Jerry Handren has an exclamation mark next to Chicken Lips in his guide in reference to aging bolts at the time when he published his book. However, Chicken Lips was fully retro-bolted in 2013 and now deserves more tourist climber attention as it is a much better route than neighboring Black Orpheus which sees traffic almost daily at Red Rock. Unlike Black Orpheus, Chicken Lips offers true 5.10 climbing via several short cruxes. The route can be done in five long pitches, but six pitches, done right, avoids any rope drag. Jorge and Joanne Urioste put this route in right after they established Black Orpheus in 1980. Chicken Lips offers up a nice balance of face and crack climbing. The pitches go fast and its position in the Upper Painted Bowl is spectacular. I will go out on a limb and state this is one of the best JnJ (Jorge and Joanne) routes I have climbed at Red Rock and I have climbed most all of them. The descent with a single 60 or 70m rope is one of the fastest and smoothest you could expect for an almost 1000’ route at Red Rock.
There are several approach descriptions out there via other websites and guide books. I found almost all of them flawed in their language one way or another. The most critical item to clear up first for those at least familiar with Black Orpheus and Eagle Dance is that when everyone references “go to the right side of the Painted Bowl”, they mean the upper painted bowl, not the lower. Think of the Painted Bowl as having two tiers. The lower level is broad and encompasses ground from the right edge of Eagle Wall (Rainbow Buttress) to the Black Orpheus route itself. It is truly a huge slick rock bowl. The upper bowl is up and left (west) of this lower section. So when you hear a reference to the "far right" of the bowl, it is in fact referring to the upper bowl, not the lower one. The third pitch of this route is extremely obvious on approach from the lower bowl. Look up and left for the tall red arête/corner which leads to a large ledge with a tree. JnJ’s description speaks of this route being right of “some huge overhangs”, but to be clear, there are roofs on both sides of the route, the most impressive of which is in fact to the right of Chicken Lips (center of the upper wall) not left.
Bottom line, the approach is really straight forward to me (can sound convoluted by all the variations out there) but then I have been back there a lot. Park at the Oak Creek Canyon trail head. Hike in towards the back of the canyon (right fork) as though making for the Eagle Wall routes. This involves a lot of boulder hopping. Way before the huge ponderosa pines in the back of the canyon, look for a very slick slab on the right side of the wash, head up this slick slab a few meters and follow cairns that head off to the right angling back on large slabs to directly below Rainbow Buttress which separates the Painted Bowl from Eagle Wall (if you have done the walk off for Black Orpheus, you are basically retracing your steps). Hike up the terraced slick rock aiming for the middle of the lower painted bowl. There is an obvious treed 4th class gully (right to left) system that leads to the upper Painted Bowl which is left of center of the lower one. You will bypass two single rope raps as you scramble up this gully. The descent involves retracing your steps here so you could suit up before you start up the gully if you wanted. I prefer to suit up at the base of the route itself. Once you top out of the gully, proceed up and right approximately 60 meters to the base of the route which is just to the left of a very clean cut white roof. Bolts follow up a white face to a ledge.
Route DescriptionChicken Lips, 6 Pitches, 850', 5.10b
1st Pitch- 30m- 5.10b/ This pitch is fully bolted. This is the worst quality rock of the day yet the climbing the most technical. It is mostly slab face climbing on white chossy sandstone up to a gear belay on a comfortable ledge. These first two pitches can be combined but that would create unnecessary rope drag as quick and easy as it is to set up a gear belay.
2nd Pitch- 25m- 5.10a/ The first few meters of this pitch involve climbing a fun varnished corner via a hand crack through a bulge. Then up and right and traverse back left under a roof which you can protect as you make an exposed slab move, but extend it well for rope drag purposes. Fixed belay up and left at the base of the tall corner/arête.
3rd Pitch- 35m- 5.8/ This is by far the most aesthetic pitch of the climb and takes on the most visible feature you detected on approach. Some on the internet think this pitch is more difficult than what JnJ have it at on the FA, but I thought it was spot on with no real crux. Start up the wide crack (C4 #4) and follow the mostly hands corner up until it pinches down and you need to traverse out left several meters to the arête via positive features. Finish up the arête to another fixed station.
4th Pitch- 50m- 5.10a/ Again I see some calling this pitch 5.10b, but I thought it was closer to 5.9. JnJ’s rating seems fair enough. This is another fully bolted pitch. Continue up the well featured arête until you reach the large ledge with a pine tree on the right. Belay off the tree.
5th Pitch- 45m- 5.9/ Perhaps the 2nd most technical pitch of the route outside of the delicate face climbing on pitch one, albeit for just a short distance. Climb the off-width crack (I did not have to layback as some suggest, just face right) and clip several bolts as you make your way up the steep corner to much easier ground. Continue up easy climbing into the chimney to a decent stance about 30’ below the large white chock stone/overhang stuffing the chimney. Gear belay.
6th Pitch- 70m- 5.8/ Continue through the overhang above via stemming. There is a bolt on the left wall right below it. Then continue the relatively easy chimney through a live tree (2014) and top out of the chimney at a dead tree. You can belay off of this tree or continue to another tree where most anyone would feel comfortable to un-rope. To reach this final tree might take a small amount of simul-climbing with a 70m line.