I would venture to say that the majority of climbers out there in the world who like to do big multi-pitch routes have heard of the mega super climb in Red Rock Canyon known as Epinephrine and if they haven’t climbed the route yet it is certainly on their tick list.
I have been working as a guide here in Red Rock since 1993 and have logged many, many, many ascents on this sandstone classic. I’ve been on the route in every month of the year, I’ve froze my ass off on it, and have had buckets of sweat pour off of me in the middle of summer despite being in the shade. I’ve been up the route lightning fast with a rope and have done the climb with out a rope. Then there have been the really long days, the longest was base to summit in 13 hours, with a very determined client who never fell or hung on the rope, just climbed very, very, slow, that was an 18 hour day car to car, in February! I’ve guided clients up the route that wanted to bivy on the Black Tower where the chimneys top out, so I’ve had the “old school” experience of struggling to get haul bags up through the chimneys, ugh, though sleeping up there is a great experience. But there was one Epinephrine experience I had not indulged in yet, and I am fairly certain that not to many other climbers have either, and that was to intentionally climb the route at night!
Now I do know of at least one team that has climbed the route at night and that was Josh Thompson and Kelly Cordes. I had read about those two linking up Levitation 29, the Rainbow Wall Original Route, and Epinephrine in a day. Saving the Big E for last they started up the route around 7:25 p.m. and topped out at 12:20 a.m., now that’s fast, especially for how much terrain they’d already covered! What a day, those dudes must’ve been exhausted, but most definitely elated with their accomplishment. But the fact must be considered, there’s a good chance that a few other teams have purposefully started up the route at night as well.
So for years I’ve been telling other local climbers that someday I would climb Epinephrine at night, I just had to find a partner. Of course I am always asked the same question, “uh, why do ya want to do that Fulton?” My answer is always the same “for the experience!”
Well just the other day the experience finally came to fruition. My young friend Jesse Adames and I had climbed Epinephrine together a few years back and he new my desire to purposefully be up there at night and he wanted to have the same experience. So it was decided that on Friday night July 29th we’d hike into Black Velvet and climb the route.
Jesse and I planned on meeting at 6:30 p.m. that evening, and I wanted to be hiking into the route by 7:30 p.m. The forecast for Friday was a 20% chance of thunderstorms and by that afternoon the entire Las Vegas valley was covered with dark rain clouds. By afternoon I was hearing the rumble of thunder and not to long after the hearing the thunder, Jesse called, “hey bro, are we still doing this?” my reply was “lets just go out there and check it out, okay”, Jesse said he was still in. Shortly after Jesse’s phone call I called the Bonnie Springs Motel out at Red Rock and asked the receptionist if it had rained yet, she said it hadn’t.
So Friday evening, a few minutes after 6:30 p.m. Jesse and I were on our way out to Black Velvet Canyon. As we turned off the highway it only takes a few minutes of driving on the dirt road before we got our first view of the parking area way out there in the distance, no vehicles, we would be out in the canyon all alone.
At 7:30 p.m. we were hiking away from the truck under some seriously dark clouds with the occasional deep roll of thunder in the distance. Though conditions were less than ideal I still felt good about this adventure. Jesse was psyched, he kept saying “I’m so excited” over and over, I told him I was excited as well, though I actually think his excitement was possibly apprehension, with a bit of trepidation. It was absolutely sweltering out in the desert that evening, by the time the trail dropped us down into the wash proper I was absolutely soaked, just pouring sweat. It wasn’t to long after being in the canyon that the first raindrops started to fall from the sky, nothing serious, but it was certainly thought provoking. We arrived at the base of the route at 7:55 p.m., 25 minutes of hiking, not bad; I told Jesse that I wanted to be climbing in 15 minutes. So far the random falling raindrops had not stopped and Jesse asked what we would do if it really started raining hard when we were up there? Well “we’ll rappel down”; Jesse’s next question was “can we rap down with only one rope?” I reassured him that we could get off the route with one 60-meter rope no problem, though I would definitely be leaving some gear behind.
At 8:05 p.m. I was lacing up my tried and true Five Ten Pitons, one of my favorite pair of Five Ten climbing shoes I’ve ever owned. I have climbed Epinephrine at least 7 times in the Pitons, for me the Pitons have been one of the best all around long route shoes I’ve ever owned! Jesse was climbing in his Five Ten Coyotes, which he says he loves because of how comfortable the Coyotes are for long routes such as Epinephrine. Another reason Jesse and I wear Five Ten climbing shoes is how much we trust the Five Ten rubber, hands down it’s the best climbing shoe rubber in the world! It was 8:09 p.m. we double-checked each other’s knots and harnesses, all good, and at 8:10 p.m. I was headed up the first 60-meter pitch.
As I left the ground it wasn’t totally dark yet but the headlamp was on nonetheless, and the random raindrops were still falling. I made it to the anchors in less than 15 minutes, and 10 minutes later Jesse was joining me at the top of the first pitch. Two minutes later I was headed up the 2nd pitch and of course by now it was dark, but knowing the route as well as I do I was feeling very comfortable, the raindrops had stopped for the time being and by 8:45 p.m. I arrived at the top of the 2nd pitch, securing myself to the anchor I yelled down that I was off belay. Within two minutes of me being off belay, I had Jesse on belay and he was cruising up the fun 2nd pitch, he arrived at that anchor just a few minutes before 9 p.m. Next up, the classic 3rd pitch, let the fun begin!
All the while I was bringing Jesse up the 2nd pitch I kept looking up into the 3rd pitch which is the start of the chimneys, damn it was dark up there, like really dark. Now I absolutely enjoy climbing those chimneys, I have them totally dialed, in the daylight of course. Whenever I would think about climbing Epinephrine at night the one thought that consistently ran through my head was what’s it going to be like climbing those chimneys by headlamp? Well no more mystery, I’d be finding out soon enough, like in 10 minutes!
So around 9:05 or so I started up the chimney and climbed it exactly the same way I always climb it, there was no drama, I never felt sketchy, I just climbed and placed the same amount of protection that I normally place and literally less than 20 minutes later I had finished the 3rd 60-meter pitch. I was psyched, it was easy, I had felt really comfortable and thought to myself that there wasn’t any difference between darkness or daylight. By 9:30 p.m. I had Jesse on belay and he was making his way up the pitch just fine, I made him pose for me so I could get some really neat pics of him climbing the chimney with the black void below. The 4th pitch which is the final chimney pitch was smooth sailing as well, I never had a “what the heck am I doing up here” moment, it just never happened. The total time for the both of us to climb the 3rd and 4th pitches was 1 hour and 20 minutes, not bad, not bad at all.
Now I had been up on the tower at night, I’ve slept up there so I’ve had experience of looking down into the canyon and seeing the lights of Vegas glittering like a jewelry box out there not to far away, but this was a new experience for Jesse and he was reveling in it. So far we had really lucked out with the rain, but we could see and smell the rain falling out in the distance. It was weird being able to see the rain at night, it was totally visible because it was being illuminated by the glow of the city and man were we crossing our fingers the rain would stay out there to the east of us. Jesse was thrilled to be done with the chimneys, I was as well, but we weren’t out of the woods yet, not by a long shot. We still had more than 1,300’ of climbing left before we could untie from the rope and start our descent. We rested for a bit on the tower and hydrated, and by 10:45 p.m. I was headed up the 5th pitch, up, up and away into the darkness.
As I started up the next 200’ rope length it suddenly became really windy in the canyon and some big heavy raindrops started to fall and I was like oh man, here it comes. I climbed faster and finished the last 60’ feet or so up the detached column of rock called the “elephants trunk” in probably 1 minute, no exaggeration, I wanted to get to the anchor before the rock became soaked. I arrived at the bolted anchor, secured myself and turned around to see quite a site. It was raining in the canyon maybe 25’ feet or so from the wall, but because of the updraft from below and the downdraft from above the rain was literally just hovering in space, it’s an effect I’ve seen before in Black Velvet Canyon though only in the summer, and I believe it’s due to the warm air rising and the cold air from above pushing down, very cool to see such a unique weather phenomenon. As Jesse climbed this pitch the wind had not yet stopped and when he reached me he asked what I thought we should do, my reply was “hey, were not wet, let’s keep going!”
Now as luck would have it as I started up the 6th pitch the wind stopped as suddenly as it started, and no more rain, yea! As I said before, if we had to bail off and get to ground with one rope, it was possible, it would just take quite a while to rappel over a 1,000’ feet, as it would minimally be 10, 100’ rappels, that would not go quick. I lead the 6th pitch quickly and Jesse followed it just as fast, and the same with the 7th pitch, and the 8th pitch. The 9th pitch is definitely one of the classic pitches of Epinephrine, you leave the security of the dihedral and climb up the face for nearly 40’ that has only one protection bolt, easy in daylight, a bit spooky at night as it took me a few moments to locate the bolt way above me, I knew it was up there I just didn’t want to end up to far left or right of my only piece of pro keeping me from taking a really big fall. Upon getting to the bolt and clipping it, I now had to climb up another 30’feet or so and traverse underneath a big overhang which is protectable. After climbing out and around the airy roof I was now on a really nice spacious ledge, I built a bomber anchor, secured myself to it, and yelled down to Jesse that I was off belay. Within a few seconds I had him on belay and within 10 minutes or so he was on the spacious ledge as well.
At this point we had climbed nearly 1,800’ feet, we had one last 5.7 pitch to go and then it was several hundred feet of 3rd and 4th class climbing to the pine tree which is the point where we would untie from the rope and start the descent. I had yet to feel fatigued despite how many hours I had been up. I never managed to squeeze in a nap the afternoon before we headed out to do our night ascent, but I was looking forward to when this event would be finished. So I fired up the last pitch, brought Jesse up to me, then started up the 3rd and 4th class scrambling, despite being really easy, we didn’t simul-climb, I just pitched it out with four short pitches and at 1:20 a.m. Jesse and I had officially made it to the top of Epinephrine. Our time on the route was 5 hours and 10 minutes; I felt good about that!
We spent a leisurely 25 minutes organizing the gear, coiling the rope, sending a few text messages to friends and family and taking the mandatory summit pictures. We hydrated, ate a bit of food, oh and I have to mention this, Jesse brought some hardboiled eggs which he so kindly peeled for me. I can’t be to certain but I believe that Jesse is the only individual to ever bring hard boiled eggs up Epinephrine, he surprised me an egg the last time we climbed the route as well. That egg sure was good!
At 1:45 a.m. with lightning flashing out in the distance we started the descent. All the way down we talked about how this adventure had exceeded our expectations and how fortunate we were with the weather. We managed to find our way back down to the parking lot in 1 hour and 30 minutes, it was now 3:45 a.m., our total round-trip time was 7 hours and 45 minutes, needless to say we were thrilled. After a long climb and long descent all climbers know how it feels to sit down in their vehicle, the body just melts and say’s “thank you!” Even though young Jesse was psyched to be back at the car he was even more psyched that he wasn’t going to be late for his 6 a.m. rigging gig at a local strip property, he definitely wished he was going home to crash out like I was.
So is Epinephrine worth doing at night? It sure is, in the summer anyway! Despite the tiny bit of rain we encountered the nighttime temps for climbing were perfect, I would definitely recommend the experience to qualified climbers that’s for sure, and I certainly will do it again. Thanks Jesse for sharing the Epinephrine night ascent experience with me bro, you were a great partner!