ApproachThis is a nice aesthetic, thoroughly enjoyable non-technical route to the summit of Black Velvet Peak.
From the parking area near the entrance to Black Velvet Canyon, head toward the canyon on a well-traveled use trail.
Follow the use trail on the left side of the wash leading to the canyon.
When the use trail starts to break up and spiderweb around, either drop into the bouldery wash to your right or continue in on the network of trails, ultimately aiming for the mouth of the canyon. Keep in mind that some of these use trails lead to climbing routes, and steer you away from the canyon.
Either way, from the use trail system or the bottom of the wash, when class 3-4 difficulties are encountered just inside the mouth of the canyon as you hit a dry waterfall, climb up, around or over them to your left (class 3), then drop down into the wash below and continue on. Despite its non-technical rating, some may find this first obstacle a little intimidating.
*In Feb06, Matt K added that, if trying to climb directly up the dry fall, you'll encounter an aging fixed rope (as well as a second fixed rope in better condition). Use these ropes at your own risk, or bypass them 3rd class on the far left side of the dry fall.
You will then find yourself bouldering along through the bottom of the wash with the steep canyon walls towering above you.
Route DescriptionFollow the canyon over varying class 2-3 terrain for a couple of miles until you near the end of the main canyon. Along the way, shortly after entering the canyon, look up and admire the massive Black Velvet Wall above you on the left. In my opinion, it is the most spectacular sandstone wall in the entire Red Rock area.
Halfway (or more) into the canyon, you may be tempted to scramble up a prominent and exposed 4th class waterfall (sometimes wet, sometimes dry) leading you into a left fork of the canyon. Either do the waterfall variation, or stay in the main canyon (recommended) and follow it almost all the way to where the yellow and orange and red sandstone of the canyon joins the grey limestone of the escarpment ahead and above.
Before reaching the limestone of the escarpment at the head of the canyon, notice that the angle of the canyon walls on the left side lessens somewhat. As soon as practical, start heading up these steep sandstone slabs, ramps and slopes leading toward user-friendly terrain above. (While navigating this portion of the route, I did not see any cairns or other markers pointing the way but found that the terrain tends to lead you in the proper direction.)
The sandstone slabs, ramps and slopes will eventually lead you to a sort of gully area where cairns finally start to appear. Although a little route-finding would get the job done sooner or later, the cairns help quite a lot to expedite matters. Follow them (or if they’re absent, follow the path of least resistance) upward, zig-zagging around obstacles, past a couple of small sandstone arches, and ultimately to the general area above where the sandstone meets the limestone (or darn close to it).
(* Note: When negotiating this last section in December, I found that the heavily-shaded area hosted quite a lot of water ice along the route. Watch your footing carefully and/or protect the route. The exposure in places is substantial. Just a heads-up.)
Once the area above the “gully” is reached, you should notice that Black Velvet Peak and the ridge leading out to it are to the south/southeast and that you are separated from them by a sort of bowl. (If you had taken the aforementioned 4th class waterfall variation, it would have led you up into the bowl. Having not done the variation myself, I have no further information on it.)
Traverse over varying class 2 (and easy class 3) limestone/sandstone terrain to the other side of the bowl until you find yourself at the toe of the ridge leading toward the peak.
From this point, your objective is clear and so is the route (kind of). With a little trial and error, you should be able to work your way around various obstacles and difficulties, including a cool hidden tunnel that must be found early on along the ridge, crawled through, and exited to continue. A lot of class 2, a fair amount of class 3 and a couple of class 4 moves are encountered along the ridge.
Follow the ridge all the way to the summit. Don’t expect to find a summit register (and don’t waste your time doing as I did by scrambling down and over to the subsidiary peak to the N/NE looking for one).
To descend, retrace your steps.
RT numbers are roughly 10 miles with 2600 feet of gain.
**BranchWhitney recommends a quicker descent route:
"From the high point (summit) continue on the ridge following cairns for about 25 minutes. Turn left (well marked) and follow the climber's descent path all the way down to the desert floor. This is much quicker than retracing your steps.
Also there's a great view from the lower peak out to the north. It sit on top of Black Velvet Wall. A short scramble off the summit has you looking down almost 2,000 feet to the bottom of the canyon.
There shoul be a register at this peak. I put one there in the spring of 2005."
Essential GearBasic hiking stuff.
Rope, slings, a couple of short ice screws if uncomfortable (and particularly icy) in the "gully" portion of the route.
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