I stepped out of the car and into the Martian landscape of Pikes Peak at…
The Black Canyon has held a sort of terrifying allure for me since I moved to Colorado 5 years ago. People say its name carefully and address it as if it’s a sleeping dragon. Incredible to just stand in it’s presence, beautiful to look at and for those who dare, an amazing climbing destination. A place thought to be too dangerous or committing by many, it is hard to find partners crazy enough to join you on an adventure to the Black. Finally, I was able to convince my buddy, Steve, to accompany me on a trip down south to the Black Canyon.
Day 1: We decided to have a go at a well known introductory route , the aptly named Casual Route (5.8, 800 feet, Grade II). Like many routes located in the North Rim of the canyon, your day starts out with a descent down the SOB gully. A long, grueling boulder hop awaits those who plan on climbing in the area. As you carefully “hike” (more of a downward scramble) down the SOB you begin to see the immense walls of the canyon and maybe even your chosen route looming above. I had been lead to believe by years of research and people’s opinions of the climbing in the BC that most routes were runout, scary and full of crap rock. Yet this route met us with relatively decent rock quality and accurate grades. Although the climbing was far from sustained, we found each pitch to be very enjoyable. The beauty of climbing at the North Rim is that the climbs topout within 100 yards of the campground, so after a long day of climbing you find yourself within a hop, skip and a jump of “home”.
Day 2: This day, we had decided, would be our big one! The pièce de résistance of our trip. We could think of no other climb to meet those harsh prerequisites besides Comic Relief (5.10, 950 feet, Grade III). Of course with such amazing reviews, this climb also came with a higher commitment factor. Down the SOB we headed for a second day in a row. This time my mind was ready for the slick boulders and sliding soil yet my knees were beginning to feel the burn. There it was, a tall dark face with cracks, slabs and black streaks running all over the place. What had we gotten ourselves into!? Pitch 1 gives you a dose of reality right off the bat with technical jams and stemming. Pitch 2 is the proverbial “money pitch” and starts right from the belay. A striking crack curves up a granite face making for insanely exposed, hard crack climbing in an unreal setting. Coming in at 5.10b (or was it 5.10c?) it will keep you huffing and puffing and your hands sweaty until the last move where you scurry on top of a boulder-like feature hanging off the face. You will find yourself using every skill you have learned in your years of climbing. There are wide cracks, slab moves, liebacks and even some face moves. Then when you think you’re done, you still have 300 feet of low fifth class climbing to reach the top. One rappel into a gully, a scramble up said gully and you’re home free, back at camp. This day was everything I had hoped for and more.
Day 3: Needless to say after our day on Comic Relief we were tired. We had plans to climb Escape Artist (Comic Relief’s sister route to it’s left) on the third day. Yet knowing that the route mirrored CR in length and wasn’t all that much easier (it shares some of the same pitches) we opted for a more relaxing, shorter route. One of our campground buddies, a guide from Utah living in a converted school bus, mentioned the routes Maiden Voyage (5.9, 5 pitches, grade III) and King Me (5.10-, 3 pitches, grade II). He said they made a great link up as MV’s descent walks you right past the start of KM. He also said despite climbing two routes it made for a shorter, more chill day. We were sold and our third day in the BC was set.
Although we had planned for four days of climbing in the Black, after our third day we decided to head home. The three days we were there provided us with more than what we expected. With limp arms and fulfilled hearts we felt complete. Both of us, without words, shared an overall feeling of elation. We were beyond excitement about adding this wonderful place to our repertoire of climbing destinations. Being only 5 hours from Colorado Springs, who can ask for more? Only having recently returned from the trip, I am already planning my next visit and route plans!
~~Lawrence Housley is a guide for the Pikes Peak Alpine School who trail runs almost as much as he climbs. To learn more about Law, check out Our Guide Bio page.