So we just got back from Las Vegas and the ever-impressive Red Rocks. Overall it was a really successful weekend.
On Friday morning we drove out to Vegas and after picking up the 2 new guidebooks (both of which are excellent and highly recommended!) and procuring a campsite (which was good because the campground was full when we got back that night) we headed out to Black Velvet Canyon. We've done a couple routes out here before - Prince of Darkness (5.10c, 6 pitches, lots of bolts) and Epinephrine (5.9, 13 pitches, lots of chimneys, we topped out after dark and nearly epic-ed the descent with tricky cairn-finding in the dark). So the approach was no big surprise. We finally got to climb Dream of Wild Turkeys (5.10a, 7 pitches), which was super fun. I followed the last pitch in semi-dark and we rapped and got back to the car safely, where we had some yummy breakfast burritos for dinner in the parking lot.
After passing out before 10pm on Friday night, we awoke early on Saturday morning to head out to Levitation 29. We left the Oak Creek Canyon parking lot at about 6:45am after lots of repacking of bags, breakfast, and the several miles of loop road preceding the parking lot. I've climbed Johnny Vegas, Solar Slab, and Black Orpheus before, so the first bit of the approach was already familiar to me. We made really good time hiking up the wash to the Black Orpheus approach, although we still had tons of wash to hike up. We had hoped to take a shortcut (approximately following the Black Orpheus descent I think), but due to a misunderstanding ended up hiking the standard (long) approach that goes up the wash to the really big pine trees. But it was ok because we were the first to the base of the route and actually had Eagle Wall entirely to ourselves save for two guys who climbed part of Eagle Dance.
Luke linked the first 2 pitches into one and I followed, unfortunately falling at the 5.11b roof crux. I lead the next two easier pitches (5.8, 5.10b) which were really fun, getting us to the base of the crux pitch, which Luke lead brilliantly :-D I fell once at the crux of this pitch, struggling with a wide pod that I couldn't even fist jam. The pitch was surprisingly sustained and I was really tired after following it. The next pitch was a little less steep, but still quite hard with many small crimps (which were very common on the route). This was followed by a weird, hard pitch with some rather crappy-quality white rock. I fell near the top of this pitch at some strenuous layback moves - my hands were cramping so badly I was losing motor control of my fingers - not able to keep holding on. Then there were just 2 more pitches, which Luke lead for me (and linked) to the top featuring some more sketchy rock. Hoping to use the remaining light to get back to the wash the faster way, we rapped immediately from the top of the 9th pitch (where we saw some climbers topping out Black Orpheus). We got to the ground with some light to spare, and started working our way down the wash. We ended up at some sketchy steep downslabbing in the dark, but found a rap station and rapped/bushwhacked our way back into the wash, making it back to the car by 8pm.
It was a great experience and a huge challenge for me and for us. The hiking took us about 2.5 hours each way, which added to the challenge of the route due to the shortness of the November days. The hard pitches of the route were a lot more challenging than I might have expected and I really struggled with keeping up my energy throughout the day. We left our sandwiches at the base to be lighter, so I ended up doing most of the climb on a package of shot blocks, a gu, and a clif bar, which considering the difficulty of the route was probably nowhere near enough food. We also only brought 2.5 liters of water, so I think both of us were also pretty dehydrated, which contributed to both of us getting cramps in our hands (which had never happened to me before). It's made me think a lot about how we could have addressed this problem better - different food, more food, supplementing our water with some gatorade, or maybe even a potassium supplement to fight the cramps. These are really important things to consider and learn about because as we push ourselves more it's only going to become more critical to be adequately hydrated and fed to be able to function and achieve at a higher level.
I do think all our efforts to improve our efficiency did help us out, though, because our belay transfers were in general fairly efficient and (due to the bolted belays) were able to keep the wasted or excessive gear to a minimum.
Hopefully this is just a starting point for us for climbing routes of this quality and caliber of difficulty. We were dreaming on the route back about future projects in Red Rocks, including Cloud Tower and the Original Route on the Rainbow Wall, both of which involve much harder cruxes and (in the case of the Rainbow Wall) long approaches.
I'm sure Luke will have more things to say about Levitation 29... what a day...