours at a motel on the edge of town, wake up early Saturday and get to Prince of Darkness as early as possible. We'd climb another route Sunday (we had our eyes on 'Ginger Cracks'), and take the redeye back east (I was coming from New York, and Andrei was coming from Washington, D.C.) in time to get into work on Monday morning.
The travel went pretty much according to plan, and we pulled into the Black Velvet Canyon parking lot a little before 6:00 a.m. on Saturday. Not surprisingly, there were already a couple of cars in the lot. Two more arrived before we had set off on the approach hike, so we expected the worst. We were pleasantly surprised, however, to find no one on Prince of Darkness when we got to the base. Amazingly, it turned out that no one even ventured to follow us up the route during the entire day! The approach takes about 30-40 minutes, and is pretty straightforward. Just make sure to note on the way in where exactly you drop down into the drainage on the way in - you can save yourself a few minutes on the way back to the parking lot by not cutting out of the drainage and up the slope too early.
Since I had been doing a little more climbing than Andrei over the prior few months (one of the few advantages of being a bachelor), I was going to take pitches 2, 4 and 6, which were slightly more difficult than the others. I think the benefit to Andrei was strictly mental, however, because Andrei climbed solidly, even though he came to Vegas pretty much "off the couch".
Pitch 1 was straightforward 5.6 climbing, with solid holds, adequate gear, although you might not think to sink much gear during the first half of the pitch.
Pitch 2 was the first in a seemingly endless series of solid crimps and high steps that start early and don't let up until the anchors. I know that some people view the climb as overbolted. The .10b rating of that pitch is at least a grade beyond my home crag (the Gunks) leading level, I was comfortable with the bolt spacing as it exists. Throughout most of the climb there are no ledges to hit, so if you make each clip then just about any fall will be relatively short and clean.
Pitches 3, 4 and 5 eased back a bit in difficulty (5.10a, 5.9, 5.9), although Pitch 3 follows a right-leaning crack that demands a piece or two (or three) of protection between the more widely spaced bolts.
My first thought upon reaching the top of Pitch 5 and seeing the initial moves of Pitch 6 was something along the lines of "What in the heck is THAT?" (Well, that's the censored version of my initial exclamation.) Pitches 2 through 5 (almost 500 feet of climbing) are virtually indistinguishable but for the crack in Pitch 3, so we became comfortable with (or at least accustomed to) the innumerable "reach up to a positive crimper, high step on a positive edge and pull" moves. The view up the beginning of Pitch 6 was something different, however -- very slabby and delicate moves with the feet and a very shallow thin crack for the hands. I balanced my way up to the first clip without too much difficulty, but was a little confused/spooked by the moves between the first and second bolts. The flow of the rock seemed to draw the leader directly over the belayer soon after the first two moves, which meant that if I couldn't finish the moves up, or wasn't able to clip the second bolt, I'd land hard and fast (from a wide stance, no less) directly on the anchor. Since bold climbing has never been my forte, I aided up from the first bolt to the second by plugging a couple of small aliens in the shallow crack (only fitting two of the four cams in the crack each time). The climbing was still a bit difficult above the second bolt (and definitely more thought-provoking than the lower moves), but gradually eased as the pitch wound to its finish. It was frustrating to have a clean ascent foiled by 6 feet of climbing, but I guess that's why it's considered the crux.
Since there was no one else on the route, we got down relatively quickly with five double rope rappels (with rope stretch and 60 meter ropes, we were able to link Pitches 1 and 2 on rappel).
On Sunday, Andrei and I climbed Ginger Cracks (another 6 pitch climb that might be thought of as the OPPOSITE of Prince of Darkness in that it has precisely one bolt and no fixed anchors en route.) Needless to say, it took a bit of effort to resurrect our crack climbing and gear-placing techniques after the outing on Prince of Darkness.
Beta: You'll want a couple of smaller cams and/or nuts for Pitches 1 and 3, and possibly Pitch 6 if a little impromptu aiding is required. If you're climbing relatively slowly (as we were), you'll also want to bring along a buttbag and/or well-padded harness. We found that the short web-o-lette was great for rigging the anchors quickly and cleanly. Wear comfortable shoes - you're going to be edging and hanging at belays for at least several hours, as there's no flat ground between the first and last belays.