900 feet above the ground from where I stepped off the deck and onto the first holds of the route. That’s when it finally hit me. The wave of accomplishment, stoke, and relief. We’d spent nearly the entire day on this wall, 7 hours to be exact, and our ascent was finally over. Even though it’s only rated a 5.8, the 6 pitches of the climb were one adventure after next. And for my first time on the Red Rocks of Vegas, it was one helluva trip.
After spending all day Friday cragging around on some sport routes and boulders in Calico, we plan to head up a big multi-pitch route on Saturday. And that meant lots of debate and planning the night before. “We should do Solar Slab!” someone yelled. “No, let’s do Dark Shadows.” This one, that one, that one, all of’m. Well, we decided on doing Dark Shadows. Which, I’ll admit, sort of scared me. Not because it was some steep grade, because it wasn’t. Dark Shadows is only a 5.8, but it was 10 pitches and we were planning to climb in a party of 3. So no matter how fast we climbed each pitch, it was going to take most of the day to complete (~10+ hrs). And that meant it was almost guaranteed to turn into an epic.
Set on Dark Shadows, we headed into the garage to go over the gear checklist. First the rack with doubles of most larger cams, full set of nuts, lockers, draws, 2 ropes, etc. We had it dialed down with just enough for what we’d needed. No more, and no less. One sandwich for the entire party, but we did bring up individual beers. Alarm clocks were set for 5AM with an alpine start around 6AM.
The alarms started going off in the house, one after the next. I headed downstairs and saw one of the guys in the climbing party, Tida, scrolling endlessly thru Mountain Project. And that’s when he explained Dark Shadows cannot be bailed off of past the 4th pitch. With that amount of commitment to the route and high likelihood of getting ropes stuck on the rappels in the dark, we smartly backed off and decided on Purblind Pillar. Needless to say, I was stoked!
Pitch 1 (5.7 190ft)
From the parking lot, Nate, Tida, and I headed down the trail and eventually cut off onto a small path that had us bushwacking up to the base of the climb. Rather than roping up for the initial scramble, we headed up to start the corner/crack system. Figuring I’d be following up a majority of this climb, since I was the least experienced, both of them asked if I’d want to lead the easy, 5.7, 190ft first pitch. I figured, why not. So I racked up and headed off the ground.
The climbing was great, and straight forward. Plugging the crack one by one. Stemming of both sides of the corner as I climbed upward. But in the back of my head, I kept thinking about the rock quality after the huge rainstorm the area got 2 days before. The rock was dry, but you can just never know. And at about 170′ up the pitch, I slid a nut in a crack, placed my right hand back on a hold, and tried to pull upward on my left hand to the next move. SNAP! The hold broke off. Thankfully the right hold held, and I didn’t load the nut. Immediately after I grabbed another left hold, the right hold snapped.
The nerves were shaken, to say the least. But I made my way up, just shy of the sling belay noted in the Beta, because I wasn’t sure if I had passed it or not. From there, I simul-belayed both guys up to my tiny belay ledge. Tida then headed up further and found the real belay ledge where we all regrouped to finish out the first pitch.
Pitch 2 (5.8 85ft)
Spending more time than planned on P1, we headed up my favorite pitch on the route, with Tida on the sharp end of the rope. At this point, stoke was high, but the temperatures were low. We thought we had picked a route that would be in the sun all day, but we were wrong. On the ledge, it was completely shaded and in the wind, making it bitter cold. And once you started climbing, the heat would get sucked out of your hands from the cold rock. And so this would be our day.
Heading up second behind Tida, I climbed up face next to the crack until I reached the white slab. Trying not to get sucked into climbing too high, I still had to downclimb to get to the right feet. Hands, non existent, relying heavily on the pitch of the slab to stay on. Then there was this unique, vertical handle hold that you fully stretch out out to reach. From there, it was a scramble up to the next belay ledge. I tied off to the anchor with enough slack to lean over the edge for a few solid pictures of Nate making his way up the white rock.
Pitch 3 (5.7 150ft)
With a huge runout start to the first bolt, Tida figured his way up the route along and over the water-groove. The holds were solid, and beyond unique. The type of features I’d only seen in the gym until now. On one side, a smooth dark brown rock abuts a mangled white sandstone with pockets and grooves all down its face. But quickly, Tida went out of sight as he climbed further and further up the line. Once I figured out sequence, I was chugged along behind him. The tunnel like feature that the water-groove created was quite difficult to climb in. Not because the holds were hard to grab on to, but because they were so abundant, making it difficult to find a smooth line through it while keeping my body balanced towards the rock. Eventually it flattens out and becomes more straight forward as you reach the top of the pitch where I was greeted by Tida in one of the most precarious belay positions.
Pitch 4 (5.7 180ft)
The “spacious ledge” that is noted in Mountain Project was more like a cave that was maybe 3 feet wide. Spacious enough for 1, maybe 2 people, but quite the sight when 3 people huddled into the cold cave as the rack was exchanged and ropes were pulled in. Nate and I wedge ourselves into the slot and started our shivering belay stance. I constantly kept loosing feeling in my feet because of the wedged position and the cold. I couldn’t wait to start climbing.
This was my 2nd favorite pitch on the route because of the diverse climbing styles. You start off by climbing up a tight chimney up from the belay, and before you know it, you’re out of sight. With my back pressed against the wall, I inched upwards. Once you pop out of the crack, you follow up this crack up a converging rock section. An excellent segment of rock that allows you to climb the crack with jams, smear off both faces, or simply face climb the white rock on the right. Hold after hold, a cruiser pitch up to the massive ledge for the start of P5.
Pitch 5 (5.8 120ft)
The temps, at this point, had only gotten colder as the sun stayed behind the rock above. The wind picked up, and had the 3 of us shivering at every moment we weren’t climbing. With only these two pitches left, we were really itching to get off the rock and decided to simul-belay the last two pitches to get done quicker.
Off the ledge, you follow up this tiny crack and face climb that is protected by a single bolt on the opposite face. The knobby, mole-like rock on the face act as a perfect foot hold to stay on the slab rock. Transitioning from the crack, to face, to the epic varnished black holds below the next belay. The holds themselves, at the top, became jagged, but absolutely bomber.
Pitch 6 (5.7- 195ft)
By the time we all reached the belay at P6, we were stoked, energy was still high, but we were very cold. At this point, Nate was going to take over the lead and cruise us up the last pitch. Having pulled a huge hold off himself, the start was not satisfying. The logical spot for a first piece of gear had been broken and lodged in the crack, making it a janky, unsafe placement. So Nate had to make his way further up and figure out the placements of about 3 pieces before he reached the bolted, exposed slab.
30 feet of runout slab climbing was awesome. The knobby, varnished bits of rock stuck to your feet like glue. A welcomed bit of exposure even though it was safely protected and no-one was going to fall off a slab at that angle. But nevertheless, the route continues to be solid off the slab until you reach the “cave” section at the top of the pitch. Where we all regrouped one last time.
Due to the incredible amount of rope drag Nate was climbing with because of a sling that was too short near the start, we had to break up the pitch. Ironically, the last bit was a class 4 scramble up to the top with no protection until the very top. So Nate went up and belayed me, while Tida swapped out his cold climbing shoes for his approach shoes and soloed up the route behind me.
Finally, 8 hours after we left the parking lot, 6ish pitches, and 900 vertical feet later, we reached the top of the route! A drop in the bucket for Nate and Tida who had climbed many routes like this; but for me, it was epic! This was my biggest multi-pitch to date, and my first weekend on sandstone. Cramped belay ledges, cold body, frozen hands, and unforgettable moments on and off the route. I’ll never forget. And I’ll tell you, the chipotle mayo covered turkey sandwich and miller lites we had at the top of that rock were so delicious. Better than most meals I’ve ever bought out. But now it was time to head back down and celebrate with the rest of the crew back at the house.
To get back to the car, we followed the carins off the backside of the route, down the Gully. And even though we were off the technical route, this descent had it’s fair share of exciting moments and route finding. But as long as we were headed downhill, we were going in the right direction. Even if that meant dropping down off overhead rocks and sliding down the chossy descent. It wasn’t an epic, and we were able to get back int he daylight as the sun put on a show over the red rock canyon.
For the route information: https://www.mountainproject.com/route/105821892/purblind-pillar