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Black Velvet Wall
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Sandstone Samurai 

YDS: 5.11a French: 6c Ewbanks: 22 UIAA: VII+ ZA: 22 British: E3 5c X

Type:  Trad, 5 pitches, 700'
Consensus:  YDS: 5.11a French: 6c Ewbanks: 22 UIAA: VII+ ZA: 22 British: E3 5c [details]
FA: Paul Van Betten & Nick Nordblom - 1988
Page Views: 2,066
Submitted By: Josh Janes on Oct 12, 2013

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Climbing in Red Rocks after heavy rain can permanently damage the rock! MORE INFO >>>


Sandstone Samurai is a route that has a bit of a reputation amongst Red Rocks climbers as being a psychological test piece: The story I heard is that the Adventure Punks established Rock Warrior as a response to the heavy-handed bolting by certain beloved Red Rocks first ascensionists, and then a year later PVB decided to up the ante by putting up something that was even bolder.

He succeeded - Sandstone Samurai is indeed a big step up from Rock Warrior - a route that shouldn't be taken lightly! If you decide to climb it, be prepared for R-rated climbing on every pitch (run outs with falls that would likely result in injury) and possible X-rated climbing in a couple spots (if you fell, you'd almost certainly be maimed or worse); onsighting would probably be a good idea. But the climbing is fun and at the very least more engaging than it's better-protected neighbor two climbs to the right.

Anyway, the descriptions in the current guidebooks are adequate to keep you from getting lost so in an effort to preserve a sense of adventure for the full Sandstone Samurai experience, I'll leave it at that.

Have fun and good luck!


Single set from the smallest thing you have (000 C3) to 0.75 Camalot. A couple extra cams in the tips through fingers sizes (we brought and used blue through grey Aliens). A set of brass and a set of wires. 10 or so draws/slings. Two ropes. Nut tool for mining out the occasional stopper placement.

Photos of Sandstone Samurai Slideshow Add Photo
P2 - annotated to show path of least resistance.
P2 - annotated to show path of least resistance.

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By Josh Janes
Oct 12, 2013

Alright, exercise some self control here and DON'T READ THE FOLLOWING unless you want the full beta spray-down. We would have liked to have known what we were in for, but when it came down to it it was pretty much what we expected and in retrospect I'm glad we didn't have all the details. That said, if you still can't resist, read on. Caveat emptor.

P1 (5.10d R, 150'): Begin well left of Prince of Darkness and Rock Warrior just right of small pillar of rock that leans against the wall. Scramble up low angle white rock for 50' or so. High up this there is a small slot that could take a cam or two - you might want to place them otherwise this pitch becomes X in a hurry. When the rock steepens, you'll reach the first bolt (barely visible from the ground right where the rock becomes varnished), but clipping it requires an insecure 5.8 move. From here launch up the steep, varnished wall heading generally up and left clipping bolts (5 in total on the pitch) and placing gear (ignore a stray bolt way out right by itself). The climbing is cruxy but reasonably well protected especially as you get higher. Belay at a bolted anchor. All the bolts on this pitch have been replaced and are really good.

P2 (5.10b X, 150'): Climb up off the belay and get a few decent cams about 15' out. From here continue straight up ignoring another inconspicuous stray bolt that is about 20' left of the line and instead aim for the obvious bolt about 50' above and slightly left of the belay. You are so psyched to get to this bolt only to discover that it is a 1/4" button head with Leeper hanger, rusty and ill-seated. Continue upwards? Yes. I reckon it's X, but maybe when that bolt is replaced it'll be pretty soft-core. Up and slightly right to thank-god gear, then another long run to yet another 1/4" button head/Leeper hanger. From here continue straight up to a bolted anchor. One bolt is 3/8", the other is 1/4" button head/Leeper. Back it up with a blue Alien at your waist.

P3 (5.10a PG13, 140'): Try not to factor two onto the anchor and climb a little left then a little right but more or less straight up off the belay to another anchor, again a 3/8" bolt and a 1/4" button head/Leeper. Bring a knife to cut away the old tat or you won't be able to clip the bolt. Good news is this pitch is a little easier and a little better protected.

P4 (5.10a PG13, 110'): Climb up and slightly left to a nice, varnished seam. Enjoy fun and well-protected climbing up this feature which is the majority of the pitch. The anchor is guarded by a sheer panel of beautiful rock and a cruxy move that is fortunately well-protected. Belay at a 3/8" bolt and Z-pin that can be backed up with a medium nut.

P5 (5.11a R/X, 150'): Arrange a solid piece up off the belay to protect against a factor 2 fall and perform a hard move before tenuously standing up to clip the first of two closely spaced bolts. Yeah, they're 1/4" button heads but at least the hangers are better and they're not rusty. They protect hard moves - really nice rock and climbing here. Continue off to the left, generally heading towards a huge right-facing corner high above, clip a rusty 3/8" bolt and then execute a tough mantle. The fall is not so good but the reward is that you can now clip a fourth bolt (back to button heads again), and then run it WAY out to the final bolt. It might be a good idea to locate this before launching out from the last one. After clipping run it WAY out one last time on thankfully larger holds. You might be able to arrange a few small cams in horizontals when things seem to be getting R+++ish. Ultimately move up into the aforementioned corner and belay from two 3/8" bolts. You're done! High five!

Rap diagonally down to Rock Warrior (Sandstone Samurai is not equipped for rappel).

Aside from the obvious excitement, I think this is a great route that has interesting climbing (especially on the first, fourth, and fifth pitches) and generally good rock (though you should tread lightly on the latter part of P5 and most of P2). Most of the hardest climbing is reasonably well-protected, but you'll frequently find yourself way out from (sometimes marginal) gear on 5.9 and 5.10- ground. You need to be careful not to fall if a hold crunches off here or there - a distinct possibility. Nevertheless, this thing is a wild ride and worth the effort. Plus, you'll never have to wait in line.
By Xavier Wasiak
From: Las Vegas, NV
Oct 13, 2013
rating: 5.11a 6c 22 VII+ 22 E3 5c X

Great outing and a heady adventure. Josh made it look easier, but I would not argue with 11a for the first pitch. If you are seriously considering this route, you'll likely have the necessary skill sets to make the pro on most pitches manageable. The hardware on this route is likely 25 years old. Not sure how much of it would hold up under some of the possible falls, especially on the last pitch. Even with new hardware, though, the last pitch is serious. As is, a potential nightmare. If I can develop my bolt replacement skills, I'll definitely put this up there on the list of routes that need care.
By timoteo
Oct 14, 2013

Nice going, Josh. I remember, back around 1990 or so, being camped out at Black Velvet with a Norwegian friend. We did a couple of the classics, and then he left the area. I found a Canadian guy to climb with, and we set off for Rock Warrior. We were too far left, and instead mistakenly got on SS, which was not in our guidebook. At the P1 belay, I knew we weren't on RW after all, but the climbing beyond that didn't look all that hard so I led another pitch, and then the next 3. I enjoyed the route immensely, and credit all my previous climbing of sparsely-bolted/mostly trad face routes on my home turf of Lumpy Ridge and the South Platte with giving me the ability and psych to on-sight it, no problems.
At the climbing shop-on Charleston?-later that day, we inquired about what we might have climbed. The guy asked us about the route, and then told us we had just done the 2nd known ascent of SS.
I climbed for about 30 years (done now, at age 62), at most of the great places in this country and a few others in Europe, and I have to say that the day on SS still stands out in my memory as one of the VERY best combinations of positive holds and JUST enough pro to not panic that I ever experienced. kudos to PVB!!
Tim Hansen, Longmont Co. (formerly of Estes Park)
By clint helander
From: anchorage, alaska
Nov 5, 2014

Great story Tim. I've been slowly working my way left on the Black Velvet Wall during yearly trips to Red Rock. Last time we were there, we debated between Rock Warrior or Fiddler. We ended up climbing Fiddler, which was great. All the while teams were having their epics on Prince of Darkness. Can't wait to skip by that one and hit up Rock Warrior and one day...one day...SANDSTONE SAMURAI! Amazing looking blank wall. Wow.
By Jon Clark
From: Philadelphia, PA
Nov 11, 2014
rating: 5.11- 6c 22 VIII+ 22 E3 5c X

This is an awesome route. Not simply for the seriousness, but the climbing is great. I thought pitches 5, 1, and 2 were the best, in that order. 3 and 4 are good, but weren't particularly memorable except that they protected fairly well.

I removed the tat from anchors 2, 3, and 4, but the hardware is in desperate need of an upgrade. The two bolts on pitch two are worthless.
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