Solar Slab (III 5.6)

Solar Slab (l) and descent gully (c)

Solar Slab (l) and descent gully (c)

This was another short day, but at least somewhat legit. I rolled into the old Oak Creek campground parking lot around 7, threw food, water, and rock shoes into my pack, and admired Red Rocks in the morning light as I hiked to the mouth of Oak Creek Canyon. The plan was to climb the easier Solar Slab Gully (5.3) and, if I felt good, continue up the route itself, then find the supposedly tricky and nasty walk-off. It was already a bit warm, promising a hot morning on the southeast-facing slabs.

There were already two parties on Johnny Vegas, the route to the left, and a pair from Georgia just starting to solo up the gully, who kindly let me climb through. The gully was steep but mostly easy. Placing gear would have been a nuisance in a couple short chimneying sections, but I fortunately had none to place.

I watched yet another party at the first belay as I contemplated the first pitch above, eventually deciding that I was feeling it today. After walking up the first half, I wandered a bit before finding my way through the steeper upper section on big, fun, positive varnish holds. The second pitch was kind of garbage, stemming and scrambling up a ramp while dodging through the other party’s twin ropes.

I was a bit concerned about P3, the crux, which supposedly included some “thin face climbing.” After some hand- and foot-jams in the initial crack, I found said climbing on unvarnished white sandstone, but still felt fairly solid. I was soon at the top of the pitch, looking down at the other party’s leader as he clipped into the bolted anchor. My time climbing this past fall and winter has clearly helped — I normally don’t feel this solid at the start of the season.

P4 followed an amazingly straight crack up to another ledge, though there were enough varnish holds nearby that I rarely treated it as a crack climb. From there, the angle decreased and there were a number of possible lines generally heading up and right. I had the summit to myself, kicking off my shoes and eating an orange as I imagined the fate of the 4 parties below, all funneled into a single route.

I eventually psyched myself up for the walk-off. Red Rocks walk-offs can be anything from mildly unpleasant (Lotta Balls Wall) to epically nasty (Mescalito), with oakbrush, cactus, yucca, and the potential to cliff out. After a long hike up more slickrock past a few ducks, I reached the base of the red (not purple) rock and, after exploring around a small natural arch, started down what I hoped was the correct gully.

A mass of slings around a tree sort-of reassured me that I was in the right place. I bootied a carabiner off the slings, then downclimbed the short 5th class step below them. While there was brush and tricky route-finding, the descent was not nearly as unpleasant as I had been led to believe. One place with a fixed rope required a significant and tricky detour to the right, while an overhanging chockstone could be bypassed to the left. Once again, I was back to the car for “lunch.”

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