Vermilion Cliffs, various activity. For the past five years Albert Newman of Flagstaff, with a dozen partners, including Jeff Kennedy and James Martin, has passionately pursued new route development in the Vermilion Cliffs of northern Arizona. Composed mostly of Navajo Sandstone, the cliffs reach heights up to 1,500' and stretch for over 20 miles at the head of the Grand Canyon. There are only six recorded technical routes in this sandbox, which includes the 1,400' spire named Tooth Rock, the tallest free-standing formation in Arizona.
Tooth Rock has four challenging routes, each with a colorful history. One of the finest desert climbing achievements took place in 1977, when the Lost Love route ( 1,400', V 5.9 A3) was climbed by Spencer Mclntire and George Bain. This is one of the longest and most committing free routes in the state, besides offering 20' of dangerous aid. Matters in Motion (1,000', V 5.9 A3), by Jason Keith and Dave Insley in 1993, ascends the overhanging, tombstone-like north face and is rumored to be especially loose and scary. The prominent east-facing prow was begun in the 1980s by Flagstaff climbers Bain and Glenn Rink, who made it high onto the face, and completed in 1997 by Dougald MacDonald and Paul Gagner (V 5.10 A2).
Vermilion Cliffs climbers encounter a Zion-like rock, although much softer in places. Every route has sketchy sections. Add to this the complicated logistics of a big wall several miles into an area with no trails or water, and the adventure factor becomes high. In dozens of trips to the area we have encountered one hiking party, and no climbers.
Efforts by Newman and partners have resulted in three new routes. Red Dawn (700', IV 5.9 A3), 36° 42.5' N 111° 50.6' W (NAD83 datum), ascends the southernmost prow of the cliffs. The route features a healthy share of exciting nailing, a riveting bolt ladder, and steep free climbing, topping out to spectacular 100-mile views of the Colorado Plateau. The Albatross (1,100', V 5.9 C2), 36° 49.5' N 111° 41.5' W, follows a plumb-line splitter crack to the Mambo Ledge, one of the finest bivys anywhere. Another 300' of scrambling leads to a pendulum roof pitch with a thousand feet of air below. The route will become one of the most difficult free routes in Arizona. More Sand Than Stone ( 1,100', V 5.11 A1 ), 36° 50.2' N 111° 41.1' W, follows an impressive dihedral system up the south face of the Tooth and is in the process of being free-climbed.
The Vermilion Cliffs comprise a unique, fragile, and isolated wilderness. We have worked to minimize our impacts and hope that others will continue to do the same.
Albert Newman and Jeff Kennedy, AAC