The Coyote Date of American Climbing

Squeezed in a trip to the Black Canyon before it got way too hot for climbing around there. Some have called the Black Canyon the Verdon Gorge of America, but I'd say it's more like the coyote date of American climbing.  A bad day can be like waking up after a one-night-stand that makes you want to chew your arm off rather than wake your partner in sin.  There are handjams so full of swallow dung that if you dive in too enthusiastically you’ll never want to eat with that hand again. Bands of pegmatite turn clean cracks into indescribable mush, wide chimneys hide hideous piles of metaphoric accidents, overhanging walls of pastry-like choss guard the rim, and man-eating crops of poison ivy choke the gullies.  Guano, choss, and poisonous plants aside, nature’s interior decorator did a lousy job of finishing the place. Puke colored lichen paints the dreary stone from one end of the canyon to the other, briar bushes grow on the sheerest faces, and the river is a morass of whitewater and noise. 

Then there’s the other side of the place. The perfect face holds that allow for the blankest features to be climbed. The natural pods that are a gift to free climbers and turn knifeblade-sized seams into brilliant finger cracks while the same features in Yosemite would require a hundred pin scars before the cracks would accommodate fingers. There are the stunning views that change with every rope length as the convoluted walls and the river winding between them provides a different perspective from each belay. There’s the lonely western favor – it often feels like we’re the only climbers in the canyon, and sometimes like the only humans on planet earth. There’s the deluxe top out, where you can go to the car for a drink of water before putting your partner on belay. There’s the camp scene where there is no scene, but instead just stars and coyotes.

Photo of Jen Olsen and Anthony Everhart on Tague Yer Time, 5.12, in Colorado's Black Canyon of the Gunnison, during June, 2013.