Epinephrine, Black Velvet Canyon, Red Rocks
By: Bill Wright, George Bell | Climbers: Bill Wright, George Bell |Trip Dates: May, 1996
Photo: Gary Clark
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Viva Las Vegas: Bubbing the Canyon or
Epi·neph·rine: A colorless crystalline feebly basic sympathomimetic adrenal hormone C9H13NO3 used medicinally esp. as a heart stimulant, a vasoconstrictor, and a muscle relaxant.
Climbing in the Red Rock Recreational Area near Las Vegas, Nevada has always been difficult for me. I've not completed more routes here than anywhere else. I backed off Crimson Chrysalis with the lame excuse of being too cold. I only went eight pitches of Dream of Wild Turkeys. I backed off of Epinephrine from five pitches up, this time blaming fatigue. I only did the first two pitches of Triassic Sands because we didn't think we had time to complete it. Then I went over and had to retreat from Our Father because it was too hard for me. To top things off I even left a camming unit after jamming it solidly. Basically, I've been getting my ass kicked by the Red Rocks for years.
This time I was determined to change my ways and I enlisted some insurance: The Trashman. George "Trashman" Bell is not known for backing off of routes. He just doesn't even think about it. Like it was a physical impossibility, like traveling faster than light. My confidence soared.
We were planning on four days of climbing at Red Rocks: Saturday thru Tuesday [April 27-30, 1996]. Our plan was to tick Epinephrine on our first day. That way we'd be fresh and if anything went wrong we'd still have three more days to get it done. The one drawback to this plan was lack of sleep. You see, we didn't land in Vegas until 9:30 p.m. and by the time we got the rental car and navigated ourselves to Mark's friend Jerry's house, it was late. To top things off, the Trashman's headlamp malfunctioned and melted the battery case when turned on. The Trashman struggled to find the short and finally fixed the headlamp by using a baggage claim tag as an insulator. We didn't turn off the lights until almost midnight. But everything was ready for a quick departure.
The alarm went off at 4 a.m. and I was immediately vertical having not really slept the last half hour for fear of missing the alarm. I brushed my teeth, grabbed my lunch, and prodded the Trashman out the door by 4:05. We blazed across town and then west and south on 159. Right on 160. Right on the dirt road into Black Velvet Canyon. We careened down the dirt road in an effort to fully utilize the insurance we purchased for the rental car. It was 4:45 a.m. when we pulled into the parking lot and leapt out to find another party gearing up. Damn, I thought, anyone getting ready this early must be going for Epinephrine. I urged the Trashman to get ready quickly, but he had to put on his harness and strap on the ropes. I was carrying the mini haulbag that we'd be taking up the route. Unfortunately, the Trashman's headlamp wasn't working again. I was starting to get anxious. "Damn it! Just leave it behind and hike in behind me and my headlamp."
"God dammit!" says the normally unperturbed Trashman. "This stupid headlamp!" Finally, in frustration it hits it hard with his hand and it instantly flicks on. A minute later we are hiking with the other team hot on our heels. The race was on.
Whenever the Trashman and I hike together, the standard procedure is that someone leads until he screws up. I set a fast pace, but in the darkness managed to walk off the trail. The Trashman took over, but then he missed the turnoff to drop into the wash and I'm back in the lead. By now one of the other climbers is right on our heels. We ask the question already knowing the answer:
"What route are you guys doing?"
"It figures. Us two."
"There's another party about half an hour ahead of us also."
Another party! Geesh! I can't believe the traffic for such a long route. I didn't know the route had become this popular. I had never seen anyone on it before. Shit. I knew we'd have to move very fast and I didn't want to be behind anyone. I didn't want my pace to be dictated by another party. I also didn't relish climbing in a crowd. Any pretenses that we aren't racing for this climb are lost. I make another route finding error and leave the wash to bypass a boulder and my competitor goes on by into the lead. When I regain the wash, it is I who is now on his heels. The Trashman and this other guy's companion fell back into the gloom as the pace quickened to nearly a run. Passing the tight, jumbled, dark wash was going to be very difficult. I resolved to start up the route first, regardless if I beat this guy to the climb. I was confident that the Trashman would beat his partner and that would mean our whole team was there before his team.
A little further up the wash, we blew by the other team that supposedly had a half hour lead on us. We passed them so fast that they barely had to time to ask "Are you guys fast?" before we disappeared into the darkness in our high stakes race. At the top end of the wash, progress is blocked by a vertical wall and 4th class scrambling on the left allows you to climb up and by this barrier. My competitor made his only mistake here, but it was a fatal one. I knew of this barrier and was able to shoot by him and up the steep wall. Once by, I poured on the speed, scrambling at a near run. I did run down the other side and up the wash to the base of the route. We had won.
I had my harness on and was gearing up when the Trashman arrived. He immediately began to flake out the rope. As my competitor's partner showed up, I started up the first pitch by headlamp. In the wrong place! I backed off and found the real start, ditching my headlamp. By now the other party had arrived and it was getting crowded. Time to put some distance between us and the others. We started up a little before 6 a.m.
I must admit I was discouraged by the number of other climbers on this route. I hate climbing in a crowd and racing other parties to the base of the route. I was glad Bill had claimed the first spot, but was worried these other teams might be chomping at our heels all day.
After Bill found the correct start, the rope was soon whizzing through my hungry belay plate as fast as I could feed rope to it. It was only a minute or two before I heard the "off belay" and prepared myself to go. Bill had done the lower pitches once before, and suggested it might save time if he led the next pitch also - I agreed. He quickly squeezed up past an easy chimney and vanished from sight. Above me a scrubby tree clung to the cliff, its branches bursting with hundreds of pink blossoms. The soft morning light on the branch and surrounding red rock was breathtaking; and I couldn't believe my last trip out here had been nearly ten years ago. This place was gorgeous, and me with no camera!
Bill had only stopped to place a piece or two, very soon I was on belay. The blossoming tree was actually right on the route, and I had to be careful to keep the pack from breaking it off as I went past. As I struggled up the chimney with the pack, I heard voices above me. Turns out yet another party was bivying off to the left near the base of the chimney pitches. Bill blazed past them also, but they queued in behind us. These two friendly "helmeted dudes" had hoped to get to the Black Tower yesterday, but had run out of light. We would pass them quickly, but for the two parties coming up behind us they would be more of a problem.
The next pitch led up to the base of the three 5.9 chimney pitches and was quite short. I was tempted to continue on with the first chimney pitch but Bill didn't know if our 50m rope would reach.
The 3 chimney pitches were the most fun part of the route, for me anyway. They have an evil reputation but I think that is only because few people are used to climbing smooth-walled chimneys in Red Rocks. The first pitch has good pro in the back but goes on for quite a long ways. It is also quite flared and can feel a bit unstable for this reason.
The second chimney pitch starts with a short, awkward, bottleneck. I was leading this and could see some good handholds ahead but my feet were still stemming in the chimney section. After one short, hard move the chimney ends for a while and you just have to make a difficult face move to reach a large ledge.
The third chimney pitch is the most intimidating looking, and probably the hardest in reality too. You crank into it from below and are immediately faced with what appears a long squeeze chimney (knee pads). There is a bit of a run-out to a bolt, here the chimney opens out a bit but the exposure is out there. Bill puzzled a bit until he realized the next bolt was on the opposite wall. It is a bit tricky turning around but after that he quickly zoomed upward. I followed and then led an easy pitch to the top of the Black Tower. The parties behind were nowhere in sight and it was only 7:50, less than 2 hours for the first 8 pitches!
With nobody else in sight below we took our first rest break, changing into shorts and downing some water. Taking shorts was a stroke of genius, as we were now in the sun and it already felt hot. I led us up the next long pitch and immediately got off route, as I couldn't believe the steep crack to the right could be 5.9. But at Red Rocks, dead vertical walls can be 5.7 due to the knob factor. Bill soon got us back on route, and was soon shimmying up a pillar that looks like an elephant's trunk (an obvious feature to look for).
The upper 5.9 pitches are more face climbing and weren't as physical as the chimneys below. We played a game about how quickly we could ditch the hefty #4 Camalot. Once when I left low on a pitch near a nice stopper crack, the Trashman yelled up indignantly, "Hey, this is illegal dumping!"
Seven hours and eleven minutes from waking up in Las Vegas to the top of Epinephrine. I was very pleased with this time. The Trashman flew! I was dragging near the top. We coined a new term for this: "Bubbing", as in "we Bubbed Epinephrine, dude!"This term needs some explaining. Tony Bubb, prolific poster to the Internet's rec.climbing, has climbed a three hour ascent (including descent!) of the 9 pitch Crimson Chrysalis. This claim was met with a modicum of disbelief from some readers and Tony proceeded to substantiate his speed with further claims, testimonials, etc.
Top of the route at 11:10 where we took at 40 minute break to eat and drink. I was wasted and had to talk the Trashman into taking a break. I felt continuing without eating wouldn't be wise. But my problem was water although I didn't feel that thirsty and it didn't feel that hot yet (probably 80+ still).
We coiled the ropes and soloed the 700 feet of 4th class. We did take out the rope and belay one exposed traverse on a 12" ledge, but in retrospect it wasn't necessary as the climbing was more like class 2.
We summitted at 12:15 and took some photos and killed the last of our water. We started down, light of head and noodly of leg at 12:30. The descent goes smoothly, thankfully, since my legs weren't responding to my commands. George led and I stumbled behind. We reached the car at 1:50 for a car to car time of just under 9 hours. I was so parched that speaking was to be avoided.
We threw the gear in the trunk, jumped in the car, set the air conditioner on "Antarctic", threw up a cloud of dust speeding for the Quickie Mart. Once there multiple quarts of liquids were sucked down and sanity slowly returned.
Editor's Note: The authors are Major Contributors to the North American Classics project.