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Stewart Green

Plan a Climbing Adventure at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison

By November 11, 2012

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The Black Canyon of the Gunnison River, protected as a national park in western Colorado, is simply one of America's best and wildest adventure climbing arenas. The Black or BC as climbers call it, is a dark somber chasm filled with the roar of the Gunnison River and flanked by soaring cliffs that rise almost 2,500 feet above the canyon's narrow floor. The Black Canyon's cliffs include The Painted Wall, Colorado's tallest cliff and the third highest cliff in the United States, as well as North Chasm View Wall with several stellar free climbs.

I first started climbing in the Black Canyon in the early 1970s when Billy Westbay, Jimmie Dunn, and I attempted the original South Face route on North Chasm View, a line first climbed by Layton Kor and Larry Dalke in 1962. The Black at that time was terra incognito for climbers, a forbidding place with few routes and no climbers. Our "guidebook" for the route was a brief article in the first issue in 1970 of Climbing Magazine by Layton. We failed, of course, drastically under-estimating the wall's size and difficulty but a few years later Jimmie returned with Earl Wiggins and they free-climbed the route for its second ascend, calling it The Cruise.

Now there are lots of routes and lots of climbers at the Black Canyon and those big fearful walls are more friendly with easier access, detailed topos and route descriptions, and modern gear. Read my new article Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Climbing and learn more about climbing in the Black, including the standard gear rack; some of the best cliffs and routes; seasons and weather; how to get there; camping; and permits and regulations.

Also check out this cool drawing The Black Canyon created by Colorado artist Steve Wood in 1982 and get inspired to plan a Black Canyon adventure climb.

Photograph above: Dennis Jackson leads pitch 3 on the first ascent of Ground Control to Major Tom on the Cimarron Slabs in the BC in 1979. Photograph Stewart M. Green

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