Epinephrine, Black Velvet Canyon, Red Rocks

By: Gary Clark | Climbers: Gary Clark, Mark Jonas |Trip Dates: 10/11/98

Photo: Gary Clark

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On the road to Vegas again! Mark had been so disappointed in getting weathered off Epinephrine the previous spring that he was flying down from Anchorage just to do this route. Lynn and I had bagged it just after he had to return home in April, but I was happy to repeat it, especially to see him finally succeed. As long as we were going to the trouble and expense, I was really hoping to get another big route in the one week we had. The deal was, I'd partner Mark on Epi if he'd consent to go north to Zion to try Moonlight Buttress again.

Getting on the road was not trivial - The no-longer-so-trusty climbing van had been in the car hospital the whole week before having major surgery on injuries sustained in another Classic Approach. We picked it up the night before only to discover there were still major problems. So, back to the garage in the morning in a panic to try to score some new U-joints. No way. Not today. Not in this town. Fortunately it's an All-Wheel Drive, so we ripped out the offending drive shaft and drove away using the remaining one (rather like having two kidneys). Now we drive the long boring Interstate 40 toward Nevada, threading our way between the semis that dominate this highway almost to the exclusion of passenger cars, and marvelling once again at the tastelessness of the huge yellow billboards: "75% OFF INDIAN STUFF - 100 MILES AHEAD", and so on, seemingly every mile, until each succeeding exciting shopping opportunity was finally past, then only a few more "YOU MISSED IT, GO BACK!" Finally we could forget that and start looking forward to the even more grandiose tackiness of Las Vegas, world capitol of waste and excess.

However, it was not to be - not today, at least. A new sound began to emanate from the bowels of the vehicle, and I knew we were in big trouble. A freeway exit appears in the night, and we limp off as the transmission all but falls out onto the pavement. We make it to a campground just off the freeway with our one remaining gear. Now what?

The "what" is to get on the phone to Mark in Anchorage to tell him we have no wheels. He needs to rent a car when he gets to Vegas and come get us! Then we need to get on with the climbing!

Rental cars can be very versatile we discover, as we use it to tow the van to the next town the next morning, load all our gear into its trunk and back seat, and later boldy go where no two-wheel drive has gone before. We enter Kingman, Arizona, and as I spy a car dealership, I honk the horn and flash the lights while motioning to Mark and Lynn in the tow vehicle to drag me in there. I'm pretty tired of fixing vehicles, so I walk up to the manager and say: "My car just broke - can you find me a new one just like it?" Just the words a car salesman gets up every morning hoping to hear.

We grab a "gut bomb" at the nearby drivein then head for Vegas. Now for a place to stay; let's see - we did well at the Silverton last time - right on Black Diamond road, convenient to Red Rocks, and one of the last of the casinos with cheap beds to entice the gamblers. We drive smugly in, expecting to choose a room close to the pool and far away from the dreaded casino. The desk clerk looks at us like we're trying to buy a ticket on the 50-yard line for the Superbowl the night before the game. "There are some big conventions in town". Well Hell, there are always some big conventions in town and Vegas has, at last count, 3 billion, 426 million hotel rooms! She gives us a toll-free number for "Hotel Central" where supposedly they track the status of every hotel room in town. A quick phone call ensues from the Casino while trying to breathe as little as possible in air that could clog a jet engine. I've got to make an effort to learn to smoke before coming to Vegas again - the people in here seem immune. But I digress - back to the call . . . "I'm showing one room available at The Mirage - there are some big conventions in town, you know . . . It's $160 per night".

Plan B - the overflow campground by the Open-pit Gypsum mine. We rev up the rentmobile and go looking for it. Man it's dark out here! There are roads but no signs, and we drive up and back, up and back, and finally give up - it's not where we remembered it. We're dog tired, it's really late, and we're out of options. I drive toward Vegas again, hoping for a side road. And finally we find it - right across from the Shooter's Club - a road that goes far enough into the desert that we stop worrying about being rudely routed out in the night by the "Federales". We laugh as we lay our bags in the dirt beside the car with the lights of Vegas eliminating any need for flashlights even 10 miles from the strip. A trillion gigawatts (more or less) of energy needed to pump and light up the fountains. All it took was to build a dam on a dirty old river that nobody cared about, anyway - what a deal!

Finally, to the climbing - we dink around on some sport routes the next day to remind our bodies what it 's like, then pack it up and head for the raison d'etre of the trip. After 6 passages this summer, we can practically find our way by feel on the approach through the spectacular Black Velvet Canyon. We smooth the sand at the base of the route and lie down for another beautiful desert bivouac to the sound of frogs. The lights of Vegas are finally far enough away that the stars get a chance to shine.

5:45 am: We're up and ready, so anxious to get on this thing that we are least 45 minutes too early. I finally run out of patience and put a headlamp on while asking Mark to set a belay. It's eerie doing the 5.8 slab with just a small circle of light in front of me and the big black canyon walls on all sides. However, I remember the moves well and am up quickly. Mark starts to get a little natural light as he follows, then we can stow the headlamps and put it in warp drive.

The chimneys flow past - easily the best I've ever climbed for aesthetics of movement. We clamber out onto the top of the Black Tower and the bright morning sun just before 9:00a, and chortle with anticipation as we rack for the face pitches above. Running full 60m pitches, we climb the dream - perfect pitches that seem like they'll go on forever.

1:15 pm: We are the end of the technical pitches, but decide to keep the rope on and simul-climb the rest. There's no hurry, and we savor the feeling of having the climb in the bag and enjoy the beauty of the rock and the scenery to the North. Over the top into a face-full of sunshine, guzzle the rest of our water, then head up to the top of Whiskey Peak and the beginning of the big descent. I recite the mantra to Mark: "Be patient, and don't go where you can't see a cairn!". We deliberately go down the ridge beyond where we think the exit is, just to be sure, then back-track to the last cairn and dive off down the face. It's very reasonable going, but Mark's rock shoes are starting to bother him. He's beginning to wonder if my passion for going light is warranted.

We get sucked away from the line of cairns just once, but I repeat the mantra, and we climb back up to the last one to reconnoiter. It must go over the ridge here rather than straight down. . . YES! More cairns over delightfully easy and colorful rock of amazing shapes and textures, then the final desert trudge to the car. Mark's feet are really suffering now - he's wishing he'd followed the Park brochure advice to "wear sensible shoes". My beat-up old Sportivas are second only to my bedroom slippers in comfort, so I'm still doing OK, but they still were never intended for multi-mile hikes in the desert. I'm extremely grateful to see Lynn coming up the road with shoes, water, and food. I grovel in the dirt assimilating these riches while she continues on up bearing gifts for Mark.

3:15 pm: the Hertzmobile at last, and the promise of a pig-out in Vegas, a redeeming feature of which is a plentiful supply of great restaurants that also serve nearly every beverage known to modern man. A celebration of a climb well worth celebrating well into the night, then it's off to bed at the Silverton (the weekend revelers and conventioneers having mercifully left) with visions of Moonlight Buttress dancing in our heads. I call the car dealership in Kingman (remember the broken van?) to ask if they've found anything yet . . . a few possibilities. "Well, we'll be on a climb for the next couple days, then we really need something to drive home." They were motivated, and sure enough, after the Moonlight Climb (see trip report), we had a shiny new van waiting for us. All we had to do was drive 3 hours south from Vegas to get it, then back to Vegas to return the Rentmobile, then back through Kingman to begin the "Battle of the Semis" again on Interstate 40. It wasn't so bad in the new van . . . "What do you think this button does? . . . Oooh, that's really cool, how have we gotten along without that?"

Synopsis: Epinephrine is easily my favorite pure rock climb of all times. Those familiar with chimney and face climbing techniques will not find it difficult. A 60m rope will help you shave hours from the climb by combining traditional pitches. Pay close attention to the route description and descent diagram in the NAC collection - you'll be far too tired to want to make a mistake and turn your descent into an epic.