By CAMP Athlete Max Tepfer
I showed up to Vegas this spring with a handful of goals and no real direction as to which to go about first. One of those was to link Cloud Tower, Rainbow Wall, and Levitation 29. As the weeks went by, all my partners were psyched to do other things, as was I … there’s so much to do! So the idea got put on the back-burner until I got an unexpected text from my friend Hayden Jamieson. “Hey man! I’m looking for a partner for a big link up if you’re interested …” it read. Perfect! Serendipitously our schedules aligned and we were able to connect on the last day I’d be down there before leaving for the season.
It turned out he wanted to go a little bigger than I did, but after thinking about it, looking at some maps and topos, and engaging in some intentional underestimating, his plan to link all three of those routes as well as Crimson Chrysalis, Solar Slab, and Epinephrine started to feel reasonable. As the day drew closer, I was wrapping up a long stint of guiding and was chomping at the bit to move at a properly fast pace in the mountains again. I said goodbye to my last client for the season on the 17th and Hayden rolled down on the 18th. We started that next morning at 3 am from the Oak Creek Canyon parking area on the highway.
After a quick moonlit stroll into the canyon, we sprinted up Johnny Vegas to Solar Slab in one long block occasionally slapping microtraxions on the rope at anchor stations to protect ourselves from each other. Just over an hour later we cruised over to the raps and were across the Upper Painted Bowl and at the base Eagle Wall just as it was getting light enough to turn off our headlamps. Hayden fired Levitation 29 on-sight in 2 pitches, stopping at the base of the crux to re-rack and reset the rope drag. From the top we dashed up and over Rainbow Mountain to the top of Rainbow Wall, stopping on the way at a serendipitous pothole to reload our water.
Finding the top of the Original Route is surprisingly easy and we went from top to bottom in 30 minutes. We stopped at the base of the Red Dihedral to drop a few snacks and some water so we could climb the route entirely unencumbered. We’d both already sent the route, so we decided to forego leading the 11c and 11d starting pitches and just minitracked them in one long shot. It was my turn to lead, so I launched up from the top of the 11+ pitch and took us to our mini aid station below the upper cruxes in one long glorious shot. From there we slowed down and pitched out the remaining terrain in two 150-200′ pitches.
After another 25 minutes of simul-raps and a sweaty sprint down Juniper Canyon, we were sitting at the base of Cloud Tower shoveling food and water down our throats. Hayden hadn’t climbed this one before either and was psyched to go for the on-sight. He took us up to the base of the crux in one pitch and then came heart-breakingly close to sending crux, but fell with his fingers tickling the finishing lock. Both of us were notably powered down at this point and I took over the leads. Hands down the crux of the day for me was leading the last pitch in the blazing afternoon sun. I can’t remember the last time I was that close to falling out of a hand jam!
By the time we got back to the ground, it was just after 6:00 pm. It would be headlamp time again at 7:45, so we powered down what food and water we had left and popped up the hill to the base of Crimson. Hayden took back over and linked to within 3 pitches of the top before running out of both quickdraws and ‘camdraws’ (which are exactly what they sound like). At this point it was fully dark, so we did a quick changeover and he fired to the top under the light of the full moon. Another flurry of simul-rappels (with some minor shenanigans when we overshot an anchor in the dark) and we were pounding down the trail back to the car.
We got back around 10:30 both feeling torn about our aspiration of finishing up on Epinephrine. There was fully time and energy (sort of) to do so, but we both ultimately failed to overcome the inertia sink of returning to a car full of snacks and water and decided to call it a day. Another contributing factor was that we were both looking at long drives the next day. I had to drive home to Bend and he had to be in Salt Lake for work by noon.
One of the coolest parts of doing a linkup of 5 routes you’ve climbed before is all of the memories climbing each route brings back to mind. In a certain sense, I cut my teeth climbing in Vegas and every pitch was a walk down memory lane. Each route was a personal milestone of sorts when I first climbed them back in the day and getting to put them all together in a long push with a great friend was a true joy that I’ll be milking the memory of for a long time to come.