The Black Orpheus

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 36.10810°N / 115.4894°W
Additional Information Route Type: Trad Climbing
Seasons Season: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
Additional Information Time Required: A long day
Additional Information Difficulty: 5.9+/5.10
Additional Information Rock Difficulty: 5.10a (YDS)
Sign the Climber's Log


The route was first climbed in April 1979 by Joanne and George Urioste, who at the time were divorced. The Uriostes were prolific first ascensionists, establishing more than 100 routes at Red Rocks, including the classic Crimson Chrysalis, Epinephrine and Levitation 29. The route was named for the 1959 Portuguese film (Orfeu Negro), based on a Greek myth about tragic love.


annotated routeroute with approximate belays

The short, well-protected 5.9+/10a* crux makes Black Orpheus a good option for those breaking into the grade. However, note that a retreat from anywhere above the third pitch would be extremely difficult. The route is somewhat long and a descent in the dark (especially with a single rope) is ill-advised. That being said, the route provides 1000 feet of enjoyable climbing on mostly solid rock with spectacular views of Oak Creek Canyon. The route is in the sun for most of the day, so plan accordingly.

*5.10a per J. Handren (Red Rocks: A Climber's Guide) and G. Barnes (Red Rocks Climbing); 5.9+ per R. Brock, J. McMillen (Red Rock Canyon: A Climbing Guide)


march morningmt wilson from the 159 approach

There are several ways to approach the climbs in Oak Creek Canyon:

Start at the Oak Creek Canyon parking area located at the end of a spur road leading off the scenic loop road (mile 12.1). From the parking lot head SW toward the canyon.

2) FROM 159
This is a good choice for those climbers who want to get an early start or avoid the hassle of the loop road. This approach is a little longer, but equally straightforward. Begin at Oak Creek Campground which is 1.4 miles south on Nevada 159 from the exit of the loop road. Hike on the old dirt road (no cars) around the S side of Wilson Pimple (the small hill the the NE of Mt Wilson) to the junction with the main trail near entrance of Oak Creek Canyon.

Alternatively, park in the pullout 0.5 miles S of the loop road exit. and take the trail that heads to the N of Wilson Pimple and straight toward the canyon entrance.

Follow the trail up the canyon. It will eventually head downhill as it parallels the Solar Slab area. Note that there are a number of alternate trails in this area, but the key is to eventually end up in the wash. Take in the views as you hike up the wash, scrambling over large boulders for ~45 minutes.

You'll be able to see the prominent black arch feature high on the wall to your right that marks (you guessed it) Black Arch Wall. A narrow approach trail leads from the wash through the thick bushes and to the base of the slabs that access the route. Near the trail junction is a good place to stash your pack(s), as you'll be heading back down the wash on the descent. If you reach the point where the canyon splits you've gone too far. Scramble up class 3-4 slabs on the right side of the canyon. You should be aiming for a left-facing corner system. This corner starts approximately 500 ft above the base of the slabs (see route overview photo).

Estimated approach time: 1.5-2 hours

Route Description

Begin in the first left-facing corner that is to the right of a large, light-colored wall. See the annotated photo in the Overview section.

Pitch 1 (5.8) Head up the left-facing corner to an anchor. (110')

Pitch 2 (5.8+) Continue up the corner to a ledge. Climb the steep, somewhat awkward lieback to an anchor on a ledge. (140')

Pitch 3 (5.7) Diagonal left (bolt) then back right, continuing to a large ledge. Notice the huge right-facing corner system up and left, beyond the slabs. This is where pitch 8 starts. (110')

Pitch 4-7 (5.5) Angle up and left on the slabs and ramps (many ways to go) aiming for the belay to the right of the main dihedral and underneath a small triangular roof. (500')

Pitch 8 (5.9) Now the fun starts. Traverse left on very exposed terrain to the base of a dihedral. Make an exposed move to get up into the dihedral, then stem and jam your way up on solid rock. Awkward exit right onto a belay ledge. (160')

Pitch 9 (5.9+/5.10a) This is the crux. It's short, but intense and well-protected with two bolts. Crank up the thin, steep crack utilizing nice, two-finger hold. Then follow more beautiful hand cracks up to a ledge above. (110')
fossana editorial note: I'm 5'6" and didn't find the crux overly reachy.

Pitch 10 (5.6) Another quality pitch. The Urioste guidebook calls it 5.8. Lieback up a very uniform-width crack, then exit right to the belay. (120')

Pitch 11 (5.6) Traverse right on the face past three bolts then up to rejoin the right angling corner. Watch the rock here; some of the flakes are loose. Follow the crack to the top of the buttress. (120')

note: Used J. Handren's ratings

5.9 hand crack


pitch 11 traverse


exitexit ramp from top of the climb

Double rope
From the top of the route head up the slabs aiming for the ramp leading west (see photo). Scramble down the ramp (class 3) to reach the first set of rap anchors. Two raps will drop you into Lower Painted Bowl. Once in the bowl go SW aiming the large boulder on the west shoulder of the bowl. Note: you will have to contour before the (IBM) boulder comes into view. Continue west until the ramps become a vegetated terrace. Head down a steep gully and zig-zag down the ramp system. The final crux involves getting down 20' of extremely slick water-polished slab to reach the streambed. Head downstream to retrieve your pack and return to your car.

Single rope
Follow the instructions above to reach the first set of anchors; however, instead of rapping straight down head left (as you face the cliff) to reach a slabby ledge (see photo). At the far end of the ledge you will find another set of anchors that will drop you to a ledge with a pine tree. Rap or downclimb the next section to reach Lower Painted Bowl. Follow the instructions above for the remainder of the descent.

*fossana editorial note: From the top of the route the exit ramp wasn't obvious based on the guidebook descriptions and there weren't any cairns in view until you were on the ramp (hence the photo). Cairns were spotty on the Painted Bowl portion and the IBM boulder wasn't initially obvious to me (blocked from view at first and smaller than I expected), but if you contour you should be fine. J. Handren's book (p. 126) has a nice photo of the descent as it appears from high on the other side of the canyon.

rap options looking back from
the second single rope rap station

2nd rap station for single rope rappel

the final crux, the polished slabs


From the first two pitches it is possible to retreat by rapping with two ropes from the bolted anchors. It is possible to rap from the third pitch using a long sling. Retreat from above the third pitch is more complicated from a route-finding perspective and would require leaving gear at the raps; not recommended.

Essential Gear

  • Single rack to 3", double 1.25-1.75"*

  • Slings

  • Can be done with a 50m, but 60m preferred

  • Second rope for the rap (optional)

  • *fossana editorial note: Per J. Handren's recommendations. I found a single rack to be more than sufficient given that the harder sections weren't sustained.


    J. Handren. Red Rocks: A Climber's Guide. 2007. (highly recommended)

    R. Brock and J. McMillen. Red Rock Canyon: A Climbing Guide. 2005.

    G. Barnes. Red Rocks Climbing (SuperTopo series). 2004.

    Additions and CorrectionsPost an Addition or Correction

    Viewing: 1-1 of 1

    fossana - Mar 28, 2012 5:15 pm - Hasn't voted

    descent cairns

    As of March 2012 the descent cairns take you slightly upstream from the polished butt scoot.

    Viewing: 1-1 of 1



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