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Training: Kayenta Crack on Red Mountain

Published by Don Gilman on

The Kayenta Crack route on Red Mountain is one of my favorite local routes, one that I return to again and again. I love introducing friends to this climb and I recently took my friends Anne and Bryan on this amazing journey; neither of them had ever taken on a climb of this difficulty before, so I was curious to see how they would handle it. There are several near-vertical walls that are protected by fixed lines that can be intimidating for the inexperienced.

Anne takes in the views from the Kayenta Crack

It was another near-perfect day when we set out from the trailhead in the community of Kayenta in Southern Utah. We talked about our lives as we traversed across the sandy plain below the flanks of the mountain. In a short time we began ascending up a steep slope of loose talus and sand. While the majority of the route is a delightful scramble on solid sandstone, this loose section is unenjoyable and aggravating. Luckily the difficulties are short-lived.

Looking up the steep terrain of the Kayenta Crack

Soon we entered the slot canyon that gives the route its name. The Red Mountain Plateau (almost the entire uplift is part of the Red Mountain Wilderness) is guarded in this section by sheer, imposing cliffs, and the only break in this wall is the Kayenta Crack. This is where the climbing gets good. The scrambling level increases as one ascends, but on generally solid rock. After a short distance, the slot splits. Taking the right-hand branch, we soon reached the crux of the route, a series of three vertical walls protected by a solid, anchored rope (especially useful on the descent.) Before tackling this climb, we took a break to catch our collective breaths and eat a little food.

Bryan and Anne take a rest before tackling the crux walls on the route

After our short reprieve, we headed up the climb. I led the way up, followed by Bryan and then Anne. Despite their inexperience, they clambered up the steep wall like seasoned veterans. However, I knew the real test would be on the descent. Climbing up is always the easy part.

We continued on our way, clambering up a loose section that follows immediately after the first two walls. A few hundred feet later, we encountered the last, protected wall and once more Anne and Bryan did their best impersonations of mountain goats.

Peering down into the poorly-named Kayenta Hellhole

Above the last climb, a stunning view down into the famous Kayenta Hellhole (as misnamed a featured as can be; it’s anything but hellish) awaited us. But the climb wasn’t finished. A couple hundred more feet of easy scrambling led us to the top of the plateau.

The first time I came up the Kayenta Crack, there were literally dozens of lakes on the plateau; it had been an exceedingly wet winter. But on every other trip since that first, it had been bone-dry. However, we found one small pool of water as we traversed over to the edge of those towering cliffs that mark the summit of Red Mountain. It added a lovely counterpoint to the red hoodoos.

Bryan explores the stunning scenery on top of the Red Mountain plateau

On the summit, we all kind of wandered our separate ways to explore. Bryan found a lofty perch to meditate on. Anne likewise found a spot to lie down and soak up the stunning scenery. I flew my drone and did a short live feed for the Climb to the Light Facebook page.

There is something magical about this particular area of the Red Mountain plateau. We discussed our desire to return in the spring and camp up there for a couple days. I plan on making this happen.

The descent went off without a hitch. Anne was nervous about the downclimb on the biggest wall, but took her time and again, handled it like she’d been climbing for years. I got some nice video of her completing the crux downclimb.

Both Bryan and Anne said they loved the climb and were eager to do similar climbs in the future. Hearing that makes me motivated to take them to my favorite peaks in the near future. It was yet another beautiful day in the mountains with people I love. There is nothing more healing than that.


Don Gilman

Don Gilman has been climbing mountains for 20 years, beginning with an ascent of Mt. Thielsen in Oregon in 1998. He has been dealing with severe depression and suicidal ideation since he was nine years old. He also deals with PTSD and anxiety on a daily basis, and uses climbing as a form of therapy. In 2014, he woke up to find his then-13-year-old son had hung himself. Fortunately, his son survived, but that event has become the motivating factor that has made suicide prevention the most important cause in his life.

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