Mon, Feb 17, 2020
Iris and Tom had spent two days rockclimbing in Red Rocks while I was off wandering about various summits on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Today we got together for a Red Rocks scramble called Rainbow Direct (previously titled as "The Best Route Ever" here). Iris had overslept when we did this as a large group two years ago, and she has been wanting to do it ever since. Our small party of three was much easier than our previous party of nine, and consequently we were quite a bit faster. This isn't necessarily a good thing, mind you, as we were more tired as well. The weather had us occasionally chilled or warm, but overall an excellent day, weather-wise.
I was staying in town with my wife who was in Las Vegas to help ref a girl's volleyball tournament. I met Iris and Tom at the Red Rocks Loop exit where we left their car and took my jeep around the loop to the Oak Creek Trailhead. It wasn't an early start as we headed off around 8:20a, but it seemed we would have more than enough daylight to complete the planned route. Not so, as it turned out. I had loaded my GPSr with tracks from previous visits as well as a few from Harlan Stockman, a local with many days spent in Red Rocks. Despite all this beta, we managed to get off-route almost out of the gate when we started up from the trail sooner than needed. Luckily I noticed this before the scrambling starts, and we simply traversed west across a few small gullies to get us to the right start. Once there, the route becomes somewhat obvious with a good many ducks to keep us on track. Tom spotted a bighorn ram above us, sitting calmly on its perch while watching us progress. Another was spotted and eventually a third, and none of them seem much interested in giving up their prime real estate. They allowed us to climb around and above them, getting photographs all the while, after which we left them to their sun worshipping.
Upward we traveled, mostly on the same route, sometimes finding alternates that looked interesting. I would periodically reference the GPSr to verify the ducks or pick the right way when the ducks proved insufficient or ambiguous. There seemed to be more handlines than I remembed previously, a mix of old static ropes and steel cables. The latter were somewhat thin and hard to imagine holding a grip when used as a handline. Fortunately, these weren't really needed. Iris and Tom managed to do the entire route up to Rainbow without using a single line. I used two of them to pull up on and another to haul my pack up after me in a narrow chimney (the others stemmed outside this chimney). It was a very fun route even after doing it three times, and we all enjoyed it quite a bit.
It was noon by the time we reached Rainbow Mtn, and it seemed the hardest part was behind us. Surely we'd get back easily by 4p, right? Or so I was thinking. Rainbow Wall, the highest point of the day, was less than half a mile away, with a minor point, Rainbow Peak, in-between. Somehow it would take us quite some time to reach these next two points. Some of this was because our summit stays were longer than usual (for me, anyway), but also the scrambling was more involved than I'd remembered. Rainbow Mtn's register dated back only to Nov 2018, no longer maintaining the record of my previous visit from Feb 2018. It was another hour before we got to Rainbow Peak (no register), and another 40min to get to Rainbow Wall. Between these last two points was another rocky formation that can be easily bypassed along its base around the east and north sides. I suggested we could climb it by a sporty route on the east side, which we did - a stiff class 3-4 crack - only to find later that this wasn't the same route I'd climbed it on that previous visit. Rainbow Wall's register went back much further, still holding the 2018 ascent which we came to realize was exactly two years ago to the date.
It was 1:50p before we started down from Rainbow Wall, now heading off on the only segment of today's route I was unfamiliar with - Rainbow Wall to Gunsight Notch. The horizontal distance is less than a quarter mile, but the vertical drop is something like 700ft with large cliffs off the north side of Rainbow Wall. The class 3 route between them is intricate and not easily figured out. Here's where Harlan's track came in handy, allowing us to set off in the right direction heading west (and north of another point almost as high as Rainbow Wall's summit). Ducks began to appear as we continued further and the combination of the two were enough to keep us on track, though not without some noodling and scratching of our heads in a few places. The route makes several turns as it negotiates Rainbow Wall's northwest side through various cliff bands. Some lingering snow on the north faces had not been a problem earlier, but now we had several places to dance around the white stuff and one particularly tricky ice crossing that gave us great pause. It would take us a full hour and a half to make it from Rainbow Wall to Gunsight Notch and then up to the small summit just above it with the same name. It was now 3:20p and it was pretty clear that 4p was far too optimistic. Maybe we'll get back before sunset?
Our last summit, Juniper Peak, was only 1/3mi to the northeast, but again, it would not be a trivial exercise to get between the two, though this time it was a pretty straight shot along the connecting ridgeline. From a previous visit in 2016 with Tom Becht, I knew there as a 50-foot rappel along the ridge. For this we had brought a 50m rope, much longer than needed, but the best option we had with us. There were four existing slings around a large outcrop at the top of the rappel with a total of five rap rings between them. From three rings hung a static line reaching down to the bottom. We judged the anchor sufficient for our needs, so we didn't have to use any of our own webbing that we'd brought. We were happy not to use the handline, preferring to use the rope we'd brought with us for an easier double-strand rappel. I went down first, then Iris and Tom in turn, and while we were pretty efficient about it, it would still consume almost half an hour's time. We reached Juniper by 4:20p with perhaps an hour or so before sunset. Maybe we wouldn't get back by sunset - perhaps before needing headlamps?
Our stay atop Juniper was an abbreviated verion of the other summit stays as by now I had expressed concern that I'd having trouble making the dinner date with my wife back in Las Vegas. I texted her our whereabouts with a new estimate as to when I expected to get back. The texts went back and forth during the descent from Juniper, eventually settling on postponing our dinner date for the following day and I'd just bring take-out back to the hotel. She's not a climber, but at least she understands the predicaments we get ourselves into sometimes. The descent from Juniper is actually pretty nice and fairly straightforward. About 2/3 of the way down we caught up with a pair of climbers that we'd seen at the top of Armatron as we were doing our rappel earlier. As they were paused to remove their harnesses and climbing gear, we continued down into the creek channel below Gunsight Notch and followed ducks/trail/streambed for almost a mile. We followed a thread of the trail back towards the Oak Creek TH, eventually intersecting the Knoll Trail and following that. We didn't realize at first that this was the N-S trail along the base of Red Rocks, not the Arnight Trail that we wanted. With fading light, we made the decision to leave the trail for a cross-country trek to the northeast, about 1/3mi to the Arnight Trail. It was getting pretty dark before we got we reached it, Tom and Iris stopping to get out their headlamps while I stubbornly pressed on, determined not to use it. It was after 6p and quite dark before I got back to the jeep. There were three other vehicles in the lot still, so we weren't the last one's out. Tom and Iris showed up a few minute's later, by which time I had gotten my boots off, the jeep warmed up and a few beers opened for celebration. What I had expected to be an easy-ish day turned out to be a full program, all great fun though...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Rainbow Mountain - Rainbow Wall
This page last updated: Mon Mar 2 09:15:20 2020
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