Black Velvet Wall boasts a great concentration of high-quality multi-pitch routes in the 5.9 to 5.10+ range. While the classic "Prince of Darkness" is an almost overbolted sport route, other climbs like "Dream of Wild Turkeys", "Yellow Brick Road" and "The Gobbler" have some trad pitches and require a small rack to complement the bolts. Others are mostly trad, like "Sour Mash" and "Refried Brains". The wall is also home to scary and runout climbs such as "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Rock Warrior".
Not surprizingly, considering the quality of the routes, short approach (45 minutes), and convenient rap descents, this is one of the most crowded areas at Red Rocks. A very early start is in order unless you want to spend the better part of the day watching others climb, particularly since three of the most popular lines share a common first pitch.
The wall faces north and is generally one of the coolest at Red Rocks. It can be a very cold place early or late in the season when the wall is in the shade all day.
We'd climbed most of the better protected lines over the years but remembered them as so much fun that we wanted to climb the best ones again. On our second stop of the season this year, we climbed "The Prince of Darkness", Black Velvet's most famous route, and "Yellow Brick Road", a variation of "Dream of Wild Turkeys" and maybe the best route on the wall, in our opinion.
The Prince of Darkness (5.10+), 6 pitches
After climbing Triassic Sands the day before, we're back in Black Velvet Canyon for the classic "Prince of Darkness". The climb is essentially a 6-pitch sport route, with only short sections of nut-protected climbing. Some may find the route boring as it consists almost exclusively of thin technical edging, with little variety, but the quality of the rock and the unique positions on this vast, smooth wall make it more than worthwhile. Bring comfortable, preferably somewhat stiff-soled shoes for the endless edging.
Hoping to be the first on the route (a tall order on this climb), we get an early start. Not early enough as it turns out. We leave the bus a quarter past six and drive to the Black Velvet parking area. It's only 6:30AM when we get there but there are already 5 other cars! We salute our friends from Los Alamos who made it to the parking shortly before us, before quickly heading off on the approach. They're here to climb "Sour Mash", a good climb we did a few years ago and which has become somewhat popular. On the hike in, we notice a party heading toward the super-popular Frogland, then another aiming for "Epinephrine", the amazing long route at the back of the canyon and one of the very best routes at Red Rocks. We speed up when we see yet another party clearly headed for the Black Velvet Wall, but apparently a bit lost high on the talus instead of in the drainage. We pass them and now think we may have a chance at being first on the route. No such luck; we arrive at the base to find another party on the first pitch. The party we just passed arrives a couple of minutes later - they have their mind set on "Yellow Brick Road", one of the best lines on the wall.
The party on "Prince of Darkness" slows down considerably on the second pitch. Since the first pitch is easy, we'll have to wait for the second to be almost done with the second pitch before starting up the route. Every belay on this route is hanging so you don't want to spend much time waiting for slower parties.
After waiting for a while, we let the party going up "Yellow Brick Road" start first (both routes share the same first pitch). They're quick to agree and thank us for letting them start ahead. Some more waiting and the party on "Prince of Darkness" is almost done with the second pitch. Time to start climbing!
The first pitch is short and easy - it goes up a white face then a right angling crack to a bolted belay. I put a couple of pieces in the crack and rapidly reach the belay station.
Eric follows in no time and takes the second pitch. I had initially planned on leading that pitch but we've heard rumors that this pitch, originally rated 5.10b, has recently become much harder (11a/b?) because of broken holds. Eric climbs up quickly and does not seem to have any problem. When he reaches the belay, he tells me that he has not found any move harder than 5.10. I follow the pitch, finding it a little tricky in a couple of spots - a bit slabby without much for footholds. I'd say it probably got slightly harder than it was but it is certainly not 5.11; maybe 5.10c or so.
After resting a bit at the belay, I lead the next three pitches. The third pitch (5.10a) continues up a seam with fun in-cut edges and plentifull bolts.
The following two pitches are easier (5.9+ and 5.9). They are not as tightly bolted so I place a few pieces in discontinuous cracks. There are bomber nuts placements. I find the move just above the second to last bolt on pitch 4 a bit disconcerting and I have to step back down twice before I figure it out.
I remember the last pitch as being really hard, especially for short people so I suggest Eric takes it. Besides, he hung on the crux move (5.10c) the first time we did the route so this is his chance to redeem himself! Which he does. The crux is right off the belay and involves a tricky move on a very slippery varnished slab with a reachy finger lock. The rest of the pitch has a few thin sections and is probably about 10a. The last belay is shared by "Prince of Darkness'' and "Yellow Brick Road". When I reach it, the party who was climbing "Yellow Brick Road" has just set up their rappel. We wait for them to clear the anchors and start the descent.
With two 50 meter ropes, we can't combine the last two pitches of "Yellow Brick Road" into a single rap (which you can if you have 60's) so we elect to go down the route we came up. This will also avoid traffic jams with the guys going down ahead of us. Unfortunately, we run into another party that was climbing below us and is now bailing from the top of the third pitch. More waiting...
Yellow Brick Road (5.10c), 6 pitches
After a rest day, we're back again for yet another route on the Black Velvet Wall, "Yellow Brick Road". It is a great route, probably our favorite on the wall. Unlike "Prince of Darkness" which has almost redundant pitches, "Yellow Brick Road" has a little bit of everything. It is really a variation of "Dream of Wild Turkeys" but has more sustained climbing and follows a more direct line.
The temperatures have been soaring the last few days, to the point that climbing in the sun is now out of the question. So this time, we 're trying something new - instead of the early morning race to the wall, we're doing the afternoon shift.
We leave the car a little after 11AM and make our way up the familiar approach under a blistering sun. We arrive at the base only to find another party also waiting for the wall to go in the shade. They're heading up "The Prince of Darkness" so we'll be sharing the first pitch. We chat for half-an-hour then get ready as the sun slowly rotates out of sight.
I get to lead the first pitch again. It's a good warm-up for the 5.8+ right-leaning crack of the second pitch.
I bring Eric up, rerack the gear and start the second pitch. I remember following this pitch the first time we climbed "Yellow Brick Road" and finding it pretty hard. A little tense, I place pro every chance I get, which is a lot (lots of bomber gear placement plus two bolts at the thin sections). This turns out to be unnecessary - it's beautiful and sweet climbing and I reach the bolted belay without problem.
Eric takes the third pitch - I did not feel like leading that one. It's a fairly sustained 5.10c bolted face, and not as tightly bolted as I'd want a 5.10c to be. It follows a crack (5.9+) for about 30 feet, then a line of 7 bolts up the steep face to a bolted belay. Eric climbs the pitch in no time and brings me up. I have no trouble following the pitch with the pack but I'm still glad I did not have to lead it, finding most of the moves above the bolts a little unnerving.
I get to lead the 4th pitch - a typical Black Velvet pitch, 5.10a/b, well bolted, and with lots of great edging. I have a great time on this pitch.
At the belay, Eric takes time to snap a few pictures of the party on "Prince of Darkness" before I climb on. There are two options for the 4th pitch: either follow the bolt line up a ramp to the right, or climb the thin corner directly above the belay after clipping the first bolt. The protection in the corner looks thin and inobvious, so I decide to follow the bolt line. It's well protected and enjoyable climbing (5.9). The pitch follows a right-trending ramp then traverses back left to a ledge (sweet!) and another belay station (this is also the top of the 5th pitch of "Dream of Wild Turkeys").
The last pitch is really fun. It follows a left-slanting finger crack (bomber nut placements), then a seam past 5 bolts. This pitch ends on a good ledge that marks the end of the route. Eric takes more pictures of the "Prince of Darkness" team climbing the crux pitch before he joins me at the belay.
We start rapping down "Yellow Brick Road" but we find a party of 3 occupying the anchor at the top of the slanting crack, so we make a long diagonal rap over to "Prince of Darkness" and finish down that route.
The Gobbler + Dream of Wild Turkeys (5.10), 6 pitches
We climb "Dream of Wild Turkeys" with "The Gobbler" as a direct start. I get the lead on "The Gobbler" since Eric led it before.
The first pitch is quite slabby but fun. It zigzags back and forth following several bolts to a belay just below a square-cut chimney.
The second pitch is easier than it looks and involves interesting liebacking/stemming with great pro.
I do OK on the first two pitches but have trouble with the third pitch, a steep, bolted face. I have difficulties with a hard move near the end of the pitch and end up taking a 20-footer as I try to clip a bolt from a tenuous stance. I try again but eventually give up on that move and ask Eric to finish the pitch. He does and tells me afterward that he found the move in question much harder than the 5.10a rating! In fact, he thought that this move was arguably harder than any move on "The Prince".
I then lead the wide crack pitch above, feeling much more secure with my feet jammed in the offwidth than I felt on the bolted face!
Eric finishes the rest of the climb, which follows the same pitches as for "Yellow Brick Road".
Black Velvet Wall, Red Rocks, NV
|Black Velvet Wall has several quality routes. It is one of the most popular areas at RR.|
|On the approach, at the mouth of Black Velvet Canyon.|
|Typical boulder hopping in the drainage.|
|"Prince of Darkness" takes an improbable, straight-up line along the left water streak (this and neighboring routes shown in red).|
|Lucie starting the 1st pitch. This warm-up pitch (5.6) is shared with "Dream of Wild Turkeys" and :Yellow Brick Road".|
|Reaching the bolted belay.|
|Climbing party on the second pitch of "The Prince of Darkness".|
|Eric starting the 2nd pitch (5.10+).|
|Higher up on the same pitch.|
|Lucie on pitch 3 (5.10a).|
|Brian leading the same pitch (photo taken a few days later from "Yellow Brick Road").|
|Party finishing the same pitch (taken from "Yellow Brick Road").|
|Lucie leading the 4th pitch (5.9+).|
|Party starting the same pitch (photo taken from "Yellow Brick Road").|
|Brian enjoying some great face climbing (pitch 4, "The Prince of Darkness").|
|Climber on "Yellow Brick Road".|
|Lucie starting the easy 5th pitch (5.9).|
|Jason on the same pitch.|
|Eric - just above the slippery crux of the last pitch (5.10c).|
|Brian demonstrating how it is done.|
|Clipping at the crux.|
|"Yellow Brick Road", our favorite route on the Wall is a 2 or 3 pitch variation of "Dream of Wild Turkeys" (route shown in red).|
|Lucie starting the great right-slanting crack of the second pitch (5.8+).|
|It keeps going and going and going...|
|Climber belaying on the nearby "Prince of Darkness".|
|Eric leading the 2nd pitch (5.10b/c).|
|Looking down at a party climbing the left leaning crack (pitch 2).|
|The "road sign" installed by the Uriostes in 1985. "Yellow Brick Road" continues straight up, while "Dream of Wild Turkeys" traverses right.|
|Lucie starting pitch 4 (510a/b).|
|Higher up on the same pitch.|
|At the belay ledge. Your neighbors on the "Prince" will be jealous! (all belays on PoD are hanging).|
|Lucie on pitch 5 (5.9+).|
|This pitch traverses back left to another comfy ledge.|
|Looking at Brian and Jason finishing the 5th pitch of "Prince of Darkness".|
|Starting the last pitch - a fun finger crack (5.9).|
|Higher up on pitch 6.|
|"The Gobbler" is a great 3-pitch direct start to "Dreams of the Wild Turkeys"..|
|Lucie on the first pitch of "The Gobbler" (5.9+).|
|Higher on the first pitch.|
|Traversing right to the belay just below the square chimney.|
|Starting pitch 2 (5.9).|
|Higher up on pitch 2.|
|Just below the crux on pitch 2.|
|Looking back at climbers on "Prince of Darkness"..|
|Lucie starting the steep face (pitch 3 - 5.10).|
|Higher up on pitch 3.|
|"The Gobbler" joins "Dream of Wild Turkeys" on pitch 4. Lucie leading the offwidth section.|
|Looking at a climber on "Yellow Brick Road" from the belay.|
|Eric on the 5th pitch of "Dream of Wild Turkeys" (5.9+).|
|Pitch 6 of "Dream of Wild Turkeys" (5.9).|
|The last pitch (pitch 7) follows a left slanting crack (5.9).|