The Black Dagger is one of these climbs at Red Rocks where half way up the approach, you start wondering if it is worth it. The canyons are so beautiful and the climbing so good however that once on the climb, this is quickly forgotten.
The climb sits at the very rear of Juniper Canyon, on the Brownstone Wall, some distance past the renowned Rainbow Wall. The approach is long (2+ hours) and quite steep. Swain's guidebook recommends approaching as for the Nightcrawler (a burly 5.10 lieback we did a couple of years ago), then traversing to the base of the climb. This avoids the majority of the bushwhacking by contouring on white slabs to the right, but may not the most convenient approach anymore. As we found out on the way down, the main canyon now has a reasonably easy to follow track through the bushes all the way to the base of Gunsight Notch, and the base of the climb. Although it involves a fair amount of bushwhacking, it would save a good 1/2 hour on the approach.
The climb goes up a striking right facing corner system up the right side of an obvious tower at the left edge of Brownstone Wall. Although the rating suggests easy climbing, there are substantial runouts with serious fall potential on this climb (I thought it deserved an R rating), so that it may not be the best choice for the budding 5.8 leader. The first of these runouts occurs at the beginning of the second pitch, with an unprotected 5.7 traverse around the left side of a roof. Watch out for rope drag on this section! Lucie led the next pitch, which goes for a full rope length up a magnificent varnished dihedral, with sustained 5.7+ climbing. The next (3rd) pitch is quite unusual, though not unique at Red Rocks (Tunnel Vision). It enters a deep chimney behind a huge flake and ends up tunneling to a ledge on the other side. Above this, the rest of the climb follows plated faces and cracks to the top. The rock is quite brittle here, and the start of the 4th pitch involves significant runout (5.6) right off the ledge. My description of the runouts on this climb should not discourage competent parties. This is a memorable climb and a definite classic.
The descent is quite straightforward: up to the top, then left to the Gunsight Notch and down the -sometimes very narrow (see picture)- gully back to the base of the climb.
Black Dagger, Red Rocks, NV
|Black Dagger climbs an obvious right-facing dihedral at the left edge of Brownstone Wall.|
|Lucie on the first pitch.|
|The PG traverse on the second pitch.|
|Lucie leading the beautiful and sustained dihedral on the third pitch.|
|Managing a good rest stance.|
|Belay at the top of the 3rd pitch.|
|Tunneling behind the flake.|
|Scrambling to the top.|
|Summit picture; Las Vegas in the background..|
|Lucie caught between a rock and a hard place... descending from Gunsight Notch.|