For some peculiar reason, the original Dark Shadows route, which climbs the northern face of Mescalito to its summit, no doubt proudly put in by John Martinet and Nick Nordblom in 1978, has become converted by tourist climbing into a four pitch “boy wonder” route. I can’t help but wonder that if this was an Urioste original if such transgression would have taken place to Dark Shadows. Anyone I know who has done the route in whole, believes the entire route worthy of completing as much as any other route in Red Rocks. To not climb Dark Shadows in its entirety would be akin to climbing the first four pitches of Crimson Chrysalis (same grade) and then claim you bagged the route and call it a day.
Although Summitpost and other sites already have a Dark Shadows route description discussing the first four pitches, this route page is dedicated to those of us who don’t feel we have climbed a route unless in fact we have bagged the entire line. The upper pitches were actually quite pleasant on decent rock by RR standards and the descent option I found was quite adventurous making for a “full” fun day at Red Rocks in March. Credit to Michelle, whose notes I found in a summit log somewhere and used to climb the route along side Handren’s description.
The first four pitches of Dark Shadows are well documented, however my preferred ascent covering the same ground would actually be Chasing Shadows which offers up some fantastic exposure over the large roof to the right above the first two pitches of Dark Shadows. In any regard, the fifth pitch of Dark Shadows starts to the right of the large roof directly above the fourth pitch. Instead of stopping at the anchor set directly above the fourth pitch crack, traverse easy ground up and right to another fixed belay. The fifth pitch follows a seam past a bolt and over an easy bulge/roof. Exit out of the widening crack left onto a large ledge with bad bolts on its edge. Do a gear belay in the back crack, medium to large gear. Retreat from here will require leaving gear. The next several pitches are fairly uneventful until you reach what Handren has spelled out as three separate pitches, 7-9. I combined all three with one 70m rope with some simul climbing. Some have referenced the tenth pitch as the best pitch on the route in their summit logs (I would still consider the third and fourth pitches better overall climbing). On the tenth pitch, after climbing a run out but beautifully varnished and featured wall, you pull a roof. My second had quite the time with this pull, so perhaps it is challenging or he was just tired. In any regard, some will consider this the crux move of the route. I just remember a nice jam in there. This pitch ends on a huge bivy ledge with trees and bushes. The face above can be soloed or done in two quick rope pitches. It is easy 5th class, but quite chossy in places. You start center, zig right, then zag left, then zig right to the summit of Mescalito.
Park at the Pine Creek trailhead off of the Red Rocks loop road. Hike down the trail along the creek, past the old homestead and into the wash as it heads for Mescalito. Continue deep into the right fork of Pine Creek Canyon. This is a lush area with quite a bit of vegetation overshadowing a flowing creek. There is a trail that skirts the canyon floor on the right. Eventually you come to the Dark Shadows wall on the left with a large boulder perched over running water.
1300’+/-, 12 Pitches, 5.8
1st and 2nd Pitches- 150’- 5.6/ I don’t know anyone who splits these first two pitches. Clip two bolts up the easy face climbing above the creek to the base of the corner and a fixed station. I personally run it out from here because I don’t want the rope drag. But if you are going to protect the corner, I advise using a double length runner on all your placements. At the top of the corner, make an easy traverse left to the ledge and fixed station.
3rd Pitch- 120’- 5.8/ This is a fun pitch. It felt more like 5.7, but Handren has it at 5.8. Just run up the heavily varnished right facing corner placing gear at will to a fixed belay. There are two stations up there on small stances as this route is quite popular.
4th Pitch- 75’- 5.8/ This is the crux pitch of the climb in my opinion. In fact the young men ahead of me on this particular day bailed back to the station, not wanting to commit to the crux move at the top of the flaring crack, a reach of sorts to exit the crack. Fortunately, they allowed me to proceed through their gear and rope. The varnished crack is fantastic climbing and what lends the short version of Dark Shadows to classic status no doubt. Towards the top, there will be a right hand reach move (can lie back through it if you would rather) that will feel quite exposed even though you should be well protected at that point. Mantle up to a nice foot ledge and traverse out right to the higher of two fixed stations.
5th Pitch- 120’- 5.7/ The fifth pitch follows a seam past a bolt and over an easy bulge/roof. Towards the end of the pitch, exit out of the widening crack left onto a large ledge with bad bolts (2010) on its edge. Fix a gear belay in the back crack, medium to large gear. Retreat from here will require leaving gear (2010) or you can make your way over to the east side of the ledge and locate a fixed station there and take your chances with whatever rap that might be. There are quite a few routes jumbled below this point. DO NOT RAP OFF OF THE RUSTY BOLTS AND HANGERS ON THE LIP OF THE LEDGE.
6th Pitch- 120’- 5.7/ Jump on the wall directly behind the ledge and follow easy ground up and right staying out of the chossy chimney to your left. Follow this run out ground as it starts to angle back left over a bulge at a bad bolt (2010). Continue to angle up and left, crossing the chimney and traversing a bit, but on much better ground with plenty of pro until you finally reach a comfortable belay ledge with a fixed anchor below a crack.
7th, 8th and 9th Pitches- 230+’- 5.7/ Continue up the crack and turn the roof to the right above. Continue on until you reach a large bushy ledge. Go to the back of the ledge and climb the twin cracks (the best climbing on this section). Angle right and up to a decent ledge below a varnished face below a roof. .4” gear for belay backed up with a bolt.
10th Pitch- 170’- 5.8/ Some have referenced the tenth pitch as the best pitch on the route in their summit logs (I would still consider the third and fourth pitches better overall climbing). After climbing a run out, but beautifully varnished and featured wall on your left, move back right and pull a roof. My second had quite the time with this pull (I had to rap down and give him hell), so perhaps it is a bit challenging for 5.8 or he was just tired. In any regard, some will consider this the crux move of the route. I just remember a nice jam in there. This pitch ends on a huge bivy ledge with a nice tree for belay.
11th-12th Pitches- 300’- 5th/ The face above can be soloed or done in two quick rope pitches. It is easy 5th class, but quite chossy in places. You start center, zig right, then zag left, then zig right to the summit of Mescalito, through bushes, trees and choss.