Prince of Darkness was one of the last classic routes for me to check off on Black Velvet Wall at Red Rocks Conservation Area near Vegas. I prefer trad climbing over sport and had placed less emphasis on Prince of Darkness than other classics like Dream of Wild Turkeys, Overhanging Hangover, Sour Mash, Gobbler and of course the mega classic; Epinephrine which I climb on a regular basis. Therefore I was pleasantly surprised that the re-bolters left Jorge and Joanne’s (Urioste) original line in tack, which calls for gear placements in any available cracks. Bill Bradley and Mike Ward helped the Urioste’s establish this route in 1984.
Prince of Darkness is 3rd in popularity only to Dream of Wild Turkeys and Epinephrine and for good reason: the pitches are long and sustained at the grade offering good value for the effort of the drive and hike. Dream of Wild Turkeys and Prince of Darkness both share the same (fast 5th class scramble) first pitch. So if somebody is ahead of you in the canyon, more than likely that is where they are headed.
When I climbed Prince of Darkness, three other parties were climbing on the wall that day and all of them missed the approach therefore had to bushwhack. Can’t say I realized that it is obviously not clear how to get to the base of Black Velvet Wall. From the parking area, follow the trail until you come to a fork whose right option descends into the wash. Stay with the wash all the way to the dry waterfall. This dry waterfall is an obstacle that clearly involves a 5th class move or two to overcome. Back up a few steps and look for a trail that ascends the south bank to the base of a short white sandstone cliff. Scramble up the cliff (3rd-4th class), moving left to right until you hook into another trail that leads further up to the base of the wall. The start of Prince of Darkness and Dream of Wild Turkeys is an obvious large light colored flake feature that ends at the start of the intense climbing on the solid dark wall above. Dream of Wild Turkeys takes off on a right angled long crack and Prince of Darkness goes straight up the center of the wall.
You park at the Black Velvet trail head which can be reached off of NV 160. During 2007-2008, the regular Black Velvet dirt road was under construction and thus closed. As of October, 2008, the road has reopened kind of (still one barricade back in there, but it was moved to the side). It is a much better situation than the Windy Mountain road access, but we still gave a ride to folks not willing to take their regular car past a wash at the Windy Mountain road junction. Although a 4wd is not necessarily essential, a high clearance vehicle is your best guarantee of not getting stuck or busting your oil pan as I have witnessed in prior trips.
700’+/-, 6 Pitches, 5.10c
1st Pitch- 70’- 5.6/ Head up fast and furious across easy ground staying out of the corner to the right, up and to a small ledge with fancy cold shuts (2008). The bolts to the right relate to Dream of Wild Turkeys who shares this first pitch. The bolts running straight up the wall represent the 2nd pitch of Prince of Darkness.
2nd Pitch- 140’- 5.10b/ Even though the 6th pitch is rated at a higher grade, many consider this 2nd pitch the crux of the climb. In reality, pitches 2, 3, 5 and 6 are all sustained and challenging for their respective grades. Pitches 3 and 5 require more gear placement. Follow at least 15 bolts straight up maybe placing a piece or two along the way. Note that you will pass a rappel station on your left. This is the rappel station you want to use to rap the route to the ground on descent versus the belay at the top of the 2nd pitch.
3rd Pitch- 130’- 5.10a/ The 3rd and 5th pitches require more gear placements then the other four. I know I at least used a #1 C4 and a #2 C3 along with a nut or two in a decent seam in the middle of the bolted line on this pitch. I am not sure there are as many bolts as Handren describes in his book. I believe Supertopo is more accurate with about 13 bolts to a hanging belay. This is the third hardest lead of the route.
4th Pitch- 130’- 5.9/ This is the easiest pitch of the sustained climbing. 14 bolts to an anchor.
5th Pitch- 140’- 5.10a/ This is the 2nd easiest pitch of the sustained climbing and again offers some nice gear placements in a thin seam after about 3 bolts up. C3’s and/or offsets work well here. This places you just meters to the left of the top of the 6th pitch of Dream of Wild Turkeys right below a small overhang on a hanging belay.
6th Pitch- 100’- 5.10c/ The crux move of this pitch and perhaps the route is the vertical dark slab to the left of a small finger crack through three bolts to easier ground. The route continues more like 5.9-5.10a through another 10 bolts slanting right towards the shared station with Dream of Wild Turkeys.
You can continue up pitches 8-10 of Dream of Wild Turkeys, if you are looking for more. Pitches 9 and 10 are both fantastic 5.9 trad pitches. WARNING: A PARTY ABOVE US PULLED OFF A BRICK SIZED HOLD ON PITCH 10 THAT WOULD HAVE KILLED ANY OF US BELOW IF IT MADE A DIRECT HIT. THIS IS A LARGE WALL NORMALLY WITH MULTIPLE PARTIES ON IT. THESE LAST PITCHES ARE FULL OF LARGE VARNISH JUG HOLDS UNLIKE THE CRIMPY WALL BELOW. USE EXTRA CAUTION IF CLIMBING THESE LAST PITCHES.
Rappel the route with double 60’s. You will have to hit every fixed station on Prince of Darkness except for the final rappel which covers Prince of Darkness’s first two pitches. Rap beyond the top of pitch 2 to a rappel station mid way down the pitch on the left. By doing this, you will save one rappel.