Jackrabbit Buttress (~5,000′) via MysterZ (7-pitch 5.7 Trad Climb)

Looking southwest at Jackrabbit Buttress on the approach.

Looking southwest at Jackrabbit Buttress on the approach.

Jackrabbit Buttress is a ~5,000-foot (~1,500-meter) peak located in the Red Rock wilderness of southern Nevada. It rises from the mouth of Juniper Canyon, soaring two-thousand feet into the desert sky to a rounded summit midway up the greater Red Rock escarpment.

There are several multi-pitch moderate trad routes on Jackrabbit Buttress. Arguably the most classic of these is MysterZ, an adventurous line that ascends the exposed southeast arête in seven lengthy pitches.

Looking west at Jackrabbit Buttress, with the line for MysterZ traced in red. (Taken from Gear Loop Topo).

Looking west at Jackrabbit Buttress, with the line for MysterZ traced in red. (Taken from Gear Loop Topo).

Pitch 1: Awkward 5.7 squeeze chimney.

Pitch 2: Wide stemming, 5.7 crack climbing, and a stretch of 5.5 rambling.

Pitch 3: Beautiful class-3 traverse across an artistic slab.

Pitch 4: Sustained 5.6 climbing in a varnished crack that widens to a squeeze chimney.

Pitch 5: Runout 5.6+ chimney to a splitter 5.6 crack, then an exposed 5.5 traverse to a short but steep 5.7 hand crack.

Pitch 6: Mostly class-3/4 scrambling, but with a solitary 5.4 bulge that coincides with a freaky runout.

Pitch 7: Easy class-3 slabs lead to the rounded summit.


SUMMARY: I climbed Jackrabbit Buttress with Steve in late November of the year 2015. We traveled to Red Rock over the thanksgiving break for a couple days of multi-pitch trad climbing. On the first day we climbed four pitches of the ultra-classic 5.7 route “Birdland” in Pine Creek Canyon. We slept in a wash just outside the park gates, woke up at the break of dawn, and set out to climb MysterZ on Jackrabbit Buttress. Due to the presence of two slow groups on the wall above us, the route took us the entire day. The stars were out by the time we reached the top of the formation and began the tedious descent down Juniper Canyon back to the vehicles.


November 28, 2015

Steve and I are greeted in the early morning by the first glorious rays of sun. Cast across the fading lights of Las Vegas, these brilliant forerunners of dawn try earnestly to combat the sub-freezing air temperature. The view of the cliffs from our secret campsite is mesmerizing. Snarfing down granola breakfasts on the drive, we cross the park gates at 7:00am and follow the popular (though basically deserted, at such an ungodly hour) scenic loop to the Pine Creek Canyon trailhead.

Looking west at the cliffs of Red Rock during sunrise. The dark pointed summit in the foreground is Turtlehead Peak.

Looking west at the cliffs of Red Rock during sunrise. The dark pointed summit in the foreground is Turtlehead Peak.

We’ve entered the park well ahead of the mid-day throng of gooby tourists, but alongside the pilgrims of the American west who have come to conquer these massive walls. Groups frantically organize gear in trunks of subaru wagons and hippie vans, each with their own personal goal in mind. Ours is “MysterZ” on Jackrabbit Buttress, which requires a one-hour approach into the mouth of Juniper Canyon.

Looking southwest at the massive cliffs of Red Rock.

Looking southwest at the massive cliffs of Red Rock.

Panorama looking west at the enormous sandstone formations of Red Rock.

Panorama looking west at the enormous sandstone formations of Red Rock.

In the crisp morning air, we hoist our packs and head for the mouth of the Juniper Canyon. It’s a slightly smaller gorge located just south of the main Pine Creek Canyon that hosts its own fantastic array of 3,000-foot sandstone walls. These include the Rainbow Wall, the Brownstone Wall, and others.

Looking southwest at Steve approaching Pine Creek Canyon from the trailhead.

Looking southwest at Steve approaching Pine Creek Canyon from the trailhead.

Our objective gradually swings into view as a brilliant formation of stacked sandstone slabs. The classic 5.6 route “Geronimo” ascends the main buttress, while our route is located just inside the mouth of Juniper Canyon on the same formation. We realize with slight dismay that we will be climbing in the shade on an abnormally cold winter day with a maximum afternoon temperature of 10°C.

Looking southwest at Jackrabbit Buttress on the approach.

Looking southwest at Jackrabbit Buttress on the approach.

In roughly half an hour we come to the mouth of Juniper Canyon. A scrubby trail punches through the dense chaparral, climbing up and over boulders to the base of Jackrabbit Buttress. It’s hard not to feel minuscule in such a large-scale landscape.

Steve scrambling up Juniper Canyon on the approach to Jackrabbit Buttress.

Steve scrambling up Juniper Canyon on the approach to Jackrabbit Buttress.

The incomparable variety of sandstone formations at Red Rock never ceases to amaze me. My favorite in Juniper Canyon are the chunks of sandstone dotted with iron oxide concretions that resemble chicken pox.

A sandstone boulder infected with chicken pox (iron oxide spots) and overgrown with scrub.

A sandstone boulder infected with chicken pox (iron oxide spots) and overgrown with scrub.

We reach the base of the route at 9:00am, only to encounter a complete clusterfuck on the first pitch. The first group to reach the wall at sunrise took more than two hours (!) to finish the pitch, being presumably inexperienced in multi-pitch trad climbing techniques. The second group contains three climbers; besides the fact that they have to wait for the first group, they climb one-after-the-other instead of two-at-a-time, causing further delay in our progress. As we wait at the base for the mess to clear, a confident duo of climbers from Flagstaff decides to simul-climb past both groups. And so it develops: a total of EIGHT climbers trying to climb one single pitch.

A horrendous clusterfuck of climbers on the first pitch (5.7) of MysterZ.

A horrendous clusterfuck of climbers on the first pitch (5.7) of MysterZ.

Abandoning our hopes of doing another route in the afternoon, Steve and I resign ourselves to a long day of waiting to climb. In fact, we call the park headquarters and request a late exit permit. Suddenly we’re worried about beating nightfall, despite starting a 7-pitch route in the early morning.

When the path clears, Steve leads the first pitch, which is a puzzling squeeze chimney with unorthodox moves that belie its 5.7 difficulty grade. Pulling a small roof requires full trust in suspect-looking flakes.

Steve also leads the second pitch, which starts with an unprotected series of outrageous stemming maneuvers. From there, a sequence of 5.7 moves leads to a broad ledge.

Looking up at Steve stemming a wide gap during a runout section on the second pitch (5.7) of MysterZ.

Looking up at Steve stemming a wide gap during a runout section on the second pitch (5.7) of MysterZ.

From the ledge, we are able to look east and see a chain of climbers on Geronimo, the adjacent buttress.

Looking east at climbers on Geronimo (4-pitch 5.6), the "other" classic moderate route on Jackrabbit Buttress.

Looking east at climbers on Geronimo (4-pitch 5.6), the “other” classic moderate route on Jackrabbit Buttress.

The third pitch, my first lead of the day, is a straightforward traverse across low-angle class-3 slabs to the base of a large varnished crack. It’s hardly a technical pitch, but striding across the zebra-striped sandstone is a surreal experience.

Looking southwest across the pitch-3 slab at Steve, who stands at the tree-anchor at the base of the fourth pitch.

Looking southwest across the pitch-3 slab at Steve, who stands at the tree-anchor at the base of the fourth pitch.

I step up to lead the fourth pitch, which ascends the obvious wide crack to the ledge above. It’s a lengthy pitch of sustained 5.6 moves in a crack that gradually widens to a squeeze chimney.

Looking southwest at Jason climbing the fourth pitch (5.6) of MysterZ.

Looking southwest at Jason climbing the fourth pitch (5.6) of MysterZ.

Looking southwest at Kilarney climbing the fourth pitch (5.6) of MysterZ.

Looking southwest at Kilarney climbing the fourth pitch (5.6) of MysterZ.

Looking down at Steve following the fourth pitch (5.6) of MysterZ.

Looking down at Steve following the fourth pitch (5.6) of MysterZ.

The fifth pitch has a grade of 5.7 and is the most exciting segment of the route. Steve bestows upon me the courage to take the lead, and I answer the call. It begins with a 10-meter runout up a bizarre 5.6+ chimney. The runout ends with a desperate overhead grab to a flimsy tree-branch, which is able to be slung for protection. From the tree, I ascend a splitter 5.6 crack to an overhang. Traversing below the overhang is supposedly described in the guidebook as “very exposed”; despite being airy, the moves are easy 5.5 grade. I place a cam for protection and ascend a short, steep 5.7 hand crack to the anchor station, which features nothing more than a thin, discontinuous horizontal crack that takes a limited range of medium-sized cams.

Looking down at Steve following the fifth pitch (5.7) of MysterZ.

Looking down at Steve following the fifth pitch (5.7) of MysterZ.

Surrounded by gigantic sandstone walls at the top of the fifth pitch (5.7) of MysterZ.

Surrounded by gigantic sandstone walls at the top of the fifth pitch (5.7) of MysterZ.

The sixth pitch throws a curveball at us in the form of a SERIOUS runout in a wide, low-angle chimney. Due to the width of the crevice, Steve can’t place a piece of gear until immediately below the 5.4 crux bulge. We hold our breath together, doing our best to avoid thinking about the consequences of a fall.

Looking up the first part of the sixth pitch (5.4) on MysterZ from the anchor station.

Looking up the first part of the sixth pitch (5.4) on MysterZ from the anchor station.

Steve climbs the sixth pitch until the very end of our 65-meter rope, making an anchor so that I may follow him up. I move swiftly up the low-angle slabs, very much aware of the fading daylight.

The seventh pitch goes to the top of the formation by means of decreasingly steep (yet increasingly sandy) slabs. We climb this pitch unroped, surmounting the buttress with exuberance and celebrating our luck at just BARELY beating nightfall.

Looking southwest at the author posing in front of Rainbow Wall at the top of Jackrabbit Buttress.

Looking southwest at the author posing in front of Rainbow Wall at the top of Jackrabbit Buttress.

Looking southwest at Rainbow Wall from the top of Jackrabbit Buttress.

Looking southwest at Rainbow Wall from the top of Jackrabbit Buttress.

Using headlamps, we descend a series of sketchy slabs down to the head of Juniper Canyon and begin tediously picking our way back to the trailhead. The lights of the Las Vegas Strip beckon us back to civilization after days of dirtbag climbing.

Looking east at Las Vegas from the top of Jackrabbit Buttress during sunset.

Looking east at Las Vegas from the top of Jackrabbit Buttress during sunset.

Looking east at the lights of Las Vegas from the top of Jackrabbit Buttress.

Looking east at the lights of Las Vegas from the top of Jackrabbit Buttress.

I’m eager to get back to the car, so I skip gingerly down the brush-choked canyon and out across the deserted plains. Cresting a small ridgeline, I cry out in surprise when coming face-to-face with a docile mule deer. We glare curiously at one another for several minutes before I decide to continue onward.

Startled by a deer on the Pine Creek trail.

Staring contest with a mule deer on the Pine Creek trail.

The most spectacular sight awaits us on the drive out of the park: a full blood moon rising above the low eastern skyline. It guides us down to Las Vegas, where we wolf down some pizza before going our separate ways to our respective homes.

Blood moon rising over the Mojave Desert.

Blood moon rising over the Mojave Desert.

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