I started up Rat Race once with Stacy, without enough large gear and backed off on one of several pieces (a hex) left behind by someone who has had similar thoughts as to the impracticality of this route, more particularly the quality of rock causing the inability to set good pro. Then Zach and I set out for several of the upper 5.10c routes on this side of Island in the Sky. I caught myself contemplating how nice it would be to use the two pitches of Rat Race to achieve the upper tier and thus the base of these fun four pitch face climbs. Knowing in advance how nasty and dirty the first trad pitch of Rat Race was, there was no way I was going to pawn it off on one of my partners. Of course I left home without my #5 and #6 camelots which is what I wished I had last time. But the sand is so delicate on this first pitch, you are better served to treat it like frail ice and just don’t fall.
Island in the Sky displays over 64 routes and is further divided up into nine distinct walls with multiple routes ranging from 5.6-5.12b. There are over 20 published routes on the various walls of Island in the Sky across from the sand dunes in Snow Canyon which comprise the “Sand Dunes Area.” As of November, 2007, I have climbed most of these routes.
The walls in Snow Canyon are comprised of soft sandstone and therefore climbing the same grades in Snow Canyon compared to granite or limestone slabs or hardened sandstone makes the grading somewhat stiffer by consensus. Many of the routes are a mixture of trad and sport, with much of the sport portions relying on older pins versus bolts. Rat Race is no exception, starting out as trad for the first long pitch and consisting of run out sport slab thereafter. What does make it appealing is that Rat Race serves as the only “climbing” access to the 2nd tier routes on Island in the Sky thus avoiding the scramble option to the north.
Access is very easy via a pullout on the right side of the road for “Jenny’s Canyon” trail. Park at this pull off and angle across several washes heading northeast for the bottom of the arch that makes up the first pitch of Rat Race (photo). Rat Race receives full sun most winter days and thus makes an ideal winter objective.
Route Description1st Pitch- (150’) 5.9X/ More than twice the length that Todd suggests in his guide book “Rock Climbs of Southwest Utah”. Not the first time we have caught him way off on his pitch or rappel lengths. It is still one of the best guide books I have ever used. As before mentioned, this pitch is not for the faint of heart. There is nothing above 5.9 technically, but the trust of hand or gear in this soft section under a large arch is minimal to say the least. Black varnish is sparse until you swing out right from under the arch. When the crack under the arch is not full of bat shit, it is quite loose. We cleaned some of the route, but it is rarely climbed and for good reason. All that negativity out of the way, this is the only option to climb your way up to the 2nd tier of the Sand Dunes area.
Start right (or left-I have done both) of the crack that rises from the ground to the apex of the arch above (photo). Climb a dirty, but easy corner past a bush and into the crack further up where face features on the right wall start to appear. Stem your way up, placing various larger pieces in a flaring sandy crack until you can reach a bomber hold on top of the left wall, that allows you to swing out right on some features. Continue up on easy face ground into the arch itself. Place hexes, cams and nuts where feasible as you traverse and follow the arch right. Most of these placements are suspect except for a decent nut placement right before you gain some desert varnish that allows you to rise above the arch to a comfortable bolted belay station.
2nd Pitch- (75’) 5.9R/ Run out (3 bolts), but easy slab for the grade through 3 bolts to anchor. Move out left from the belay under a huge roof and then back up steep ground. The station is comfortable and from there, you can come off and walk over to the base of the 2nd tier of Island in the Sky. Bring your shoes as you cannot rap back down Rat Race, but will have to walk off north when you are done with the 2nd tier.
External LinksSnow Canyon State Park
Red Cliffs Desert Reserve
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