Longtime lurker Dana Perry apparently has trouble posting to the
newsgroup, so he asked me to post this trip report for him...
Kaleidoscope Cracks with Scary Larry
(Red Rocks, Nevada)
By Dana Perry
"Courage is the art of being the only one who knows you're
scared to death."
-Harold Wilson (1916 - 1995)
"Rock!!" Larry yelled loudly, with an extremely scared tone in
his voice. I quickly huddled under the overhang as best as I
could. I thought I saw a smaller-than-fist-sized rock go past.
"Are you okay?" I called up.
After a brief pause, Larry said in a significantly calmer voice,
"Yeah". Then the rope started going up again. As I was trying
to huddle under the overhang, I looked down at my sloping
stance and saw the splatter of raindrops. Great, I thought. I
peered out of the deep chimney at the series of dark clouds that
now covered the sky. Jesus, I'm 6 pitches up this dangerous,
obscure Red Rock route after a 3 ? hour approach up 3rd class
death slabs. We've got anywhere from 4 to 6 pitches left, and it
is starting to rain. The Eiger has more solid rock and I'm
standing in a future waterfall. Probably the only other people to
have done this route were the Uriostes in 1977. I was seriously
missing my mommy at this moment, and was constructing
several self-rescue scenarios in my head. With one rope and
loose rock, going down would have been somewhere between
impractical and nearly impossible. How did I get myself into
this mess anyway?
It's all Alex Chiang's fault. Not really, but his and Scary
Larry's oft quoted "Drinking from the Fire Hydrant" was one of
the best Trip Reports I had ever read (see Tradgirl.com for the
full text). This was Alex and Larry's account of their epic
ascent of the Rainbow Buttress at Red Rocks in Las Vegas.
After reading their account, Scary Larry's trip report on the
Snake Buttress, and poring over the Urioste Red Book, I came
across the Kaleidoscope Cracks - Grade IV 5.8, which share the
first and last pitch with Rainbow Buttress. I noticed that Larry
was a semi-regular on rec.climbing and sent him an e-mail about
KC and asked if it was a viable alternative to the Rainbow
Buttress route, particularly the 5.5X pitch at the top. I noted
that it was "only 5.7-5.8". Larry pointed out that, no, you can't
avoid the 5.5X pitch going up KC and, more importantly, the
technical grade is of minor relevance in describing the
commitment and seriousness of a climb like this one.
Larry: It looked logical enough. Certainly Kaleidoscope is a
good line. In some ways it is more compelling than Rainbow
Buttress. I was envisioning a thousand feet of solid jams and
secure chimneys. The rock would be warm and the air would
be cool and the sky would be so blue that everyone would think
the photos looked fake.
We traded many e-mails over what turned out to be a few years
before we finally got around to meeting April 7, 2004. The
road had been a long one. Last February we were all set to give
it a go, when a storm front blanketed Las Vegas and my normal
partner bailed (got gripped was more like it if he's reading
this!). The previous year I was due to pass through Las Vegas
to Asia on a business trip when it got cancelled due to SARS.
In the meantime, Larry had become the co-author of the
SuperTopos guide, providing a lot of history that was
previously undocumented about Red Rock. He has also written
his own book on the history of Red Rock, to be available
shortly. Larry is one of the vanishing breed of real traditional
rock climbers, as evidenced in his hip belays and Doltnuts and
Titons. As we discussed preparations for our climb I reminded
Larry that he should bring his belay device, to which he
commented, "I bring it with me everywhere I go." This only
reinforced in my mind the old maxim that "the leader must not
Larry: There is actually a method to the madness behind the old
equipment. When I leave the ground, I want to all the gear I
need to both prusik and rappel. That means a few slings, and if
you're going to carry the slings, you might as well add to their
versatility by threading on a few nuts. I've never not used
I learned rock climbing the old fashioned way at Sky Top in the
Gunks, so I wasn't really unnerved by the traditional style.
Besides, I was planning to bring the Big Wall Rack just in case!
I had additional plans as well. I figured that I would lead the
first pitch (5.4-5.6) which would also give me the 3rd class
traverse and set Larry up for the 5.8 overhang pitch which we
thought would be the crux of the climb.
We started out from the trailhead at 4:30 am. We were making
small talk, trying to pass the time and get to know each other a
Larry: The forecast was for clear skies and good weather, but a
high cloud layer was reflecting the city lights as I drove out.
And what was that? That couldn't have been a raindrop on my
windshield, could it? Just another increment of disquiet to add
to the nerves total: big route, new partner, now unanticipated
It appeared that Larry was at a distinct disadvantage. Although
Scary Larry is well known as a Las Vegas climber, we had
never climbed together before. Sure, we had both separately
climbed obscure routes in the backcountry in Red Rocks like
Sandy Hole, Catwalk or Jubilant Song, but I told him I was
nervous about leading the harder sections of the route. I was
careful not to overstate my abilities, hoping that he would use
that as an excuse to cancel. Surprisingly he didn't but I'm sure
that added to the commitment factor for him.
As we started hiking in the darkness, we were both probably
assembling excuses to have ready at the right moment.
Suddenly in the pitch black we came upon an older homeless
woman sitting in the middle of the trail. We were both startled
and asked if she were all right. She replied that yes she was
okay and that her husband was nearby. We doubted her answer
but pressed on noting that it would be day light soon and there
would be plenty other climbers coming past this way. It
reminded me of something out of a David *** movie in the
desert. I took it as a bad omen for the huge undertaking ahead.
We hiked past the Solar Slab after about an hour. We were
moving steadily, trying not to stray from the easiest route into
the canyon. The second hour we spent boulder hopping up the
streambed into the right fork of Oak Creek Canyon. The walls
of Mt Wilson on the left, and Rainbow Mountain on the right,
rose ominously through the pre-dawn gloom. I was feeling
great physically - the last six months of cycling and stairmaster
workouts were paying off. Nevertheless the pre-climb
performance anxiety feelings were steady and rising.
After about 2 hours we arrived at the place where Larry leaves
his pack. It is difficult to describe completely, but it the ideal
picnic spot on a perfectly flat, bench-like rock, next to a
trickling brook, with a scenic view of the canyon walls and
desert flora. The vegetation was in peak bloom from rainfall
earlier in the week. The Desert Redbush (also known as the
Judas Tree because it turns red) was in full flower (I looked this
up at the visitor center).
After some brief gear sorting - Larry took the rope and his
Doltnuts and Titons, I took the rack - we started up the 3rd
Larry: I think I got the better side of the gear deal. For some
reason, Dana seemed uneasy with my hardware, so he
volunteered to bring the rack. I had given him my standard
recommendation: six or eight cams, a few wires, and some
passive stuff. I think he interpreted this to mean six cams for
him, six for me, and six more for good luck or anchors. Beyond
creating a significant load for the approach, this seriously
compromised the potential for using the "not enough gear"
Thankfully Larry did not object to my bringing the Big Wall
Rack. Part of Rope Gun Management (this should be a chapter
in John Long's next book) is to convince your leader that he
actually needs both #4's and all the #3's for the next pitch.
Usually he will already have the small stuff on his rack. There is
nothing more gratifying than when your leader places the #4 on
his first move off the belay ledge. Except that means you have
to carry it for the next 55 meters
The cairns that go up the slabs follow an indirect route of least
resistance. Larry was very calm and methodical about
ascending the slabs, which was comforting in its own way. I
was gripped already and the exposure became more and more
frightening. If you focused on the 10 feet around your feet, the
angle did not seem bad at all. However, looking down gave
one a sense of the steepness of the route. I told myself not to
fall. The piece de resistance was a short, steep, downclimbing
section near the top of the slabs.
Soon enough we were at the base of the climb - the right most
edge of the slabs, perched atop the left side of the Painted
Bowl. As Larry pointed out, with one step right we would be
staring down an abyss of several hundred feet and beyond to the
Larry then said one of the nicest things I have ever heard, "I can
lead as many or as few pitches as you want." That relaxed me
slightly and gave me the courage to head up on the first pitch.
Based on the route description of long crack systems, I
envisioned pitch after pitch of easily protectable cracks, which
would eat up all the gear I was bringing. It was airy from the
I paused and mentioned to Larry to watch out for loose rock.
To which he quipped laconically, "More like watch out for solid
rock, because everything else is loose!" I thought he was
joking around - soon I would find out that he was completely
serious . I thought to myself - I am already gripped, so you
can't get to me! I continued
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