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The Black Canyon (AKA My Dysfunctional Relationship)
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jsj42


May 20, 2003, 8:59 PM
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The Black Canyon (AKA My Dysfunctional Relationship)
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Three Weekends at the Black Canyon (AKA My Dysfunctional Relationship):
April 25th, May 2nd, and May 16th & 17th, 2003


My new love is “affectionately” known for her runouts, death blocks, mandatory off-widths and awkwardness, poison ivy and loose rock. She demands commitment and is completely unforgiving; already this year she has claimed the life of one climber, broken the back of another, and benighted countless others. It seems that I can’t spend time with her without coming away with new cuts and bruises, usually dehydrated and exhausted, and longing for home.

She’s the Black Canyon, and she’s wonderful.

In late April I went there for the first time with Charles Vernon to climb the Scenic Cruise (V 5.10+) – a 14 pitch monster and my first grade V. After a butt-kicking introduction, Charles was worried that I’d never want to climb with him again, let alone return to the Black Canyon. He was wrong on both counts…. A few days later I must have forgotten all the misery because there I was, making final arrangements to climb “Journey Home” with Jeff Bevan, the very next weekend.

I drove out to his house Thursday afternoon and the two of us headed out that evening. We set up camp at the same site Charles and I had been at the week before, and that evening, in the dark, I strolled down to the rim and leaned over the rail to feel the cool air rushing up from the river below – barely visible, sparkling in the moonlight.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is 48 miles long, at its deepest point is 2,722 feet deep and at its narrowest point only 1,100 feet rim-to-rim. In fact, this narrow point is where the greatest concentration of climbing is, and the canyon is still 1,820 feet deep here – almost 600 feet deeper than the Empire State Building is tall! The canyon is breathtaking and foreboding.

We climbed Journey Home (IV 5.10) the next day in about six hours and without major incident. I led the initial runout pitch, and both 5.10 crux pitches. Jeff took all the hard climbing in between. We were held up for awhile on the early pitches by a party of three (consisting of Black Canyon veteran Leonard Coyne, another strong climber, Mick, from Australia, and a third climber, Doug, who seemed completely out of his element). After a few crowded belays they allowed us to pass, and shortly thereafter we lost sight of them behind us for the rest of the day. We topped out with plenty of daylight remaining.

That evening, while fixing dinner, I spotted Leonard slowly walking into the campground. Mick was a ways behind him; I couldn’t see Doug, but he had really struggled to keep up on the climb and I assumed he was trailing behind.

“Welcome back! How’d it go?” I asked Leonard.

Leonard replied, “Doug dropped dead.”

I laughed, but Leonard looked at me unblinking and said, “I’m not joking.”

I could tell by his expression that he wasn’t.

Apparently on the fourth pitch Doug, who was being belayed up by Mick, requested tension on the rope and then never unweighted it. Time passed and Mick and Leonard became increasingly concerned. Eventually Mick tied him off from above and Leonard soloed up from below, only to find Doug hanging from the rope motionless. Doug had passed away from a heart attack.

That evening we assisted Leonard, Mick, and the Park Rangers as best we could, but when it became clear that there was nothing else we could do, and that they would be restricting access to the canyon until a recovery could be made, Jeff and I headed home – neither of us felt much like climbing anyway.

Two weeks went by and I spent a much needed weekend at home catching up on work and errands. The cruel experience that was the Scenic Cruise, and the somber note that marked the end of my last visit, had become distant memories, and it was killing me to be away for so long. So when the next weekend rolled around I found myself once again driving out to Salida to meet Jeff.

This time we decided to do a slightly more ambitious linkup of The Checkerboard Wall (III 5.10+) and Comic Relief (III 5.10). After a 5:30 AM wakeup call, Jeff and I were headed off down the Cruise Gully. We were climbing by 7:00 AM and back at our campsite by noon. A strong onsight for me and the tiniest of slips for Jeff. We spent a few minutes refueling before heading down the SOB Gully for Comic Relief. This climb was fantastic but also proceeded without incident. We decided to take the standard 5.9 4th pitch instead of the 5.10 Black Corner variation in the interest of time, but upon arriving at the final pitch with plenty of daylight, I decided to have a go at the 5.11 Lightning Bolt Crack finish. This went fairly well for both of us (by Black Canyon standards) at C1. It was the hardest 5.11 I’ve ever been on.

Stumbling back into our campsite that evening, we were greeted by Andrew and Amber, graciously offering us beers! Shortly thereafter Hallie (Jeff’s daughter), and her boyfriend, Ty, rolled in as well. Jeff and I were exhausted, but once we had dinner and got a fire going, the enthusiasm of our friends (who had yet to climb that weekend) caught on....

The next morning the six of us trotted down the now familiar Cruise Gully. Amber and Andrew set off for Maiden Voyage (5.9), Jeff and Ty took on Checkerboard Wall (2nd time in 24 hours for Jeff), and Hallie and I headed up to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (5.11). MSD felt cruxy – somewhat different than the sustained climbing of the other routes I’d done at the Black – and this, along with some fun breaks on ledges for Hallie and I to watch our friends’ progress – made the afternoon feel very mellow.

Ty and Jeff had a bit more of an adventure: Ty stepped up to the plate to lead the crux pitch of Checkerboard Wall (only his second multi-pitch climb!), but took numerous whippers, including a horrendous one that pulled a piece and sent him hurtling down a good 25 feet. I think the Black Canyon taught him a lesson that day, but it was awesome to see his courage and the fact that he was still, if not more, excited to get out and do big routes.

We finished the climb with a 200’ 5.10 pitch dubbed “The Sex Comedy Finish,” and a brief scramble to the top. I loved being able to swing leads with Hallie the whole way – she is both fun and tough – a great partner!

From the rim we watched Andrew, Amber, Jeff, and Ty all top out, and we also watched a party across the canyon on Astrodog (V 5.11). While the Black had been pretty merciful on our group of six, it was less so to this party. Still a long way to go, and with darkness approaching rapidly, the leader took a fall from the crux pitch and injured his back – he was in stable condition but in a lot of pain: They were still 700 feet below the rim. For the next few hours we watched as the local SAR team began setting up for the rescue operation. Ultimately they would slowly lower a paramedic and a litter on 700’ of cord down into the void, in complete darkness, to retrieve the climbers.

Three other parties were benighted that evening: two managed to top out after dark (on Bull Girl and Stoned Oven), and the third simply disappeared at dusk halfway up the Russian Aręte (apparently they didn’t have headlamps). It was a sobering night.

In the morning we broke camp in a light rain – satisfied and exhausted. While driving home slowly that afternoon I looked at my cut up hands on the steering wheel and wondered why I had been cheating on my home crag of Eldorado Canyon – certainly she is much less cruel and much more enjoyable. Ultimately I concluded that there just weren’t any logical reasons; it was just a foolish affair with mystery and adventure. And yet today, even after indulging that desire three weekends in a row, I still can’t get it out of my mind. The Black Canyon seems to speak to me on some primal level, and though I don’t know exactly when I’ll return, I know she’ll be waiting for me when I do.

Josh Janes.


atg200


May 21, 2003, 10:42 AM
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Great TR Josh. I had a great time watching you guys on Midsummer Night's Dream on Saturday. The Black rules.


takeme


May 27, 2003, 9:25 AM
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Nice TR Josh...sounds so scary when you put it all together like this and realize everything that's gone on this spring.

Funny, I was worried you would never want to climb with me again after the Cruise!

Charles


dlintz


May 27, 2003, 9:39 AM
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A very nice read Josh. Ugh, back to work.


atg200


May 27, 2003, 11:23 AM
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Here is a picture of Josh and Hallie on Midsummer Night's Dream, taken while Amber and I were doing Maiden Voyage:

http://www.rockclimbing.com/...p.cgi?Detailed=14194


takeme


May 27, 2003, 11:51 AM
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As anyone can clearly see from the above picture, the Black canyon is bushy, chossy, runout, overhanging, and the route-finding is hopeless. Heck, sometimes it even requires *crack climbing*!! Just look at how the climbers in this picture are struggling, far from the rim, about to endure an unending, frigid, sleepless TERRIFYING night--and they're not even on the Scenic Cruise! People, stay as far away as possible!


alpinestylist


Jun 6, 2003, 1:05 PM
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Nice TR...

Leonard is crazy, surely one of the Black's more interesting characters.

The guy that broke his back is fine, sitting in my living room with his glaucoma prescription.

Stay away...stay away...I would rather go to Penitente.


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