Crimson Chrysalis (Red Rocks)

By: Gary Clark | Climbers: Gary & Lynn Clark |Trip Dates: May, 1995

Photo: Gary Clark

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I had been hearing about Crimson Chrysalis for years, long before my first trip to Red Rocks. Having taken a lengthy break from the climbing game in order to pursue other interests, we first considered it out of our league. However, it doesn't seem to take too long to move from the state of being intimidated by a climb to wanting to do it. By our third trip to Red Rocks, it was on the tick list.

We knew it was popular, so we were at the starting gate right at opening time. Driving around the long one-way loop road, we soon got an excellent view of the tower, lit perfectly by the morning sun. The usual mixed emotions of excitement and anxiety set in, to be replaced by the simple pleasure of movement when we are finally on the trail. When I'm bored at work, I think of hiking up to a Red Rocks cliff on a still desert morning in the spring. It doesn't get much better than this. If you're thinking only of the climb, you're missing a lot - changing shadows on the multicolored rock, tracks of desert critters in the sand, lizards scampering from the trail at every turn, and the cactus and flowers. These things, as much as the climbing, have gradually made the Red Rocks my favorite cragging area. Of course I'm not alone in this feeling, so we fully anticipated sharing this, perhaps the most popular long route at RR, with other parties. And so it was. Arriving at the base of the climb, we discovered that "first at the gate" doesn't necessarily mean first at the base of the climb. Another team had an early-start strategy I never discovered, but it was no problem as they were well out of our way by the time we were racked, shod, and on belay.

The first pitch definitely got my attention - it seemed quite a long way to that first bolt on pretty small holds, and I have never been famous for boldness. I began to worry that the entire climb would be like this. But soon the protection opportunities began to appear, I got more comfortable trusting the small sandstone edges, and began to enjoy it. Pitch followed pitch up a huge right-facing corner with bolts on the face, cams in the crack to the left, or all of the above. After a few pitches, I pulled the topo from my back pocket to remind myself of where the crux pitch was to be. To my great surprise and satisfaction, I had just done it! Now we could relax a bit. But only a bit. Since this is the desert, where everyone knows it never rains and is always hotter than Hell, I had gone for the super-light strategy - a bottle of water, and the clothes on my back.

I am at the top of 5 and it's windy, cold, and starting to rain. Not a lot of rain, but enough to make me realize I've blown it big time. When Lynn reaches the belay I'm starting to shiver, and suggest we'd better bail before hypothermia gets the upper hand. Soon we are back in a hot tub at our casino base camp, a bit disappointed, but a lot wiser, and comfortable with the knowledge that the route is well within our abilities.

The next day dawns clear, and we are at the base even earlier. This time, we're first! The first pitch still seems tricky but we are at the top of 2 before other parties begin to arrive. Soon we can see a queue forming at the base, and pick up the pace a bit to stay out ahead. Again, I can tell almost no difference in difficulty in the first 5 pitches. Maybe that's because I get warmed to the task by the 5.8+ crux, which does have a more interesting sequence of moves on slightly steeper rock than some of the previous pitches, but also has chest-high pro instead of the ground fall potential on pitch 1. Besides the excellent face climbing, the thing I remember most about this section is the uncomfortable stances - typically one foot in the dihedral, one on a small edge, toes smashed and crying for relief, and nothing much to do about it but shift position every 2 minutes. I would strongly recommend bringing "sensible shoes" and even a belay seat on this route.

Once out of the big dihedral, the personality of the climb changes dramatically. The middle section of the route wanders up a large monolithic face, peppered with the flakes and knobs for which Red Rocks sandstone is so famous. There are an adequate number of bolts, but I am well aware that most are the original 1/4" bolts placed on the first ascent by the Uriostes in 1979! Better to just say no to falling. At the headwall, the climb changes personality again. The light sandstone is capped by a layer of dark brown rock which is smoother, harder, and fortunately has some nice cracks. Some steep pulling up good hand and finger jams brings us to a spectacular belay - plenty of air below! We finish the upper pitches quickly, and pull onto a really nice summit - small enough to be exciting, flat enough to be comfortable. We can see Vegas to the East, but more importantly, we can see the sun setting in the West. There is no walkoff from this route, so we'd better get rappelling, an exercise made more complex by the necessity of sharing anchors with parties still low on the route.

We touch the ground at the base and have to finally turn on the headlamp to collect our gear and get started down. A superb climb, one I would repeat with every visit to RR, except for the fact that the crowding situation doesn't need exacerbating, and I know there are still 780 more routes to sample from the Red Rocks Select guide alone.