Epinephrine, Black Velvet Canyon, Red Rocks

By: Trey Lancaster | Climbers: Trey & Kristy Lancaster |Trip Dates: April 16-17, 1999

Photo: Gary Clark

® The author(s) and naclassics.com | Back to climb page NAC Home page

My wife and I decided to take our spring trip this year in Red Rocks State Park, Nevada. We would only have three days, so we needed to focus on quality not quantity. What better plan than to attempt a classic such as Epinephrine. We arrived on Wednesday and decided to warm up on Dark Shadows--a brilliant 4-pitch route in Pine Creek Canyon.

My wife is a strong climber; however, she rarely leads, and is considerably slow….eeeeer I mean cautious. With this in mind, I realized early in my planning that we would have to do the climb in two days with a bivy on top of pitch 8. I was not excited about hauling gear and spreading the climb over two days, but the thought of spending the night on ledge overlooking the strip at 1000' did appeal to me. I only hoped Todd Swain was right that this ledge is "quite spacious and leans inward".

Late Thursday morning we drove 4.7 miles on Route 160 (from the intersection on 159) to the second cattle guard on the right. This was wrong, and eventually cost us an hour and a half of bottoming out our rental on the wrong dirt roads. You need to take the first cattle guard on the right approximate 4.6 miles on Route 160. We finally back tracked and took the correct (and much smoother) dirt road to reach Black Velvet Canyon parking lot. Only three cars, thus far, so hopefully, we would not be sharing the route with others.

After, a brisk hour and a half approach (2x what the book described) we were at the base of Epinephrine. Fully expecting a party somewhere on the route, we were happy to discover a free route, with Dream of Wild Turkeys and Prince of Darkness hosting a party each. Approaching 1:30 PM, we did not waste any time. I had no desire to be hauling my wife up the chimnies in the dark.

To save time, we took the alternate route to the right of pitch one, with exposed 4th class. Hindsight, I think It would have been quicker to take the bolted 5.8 first pitch. We made good time by combining pitches 2 & 3. A little exposure and sweat on the 3rd pitch chimney and a scramble on 4 quickly put 4 pitches behind us and a little confidence for the chimnies. We attacked the 1st 5.9 chimney, putting our packs in haul mode. I had never climbed chimnies before (until pitch 3) so I was a little nervous about my ability to get up them as well as my ability to protect the lead. Pitch 5 was incredibly demanding from a physical standpoint, however, I found the chimnies technicaly simple. The twenty foot runouts did not bother me as the walls were consistently parallel and easy to exert opposing foot/back pressure. My wife on the other hand, ended up hating chimnies, which made my life miserable for the next three hours. I hauled all of the bags to keep her load light, but the narrowing and widening of pitch 7 freaked her out even more (despite the incredible horizontal cracks embedded in the walls. Kristy regained her composure on the easier 8th pitch, even though we did it with head lamps.

Finally, the ledge. Spacious?? Leans inwards? I will give Swain the latter, but I'm not sure about spacious. I used the helmets to even the terrain, but after I absorbed the beautiful view of the Vegas Strip 25 miles away, I was elated to be sleeping on the small ledge. Granola bars, water, one more peek at Vegas…finally sleep.

Climbing at sunrise Friday, we combined the easy 9th and 10th pitches. We combined the relatively easy 11th pitch traverse with the more challenging pitch 12 (5.90. Pitch 13 starts the prominent dihedral that sets the stage for the next three pitches. Pitch 14 and 15 can also be linked together for a long 180' pitch, which allows you to avoid the sloping trad belay at 14. The 17th (crux) has one 5.9 roof move that can be protected well with small TCU's. Finally a large ledge at 17's belay set us up for the long, but easy pitch 18.

We topped out at around 1:00 PM and started the ramp. Easy third class, yet any mistake would no doubt be critical, so we opted to rope up for the 700+ foot ramp. Now just a simple scramble to the base……or maybe a two and a half hour descent. Unless you are really moving, I think Swain's "…one hour for descent" may be optimistic. I found the NAC descent topo after the fact, and it is very accurate. Otherwise, the large cairns should guide you home to the parking lot.

We arrived at the parking lot around dusk and headed straight to Vegas for a little celebration. This route tops my list of climbing accomplishments, and I agree that it may very well be one of the best routes of its grade in the country. If you planning on doing it in one day, get an early start, bring plenty of water, and pack a headlamp. Good luck.