This one you climb because you have to. You have to because you've been obsessing about it ever since you first climbed at Red Rocks: it is the longest climbing route in the area (20 pitches with 60m ropes), it climbs to the summit of the tallest formation (Mount Wilson), but most of all, the line is so obvious, it is in your face every time you drive between the scenic loop and Blue Diamond. You just cannot escape it. Climb at Red Rocks long enough and one day, you'll just HAVE to do it. Problem is, the climb itself is long enough, but it is guarded by a two hour approach, and an interminable three-plus hour descent!

Climbing the route in one long day is the obvious challenge, and really the only practical option (hauling on that route would be a nightmare). The climbing itself is not exceptional, at least by Red Rocks' (high) standards. Besides, 20 pitches of even the best climbing get to be a bit much.

For us, D-day finally came that Wednesday, May 12, 2004. We had been procrastinating long enough. We were climbing well on rock again; if we were ever going to be ready for it, it was now. The weather had been brutally hot the last several days but a definite cooling trend had started on Tuesday and was expected to peak on Wednesday. The wind, which had reached near-hurricane force on Monday, was also expected to relent. The route is obviously exposed and - at this time of the year - remains in the sun all day, so timing is essential. There's only so much water you can carry on a difficult climb.

The plan was obviously to move as fast as we could. The route is fairly sustained, with over 12 pitches 5.8 or harder, a free crux at 5.10+, and an A1 aid roof (which reputedly goes free at 5.11+, although rumor has it that a key hold has broken off, making it even harder... I don't know). I am the faster leader, so in the interest of speed, we decided that I was going to lead every pitch.

We packed light. In addition to a standard rack and 60m (highly recommended) double ropes (8.5mm Mammut), we packed 5 quarts of water for the climb itself, plus a 2-quart "Platypus" bladder for the approach, 20 packs of GU and other energy gels, some nuts and a couple bagels, puff-ball jackets, and of course, LED headlamps - we would likely need them in the descent. We would both carry packs, with Lucie carrying the heaviest load (I am a chicken).

We were planning on approaching before sunrise, start climbing shortly after first light, and hopefully make to summit before 6PM, which would leave almost 2 hours of daylight to find and begin the descent into First Creek Canyon. The approach is not really obvious, particularly in the dark. About a month earlier, we had climbed "Inti Watana", a great route up the left edge of the Aeolian Wall that starts very near the base of the Resolution Arete. That time, we managed to get thoroughly lost, finally reaching the base of our climb after almost 4 hours of bushwhacking and low 5th class scrambling up the lower slopes of Mount Wilson. "Inti Watana" has a rappel descent however, so we got a chance to descend the proper approach on our way out. We were hoping to find the way easily this time around.

The key to the approach is to find a horizontal traverse to the left just above a red rock band. This traverse brings you to the bottom of the narrow and steep gully just right of the "waterfall" gully, the main drainage for that side of the mountain.

The alarm woke us at 2:15AM. Ouch! We had not completely assimilated our gargantuesque dinner from the night before so our breakfast was light. It is hard to eat much at that hour anyway. By the time we were half awake and ready, had driven to the start of the approach (at what used to be the Oak Creek campground) and started walking, it was 3:45AM.

The first part of the approach follows an old road bed for a few miles to a saddle between Mount Wilson and the "Wilson Pimple", a large dirt mound at the NE corner of the peak. Easy walking and easy to follow. Just past the saddle, an obvious old camp area with dark red sandy ground marks the start of the steeper part of the approach. Here, you leave the old road and start climbing steeply (essentially straight up the slope) up a faint wash of loose red sand. There are no real trails here (or too many of them), and few cairns. At one point you find yourself level with, but to the right of, a red rock band. This is where you should traverse left, over the rock band, and into the main drainage system. It was dark, we were using short-range LED headlamps, and we missed it. We kept going up toward another rock band, the wrong one. We started scrambling up 4th class terrain in a narrow gully. There were faint signs of traffic and this section of the gully bore some resemblance with the one we had rapped in the dark on our way down from "Inti Watana" a few weeks earlier. After about 50 meters though, the going got rougher and bushy, and it became obvious we were way off tracks. The sun was getting close to rising and we were starting to be able to see our surroundings. From up here, we could now see the red bench below and what was clearly the correct traverse. We quickly went down, traversed around, and found ourselves on well-traveled terrain with plentiful cairns. We scrambled up the correct gully (3rd and 4th class) for a while to a notch, then dropped into the main drainage. From there, more scrambling and a bit of bushwhacking brought us to the large ledge and huge ponderosa pine that mark the start of the route (once you find the red band traverse, the rest is pretty obvious). It was now 5:45AM. It had taken us exactly two hours. If you know the way and don't mess up, you'd expect about 1.5 hour for the approach.

For the climb itself, we followed a description by George Bell and Greg Opland we had found on the web. This is very similar to another good description in the supplement to the "Red Book" by the Uriostes, though with a few apparent differences, particularly around pitch 5.

We started climbing at 6:20AM. The start of the climb has a fearsome reputation. Rumors of scary downward stemming into a deep chimney that opens up below make you wonder. But the rumors are way overblown. The chimney is indeed there, and looks a bit spooky, but there is no need to stem down into it. Instead, a horizontal band of huecos in the main wall provides an easy 6-meter foot-traverse straight left into the 5.9+ wide crack that makes up the rest of the first pitch. It is about 5.6'ish, but unprotected except for a thread at the very beginning. Falling here would ruin your day, but it is really not bad at all, or even particularly scary. The rest of the first pitch goes straight up the obvious hand and fist crack, past an old bolt (missing hanger) and to a small ledge at the end of the 60 meter ropes. I had to run this out a bit, both to avoid rope drag after the traverse, and for lack of much large gear on the rack, but the climbing is generally secure and enjoyable.

Another pitch up the same crack (5.8, a bit mossy and slick) brought us to the top of the pillar, just above the end of the red rock.

The next two pitches follow a shallow dihedral (5.9+ PG stemming), then a chimney (5.7) to another big ledge.

The next pitch (#5) goes up left following dihedrals and cracks for maybe 15 meters, then up and right across unprotected white face to a notch in the main arete. This involves about 20 meters of completely unprotected 5.8R face climbing above ledges. I am usually pretty good at finding protection in unlikely places, but on this face, I could not find anything at all. A bit spooky, but I managed to keep a cool head. After about 20 meters of this, good placements can be found in shallow cracks.

This brought us to a break in the arete, near the top of the huge triangular buttress that forms the first third of the route. From here, we could clearly see the roof crack (5.10 A1, or 5.11+) that we would follow on the 10th pitch.

Scrambling and easy climbing lead across the top of the buttress to the base of a series of dihedrals and cracks directly below that roof.

Two pitches of 5.9 to 5.10 climbing up a white crack and dihedral, a square roof, and some flakes deposit you at a belay stance a few meters below the 5.11+ roof. On the first of these two pitches, the rock is quite rotten and there are a few dangerous loose blocks. Be sure to belay out of the way to the right (see pitch by pitch description below).

The roof above looked hard. It is supposed to go free at 5.11+, although rumor has it that a key hold may have broken off, making it harder than that. I don't know for sure. By this stage in the climb, we were starting to feel a bit tired. The crack is off-fingers and there aren't any footholds at all. Just looked too hard so I aided it (three A1 moves on yellow and red aliens). The rest of the pitch continues up the 5.9+ crack to a ledge.

Since we aided the roof, the free crux of the route (5.10+) was going to be the next pitch: a short but tricky section along a vertical crack. Interesting mantle and stemming moves. A nice pitch!

A couple of easier pitches further, we got to the base of the famous 5.9+ diagonal crack which - according to Joanne Urioste - is called the "The Tricky Hand Traverse". This is another good pitch, with good pro.

Next is a fun 5.7 chimney followed by easy face climbing to a series of large ledges at the base of a pillar.

We had been here before, or at least very close to it. The top of Inti Watana, an excellent route we had climbed a few weeks earlier is just around the corner. It provides a convenient (if lengthy) bailout in case of bad weather or lack of time to finish the route. Inti Watana can be rapped straight down in 10 (!) double rope raps from bomber bolted anchors, back to the ledge at the start of both routes. Another reason to climb with doubles.

We were a little behind schedule. This was our last chance to bail. Beyond this, we would be committed to finishing the climb to the top of Mount Wilson and enduring the long, three-plus hour descent down First Creek Canyon. It was 3:30PM. We had initially hoped to reach this point maybe an hour earlier but had lost a half-hour getting lost on the approach and were climbing a bit slower than anticipated. We had another 5 pitches to go, then 200 meters of scrambling to the summit. We figured that with any luck, we should be able to reach the top in another 3 hours. This would leave an hour and a half to start the descent before sunset. Up we went.

For the first rope length, we climbed the outside face of the pillar to another good ledge at the base of a wide crack. This was mostly easy going, except for one crank move over a 1 meter roof above a ledge, about half way up the pitch. There was good pro within reach just above the roof but there's a lot of rope out at this point, so with the slack and stretch you'd likely fall back to the ledge anyway. The move is not that bad: good holds above the roof, throw a leg over, and crank hard to other holds higher up. Interesting.

The rest of the climb is generally unremarkable and technically easier (5.8). The rock gets increasingly rotten as you get closer to the top. The last 120 meters of roped climbing in particular, are very unpleasant. The climbing at that point is mostly trivial but the rock is extremely rotten and loose with occasional 5.8 moves along the way. Rope drag got really bad so we ended up simul-climbing that section on a doubled-over rope (30 meters between us).

Eventually, we ended up on a rubble-strewn slope where we unroped for the final 120m walk to the summit. We looked all over for the summit register but only found a piece of steel wire that probably used to anchor it, but no register. Oh well. It was 6PM. We snapped a few pictures, changed back to our approach shoes, and started down the descent.

The back side of Wilson is a beautiful place, with ponderosa pines, rock slabs, small streams (dry at this time of the year). We were in a bit of a hurry to reach the First Creek drainage before dark so we did not get a chance to enjoy it as much as we would have liked. The descent is fortunately pretty easy to find. We simply followed the west ridge to a saddle in limestone then headed down left into the drainage.

Once in the drainage, we found a small stream and refilled a couple of water bottles for the long descent (we were down to our last quart). One word qualifies the rest of the descent: interminable! Typical Red Rocks fare: scrambling up, over, behind, under, and through all kinds of huge sandstone boulders in the dry wash. This is usually pretty enjoyable, but this time, after more than 16 hours on the go, we'd had enough. It seemed like we would never reach the trail. Somewhere along the way, we started feeling pretty exhausted and slowed down considerably.

Eventually, we ended up on the First Creek trail, back to the road and finally the car. It had been 4 hours since we left the summit, and 19 hours since leaving the car that morning. One of the most strenuous days we've had on the rock.

Overall, Resolution Arete is an OK climb. It's got a few good pitches, many mediocre ones, and some really bad ones, particularly near the top. I wouldn't recommend the route for the climbing itself; there are much better ones at Red Rocks. But it is a route most climbers will get drawn to after enough time in the area: the longest and highest of them all. I am glad we did it. I am glad we don't have to go back.

Specific Beta
Approach: From the trailhead along Highway 159, at the location of the former Oak Creek campground, follow the old dirt road (obvious) to the saddle between Mt. Wilson and the Wilson Pimple. Continue a short distance past the saddle until you see an obvious old camp area just left of the trail (large open area of red sand with trees). Leave the trail and head left, through the camp, and up a steep shallow drainage of red sand. Keep going essentially straight up the slopes until you find yourself level with, but well to the right of a red rock band (easy to miss; look carefully to your left as you ascend; the correct traverse goes right along the edge at the top of the red band; there is a visible trail in the red sand). At this point, traverse straight left to and along the top of that rock band and continue traversing left on red sand and rock benches into the main drainage. This is the critical traverse; if you miss it, you'll be lost. From the end of the traverse, things are pretty obvious and well cairned. Go up a steep gully in white rock (some 4th class) until able to drop a few meters into the main drainage. Go up the main drainage for about 20 minutes (bushy) until you can cut left on a prominent ledge system leading to a huge pine tree. The start of the climb is at the very left end of this ledge, where a flaring chimney drops down from the ledge. If you do not get lost, this should take about 1.5 hour from the highway. Expect about 2 hours if you do not know the way.
Route: Note that this description is for a 60 meter rope (highly recommended); double ropes also highly recommended. In case of bad weather, or lack of time to finish the route, one could rappel down Inti Watana, a route on the left edge of the Aeolian Wall that tops out very close to the top of pitch 15. That escape entails 10 double-rope raps from bolted anchors, to a narrow gully about 200 meters above and to the right of the ledge at the start of Resolution Arete. Scramble down that gully back to the ledge.

Pitch 1 (5.9+ PG, 60m): From the notch, traverse along the west wall of the chimney (up a bit at first on good huecos, then foot traverse straight left) to a big, obvious dihedral with a hand/fist crack. The traverse is unprotected but no harder than 5.7. Climb this crack (5.9+, 3-4") past a dubious bolt at 50 meters (missing hanger), to a good ledge at 60 meters.

Pitch 2 (5.8, 30m): Continue up the dihedral (a bit mossy) to a huge ledge (top of a red pillar).

Pitch 3 (5.9+ PG, 50m): Step up and right into a right facing dihedral, follow this up (tricky stemming and tricky pro). The upper 2/3 of this pitch is much easier (5.6). Belay at about 50m at an awkward stance below a chimney (the stance is 3 meters above a couple of slung, loose chockstones in the crack).

Pitch 4 (5.7, 25m): Follow an easy chimney to a big ledge (5.7, watch for loose rock).

Pitch 5 (5.8 R, 50m): Follow cracks up and left (place pro as high as possible at the end of the cracks), then face climb up and right (5.8 R) to a shoulder on the right side of the triangular buttress.

Pitch 6 (easy 5th, 30m): Move up and right to a tree, then descend a crack to a ledge at about the same elevation as your starting point. You cannot get there directly because it is a steep, smooth, unprotected slab.

Pitch 7 (3rd and easy 5th, 100m) Follow this ledge then up a dihedral/face over a notch in the main arete. From the notch, drop down the opposite (south) side to the base of a series of cracks and dihedrals, directly below a big roof. Do not belay at the obvious bush but instead move up a flake to a small ledge on the right hand side. This puts you out of the line of fire as the next pitch is dangerously loose.

Pitch 8 (5.10-, 50m): Several options here, the easiest is the left facing crack/dihedral farthest left. Follow this (loose rock) to a square white roof. This roof appears hard but is easier than it looks (5.10-). Belay on a bushy ledge above the roof.

Pitch 9 (5.9, 30m): Continue up toward the obvious roof with the right slanting crack. Follow left facing dihedrals then traverse left at an overlap to a right-facing flake, up the flake, then back right a bit to a stance below the big roof.

Pitch 10 (5.9+ A1, or 5.11+, 25m): Climb up to the roof, then jam the crack (5.11+?) or aid it (A1). Continue up a 5.9+ crack to a ledge. The roof crack is fingers to off-fingers (yellow and red aliens).

Pitch 11 (5.10+, 20m): Climb a short, tricky crack (5.10+, the pro is good even if it does not look that way from below), then step left to a small ledge and face climb to a huge ledge with a bolt. There are nut and cam placements further back on the ledge to back up the bolt. Escape: You can supposedly rappel south from here into Sherwood Forest. From there, there is reportedly a 4th class route back to the desert floor.

Pitch 12 (5.8, 60+m): Scramble up the arete, then follow an obvious left leaning ramp just left of the arete (5.8 awkward) to a belay above a notch in the main arete at 60+ meters.

Pitch 13 (5.7, 30m): Follow the arete to the base of an obvious diagonal crack.

Pitch 14 (5.9+, 25m): The "Tricky Hand Traverse". Climb the diagonal crack up and left and belay inside a chimney.

Pitch 15 (5.7, 50m): Climb the chimney, exit left before its end, then wander up and right to a big ledge. Escape: the top of the route Inti Watana is very close to this point (to the right, around the arete). It provides the last chance for descending back to the base in 11 double-rope raps from bolted anchors.

Pitch 16 (5.9+, 50m): Ahead lies a bulging 30m high pillar up against a headwall. An obvious hole leads into a chimney between the pillar and the main wall. Don't go there. Instead climb the outside face of the pillar on the right (NE). This is easy except for a 1m overhang (5.9+ crank move from ledge; good pro for that move but watch the slack in the rope as you are just above a ledge). From the top of the pillar, walk left (south) beneath the headwall 15m to the base of a wide crack.

Pitch 17 (5.8, 20m): Climb the short wide crack (lots of face features; a #4 Camalot protects it) to a big ledge. Belay from cracks (the large tree which is described elsewhere is no longer there).

Pitch 18 (4th class, 40m): Walk left 40m on the Catwalk, a very flat ledge in a sloping slab (3rd class) to a belay at a tree. There is one exposed and unprotected 4th class step-across move at the very end.

Pitch 19 (5.8, 60+m): Straight above is a 4 meter wide inset with a clean right facing dihedral forming its left side. Climb this dihedral (5.8) then exit left and continue up a crack, past a bulge (5.8, rotten rock) and continue to a low angle area with a large pine tree.

Pitch 20 (easy 5th with a few 5.8 moves, 120m): from the tree, go back down 5 meters then left and back up. Follow generally easy but loose and unpleasant rock with a few 5.8 moves for 120 meters. Rope drag can get really bad here, so either belay short pitches or simul-climb on a short rope.

At the end of this, you'll reach a slope that leads to a saddle between two summit formations. Unrope and walk to the saddle, then to the right hand summit with the USGS markers (highest point). The summit register reported elsewhere was no longer there (May 2004).

Descent: Walk along the west ridge of Mt. Wilson for maybe a mile to a saddle (in limestone rock), turn left (south) and head down First Creek Canyon. In general, you want to stay close to the wash on this descent. Major deviations usually lead to horrible bushwhacking. There are some tricky sections, but the route finding is easy (if there's daylight!). Expect endless climbing over, around, under, and through large sandstone boulders. Eventually, you reach a trail for the last half hour to the First Creek Trailhead. From there, hike North along the road for mile back to your car at the former Oak Creek campground. Expect the descent to take about 3 hours in daylight.
Rack: This is what we carried up the climb, which I found more than adequate:
  • Double, 8 to 9 mm by 60 meter ropes.
  • One set nuts.
  • One set of hexes.
  • One set of Aliens (or equivalent), black (#.33) to purple (#2), with doubles of yellow (#.75) and red (#1) for crux roof.
  • One set of Camalots (or equivalent) from #.75 (green) to #4 (purple), with double of #3 (blue) for the first pitch.
  • Carabiners, plenty of long slings, two cordelettes, lockers, etc...
  • Lightweight rain gear, headlamps, puff ball or other sweater.
  • Plenty of water (no water on approach or route; you'll likely find some on the descent, particularly near the top of First Creek Canyon).

Resolution Arete, Red Rocks, NV

May 12, 2004 / Grade V, 5.11+ or 5.10+ A0, 20+ pitches
Click for high resolution
"Resolution Arete" follows the major buttress right of Sherwood Forest, the huge treed ledge in the middle of the face.
 
Click for high resolution
The route is shown in red.
 
Click for high resolution
Getting mildly lost on the pre-sunrise approach...
 
Click for high resolution
...but we found it. Only 1/2 hour wasted. Getting ready on the huge ledge at the base of the route.
 
Click for high resolution
Early morning at the base of the route.
 
Click for high resolution
The easy traverse through the chimney to the first pitch crack.
 
Click for high resolution
Higher up on the first pitch (5.9).
 
Click for high resolution
Eric leading the 2nd pitch, a mossy 5.8 crack.
 
Click for high resolution
Starting the thin dihedral on pitch 3 (5.9+ PG).
 
Click for high resolution
Looking back toward Oak Creek Canyon.
 
Click for high resolution
Starting pitch 4, a 5.7 chimney.
 
Click for high resolution
Higher up in the fun chimney.
 
Click for high resolution
Eric leading pitch 5. The 5.8 R face is the white face just above the dihedral.
 
Click for high resolution
Great view of the upper pitches of Inti Watana (approx. shown in red), a route we climbed just weeks earlier.
 
Click for high resolution
The easy 6th pitch goes up to the small tree, then back down to a ledge.
 
Click for high resolution
Easy climbing leads to a notch in the main arete (pitch 7).
 
Click for high resolution
Very foreshortened composite picture of pitches 8, 9, and 10. The A1/5.11+ roof is clearly visible at the top.
 
Click for high resolution
Eric starting pitch 8 (5.10-).
 
Click for high resolution
Pulling the roof higher up on the same pitch.
 
Click for high resolution
Looking back toward the little town of Blue Diamond.
 
Click for high resolution
Pitch 9 leads to a belay just below the roof.
 
Click for high resolution
Eric at the belay atop pitch 9.
 
Click for high resolution
Starting the roof pitch (pitch 10, 5.9+ A1).
 
Click for high resolution
Aiding the roof.
 
Click for high resolution
Almost there.
 
Click for high resolution
Eric leading the tricky crack of pitch 11 (5.10+)...
 
Click for high resolution
...and face climbing to the left higher on that pitch.
 
Click for high resolution
Looking down to Sherwood Forest.
 
Click for high resolution
Pitch 12 follows a left-facing, left-trending dihedral (very awkward 5.8).
 
Click for high resolution
Lucie following pitch 13 - fun face climbing on typical RR chicken heads (5.7).
 
Click for high resolution
Eric starting the "Tricky Hand Traverse" (pitch 14, 5.9+) - one of the best pitches on the route.
 
Click for high resolution
Nearing the end of the traverse.
 
Click for high resolution
Leading pitch 15, another fun 5.7 chimney.
 
Click for high resolution
Looking across to Blue Diamond from a belay inside the chimney.
 
Click for high resolution
Eric starting pitch 16 (5.9+).
 
Click for high resolution
The wide crack of pitch 17 (5.8).
 
Click for high resolution
Lucie at the start of the cat walk (pitch 18).
 
Click for high resolution
Tip toeing across.
 
Click for high resolution
Views of "Sin City" from near the top of Mount Wilson.
 
Click for high resolution
Eric starting the clean right facing dihedral of pitch 19 (5.8+).
 
Click for high resolution
Higher on pitch 19.
 
Click for high resolution
Turning the corner.
 
Click for high resolution
The rotten 5.8 bulge near the end of pitch 19.
 
Click for high resolution
The pine tree at the belay ledge atop pitch 19.
 
Click for high resolution
Eric starting "pitch" 20, an easy but loose affair (120m simul-climb).
 
Click for high resolution
Yeah!! We made it!
 
Click for high resolution
Mount Wilson summit marker.
 
Click for high resolution
Lucie at the top, wishing that thing on her back was a paraplane...
 
Click for high resolution
Descending Mount Wilson's forested back side.
 
Click for high resolution
Tunneling under boulders on the endless descent.
 
Click for high resolution
A boulder in the drainage: straight out of Alice in Wonderland!
(high res. images are about 300KB)