Back in Black.
As I am fond of saying, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is my favorite place on earth. There is no canyon steeper, deeper or darker. If I were to climb only one area for the rest of my life, this would be it. And when I die, I want half of my ashes to be scattered off the peg traverse pitch of Scenic Cruise.
The day before Thanksgiving, Mickey and I headed to the Black to link two classic moderates: Dragon’s Tooth and Maiden Voyage. It would be about 1200′ of 5.8 and lots of bushwhacking. Temps were a frigid 40 degrees in the shade and I climbed everything in belay gloves — we were both glad to be on easy terrain all day.
Dragon’s Tooth is an underappreciated moderate, by far the best beginner route in the Black except for perhaps Maiden. It’s short and mostly low-angle 5.7 on good, well-protected stone. After summitting the tower, you can rap off and walk back up SOB or bushwhack up a drainage (with a mandatory V0 anklebreaker boulder problem that’s worth roping up for). Or you can climb the exit pitches of Casual, which is kind of a chosspile but preferable to walking.
The tower from above, camoflauged against the canyon backdrop. Bring webbing for the rap anchor.
We opted for the walk-up to save time for Maiden. It’s not bad, as far as buschwhacking goes, and not as bad as the exit for Casual.
The nice thing about doing two short routes was using the car as an aid station. We slammed some fried chicken, salt and vinegar kettle chips, pickles and brownies, then drove from the campground to the ranger station. I dropped Mickey halfway at the Cruise Gully entrance, parked, and then trail ran down Cruise and caught up with him at the second fixed rap.
This was my sixth lap on Maiden. We had a 90m Beal Opera 8.6 and ran the whole route, ground to summit, in two pitches and two hours total. I took the first three hundred feet and placed a dozen pieces or so.
Kor called this 5.9- but that was back when the route was dirty and loose. Relentless gangbanging has transformed the Red Dihedral into an ultra-safe, cruiser 5.8 whose crux features good fingerlocks in a corner over a bulge with great feet.
The first three-hundred foot pitch brought us to the top of the third official pitch above the railroad tracks dual handcracks. I slapped in an alpine anchor on an offset nut and a #3 and Mickey blazed by. He’s an incredibly efficient aid climber who has done all of the Fishers except one (5.10X slopers) and knows his hardskills inside and out. It’s nice to climb with someone who knows how to improvise.
Maiden Voyage gives you a primo view of Scenic Cruise. I preferred the original offwidth variation and highly recommend it to anyone who likes getting sandbagged …. get ready for the hardest .10d finger crack of your life!
Mickey ran his pitch all the way up to the summit, taking a direct route I hadn’t tried. We shot some video for Sender’s Game Podcast and then rapped off and burned rubber up the approach trail. Headlamps were only needed for five minutes.
Back at the car, we signed out and celebrated with mango LeCroix, which tastes just like PBR. (I’m on probation and can’t drink). We polished off the rest of our sweet potato jalapeno breakfast burritos, then hightailed it to Hotchkiss to grab doughnuts and blueberry milkshakes.
This was my 30th and 31st climbs in the Black, counting repeats. I’m looking forward to Spring Black with uberstoker Andy Ofhubble and my most experienced blackguard Tim Noble … we’re gunning for Southern Arete and Astrodog Direct, respectively.