Clod Tower is one of the hidden gems in Red Rock National Conservation Area. While aspiring trad leaders line up for Crimson Chrysalis (5.8) and more experienced trad leaders can line up as much as three or four parties deep on Cloud Tower (5.11d), you will be sure to have Clod Tower to yourself as of 2013. One of the cool aspects of this route is the fact it does not have as much as one bolt en route, not even for a rap station, a real exception at Red Rock.
Four out of the five pitches are outstanding. Handren has Clod Tower as a 1200’ route, but the preferred way to finish the route is to climb an exceptional pitch up the left side of the “mushroom” and rap onto Crimson Chrysalis via a couple of large nuts Joanne Urioste and I have left up there (2013). If one or two bolts were to be added to the exposed face at the top of the mushroom, one could finish off Cloud Tower, but even then, I would estimate just 1000’ of climbing versus the 1200’ Handren has listed. Another option to reach the very top of the tower is to rap off a boulder from the top of the mushroom back down to the gully and scramble to the top from there. Mark Moore and Lars Holbek (the great Whitewater enthusiast who died several years ago) established Clod Tower in 1977.
The first pitch is outstanding. After scrambling up about 100’, you start below a block and then enter a chimney which quickly turns to off-width and then to hands and then pulls a small roof to easier cracks for the finish. This is a full value pitch in length as well as methods and gear utilized to climb it. The second pitch is surprisingly as good, just at a lower grade. At 5.9, it offers another full value experience on excellent black rock, pulling a roof as the highlight. The third pitch is rather mundane, but follows the same crack system. The fourth pitch has a right or left variation, the right variation up some off-width would be much preferred and requires a traverse back into the main corner. The left variation is up mossy and suspect rock through a small roof. The fifth pitch climbs the left side of the mushroom on heavily varnished rock. This is a very pleasant pitch and easier than the first 5.9 pitch. None of the subsequent pitches will offer even close to a similar challenge as the first pitch up the route.
Approach as you would for Crimson Chrysalis and/or Cloud Tower. The start of all three routes are within five minutes of each other. Park at the Oak Creek trail head off of the Red Rock loop road. Hike straight out north of the parking area on an established trail heading for Juniper Canyon. Take your first right at a T and then two lefts that lead you to a massive boulder out in the middle of the wash. Follow the wash up creek a bit until you can intersect a rather indistinct trail veering up and left. Follow this trial which becomes more prominent as it makes for the large ramp that leads to the base of Crimson Chrysalis on Cloud Tower. Once you crest the col or right shoulder of Cloud Tower, cut back left to the deep chimney on the left side of the arête. Suit up at the base and then scramble approximately 100’ before you need to rope up below an overhanging boulder.
1st Pitch- 200’- 5.10c/ Handren states this is one of the best pitches of its grade at Red Rock and I concur. It starts out a bit dirty up the right side of an overhanging boulder amongst some bushes. One small piece of pro up the right side and you are off to the races in the chimney. This is a narrow chimney that requires more arm bars and/or chicken wings than true chimney technique. Eventually you get to a point where you are squeezed out and need to reach for a bomber hand jam. From there you have several meters of stellar vertical hand jamming. Eventually it opens up to larger gear and then back down to a .75 crack. One short layback and/or finger crack move gets you to below a roof. Pull the roof which can be protected with a C4 #4. Then easier climbing takes you to a ledge that has a rap tree out left. Belay on the large platform at the tree.
2nd Pitch- 190’- 5.9+/ Since most any beta I could find on this route, with exception of Joanne Urioste's, included just a few ascents of the first pitch and then rapping, I was shocked just how good this second pitch was. Head up the left of two cracks. The first half is mostly a chimney with one squeeze section. Then you hit a roof that you stem out left on great face holds. Then back to the crack for a wonderful finish in a comfortable chimney for a belay with small cams in the roof above.
3rd Pitch- 190’- 5.7+/ There is nothing spectacular about this pitch. Just continue up the same crack system, sometimes wide, sometimes narrow, to loose white sandstone blocks on a narrow ledge coming out of a chimney that does not have any crack to belay in. Rather belay with medium gear in the floor of the ledge. I cleaned up a bail rap on this ledge.
4th Pitch- 200’- 5.9+/Joanne and I (on separate occasions, two separate parties) went left, but what would be preferred if climbing the route again, would be to traverse right from the belay ledge into the main corner. This traverse did not become apparent to me until I was half way up this pitch looking down. This left option offers by far the worst rock of the day: moss covered patina up a thin crack that widens to a hand jam at a small roof. Trust in holds and gear were at a minimum at the crux of this pitch. After the first 20 meters, the climbing eases way off until you hit a tree filled gully. Climb the run out face to the right of these trees to avoid them and belay in the gully proper off of a medium crack beyond the trees.
5th Pitch- 180’- 5.9/ From the base of the gully, stem up and exit onto the right wall to the base of a well varnished corner leading up the left side of the “mushroom”. Climb this fun corner on great rock to the flat summit of the mushroom, placing gear at will. Medium to large gear anchor or you can sling a block.