Adventures in the Black Canyon

Me on the North Rim of the Black Canyon after topping out on Journey Home

When we go skiing at Telluride, I usually spend one day ice climbing in Ouray.  But this year we came late in the season and it’s been unseasonably warm to boot.  Temps on the slopes have been around 60 degrees — I haven’t even worn gloves yet!  This pretty much rules out ice climbing so I decided to take advantage of the warm weather to go rock climbing in the The Black Canyon of the Gunnison near Montrose, CO.  Most people have never heard of the Black Canyon, so here are a few fun facts:

  • It’s our newest national park (as of October 1999)
  • It contains some of the oldest exposed rock on Earth (nearly 2 billion years old)
  • The gorge reaches depths of over 2,000 feet while often being only 1,500 feet across  (sunlight illuminates the walls only briefly, hence the name ‘Black Canyon’)

For climbers, the Black Canyon has an abundance of long trad routes, generally good weather, and walls that rival Yosemite’s El Capitan in height.   For my introduction to the Black, I hired a guide from San Juan Mountain Guides named Mark Miller.  After talking on the phone, Mark and I decided to climb Journey Home, a 1000+ foot route on North Chasm View Wall.

Journey Home is  easily the most sustained route I’ve ever climbed.  For 600+ feet just about every move is 5.9 or 5.10.  The climbing is highly aesthetic and rewards (or requires) good technique.  I kept expecting the climbing to let up as we moved higher but it just keeps coming at you.  And the altitude (8000′) only added to the difficulty for a flatlander like me.  The crux is an awkward series of moves to exit a chimney through an overhang into a hand crack.  I came really close to on-sighting it but got my arms crossed and missed a key foothold.

We finished the route in about 4.5 hours (Mark said it’s the fastest he’s ever guided it).  The weather was absolutely perfect all day, with temps in the mid 60’s (unusual this early in the season).  Overall, Journey Home is one of the better routes I’ve ever climbed.  If the Black Canyon was located nearer to a major city, it would be a premier destination on par with Yosemite and Red Rocks.  I look forward to coming back to try routes like Escape Artist, Comic Relief, and Scenic Cruise.

Tomorrow it’s back to skiing…


5 thoughts on “Adventures in the Black Canyon

  1. Kevin, I don’t know what most of the terminology means, but Journey Homes sounds amazing. How long have you been climbing?


  2. I started about 10 years ago. Since we had kids I climb outside a lot less but I try to stay in shape by climbing in the gym.

  3. I’m jealous. In the 3 years I was living down in the hill country, I was able to climb 3-4 times a week, but didn’t have the opportunity to take a ski trip during that time. Now that I’m up here, I climb far less frequently and unfortunately still haven’t found the time for a ski trip.

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