Sunspot is a rather obscure route by Oak Creek Canyon standards put in by Urioste, DeAngelo and company in 2005
. I would not be surprised if we made the 2nd ascent. This was my partner’s first multi-pitch climb. I recommend it for a beginner as long as the leader is experienced at route finding. There is little evidence of the route and it takes an experienced person to manage the terrain. However the climbing is easy for the grade on mostly well varnished rock.
8th Pitch- 150’- 5.6+
Sunspot is my second route on this ridge just to the left of the Lower Solar Slab
at Red Rocks
. My first climb over on this ridge face was Solar Flare
. That is when I discovered the beta on this relatively new climb, Sunspot Ridge. Don’t let the name fool you though, those lower pitches are not much of a “sunny spot” in January. Mount Wilson clearly blocks out the sun at this juncture in Oak Creek Canyon during the winter months' shorter days.
This ridge picks up quite a bit of wind from the west as well.
The route involves a lot of pitches, but the climbing should be relatively fast if the climbers are competent. It helps to know the descent rappels if you are going to attempt Sunspot Ridge during the winter. The 3rd pitch is the best climbing of the day. The 8th and 11th pitches are pretty cool rock with nice upper wall positions.
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. Follow the trail into the canyon and turn right to stay out of the canyon floor and follow the trail until beyond the Friar
. You come to an intersection where there is a well trodden switch back trail that leads to the base of the wall where Solar Gully and Johnny Vegas start. This is a good place to suit up and leave your packs.
Before you reach the pinch in the canyon floor, ascend a faint trail on your right to the base of the right face of the ridge. Solar Flare begins in the most prominent varnished wall. Sunspot begins in a treed alcove to the left.
Route Description1500’+, 13 Pitches, 5.8
1st Pitch- 50’- 5th/
Just to the left of Solar Flare
is a rather obscure and bush filled chimney. Fight your way up through the tree, moving right, then back left into a deep alcove at the base of a chimney.
2nd Pitch- 100’- 5.8/
Climb up the left wall of the chimney. Move into a crack to the right and then back left into a crack that leads to a huge alcove covered with a massive chock stone. The original accentors referred to this as a “cave”. A good gear crack is formed by several large boulders to the rear. Easy pitch for the grade I thought.
3rd Pitch- 170’- 5.8/
This is the crux pitch of the route, but still not difficult for the grade albeit placing gear is somewhat at a premium
if you are not comfortable at the grade. Starts out with a great move out of the alcove
, turning the roof above to the right on huge jugs. This move is easily protected with a 4” cam.
Continue up trending right to stay in the varnished rock. Eventually move back left across a face with intermittent cracks to the large crack above. Cross over it (left) to the fragile rock and ascend easy ground up to the first ledge and continue to the next ledge and set up belay at a tree and crack above.
4th Pitch- 200’- 5.8/
Not much climbing at the grade. Go straight up a crack or two and stay right up the face at a triangular roof, then follow the corner above placing gear at will until you top out on top of a broad shoulder of the ridge.
5th Pitch- 100’- 4th/
The first ascentors notes can be confusing at this juncture due to what they said about the previous pitch. Bottom lin is that you now can see into the painted bowl area to the west. Just follow the left side of the chimney pillar in front of you and belay at the top.
6th Pitch- 100’- 5th/
Follow a varnished crack to the right of the face above the belay and set up another belay in a crack in a small alcove to the left below a varnished face. You can combine the and 5th and 6th pitches, but the horns and features will cause some rope drag.
7th Pitch- 100’- 5.7/
A bit of a run out pitch, but easy climbing on varnished features leads to a nice horizontal crack
on a slopey ledge to the right. Build a station with .3” and .5” gear.
8th Pitch- 150’- 5.6+/
Really nice rock on this pitch, almost all black varnish. Follow the easy angled varnish features with plenty of options until it steepens. Traverse right
to easier ground and a crack for protection. Follow the crack up into a corner and to yet another large shoulder on the ridge.
9th-10th Pitches- 200’+ 4th/
Follow easy ground as it angles left following the varnished rock to a large ledge. Bring up the 2nd and run the rope out again up a face to your right to a long ridge.
11th Pitch- 165’- 5th/
Walk across the ridge to the base of a really cool varnished brick face
, Brownstone Wall
) that resides just to the west of the Upper Solar Slab
. Your options are endless as you ascend some of the most solid sandstone known to man. You can sling horns for protection if you want it.
Aim for the base of the dihedral above and set up a semi hanging belay in the base of it.
12th Pitch- 120’- 5.7/
Climb up the left side of the dihedral with tons of face features to assist you on the left. Pass a fixed hex (2009) on your way to the top of this pillar which is located in the middle of Solar Slab on its 7th pitch.
13th Pitch- 80’- 5th/
Climb to the top of Solar Slab’s 7th pitch in the crack/slab to the rappel chains.
Climbing Sequence, II
One single rappel gets you to the top of Solar Slab’s 6th pitch. From there, four double 60m rope rappels will return you to the base of the upper slab. From there you can rappel either Johnny Vegas or Solar Gully. Johnny Vegas is a much quicker rappel (two single rope rappels and two double rope rappels for a total of four, don’t try and combine the first two as your knot will have a hard time making it down),
but if somebody is climbing the route, it would be more honorable to descend Solar Gully. Solar Gully consists of a quick down climb or small rap, followed by another small rap, then a double rap, another single rap, and one last double rappel. If you only have a single rope, you can still rappel Solar Gully, just count on hitting every rappel station.
Double 60m ropes are your only option for descent unless you plan to continue to the top. Single rack to 4”. Double from .5 to 1. I placed no wires on this route as I had an inexperienced climber with me that I did not trust cleaning them. If competent, you will feel comfortable running out most of the route.
Half a dozen shoulder length slings and half a dozen draws should be adequate. I advise leaving your packs down at the trail intersection below Solar Slab Gully and biner your shoes to your harness for the long descent and hike back down.
Despite the name, Mount Wilson can block the sun until you reach the upper pitches. On a windy day in January, we were a bit cold during the lower half of the climb. Dress accordingly.
External LinksRed Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, BLM
Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association