Cleaver Crack

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 36.09369°N / 115.48404°W
Additional Information Route Type: Scrambling
Seasons Season: Spring, Fall
Additional Information Time Required: Most of a day
Additional Information Rock Difficulty: Class 4
Additional Information Difficulty: Strenuous
Sign the Climber's Log


This climb is reputed to have been discovered several decades ago by Howard Booth. Estimated distance is 7.5 miles round trip and estimated elevation gain is 3,100’. Time for a fit hiker should be 6-7 hours minimum and difficulty levels are mainly class 3 with several short class 4 sections. It involves hiking across about 1 1/2 miles of the Mojave desert and bouldering past the summit for about 1 mile up Oak creek canyon before circling back about 270 degrees to climb to the summit of Mt Wilson which is one of the more outstanding vantage points in Red Rock NCA.

Getting There

From Charleston Blvd and the 215 Beltway in the western part of Las Vegas, take Charleston Blvd. (Highway 159) west for about 5 miles until you reach the entrance to Red Rock Canyon NCA. You should allow about 30 minutes driving time from the strip to the entrance.

There are a couple of trailheads that can be used for this climb. My preference is a pullout from Hwy 159 about 2.6 miles SW of the entrance to Red Rocks. (.6 mile past the exit from the 13 mile loop road) The other trailhead is reached by entering Red Rock NCA, driving around the 13 mile loop and taking the Oak Creek trailhead exit which is the one after Pine Creek parking area and involves driving perhaps ½ mile on a gravel road. The hiking distance is about 5 minutes longer from Hwy 159.

Route Description

Follow the trail chosen to the foot of the canyon enjoying the views of Mt Wilson on the left side of the canyon (south) and Rainbow Peak on the right side. It is about 1 ½ miles across the desert to the mouth of the canyon. If you hike from the highway, there is no need to worry about hours of operation for Red Rock so you can start or finish whenever you like without worrying about the park hours of operation. This trail used to be an old jeep trail and when you reach any junctions, head either toward the canyon or take the right fork if neither is heading toward the canyon.

When you reach the canyon, watch for a trail that follows the right hand side above the wash.
Trail junctionTrail junction
This will get you up canyon a ¼ mile or so before ending at a junction that heads down into the wash on your left.
End of trailEnd of trail
Heading down to washHead into wash
From this point, note where you start bouldering up the wash for your reference on the return.
Bouldering up canyonBouldering up canyon
The bouldering is very enjoyable and meanders back and forth between the left and right sides of the canyon.
Climb throughClimb thru roof
Large BouldersLarge boulders
Potholeroute climbs around pothole
Boulder obstaclechallenging
Route around obstaclehillside sidetrip

After about an hour, you will reach a fork where the canyon splits and goes past Oak Peak on either the north or south. Take the left (south) branch and head up another previously hidden canyon on your left near this main junction. This is where you begin climbing toward the Cleaver Crack. There is usually a small waterfall coming out of this small canyon
First waterfall1st waterfall
Amphitheatre above waterfallAmphitheatre
and when you reach the top of first falls, look to your left for a ramp that will take you up the left side of a this amphitheatre.
route on left above 1st fallRoute above 1st falls
An alternative is to continue straight to the base of the next falls where it is possible, but more difficult, to climb up on the right side of the falls.
Upper fallsupper falls

At this next level on my preferred route on the left (above the higher falls) look for a 30’ pock marked, dark stained wall (class 4)
Pockmarked wallRoute up wall
which is excellent climbing with abundant hand and foot holds to the next level of the canyon. From the top of the wall, you traverse with little gain in elevation right toward the center of the canyon and then cut across a brushy area to the far right side by a large obvious boulder which you will pass on its right side.
Cross brushy areaRoute across brushy area
Work up a drainage looking for a ramp on the left side that will lead you up above the initial set of canyon walls.
Route into next higher basinRoute into next basin
You will be at the base of large cliffs and above another high set of cliffs as you work your way back toward the east into a higher basin toward a crack system that heads SE through beautiful slabs of dark red sandstone.

As you climb up the main crack in the center of this subsidiary canyon, there are options to head straight up the crack (5th class), head around the steepest section on the left (4th class) or head around that section on the right (3rd class).
Dark red formationoptions to pass dark red layer
I have done all three and prefer heading right into yet another brief canyon which can be climbed for a hundred yards before cutting out left up over a ridge and back down into the main canyon you have been working up before the three options. Higher in this main canyon, a narrow slot is in the center and will soon have you using many of your climbing moves to work up the 3-4 foot wide crack.
slot above dark redentering slot

Near the top of this system is one boulder move that is awkward and after you get above it you will look to exit this crack system on the right
Exit from slotexit slot
and traverse over 50 yards to a brushy area.
hiking up slab by brushhike up slab
Hike up the slab beside the brush looking for a trail that will make it easier to pass through it to the walls of the canyon on the right hand side. When you reach the base of the walls, head up to your left along the walls and you will be about 1,200’ from the summit.
Follow wall to Cleaver crackfollow wall up
After a few minutes, you will reach the Cleaver crack where the walls close in to a 4-5 foot width and this crack goes onward and upward for an amazing distance.
Cleaver CrackCleaver crack

Near the top of the Cleaver crack, you will see an overlook on your left with great views out over the canyon to your north. Just beyond this overlook, the crack resumes for a short distance with a large ponderosa pine growing near the start in the center of the crack.
upper cleaver crackUpper Cleaver crack
Pass the pine and look for an exit up and out on your right in a short distance. Continue climbing along the walls to a spot where you drop slightly down and back up the other side.
Boulder next to face climbBoulder next to face climb
You are now approaching a spot where you will do a face climb up the wall (perhaps class 4 due to potential exposure) on your right as you reach a huge boulder on your left.
Tree marking ledgeTree marks ledge
Climb 40’ or so until you reach a tree that is located by a narrow, but obvious ledge system heading back to your right across the exposed face. Follow this ledge carefully to a small tree growing out of a vertical crack system that will lead you up to the top of this set of cliffs.
Climbing faceClimb face above traverse
When you reach the ridge top, turn left and you should be looking at the summit of Mt Wilson in the near distance.
Continue climbing faceClimb face to ridge
You are 10-15 minutes away.
Upper portion of routeUpper portion of route

Work your way across the slopes toward the summit on an ascending traverse. Stop along the way and check where you have been climbing from to aid in locating the top of the wall you climbed to reach the ridge.
View of trailhead from summitview of trailhead from summit