Sour Mash is an up and comer among the more infamous routes on Black Velvet Wall in Black Velvet Canyon at Red Rock, NV. It anchors the right side of the wall, not far from Epinephrine further to the west. In fact I was talking, not really yelling, from my position at the top of pitch five on Sour Mash at a party on top of the chimney portion of Epinephrine, so the routes do run essentially parallel. It took two attempts for us to put Sour Mash away. The 1st attempt in March saw us get pelted with rain and heavy winds atop the third pitch during Red Rock Rendezvous, 2008. For those of you who were there, you know the storm well. The 2nd attempt in April still had me shivering on the cold shaded rock. Keep in mind I did Epinephrine in February and thought it was a fantastic temperature. So you never really know what you are going to get in Black Velvet Canyon.
Sour Mash is yet another Jorge and Joanne Urioste route, put up in 1980. The start is easily identified by a large and deep arch on the right side of Black Velvet Wall. The route follows discontinuous cracks through the right edge of the arch’s roof and then angles slightly back left as it ascends the steep wall above. Although the crux pitch (5th pitch-5.10a) has 9 bolts as of 2008, the pitch below it (4th pitch-5.9) has had all bolts removed (Supertopo shows at least one bolt on this pitch at the crux section that is no longer). So it still has its trad flare but also too many bolts to make a full on trad experience.
Jerry Handren’s Red Rocks guide book, “A Climber’s Guide”, has Sour Mash at seven pitches in length, but he got confused compiling the beta. It can and should clearly be done in six. He has the third pitch at 170’ which is correct, but this clearly puts you below the fifth pitch, thus no need for the short fourth pitch (as outlined in his guide), although you should use the mid station rappel anchors on descent with two 60m ropes. Another typo in Jerry’s guide book is that pitch one is 5.10a, not 5.8. Supertopo has a more accurate description of that pitch as a 5.10a. Rated higher in sustainability in Jerry’s book than Dream of Wild Turkey’s, Sour Mash does have three graded 5.10a pitches, two of them full on and two challenging 5.9 pitches along with one long and fun 5.8 pitch.
If you are looking to extend your day, since Sour Mash is only six pitches, consider Arrow Place, 5.9, 3 pitches, just around the corner on Burlap Buttress. Both routes make for a fine day of climbing at Red Rocks.
You park at the Black Velvet trail head which can be reached off of NV 160. During 2008, the regular Black Velvet dirt road is under construction and thus closed. To access it beyond the closed construction area, you must drive further east on 160 to the Windy Peak turn off over a cattle guard. Stay right and take the left detours whenever possible to avoid tremendous pot holes and obstacles in the road. Although a 4wd is not always essential, a high clearance vehicle is your best guarantee of not getting stuck. Continue down the Windy Peak road until you reach a turn off on the right that has been marked with a sign (2008) for Black Velvet Canyon road. Turn right and this road will dead end into the appropriate road. Turn left and follow this road to its end. From the parking area, follow the road until a trail leaves it heading for the canyon. The trail eventually splits with one fork heading down to the wash and the other heading up the hill towards the red cliff band on your left below a row of protruding buttresses. Take the trail into the wash. Eventually you come to a steep dry waterfall area. Turn around and locate a trail up the left bank. Via some 3rd class scrambling this trail leads up to the base of Black Velvet Wall. Stay right aiming for the large arch. Sour Mash starts to the right of this arch above on some easy ground that leads to a flake and then into a 5.10a lie back corner (photo).
800’+/-, 6 Pitches, 5.10a
1st Pitch- 150’- 5.10a/ As before mentioned, Jerry Handren’s book has a misprint of this pitch being 5.8. It is 5.10a via Supertopo.com and in fact is the 2nd most difficult pitch of the climb. You can either belay at the base of a low 5th class wall, or solo up to the next ledge to allow for less rope drag for the leader. The climbing starts up at a flake on your left, then moves over easy ground into the steep blank left facing corner above. There are two bolts helping to protect challenging 5.10a lie back moves and then a crimpy 5.10a traverse left. Once above this traverse, easy climbing leads to several areas where you can build a station below a roof above with a tree in between.
2nd Pitch- 80’- 5.9/ A fun pitch. Go right of the tree to avoid rope drag. Ascend easy ground to below the broken roof area. Jug on huge holds as you take the small roof section up and over into a broad crack. You can protect this pull with a 1” underneath the roof and have a bolt to clip into immediately above the roof. Traverse right along the crack as it narrows, passing several more bolts on hard to protect ground. Keep angling right until you reach the station. No real crux to expect here. (there is no tree as per Handren’s book, again, his beta is somewhat off on this entire route).
3rd Pitch- 180’- 5.8/ This is a long pitch with bolts and sections of sustained 5.8 broken by easy rest spots. Move up and slightly right over a bolt on large holds into a corner that is easy to protect. Once in the corner, move out and left over a face onto a ledge with a rappel/mid-belay station. (left, not right as Handren suggests) Continue climbing a small corner above placing easy gear and clipping a few bolts. Eventually this corner gives way to a crack. Continue upward to an anchor and small ledge on the face to your right. A well protected pitch.
4th Pitch- 180’- 5.9/ There are no bolts on this pitch. It starts out taking a lot of gear, but then gets a little run out. Best not to overdo your placements too early as it is a long pitch. You need a 3” saved to protect the crux move at the end. Start up the long left leaning crack on good rock below the grade. Move left when it ends into a more challenging, slightly water worn, crack. Climb over a bulge to the crux move directly below the anchor. There used to be a bolt here, but it has been removed. The crack opens up in one spot to take a bomber #3 to protect the challenging “knee in face” balance move. Stand up and clip the station.
5th Pitch- 90’- 5.10a/ By far the crux pitch, but well bolted, counting nine in 2008. The crack is somewhat water worn, thus the bolts. Climb the crack with two bolts right off the deck. Continue up making delicate moves, at times laying back until you reach a bulge. Pull up and over and angle right past several bolts to the anchor just below the small roof pull. This pitch is in line with the top of Epinephrine’s chimney section. If a party is at that station, you can practically talk to them without yelling.
6th Pitch- 75’- 5.10a/ 5.9+ in Handren’s book, 5.10a in Supertopo. The only 5.10a move is in fact a protected slab move about midway. Pull the roof above the station with a bolt protecting easy but steep ground to a crack. Angle up right from the crack to another bolt and then enter the blank area, making a few challenging moves to easier ground and the anchor directly above.
DescentWith double 60m ropes, rappel back to the top of pitch 4. Then rappel to the mid belay/rappel station you passed on pitch 3. The next rappel is short and stops at the top of pitch 2. Then one long rappel reaches the ledge above the easy 4th/5th class section that you can down climb. You can hook into Fiddler of the Roof’s raps as well for a possible more direct rap (possibly less rope snag worries) directly over the large arch.
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