Dreefee and Crystal Dawn
In March, I found myself unemployed and decided to make the most of my situation by throwing together a three-week trip to Red Rocks with my long-time partner, Mike Kerzhner, for the following month. This trip had been on my bucket list for years, and our priority was to tackle Dreefee, one of the hardest routes in Red Rocks, with five 5.13 pitches. I had also been eyeing Crystal Dawn, an eight-pitch climb with two overhanging and sporty 5.13 pitches, and two more rated 12+. These two routes had been on my radar for years, but we decided we would prioritize Dreefee.
When we started working on Dreefee, it felt very difficult and I began to doubt my ability to complete it. One move on the third 5.13 pitch (pitch 5) kept shutting me down, and I struggled to do it consistently. I thought there would be a fairly high chance of failure, but after four days of work, I decided to try to lead the route on 4/17. I climbed better than expected with just one fall on the one 5.13- pitch I thought I was most likely not to fall on (the second 5.13). However, as I was trying to climb over a mossy and chossy bulge on pitch 9, my foothold broke, and I fell, almost knocking over a huge teetering block onto Mike below. I decided to call it quits there and skip the easier but significantly more dangerous climb to the top. The rock quality is very good until the last 5.13 and then the quality deteriorates mid-pitch. The last 5.12 is OK – fun climbing on marginal rock. It takes you to a series of large ledges, which is where I turned around. It felt like a fair spot, with all the good and hard climbing below.
Two days later, Mike also sent Dreefee, and it was the first time I had fully supported someone on jumars and the first time he had been fully supported by someone. It was the coldest day on the wall we experienced the whole trip, with a bitter wind chill. Despite Mike struggling with the second 5.13 pitch (the same pitch I fell on), he managed to get through it and then didn't fall the rest of the way. The climb follows beautiful natural features on exceptional rock through pitch 6, with pitch 7 being the supposed crux, though many people agree that it's not the crux now that new beta has been found after the first ascent. The route is characterized by technical vertical climbing with boulder problems here and there that require finger strength and good footwork. Dreefee is definitely one of the best hard multi-pitch routes I've ever done, with absolutely beautiful climbing.
I was able to spend one day early in our trip on Crystal Dawn when it was too cold on Rainbow Wall (where Dreefee is), and another day while Mike was resting for his attempt on Dreefee. So, a couple of days after Mike sent Dreefee, I was ready to attempt Crystal Dawn. My climb went smoothly, with just one fall on the crux pitch, mainly just to get warmed up. Mike also came away with an impressive attempt, having not spent time on the route in a couple of weeks, leading the crux and following all other pitches clean.
Crystal Dawn follows a crazy line through some huge roofs midway up, with the two hardest pitches being overhung. The crux pitch is a punchy sport climb with some really excellent holds and movement. The third-hardest pitch is a 12d slab that climbs one of the most perfect sections of rock in Red Rocks. It's stunning. However, leading the easier pitches on Crystal Dawn was scary. While I am super happy to have climbed a couple of life list routes, I'm feeling done climbing at Red Rocks for a while.
The rock in Red Rocks can be beautiful but also terribly scary, with loose sandy blocks and long runouts. Because of a bolting ban, many of these routes are not protected as well as they could be. I was often scared doing a completely unnecessary runout on holds that could break, and some of the gear I placed didn't feel as secure as it should. As I will soon be a dad (!!), my tolerance for this kind of risk is pretty low. That said, these two routes stand out as a couple of the best hard multi-pitch routes in North America.
Dreefee and Crystal Dawn
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