Red Rock Super-Classic: Epinephrine


Jason Martin

by Jason Martin

AAI Director of Operations, Instructor and Guide

Buried deep in the Black Velvet Canyon of the Red Rock National Conservation Area lies one of the most sought after ascents in the entire Southwest. Epinephrine is a route that is often described as a classic climb; it's also frequently described as a "sandbag." That is, it is a route that seems harder than its given grade. The reason for this is that this fifteen pitch Grade V requires a number of rope lengths of hard chimney climbing. And hard chimney climbing is not something that is easily practiced.

Epinephrine route diagram

Due to the sustained difficulty of this route, it is important to get warmed up on an easier climb. Richard Draves and Eli Schleifer wanted the route badly. But before embarking on such a journey, we decided to warm-up on another Red Rock chimney climbing classic.

Warm-Up: Community Pillar

Community Pillar is a solid Grade IV 5.9. Like Epinephrine, it features a number of chimneys. Unlike Epinephrine, most of these require one to think thin and literally squeeze through tight fitting holes. Some have referred to these claustrophobic spots on the route as vertical spelunking.

The first pitch of Community Pillar is so tight that not only did all three of us have to take off our backpacks, but everything on our harnesses as well. All the equipment and water had to be shoved through the squeeze before we could follow. Climbing through this first section required each of us to "superman" sideways through an opening that was little more than a foot wide.

Nearly every pitch on the route has some element of chimney work. However, there is one phenomenal 5.9 pitch approximately halfway up Community Pillar where we left the chimney system and climbed a beautiful hand and fist crack.

The crack climbing was actually more difficult than the "vertical spelunking." Indeed, this steep crack system was the crux of the route.

Many folks who visit Red Rock Canyon elect to climb Tunnel Vision. The six pitch 5.7 route on the Angel Food Wall has a rope-length in which climbers ascend through a dark tunnel. That particular route has nothing on Community Pillar. The last difficult pitch of the climb was completely enclosed deep inside Magic Mountain. And at the top of the pitch we encountered one last tight squeeze.



After completing Community Pillar in record time, it was clear that Richard and Eli were ready for the big daddy of Red Rock climbing. As such, we met at 5:30 the following morning in order to gear up for Epinephrine.

Black Velvet Canyon, where Epinephrine is located, is constantly dark and cool. As a result, it is only possible to ascend the route in the warmer fall and spring seasons. Even when temperatures climb up to eighty degrees in the city, it is still often frigid in the deep chimneys of Epinephrine. When we met at the crack of dawn, the ambient temperature was around fifty-degrees. It didn't matter though, the approach hike warmed us up significantly.

Epinephrine is a route that requires an individual to "carry-over." In other words, everything that goes up the canyon must go up the route. We carried water, food, approach shoes, and extra clothing up every single pitch ... often dragging our packs between our legs on a tether in order to more easily climb the chimney pitches.

The bottom half of the route is the most difficult part. This is the section where all the chimney climbing is encountered. This is the section with an ominous name and an even more ominous reputation. This section - known as the Black Tower - is by far the most difficult and daunting part of the route.

Nothing on Community Pillar even comes close to the difficulty of the chimney climbing encountered on Epinephrine. The walls on either side of the chimney are so slick that they feel as if they are covered in glass.

Though the temperatures remained cool inside the dark slots, the sweat still ran. Ascending chimneys and off-widths requires a great deal of patience and work. Sometimes a climber will only gain a few inches for every individual move he makes.

By 11:30 in the morning, with a few new tears in our clothes and with trembling muscles, we were on top of the Black Tower. The chimney pitches were finally behind us. Yet we were still only about a third of the way up the route. Though we had a long way to go, we were encouraged by the fact that the upper walls are much easier. The climbing is much more "standard" - in other words, the route follows crack systems and face holds. We were finally able to wear our backpacks instead of hanging them between our legs. And we were all excited that we no longer would have to contort ourselves into pretzels in order to move up a chimney system.

As we ascended the upper walls, the views became better and better. At first we could only see a small part of the world famous Las Vegas Strip. But by the time we neared the top, we could see all of Las Vegas, Henderson, and North Las Vegas in the distance.

Below us we saw parties move up other less committing routes, such as Dream of Wild Turkeys (IV, 5.10a), Prince of Darkness (IV, 5.10c), and Sour Mash (IV, 5.10a). The people on the lower Black Velvet Wall looked like ants inching up beneath us. The view of other individuals climbing below emphasized the size and grandeur of a route like Epinephrine.

By 4:30 in the afternoon we were standing on top of Velvet Peak high above the Las Vegas Valley. We were all exhausted but happy. We knew that we'd completed one of the most classic rock routes in North America. It wasn't easy, but nothing worth anything is ever easy.

We walked off the top of the peak and found ourselves at the car just as the sun set. One could argue that it was the perfect day. We got up early, climbed hard, and descended before dark. Who could ask for anything more? It is unlikely that any of us will ever forget our perfect day in the mountains on a classic route like Epinephrine.

Interested in climbing Epinephrine? Click the link to read about climbing in Red Rock with American Alpine Institute.

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