Crimson Chrysalis (Red Rocks)
By: Warren Teissier | Climbers: Warren Teissier, Terry Gill |Trip Dates: April 27, 2002
Photo: Gary Clark
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Common wisdom warned us not to attempt this climb on a weekend. But this is not our first crowded classic and experience has taught us the way: our strategy was to wake up at 4:00am and to park the car on highway 159 at the exit of the 13 mile loop and hike in from there (I am guessing this is approximately a 4 mile hike). Since the loop did not open until 6AM we would have at least a 1 hour head start on the people too lazy to wake up early or walk the extra couple of miles. To borrow from my friend Bill Wright: "We may not be the fastest climbers, but we for sure can wake up earlier and hike faster than the rest".
Up at 4:00am, out of the room by 4:30am, and leaving the car by 5:00am. We hiked up the road and onto the gravel spur road. From the parking lot at the end of the gravel road we take the diagonal trail that points towards Juniper canyon. In the twilight we can faintly make out the ramp leading to the base of the climb. We approach the tower from the left in the dark and are thus unable to appreciate it to its full extent. After the climb when we saw it from the Pine Creek side with climbers on it, we were awed. It looked huge and exposed, and I'm, glad we didn't get this perspective before the climb. With headlamps on, we follow the trail until we drop into a wash and follow it uphill. Impatience drives us out of the draw too soon and we bushwhack for too long until we finally find the trail up the ramp. As I reach the top of the ramp and look down towards the base of the climb I know we are first in line.
I reach the base a couple of minutes before Terry (he'll say it is because he was carrying all the gear, but that is simply not true). As I walk to the base I have a strange feeling, sort of like meeting someone famous "So, THIS is Crimson Chrysalis huh?". As if suddenly, all my visualizations of the route created by trip reports and route descriptions evaporated, making way for the reality of this, by now, mega classic. It took us 1½ hrs to reach the base.
We gear up and as I proceed to hide our packs Terry ropes up and asks who goes first, I reply I don't care, there's plenty of climbing for everyone here. The weather is supposed to be in the high 70's but the wall faces North and can be quite cold most of the day. Terry starts up the first pitch (5.7) at 6:40 am, and gets acquainted with this new (for us) type of rock quickly as he runs it out to the first bolt. Based on the TR's I had read, I was expecting a run out horror show on the first pitch, but after the initial 20ft run out to the first bolt, things get pretty reasonable. I follow his lead thinking about how routes always feel harder to me when I follow than when I lead.
I find Terry at a bomber bolt belay with nothing for his feet. This, we quickly find out, is the cross we have to bear in this climb. I launch at the second pitch (5.8-) by climbing next to and in the wide crack but never really needing to jam or do chimney or OW moves. The holds are all there and it's a good thing cause it is steep and getting steeper. I catch myself a couple of times thinking about jamming only to find "gym like" holds inches from the jams. Terry catches up with me at the next hanging belay and we both have the same complaint: it is too cold for our hands. The sun is shining brightly in the valley, but the dihedral to our left blocks it and a moderate breeze isn't helping things. On the Third pitch (5.8+) Terry is forced to stop before the crux to warm up his hands. It is amazing that even though it is 60+ degrees in the sun our hands are numb here in the shade. I dig in my pack for my polypro gloves and enjoy warm hands as I hear Terry complain while he finishes his lead I follow his lead up the steep narrow crack section that makes the crux of this route.
I fire up the fourth pitch (5.8). This pitch will see us out of the dihedral and provides me with the first of one of the two small ledges of the climb. Through these four pitches the climbing has been very similar both in technique (wide crack/dihedral on the left and face holds on the right) and difficulty. We both agree that short of the 10 ft section of 5.8+ all the climbing feels just about the same difficulty and all fairly sustained. Also at this point, we notice two parties arriving at the base.
As the sun shines upon us and warms us on the fifth pitch (5.8+) our spirits rise and Terry celebrates from the top of the pitch by imitating the burro mating calls that we have been hearing for the past two hours. And a great job he does, with the echo from the canyon and all. It is, after all, springtime. We chuckle and begin to enjoy the climb in earnest. Once we clear the dihedral the wall opens up and the climbing becomes more aesthetic and fun. We are giddy at how cool this is, great positive holds, huge new bolts decently spaced, peppered with a great amount of solid trad pro when required. With each pitch we do, we agree "this is the best one yet".
The sixth pitch (5.6) is longer than the stated 90ft and mildly run out between bolts but very manageable if not for the fact that I run out of slings. Terry leads the seventh pitch (5.6+) and lands on the only other ledge. As I bitch and moan about how my feet hurt from the shitty belay stances, he shares one of the many impressive climbing techniques only a man with 30 years of climbing experience can have: the Fetal Roll: which entails hanging from the bolts by his harness and rolling sideways into a ball taking the weight off his feet. I'm not sure I like the technique; first it is really hard to feed or take in rope and the bruises on the sides of his thighs the next day are the second reason
Pitch 7 and 8 wander across the wall and are in spots a bit hard to sort out, that is until your eyes find the lines of bolts by following the trail of chalk. I get to lead the eighth pitch (5.7), over to the right and back left up a thinning ramp that protects well in a crack, followed by an exposed traverse left onto the now chocolate colored rock.
Standing on one of two horizontal bands on the dark rock I see the next bolt some 20 feet away. I am out of good pro for the horizontal crack and make a poor placement with a microcam in the only spot where it fits, a flaring crack. I clip it to a screamer and in a serious tone yell down: "Watch me dude, this is pretty run out here". I think to myself how this is getting serious and out of character with the rest of the climb, but after one move, an intermediary bolt inside a concave part of the rock comes into view, I clip it and back-clean the poor placement - "false alarm".
Terry runs up the ninth and last pitch (5.8) only stopping momentarily at the small roof to place a piece. As I follow his lead, I spot a couple of bolts he neglected to clip he just missed them and protected in the crack instead. This is the only pitch where we find a couple of the dreaded ¼" rusted bolts.
We summit jointly at 10:40am. We both experience the same feeling, not of triumph but of awe at the amazing quality of this climb. Terry sums it up best: "It is amazing you can get up 9 pitches of great climbing on something dead vertical and have it all be at 5.8 and under" This is indeed a special place
The celebration and philosophizing is cut short by the nagging thought of having to do 8-9 rappels. We rap pitches 8-9 as one (with 60M ropes other pitches might be combined too). After one rappel we have good system going. We set up to always pull the rope to the right to keep it away from the rope-eating crack. We come across two parties on our way down and share cramped but cordial belays with them. Terry practices his burro mating calls sporadically during the raps. We reach the ground at 12:40pm
I retrieve the packs and find that a voracious varmint has beaten me to my bagel and cheese, by tearing a hole in my pack! Damn it!
With the relief that comes from reaching the ground after 8 rappels we shoulder our packs and head back to our car. In the full blaze of the sun and without the breeze, we bake in our polypro clothes. As we descend the ramp and the hill leading to it, we keep looking back in awe at the route. The two parties on the route are but tiny dots.
"So, tomorrow, we take it easy and rest our feet and calves right? "