EMPLOYEE FAVORITES: Mike Allen, Escape Artist (5.10-), Black Canyon of the Gunnison, CO
Here at Black Diamond, the inspiration to innovate is driven from within. When we're not at the office, our dedicated crew of employees is out cranking at the crags, putting in miles on the trails and questing around the mountains in search of untracked descents. In this ongoing series of posts on the Journal, we'll be highlighting some of our employee's favorite rock and ice climbs, ski descents and trail routes.
This month's favorite comes from our resident Tool Design Engineer, Mike Allen.
When people bring up the Black Canyon the first things that comes to mind are loose rock, poison ivy, ticks, tall walls, and incredible adventure. The trip Johnny and I took was no different.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is located in western Colorado about a 3-hour drive east of Moab (if coming from Utah). The place is an incredible gash in the earth and unless you see it, it is hard to fathom. Driving in to the Black is an odd and creepy experience. From Moab you drive across the Utah desert into the barren land of western Colorado passing cow pastures and open fields. Once you reach the park you pull into a treed oasis with no visibility of the canyon itself. Only after walking a short distance out of the trees and towards the canyon rim do you finally get a glimpse of the size and magnitude of the Black. Its 55-mile stretch of gneiss and pegmatite looks like it goes on forever, and its walls, varying from 500 feet to 2400 feet, make you think you should be able to see the core of the earth.
Since the Black has such a history of being loose and terrifying Johnny and decided to tick off 2 easier-rated climbs: The Casual Route (5.8) and Escape Artist (5.10-).
The first day, the Casual Route was just as the name implies; pretty casual. The gear was a little bit difficult to get used to, but it was all there. The rock had bands that were loose and nasty, but nothing terrifying, and the route was all together enjoyable. Walking back to the car that day we were feeling strong and confident.
The next day we got up early, since both the approach and the hike out was going to take longer then the day before. We got moving quickly so we could scramble farther down the loose poison ivy-filled, tick-infested gully than the previous day. After a small debate on where the route began, we did some 4th class scrambling to the base, where we did our usual routine of racking up and uncoiling ropes, but with the added activity of checking for ticks and seeing if either one of us had gotten a little too close to the poison ivy. Once the pre-route activities were done, I took the rack and started up into some broken climbing. Once the easy broken climbing was done the pitch went into a left-arching finger crack with questionable feet. The pitch went pretty well, a little more strenuous than anticipated, but I climbed to the split of Escape Artist and Comic Relief. At the split going to the left is a wild traverse into pegmatite or to the right is a steep finger and hands crack. We decided on our original idea to climb Escape Artist so the pegmatite traverse was next on the list.
Johnny grabbed the rack and started moving. The rock was looser then it looked and the gear got real interesting. Johnny, a master at finding good gear amongst what looks like unprotectable rock, protected the pitch nicely and pulled through some awkward and airy moves. The pitch was very physical, using all sorts of offwidth, chimney, and funky jams, and he pushed, grunted and forced his way across the traverse.
With 2 pitches down the next couple of pitches were filled with a wide variety of movements, gear, exposed terrain, run-outs, and some interesting anchors. This lead us to the last pitch of the climb. It was my lead and I had 3 options, the Lightning Bolt crack 5.11 and steep, a 5.9 mossy corner, or a slabby 5.7. Since it was the last pitch and we were tired I thought I would do the 5.7 and get us back to the bean burritos that were for dinner. I threw the rack over my shoulder and started up. The rock was terrible crumbly pegmatite. I moved as gently as I could, but still vigilantly looking for gear because I was certain that a handhold or a foot would break off at any minute. After about 50 feet, I only had 1 piece in, and it probably wouldn't have held a cat if it were to fall from the position I was standing in. I made a move around a corner and out of the pegmatite and place 2 decent pieces. I stood there for a minute regaining my composure because I still had 100 or so feet of climbing before the pitch was over. I moved through the pitch, twitchy and sporadic from the loss of nerves on the first 50 feet and built an anchor. Johnny climbed up to me with a look of disgust and made 2 comments: "that rock was awful" and, "you know that piece wouldn't have held right?" I started laughing because at the time it was the only thing I could do.
Johnny lead the remaining mellow climbing and showed the way back to the car. The scramble/hike out of the canyon took significantly longer then we anticipated and we reached the car hours after planned. With the climb done we proceeded to crack open some beers, scarf down every last bit of dinner, and laugh and poke fun of the days mental breakdowns.