Author: Jan Studebaker
Climbers: Chris Brislawn and Jan Studebaker
Full Beta and Topos
Chris and I had been salivating about doing Epinephrine ever since we decided to partner up for my annual
Red Rocks trip. I personally have dreamed about doing it for about a decade, but have always resisted the urge because of not wanting to bivy high above the desert. After all, an 18 pitch 5.9 is no small thing. Many people have attempted the climb, only to rappel when they finally got to the top of the strenuous 5.9 chimney system. They frequently realize that they are totally wasted, and have 10 pitches to go in order to complete the technical part of the climb. Then comes 700 more vertical feet of 4th class to the summit, and finally a long descent.
When I read that Gary and Lynn Clark had recently made it in one day, I knew that if we got beta from them, that Chris and I had a very good chance of attaining the summit as well. We were both experienced, strong, and determined. Gary and Lynn happily shared all of their considerable beta with us. We were invited to a sumptuous dinner party and slide show in the Jemez, where they pulled out all the stops, wined and dined us, then gave us a point by point guide to the climb. The slides were gorgeous! They had talked to several locals about this area super classic, and had decided on a plan of action that had worked perfectly.
One of Gary Clark's 'beta' photos showing a typical chimney view.
Chris and I reviewed what we had learned, and decided on our plan of attack. We would use most of the beta the Clark's had past on to us, but we made a few changes to suit our own quirks. We decided to leave from our Las Vegas hotel at 4:00 am, rather than bivying at the base of the climb. This would permit a hot morning shower for me (almost a necessity these days,) a nice breakfast, nothing to pack in but our climbing gear, and no long return to the base of the climb to retrieve bivy gear (Gary and Lynn went back the next day for theirs). The plan was to be at the base of the climb at 5:30 am. We would each take a small fanny pack with food and a liter of water or juice. The Clark's warned us not to take a regular pack in the chimneys, or we would certainly end up using it on a forced bivy. Chimneys and packs simply don't mix well! As it turned out, even the little fanny pack was rather unpleasant. This decision also meant we would have
no bivy gear, or extra food and water, so we simply had to make it! We took a rather complete rack, composed of all sizes of cams up to #4, with doubles of some of the middle and smaller sizes, about 18 nuts, six quick draws, and 10 slings with 2 biners each. It worked well for us; we didn't need larger pieces for the chimneys. Gary also correctly pointed out that many of the original pitches could be combined if we had a 200' rope. He offered to loan us the one he had purchased for the climb, but Chris had two "double" 200 footer's of his own. Finally, unlike the Clark's, we decided to carry our tennies, on our harness, rather than doing the decent in climbing shoes. We would wear no helmet.
The day of the climb arrived. Getting up that early was difficult. Chris nor I spoke; we stuffed food and liquid down until we thought we would throw up. We climbed quietly into the car and headed through the lights of Vegas to our destination. Opps we missed the turn-off........bummer! We lost a potentially precious hour. We finally arrived at the trail head to discover several other climbers heading into the canyon. This was not a good sign! It probably meant that another party would be on our climb, since it didn't seem to make sense that anyone would get up that early unless they were doing a big wall. Epinephrine was the most popular big wall climb in this canyon.
Driving Note: When we missed the correct turn-off from Interstate 15 to State 160, it was because 160 was either not marked, or poorly marked. It turns out that the
Silverton Casino is at the junction of 15 and 160.
We were right. We stayed so close behind, that they finally let us pass them. We were faster, but not by much. The first chimney was at least 180 feet between belay points, with no reasonable belay spots in between. A short rope here would be unpleasant at best! By the time we finally got out of the chimney, I was exhausted. The view was spectacular however! We were eight pitches up on a tower, and had excellent views of the adjoining Black Velvet Wall. Climbers on the wall looked rather small and insignificant to me. I really wasn't sure that I was strong enough to continue. As we ate lunch, a Cliff bar for me, I thought about the rest of the climb. Although it contained a fair amount of 5.9, it was pretty much pure face and crack climbing, with no more chimney, and only a few small overhangs. I could do it!
And do it we did! The rest of the climb was excellent. It was superb climbing for another 1000 feet, with no give away moves. The final 700 vertical feet of 4th class was exposed, but beautiful. It was quality rock all the way to the summit. We missed the correct descent, and ended up adding two hours of sometimes scary down climbing onto our descent. In retrospect, we should have continued straight along the ridge towards Las Vegas until we were forced to turn towards the North. If it looks like hairy down climbing then you haven't gone far enough East. I suspect that a huge cairn marks the actual trail down. We were side tracked by several small cairns that should have been ignored.
After a total of eleven 200 foot pitches, and 13 hours (car to car,) we had accomplished one of my most substantial and memorable climbs......a true classic!
red rocks overhead
bask in morning sunshine, while
in the chimney---shade