Middle Earth is yet another DeAngelo (along with John Wilder and others-2004) obscurity at Red Rocks. What got my attention on this masterpiece (kidding) was the “vertical tunnel” mentioned up high on the route. Remembering the disappointment I felt when I discovered that Tunnel Vision’s so called “vertical tunnel” turned out to be nothing more than a large cavernous section on Angel Food Wall, I was somewhat suspect. However with Middle Earth I was not disappointed. Middle Earth’s 5th pitch offered a true dark vertical tunnel experience, so much so, that a heavy climber would be best advised to avoid the route. A less experienced climber might even want use of a headlamp although I got by without.
The route in general had two other decent pitches of climbing on it and is a solid alternative to Frigid Air Buttress (5.9), particularly if someone is ahead of you on that Icebox Canyon classic. These two routes meet up on the same ledge at the top of the first pitch of Middle Earth. The first pitch of Middle Earth is the crux of the climb, a true 5.9 off width on suspect rock. The second pitch rewards your efforts on that first pitch with a varnished hand crack. The third pitch should not exist. I am not sure why the FAer’s did not extend that 2nd pitch the way I describe below. The fourth pitch is rather short and uneventful. The fifth pitch is the tunnel and quite the fun experience. The last pitch could be done un-roped for the competent party. The descent is the same as for Frigid Air Buttress.
Park at the Icebox Canyon pull-out on the loop road. Follow the trail into Icebox Canyon staying on the right side of the canyon until right at Frigid Air Buttress. Cross over the canyon to the south and bushwhack your way past a leaning lower pinkish buttress which is to the south of the Frigid Air Buttress route. Suit up at the base of the left side of this feature and then scramble up the left side, squeezing through a hole to the right side near the top. Down climb a few meters to a more comfortable belay for the first pitch up the chimney/off-width on the left side of a large pillar-flake.
600’+/-, 6 Pitches, 5.9
1st - 120’- 5.9/ Although the vertical tunnel pitch (5th pitch) is much more interesting and the main reason to climb Middle Earth, this first pitch is the most challenging of the day. Start up the chossy white chimney section on the left side of a flake/pillar as it leads to more difficult off width. The issue with this off width is having enough trust in the rock to move outside when you need to. This section makes for a heady lead for a few meters before giving way to easier chimney moves on much better rock. You break out onto a large ledge, the same ledge below the good hand crack pitch on the Frigid Air Buttress route. If you move to the middle of the ledge you will find a good belay crack below the next hand crack pitch that angles out left. Be careful in the management of your rope(s) in relation to a mobile death block above your belayer.
2nd/3rd Pitches - 120’- 5.8/ Climb the nicely varnished hand crack as it angles left protecting with medium to large gear. The FAer’s have this as two pitches, but it makes total sense to do them as one. Continue from the top of the crack, following a sketchy ramp out left, protecting with a large piece or two. Be careful what you trust on this ramp. Set up belay on the very edge of another large ledge in a medium crack.
4th - 80’- 5.7/ Climb the varnished corner to the right. Traverse back left on the obvious ledge to the tree. Belay off the tree. Place less gear to avoid rope drag on the traverse.
5th - 100’- 5.9/ This is the pitch that attracted me to Middle Earth and it did not disappoint! Unlike Tunnel Vision’s so called vertical tunnel, Middle Earth really does sport a vertical tunnel. Move the belay back to the base of the pyramid shaped opening leading into the dark abyss. Allow your eyes time to adjust. Climb solid varnished pockets up run out ground as the tunnel narrows allowing you to place a 2” behind you and a four inch higher up on the right. I had to feel around for this placement, very dark at this point. Beware as this rock will have a slight mud film to it. The further you ascend, the more secure you will feel. The final space you must birth out of is quite small. I do not advise this route for heavy climbers. Knee bar and worm your way 180 degrees to facing away from the wall where you can grip the top of the tunnel and pull yourself out of the final squeeze. Belay out of a crack to climber’s right.
6th - 180’- 5th/ With a competent partner I would suggest un-roping for this last pitch as it is quite the bushwhack. Move left up a crusty arête, then back right up a gully and burrow beneath a large stone. Change out shoes and/or belay here and exit climbers left.