Crimson Chrysalis, Red Rocks, Nevada

May 13, 2003

Dave Svilar, Matt Alford


Crimson Chrysalis (5.9) follows the steep right-hand skyline of Cloud Tower.


The relentlessly steep nature of the route and lack of ledges meant each belay (marked by #'s) was hanging.

The idea of the trip was to fine tune our hapless rock skills on short climbs in Joshua Tree, and then move on to places like Red Rocks for multi-pitch climbs that would get us farther off the deck.  Olive Oil, the previous day's climb had certainly accomplished this task, but it had felt easy and could only be considered a warm-up.  Matt enjoys feeling scared (I'm always scared), so we succumbed to the temptations of Crimson Chrysalis, nine pitches of near dead vertical and sometimes overhanging climbing - a true Red Rocks classic.

We ponied up $5 for a second day (a major expense on our low budget trip) to access the one-way scenic loop that circles the park.  We didn't want to get stuck climbing behind a slow party on the route, so we took off down the trail full speed.  In my haste I forgot my food back at the Nissan - not a good idea considering the climb we were about to undertake and my hypoglycemic nature.

Contrary to our experience the day before we hiked straight to the base of the climb and were racked and ready in less than an hour from the car.  The first pitch was only 5.7, so I took the sharp end of the rope and followed a crack until reaching the belay bolts 140 feet up.  The climbing already felt harder than yesterday, so I figured the climb should be difficult enough to challenge Matt at some point.  With the exception of a few bolts, the route took passive protection with three bolt belays for belays/rappels.  This proved to be a nice luxury, especially considering each belay was a hanger.

Dave on the first pitch.

Matt took the next pitch... and the next and the next and the next...  Pitches two through five were all 5.8 - 5.9.  I feel more comfortable leading pitches up to 5.7 than I do following, but I had a mental block in my head.  "I can lead 5.7, but not 5.8."  The truth is I could lead most 5.8's just fine, but at that point I hadn't convinced myself of it.  Anyway, the first few pitches followed a crack, but very little crack climbing skills were necessary as there was an abundance of positive face holds.  By the time we hit the sixth pitch I was ready to swing the lead again.  The angle had eased back slightly and the crack had disappeared.  Luckily there was even more face holds with bolts to provide protection giving the sixth and seventh pitches a sport climb feel.

Matt on the fifth and probably most enjoyable pitch - a thin 5.8 - 5.9 crack.


Looking down towards Matt leaning back on the belay with the ground hundreds of feet below.

The exposure was unrelenting.  Not once was there a ledge on which we could stand.  On each belay we leaned back and tried to find a stance that wouldn't put our feet to sleep.  I applauded myself for not being so cheap as to not replace my old nut-cruncher harness before the trip.  As comfortable as I was, the exposure took its toll.  At no point in the day was I overcome with terror, but the fact that our butts was constantly hanging over a cliff meant all our decisions had to be solid. 

Even at this heightened level of awareness my mind still wandered at times.  Why are there so many flies buzzing me so far up on this tower?  Why are these swallows (birds) dive-bombing us?  Just what is a 'chrysalis'?  All good questions, no easy answers.  I came up with a theory for the first two: some quick math in my head suggested that we had only taken three showers in two and one half weeks.  With my desert tan and bodily sludge I probably looked and smelled like feces to the average fly.  The swallows were swooping down and picking the flies out of midair next to my body, just like they would off a cow.  My guess at what a 'chrysalis' was turned out to be way off.  (chrysalis - hard shelled pupa of a butterfly)  Whomever named our route Crimson Chrysalis was obviously stoned.

Pitches eight and nine looked hard again, so I let Matt have them.  More face climbing, tougher pro, and a few bolts in the blank spots.  The top of Cloud Tower is a dark red color, so when we hit this distinctively colored rock on the eighth pitch we knew we were close.  The ninth pitch involved pulling a small roof (more like a small bulge).  The bulge wasn't hard, but the climbing above it involved some tricky face moves.  We topped out and enjoyed a small ration of food before tying our ropes together for the descent.  I took the time to admire the full Vegas strip that was now in plain view in the distance; old Vegas, the Stratosphere, and even our favorite place - the MGM parking garage.

Matt and Dave on top.


More from the top.  Las Vegas is hazed out in the valley below.

We peered over the edge and could see the fellows who had started behind us still on the sixth pitch a couple of hundred feet below.  The only way off the tower was to rappel the route, so we tossed the ropes and aimed for every other set of belay bolts as we slid down the ropes towards the ground.  We made an awkward pass off the other two fellows, and kept crossing our fingers that the ropes wouldn't snag.  After five double rope rappels we were on the ground.  Of course, a rope got stuck on the last pull, so Matt had to climb up most of the first pitch and pull it out himself.  Matt had generously shared his food all day, so at this point we were both feeling the effects of low blood sugar.

As badly as I craved a peanut butter and honey sandwich I took my time walking back to the Nissan.  My nerves must have been somewhat shot, because the rocks looked redder, the trees greener, and even though it was overcast the sky was bluer.  If you're a climber and have the misfortune of being like me, you know how nice it is to be back on the ground.

After some peanut butter and honey we hopped on Interstate 15 and smiled as the awful city of Las Vegas faded in the rearview mirror.  The city had worn me out even though our time on the strip was minimal.  The constant dingle of slot machines can still be heard out in the desert.  It's doubtful that there is another place on Earth with a higher concentration of idiots than Las Vegas.  Take a drive down the street and you'll see what I mean.  Luckily we were taking a drive out of town.

-written May 2003fffff

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