Dream of Wild Turkeys (Red Rocks)

By: Gary Clark | Climbers: Gary & Lynn Clark |Trip Dates: November 20, 2001

Photo: Gary Clark

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Not exactly a Trip Report for Prince of Darkness

OK, so why am I posting a trip report for the route 'Dream of Wild Turkeys' on the 'Prince of Darkness' page? Read on, and I think you will understand.

We had a few days to spend in Vegas over the Thanksgiving Holiday, and high on my list was this route on Black Velvet Wall. I had just about done all the climbs of which I was capable in this canyon, and was almost grateful, because the hike had become so routine that I'd almost begun to resent it. Red Rocks is such a large and diverse landscape that it would be a shame to become jaded over the beauty here. Over the past decade this has easily assumed top spot on my list of places to climb rock. Perhaps it has something to do with my attraction to the desert, but I think the quality of climbing is foremost. While there are certainly a fair number of quality moderate (5.10 and under) routes in Yosemite, for example, there is a certain sameness to the climbing there. You can choose between thin cracks, medium cracks, wide cracks, off-width cracks, or cracks large enough to stuff your whole body into. The granite is white, light gray, or medium gray.

At Red Rocks, there is every kind of rock feature you can imagine, some you can't imagine until you see them, and everything is in Technicolor. There are flowering desert plants, grottos, gardens, clear streams, and fantastic water-scoured gullies dotted with frog-filled pools. From the tops of climbs, you can often see hidden canyons with intriguing terraces on their walls tucked away in places that may have never seen visitors. Lizards of various shapes and sizes are abundant, and there is a good chance of seeing desert bighorns at the tops of climbs. The entire landscape has a mythical proportion and feel, like the Middle Earth of Tolkien novels.

But even with all that variety, here we were, trudging again up to the Black Velvet Wall. We had a reasonable start for a Fall day, but were under no illusions that we'd be first at the base of this extremely popular destination. Still, I wasn't worried, because our route got about a fourth the traffic of the big attraction on the wall, namely Prince of Darkness. Sure enough, as the wall came into view, we could see 2 parties well established on Prince. As we arrived at the base, there was a veritable convention in progress. I asked around, and quickly determined that in addition to the two parties already on Prince, there were two more in the queue for it, and another party planning on Dream of Wild Turkeys. One problem is, both routes share the same first pitch, which ends at a hanging stance. Collectively, this group would have to work out the problem of moving 8 more people through that stance. As we chatted with the other climbers, another pair showed up, disappointment showing on their faces when they realized the futility of their approach hike. I went over to offer the suggestion that they go over to the 'Triassic Buttress,' a short hike away, and climb 'Sand Felipe', a route I've done several times that is almost a carbon copy of several of the pitches on Prince. This, I thought, might be better than just sitting at the base waiting for traffic to clear. They accepted this suggestion, and headed back down toward the streambed.

Shortly after they left I began to pay attention to the conversation of the team that would be in front of us on Turkeys. Dave from Boulder was telling Roger from Texas: "OK, when I reach the anchors, I'll call down 'Off Belay,' which means you can remove the rope from your ATC and get ready to climb. Then I'll call 'On Belay,' which means you can start climbing." . . . . Groan. Dave looked up to see the expression on my face and said "This is his first multi-pitch climb, but he's a good climber." Apparently Roger had spent his entire climbing career to date on sport walls, an increasingly common phenomenon. I had serious misgivings about following this pair up the wall, but as it turned out, Dave was right. Although Roger needed a little coaching at times (such as when he reached the first piece of protection and called up to Dave "Should I remove this?"), he was a quick study, and moved well on the rock. We were not delayed in the least on the route, and enjoyed sharing stances with them. In fact, everyone on the wall that day was pleasant and cooperative.

I tried to time my departure from the ground to ensure I'd have a spot at the hanging belay when I arrived, but I misjudged a little, and ended up standing on climbing holds for about 10 minutes while a 'Prince' leader prepped to begin the second pitch. Finally he was climbing, and I could move up to clip a couple of the beefy bolts there and bring Lynn up. The first short pitch, shared with 'Prince,' is only 5.6, and this is about the 5th time we've both done it, so within 10 minutes I was on belay again and beginning the first real lead of 'Turkeys.' This pitch heads up a long diagonal crack to the right, steadily departing from the almost arrow-straight line of 'Prince.' From there, it traverses directly right again to gain another long crack and dihedral system, before gradually coming back toward 'Prince' in the upper pitches to end at a common final anchor. 'Prince' might be the most direct line, but 'Turkeys' is the most natural on the wall, and thus has the fewest bolts.

Had I done 'Turkeys' before 'Prince', I might have selected it for the North American Classics collection. The climbing is unfailingly interesting, diverse, and fun, the protection is excellent, and there is a good stance or even a ledge at the end of each pitch, while 'Prince' has only hanging belays. 'Prince' would be impossible without bolts, whereas 'Turkeys' would only be very exciting on a few short but key passages that link the natural features. I felt vindicated with my choice, however, simply due to what I was observing. Climbers were voting with their feet. I had asked a few parties at the base why they chose it over any of the other classic lines on the face. One response was typical: "Well, because it's so famous, I guess. . . . And then there are the bolts . . . " "Build it, and they will come."

Late November days are short, and with our fashionably late start and long wait at the base, we would be pushing it to get up this puppy before dark. The conversation all across the wall turned to this fact as lots of climbers began to converge on the final anchors. Wendy and Sarah were already rapping while I brought Lynn up the penultimate pitch, with an Indian and a very good German climber about 10m to my left starting the final pitch of Prince. I watched the German quickly dispatch the crux 5.10c section where I had to resort to aiding over a year ago. Dave and Roger were at the final stance, waiting to rappel. Then, shortly, we all were there, and it was getting darker by the minute. This would be interesting.

Fortunately, there are two good rap routes; one for 'Turkeys,' and one for 'Prince.' We all must have looked like rats coming off a sinking ship as everyone worked to get down as fast as possible before the final photons of the day dissipated. We shared ropes, we shared headlamps, we cooperated to keep the number of bodies at a hanging stance to a reasonable level, and in the end we all coiled ropes together at the base of the climb in total darkness. There was a party atmosphere, with everyone happy to be down and to have experienced such quality climbs. Two parties that had arrived that morning with great expectations had been disappointed - one with a leader who gave up after realizing the climb was over his head, and the last party to arrive whom I had directed to 'Sand Felipe.' They had taken my advice, done that one-pitch climb, then come back to the base of Black Velvet Wall to do as many pitches of 'Prince' as possible before dark. In the selfless style that pervaded the day, they left their ropes in place on the final rappel for everyone to use, although it meant a considerable additional wait. Is this a great sport, or what?

One motivation for this report is to strongly suggest that, no matter which route you have in mind for the day, bring a versatile rack of gear. I've seen quite a few parties disappointed to have done the considerable approach with 'Prince' in mind, find a crowd in front of them, but have only a large collection of quick-draws in their packs. There are so many good routes in the area at about the same difficulty level that any aspirants to 'Prince' can salvage their day if they come prepared for a more naturally protected route. We've also done 'Refried Brain,' 'Sour Mash,' and 'Yellow Brick Road' on the main Black Velvet wall, and all are excellent. The closest buttress to the east has 'Triassic Sands', at 6 pitches one of the best 5.10s at Red Rocks. Then there are a plethora of shorter climbs on the Triassic Buttress, any of which will make your day. 'Epinephrine' is only another 10 minutes approach up the arroyo. Although you might be hard put to do the entire route if you're already late for 'Prince,' climbing the initial chimneys and rapping is worthwhile and popular. Toss in a couple of large cams just in case.