Rainbow Mountain 2x 52PC / DS / RS

Mar 11, 2016

With: Courtney Purcell
Walt Hutton

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile
previously climbed Nov 23, 2009
later climbed Feb 17, 2018


I had been using Courtney Purcell's Rambles & Scrambles as my primary source during my Red Rock adventures of late, finding the routes superb and the book amusing. I had contacted Courtney before this trip to see if he had any free time to join me. On friday he was planning to hike with a friend from Flagstaff who was in the area for a few days. They were planning to do the Cleaver Crack route on Mt. Wilson (which I would have been good with), but he immediately suggested we might do the Best Route in Red Rocks, instead. This was a route leading to Rainbow Mtn out of Oak Creek from the southeast that I've since learned is commonly referred to as Rainbow Direct. That he considered it the best scrambling route in the entire area gave it great weight and I readily agreed to join them. The route is not described in the guidebook, nor even mentioned, but I suppose that may be left for the next revision. Or not.

A Really Good Scramble

I had never met Walt and had only hiked once before with Courtney almost five years earlier. When I pulled up to the entrance to Scenic Drive around 6:30a I didn't recognize Courtney at all - he had let his hair grow longer than I remembered and, well, my memory isn't so great after five years anyway. Walt pulled up a few minutes later and we all piled into my van for the drive to the Oak Creek TH along Scenic Drive. Courtney claimed to be suffering from some poorly-defined illness ("I'm going to be slow, hope that's ok"), but from the start he was all Go, leaving Walt and I to follow as best we could in his wake. He turned off at some unmarked, invisible junction, heading for what looks like cliffs below Rainbow Mtn, home to the Best Route. From the beginning, we got on exceedlingly well, bantering and joking like we'd been doing this every weekend for years. Our strategy to slow him some was to encourage Courtney to keep talking, allowing Walt and I to keep up with his energy. One of his stories involved notable climber Dangerous Dan who also happened to be a musician/songwriter with whom Courtney collaborated in perhaps the only peakbagger song ever produced. The culmination of the story came when Courtney pulled out his cell phone to play us the recording while we sat there among the cliffs. If you haven't heard this gem, it is presented here:

We had all sorts of discussions over the next few hours, from a concern that there just isn't enough scrambling-themed gay porn to the benefits of a Trump Presidency (interestingly, the segue between the two was not difficult) and all manner of other thought-provoking and topical subjects. The climbing was pretty good, too. At the start Courtney said we could expect 17 fixed ropes by another's count, the first coming after the intial hour's effort. I had planned to make a count of my own but they came too regularly to keep track of and my attention span proved inadequate for the job. A number were made from thin, wire cables maybe a quarter inch in diameter, a few overhand knots tied in them periodically. These seemed dicey, at best, and fortunately most weren't really necessary to use, and regular static ropes were found where most needed. There were several tight chimneys that Walt seemed to struggle with the most. His pack was bigger than ours and more cumbersome to carry through these tough spots and he sported wider shoulders and waist. He would curse from below while Courtney and I more often offered jokes rather than sympathy. At one chimney, Courtney trailed the rope he carried with him to facilitate hauling our packs, the only time we used one of our own ropes on the ascent. A few of the chimneys could be bypassed with steep slab climbing on one side or the other. I did this for one of them, finding the slabs sufficiently ribbed with adequate holds, but for the most part the chimneys offered better security without the high level of exposure. We joked and chatted all the while, quite relaxed in manner and tone despite the significant exposure and difficulties. We talked about guiding and the non-fun parts that entails, primarily being responsible for the rest of your party. We were all happy to simply climb together without having to be concerned with each other's welfare. Not that we didn't care, but that it made climbing and scrambling that much more enjoyable. It contrasted highly with the club mentality - when I met Branch two days earlier it seemed he couldn't help but keep his mental faculties in overdrive, thinking ahead and offering advice without considering if it was even necessary to do so.

The Best Scrambling Route goes up 2,500ft over 3/4mi, with a steep average incline. The scrambling is consistently class 3 with very few easy sections and plenty of short class 4-5 stretches. We spent almost 3.5hrs on the route, most of this in the scrambling portion off the trail, eventually arriving at Rainbow Mtn's summit around 10:15a. Courtney seemed eager to get our opinion on Red Rocks' Best Route, but we did not give him a satisfactory answer, at least initially. "Gee, 'Best Route' is a pretty serious claim - how can I judge that when I haven't been on ALL of Red Rocks' scrambling routes? Sure, it's good, but 'BEST'? Hard to say..." Of course we were just giving him a hard time, part of the game, and he seemed to take it all in stride. Eventually I conceded, " Not bad, but for now, I'll refer to as A Really Good Scramble."

Locally this peak seems to be referred to as Rainbow Peak, with another higher point to the west as Rainbow Mtn (and of course Rainbow Wall further to the northwest). We signed a busy register we found among the summit rocks (another 52PC summit), though I was the only one to use my own name. The summit is nicely situated between Mt. Wilson to the south and Bridge Mtn to the north, a grand overlook of Red Rock Canyon and Las Vegas to the east. We spent something less than 15min at the summit, mostly because it was windy and chilly there. The forecast had been for strong winds to develop over the area around noon which had concerned us from the beginning - a challenging route is hardly made easier by such conditions. We were happy to find the winds at bay at least until we reached the summit, but even then they were nothing like the 50mph gusts that were forecast. We wanted to get back down before things got more serious but were happy to find the strong winds held off until later in the afternoon.

Our descent route headed north off the summit, a much more relaxed route compared to the ascent one. It had only a few fixed ropes and was far more regularly ducked, probably the 'normal' route for the 52PC folks. After the initial descent to the north, the route turns west to drop into the huge, impressive amphitheater below Rainbow Wall. Up on the wall we could see two climbers in a crack about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way up its vertical face. Hats off to those boys (or girls). We downclimbed huge slabs funneling down the bowl, eventually landing at the far west end of the bowl above a steep section just above Juniper Canyon. A bolt here could be used to facilitate a rappel - finally a chance to use the rope I'd been carrying, but so far, not used. We had some humorous discussion about tying the ropes together. While I was tying a double fishermen (backed up by another double fishermen) and taking my sweet time about it, the others were commenting that they could have tied and untied about a dozen Euro Death Knots which apparently have an entirely unearned reputation and are more commonly used these days. Because the slope was hardly severe, we simply batmanned our way down hand over hand. After retrieving the rope Courtney gave us a short lesson in EDK tying. Ropes packed up, we started scrambling down the creekbed which was looking awfully familiar. In fact, I had just been up this route 11 days earlier on our way to Gunsight Notch. I recalled seeing a fixed rope leading up to the amphitheater and as we passed it shortly after starting down I asked Courtney, "Hey, why didn't we just use that?" He stopped, looked confused momentarily and then just shrugged, "Huh!" We used the moment to make more fun of our guidebook author who was clearly not the last word in all things Red Rock-ish. "I'm going to request a refund from Amazon..."

Courtney did a fine job of navigating us over the braided use trails connecting Juniper Canyon with our original trail leading to the Oak Creek TH we had started from, eventually getting us back around 1:30p. We drove back to the Scenic Drive entrance where we'd left our other cars, then sat down to share some root beer-flavored whiskey that Walt had picked up on his way to Las Vegas the previous day. Good stuff, that, though not entirely legal to be sitting there on the side of the road drinking (to be fair, Courtney declined as is his custom). We talked more about music, the old days, relating stories and lies and probably confusing them in the process. All in all, a fine day in Red Rocks. Afterwards I went off to shower and start the long, 8hr drive back to San Jose - my legs would be pretty stiff before I got home around 11p that evening...

Mark M comments on 03/21/16:
Possibly the greatest song ever made!
phil comments on 05/10/16:
Rainbow Direct, definitely something I'd like to do someday. I've hiked with Courtney a couple times before and also enjoyed the casual banter about music. I was a rappelling newbie when we hiked so I'm glad he enjoyed having less focus on the well-being of his companions.

Courtney will be the first to tell you his guidebooks are purposefully vague, so that "Huh" regarding the fixed rope surprises me not at all.
Walt comments on 02/28/17:
Hey dude, just came across your report while wasting time on LoJ. Nice writeup and great pics of the climb! And glad you dug the whiskey - I'll have to see if I can locate some more of that....
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