The Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colo. is a traditional climbing mecca known for its dangerous and committing lines. Its 2,000-foot-high walls loom above the Gunnison River as it booms with its violent and rapid flow. As one climbs from its depths, they experience a natural belittling unlike any other. Nothing makes you respect a piece of rock like climbing it for eight hours. When you top out the wall, hiking the 500 yards to base camp feels like running a marathon.
At the crack of noon, a pair Colorado College climbers decided to take on the longest lines in the canyon. Normally, this route up the wall takes groups from the crack of dawn to the fall of dusk. Instead, their plan was to take the wall in two days, with a night spent atop a ledge that would barely fit two people.
“Psyche levels were high, experience levels were low,” as one of the intrepid vertical explorers, Hanson Smith, said.
To reach the base of the wall, they were tasked with scrambling, rolling, and sliding down a gully, filled with loose rocks and beds of poison ivy. After much hiking down most of the approach, the pair rappelled down the crux of the approach and stood in front of the monster of the wall that is known to tourists and climbers as the North Chasm View Wall. They clipped on their protector mechanisms, fondly known as crack attachment mechanisms (CAMs), which widen in the crack to provide a sound anchor to the climber’s safety system. The duo began the route at approximately 1 p.m. and made good time up the first length of rope. Once firmly secured on the first good ledge, Smith built an anchor that could haul a truck up an icy hill. He tried to set up the pulley system to haul up the siege equipment. However, his ambitions far exceeded his knowledge of assembling rope systems, and after 15 minutes of grueling, sweaty, bag hauling, the pack remained within his partner’s, Luke Rassmussen, reach.
The only other way up was to haul the 40-pound bag of snacks, water, and sleeping equipment up on the climbers’ backs. Last Name trekked on like a packhorse. As he struggled up the first pitch, his usual ballerina style of climbing was replaced by a brutish battle with the wall. He was making this 5.7 look hard. After a long, dragging slog up the wall, Last Name finally joined his friend at the ledge and attached the behemoth pack to the anchor.
“Boy, let me tell you sump’n, there ain’t no way we can drag this pig up this here wall,” he said.
He looked up the remaining 1,700 feet of sheer granite face. After those words, the men sat back on their stoop and listened to the roar of the river as thoughts of turning back crept into their mind.
After an hour of team-based intellectual battle with the ropes and their gear to decipher the haul system, their two college educations failed them and they resigned to the walk of shame back up the gully to their camp. The two had to leave expensive protective gear on the wall in order to make their way down to the base of the climb, as another slap to their already-wilting pride. The climb up the gully was much harder than the path they took down, as they had to carry the toddler-sized pack and make their way up a mile of technical and dirty scrambling with no protection if they fell. As the two men finally came stumbling back into camp, the heckling of their peers was surprisingly comforting as they set down their gear and clinked their bottles to a good day at the Black Canyon.