North American Classic Climbs

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Rainbow Wall

Original (Hamilton/Herbst) Route

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Named for the arches that dominate the right side of this, one of the highest and most dramatic features in Red Rocks, this wall provides opportunities for true "big wall" experiences for climbers who flock to Las Vegas every fall and spring to experience some of the best sandstone climbing anywhere.

The Original Route was Nevada's first grade V, and is the only route in this collection representing the earliest years of serious Red Rocks climbing. During those years the original local, Joe Herbst, with a small circle of friends, applied Yosemite-honed skills and a low-impact philosophy to establish well over 100 new routes. Herbst identified a central line on the Rainbow Wall, leading up to the Red Dihedral and summit overhangs, as the range's preeminent challenge. Despite the intimidation of loose blocks and unknown difficulties, this line became the focus of several early attempts. Herbst and his El Cap partner Larry Hamilton climbed the first five pitches in 1972, but retreated with tattered ropes and haul bag following a near-disastrous rockfall. After doing a few more Yosemite walls, the pair returned the next year to complete the first ascent in a single three-day push. They spent nights at the base and on Over the Rainbow Ledge, encountering wall climbing at its finest on their final day.

It wasn't until 1994 that this route was climbed completely free. The free ascent involves many pitches of 5.11 and 5.12, and was done by adding anchor and protection bolts. However, this act significantly compromised the experience for climbers choosing a traditional aided ascent, and many of the bolts were removed shortly afterwards. What remains is a challenging climb for either aid or free climbers, with good anchors and enough protection bolts to render it a reasonably safe climb. A big approach is necessary, and temperatures must be monitored carefully to choose a good time to live on this big desert wall for a few days. The rewards are some of the most spectacular climbing and scenery at Red Rocks. Hammers should absolutely not be used to place gear on this relatively soft rock. If aiding, bring some standard hooks, camming hooks, and lots of small wires instead. There are several major variations in place by now, but the original line is chosen here for its purity of line and history.


Lowland Rock (crag)




Red Rocks Conservation Area, near Las Vegas, Nevada, USA





V, 5.9 A2 or 5.12


Route Descriptions & Maps:

See recommended guidebook

First Ascent:

J. Herbst, L. Hamilton, April 1973
Leo Henson, April 1994


Trip Reports:

Altman, Barash 11/02
Anderson 5/02