Going to the Black
Last week I had the chance to visit my good friend, Fritz, on my way to California. I took a sizable detour, driving from Bozeman, Montana to Boulder, Colorado, to climb some of the classics and see what the town is all about.
As soon as I pulled in, we went out to stretch our legs in the flat irons. Fritz couldn't find his headlamp, so I gave him mine while I held my iPhone in "flashlight" mode. The first flat iron was longer than I thought!
The next day, I met up with a friend, Tracy, from Bozeman who was in Denver for the time being. We met at El Dorado State Park, home to some of the best trad climbing I've ever done. Techy face climbing, burly crack climbing, killer history, and no walks! The first thing I had to do was the Bachar line "the Wisdom". It all went smoothly until the crux, where I popped a foot and took an unexpected whipper. Bummed on blowing the onsight, I lowered, pulled the rope and sent next go. It was awesome climbing an old test piece that was done by one of my heroes back in the day.
Next we went and climbed the classic "Outer Space" on the Bastille. It was pretty fun hauling on jugs out above the road. The route had definitely lived up to it's reputation. We finished up on a little splitter called "Supremacy Crack" that Peter Croft onsight soloed.
Tracy and I split ways, so I met up with Fritz and we cragged a few pitches in Boulder canyon on some beautiful granite sport routes. We got back to town in time to meet some friends and wrapped up the night with (quite a few) drinks downtown.
The next morning we weren't feeling great, but attempted to crag a few pitches in the flatirons (dinosaur rock?). Crowds were the only excuse we needed, so after drinking lots of water, we left for Aspen, Fritz's home town. We were greeted with some sunset granite sport routes on Independence pass, one of the most beautiful areas around.
After a wonderful stay with Fritz's family and another odd night out in Aspen (there was a rugby fest, so it was quite a strange scene), we headed to "the Black".
The Black Canyon is home to the 3rd largest vertical drop in the lower 48 (the first being El Cap), so it's quite impressive. We rolled in at evening and (literally) raced to the railing to catch an incredible sunset while peering over. That night, lightning and thunder shook my van for over an hour. We were so psyched to climb, we opted to get on a big route despite not having any beta besides Mountain Project descriptions.
We thought we played it safe by choosing Stoned Oven (5.11+ V), but it ended up being perfect. The only issue was that I demanded we carried only one number 4, despite the comments said otherwise.
We got a late start and dropped in around 7:30 am. We nailed the approach and were roped up an hour later. After a whip on the first pitch, Fritz managed to get the rope up a hard off-width roof, the first time he wished he had more large gear. We cruised for the next 5 pitches, always wondering whether or not we were on route based on the terrible descriptions we had.
Navigating loose and nondescript terrain was slow, however, and by the time we were at the cruxes, the sun was fully on our backs. Fritz fought up another off-width at the start of the enduro corner, cursing me for the lack of proper gear. Having a top rope through this section was delightful!
The next pitch, the enduro corner proper, was the crux. Although it wasn't ever particularly hard, it was very sustained. The first 80-100ft was a 4-5" layback, so I also payed for our decision on a lighter rack. Eventually, it thinned out to hands and smaller, where I built a hanging belay.
After one little boulder problem and a traverse, we were only 3 pitches from the top. We lounged on a large ledge and listened to some music from our phones. Feeling a second wind, we sipped the last of our water and blasted to the top in fading light.
Performing the "womb fight" was novel and hardly challenging, despite its reputation. Catching the sunset while topping out, however, was a beautiful way to end the day.
All in all, it was another excellent climbing trip packed with friends, climbing, and a little choss. It was really nice to finally get a taste of the Colorado climbing. I already have plans to visit the Black again and a long tick list for the Boulder area. Next time, however, I'll make sure to follow the rack recommendations...