Rainbow Buttress is one of three classic routes (Eagle Dance and Levitation) located on Eagle Wall on the upper south face of Rainbow Mountain. Due to the lengthy approach, 2-4 hours, (by Red Rocks standards) and the even longer walk off, 3-5 hours, via the origin of Oak Creek Canyon from behind the George Washington Tower, Rainbow Buttress makes for a full day out. It has been given an alpine grade of IV in some guidebooks, but it definitely is no bigger than an alpine III based on my broad experience. We accomplished the route in 10 hours with plenty of stops, but we were spending less than 30 minutes per pitch, so adjust accordingly based on other trip and route reports.
Rainbow Buttress is well deserving of Handren’s “three out of three stars”. The pitches were clean, sustained and well protected at the grades given. The first four pitches follow up the right side of a distinct tower (Black Tower) on the buttress to its top which marks the half way point of the climb. The aesthetics regarding the position of the climb are second to none at Red Rocks and the descent involves the most enjoyable of all canyon treks within the Red Rocks Conservation area. Upper Oak Creek Canyon features tons of interesting colored slick rock with limited bushwhacking along with a heavy dose of bighorn sheep. Rainbow Buttress is another in a long list of Joe Herbst classics that he established in the 70’s (1975).
There is no fixed pro on the entire route unless you opt for the Mountain Beast exit versus the original last pitch, which I do recommend due to the quality of sandstone at this juncture. The second, third and sixth pitches of Rainbow Buttress involve fantastic 5.8 climbing on good varnish. The sixth pitch is the money pitch, involving a long and sustained corner challenging you a bit on planning your pro if you only brought a single rack which is all you need for the rest of the route. At the one thin spot you will find mentioned via other beta, a slider nut fits the bill. The second pitch was short, but fun, and the third pitch involved a bit of off width. The rest of the pitches are relatively unremarkable.
Access is via the Oak Creek Canyon Trail head which is the last parking turn off on the right from the Red Rocks loop road. You will actually drive down a gravel road for quite a distance to reach the trailhead. There is a restroom at this location. Many routes are reached from this trailhead, so no worries about various vehicles in the parking lot, more than likely no one is after this route. Follow the trail into the canyon and turn right to stay out of the canyon floor and follow the trail staying low and below any turn off up the hill on your right to the Solar Slab routes. Continue, aiming for the narrow section of the canyon, then drop into the canyon floor and boulder hop up canyon for approximately 1.5 to 2 hours total to reach two very large Ponderosa pine trees. I advise suiting up just above the tree on the right (good place to leave your backpacks). Getting to that tree can be a bit of a bush whack.
From the tree, hike up the slick rock to a horizontal foot ledge that runs right. Take this over to easier ground and continue up angling right from time to time. Stay well below Eagle Wall because it will cliff you out a bit if you traverse right below it. Keep angling for the right side buttress/arête of Eagle Wall. You will pass below Levitation and Eagle Dance. Start right at the base of the buttress on a small saddle. Elevation from the parking area to the trees is just over 1000’. From the trees to the base of the route is just under 1000’. And the climb itself is approximately 1000’ for a total 3000’+/- gain.
Route Description1000’+/-, 8 Pitches, 5.8+
1st Pitch- 130’- 5.6/ Easy climbing (soloed it for the most part) runs up a varnished face with intermittent cracks to a ledge below a very short varnished corner on the right side of Black Tower. Take the corner at the grade and belay below the next corner on a decent ledge with easy placements for gear.
2nd Pitch- 60’- 5.8/ Fantastic pitch albeit short. Run up the perfect 5.8 left leaning corner (my 2nd thought this pitch was a bit stiffer than 5.8) to yet another comfy ledge below the tall dihedral (off width portion) on the right side of the Black Tower.
3rd Pitch- 140’- 5.8/ Start up the dihedral with a few off width moves past the first roof and then traverse out right to a an easier corner and continue out over the arête further right gaining intermittent cracks that run up the face and bleed back left into the main corner at a decent ledge. There is better pro to belay at this ledge versus the next one right above you which is more sloping. My 2nd got her backpack stuck in the off width section, best to hang it.
4th Pitch- 90’- 5.7/ Finish up the corner past several trees via easy climbing. Do a fun exposed stem towards the top as the Black Tower separates from the main wall and swing left to the top of the tower which basically marks the mid-point of the route. Supposedly you can rappel off of the Black Tower at its lowest point if you needed to exit the route at this juncture.
5th Pitch- 90’- 5.6/ I am sure you could easily combine the 4th and 5th pitches, but we were in a mellow mood. Hop back on the main wall and follow the easy cracks up until it is easy to make a long traverse right into the huge left facing corner. Set up a belay there with a 4” or 5” piece above a large ledge on a smaller stance.
6th Pitch- 170’- 5.8+/ This classic Red Rocks corner is the money pitch and actually not part of the original route. But this variation is not to be missed and is what most folks are climbing on this route since its discovery. Move up the corner placing gear judiciously if you only brought a single rack which is all the rest of the route requires. The crux comes shortly above the belay where the corner gets smaller than fingers and requires more of a balancing move up with your feet. A sliding nut fit the bill here for protection, but I imagine a small RP would work as well. After that, there are plenty of rests and solid pro with fun sustained moves at the grade. Eventually fight your way over a tree or two as the ground eases and the crack widens. You will come to a huge ledge on your right. Small to medium gear will build the station here.
7th Pitch- 120’- 5.5/ Finish the corner. Once you top out onto a large platform, go ahead and move the belay over to a huge tree which is directly below a line of bolts.
8th Pitch- 130’- 5.7/ Follow the bolt line which represents the last pitch of an obscure route named Mountain Beast. At first you wonder why anyone took the effort to bolt this relatively easy face, but as you start working through the many hollow features of sandstone, it becomes more apparent. After you reach a ledge, you will find rappel rings (2009) on a short wall in front of you.