One of my best buds Chris was in town last week for work trip to Boulder. Chris was a key protagonist in many of my near-death experiences during that 16-24 year-old phase of manhood when your judgement hasn’t quite kept pace with your physical progression. On one particular occasion Chris & I were the passengers in a car heading home after an all-nighter expedition to a hot spring when the driver fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into grove of saplings. Not to blame the driver; everyone in the car had fallen asleep–except reliable Chris. He was wide awake. Unfortunately he was in the trunk since our 2 door sedan only had room for 7 passengers in the main cabin.
Anyway, with the absurd heat-wace on the Colorado Front-Range this summer, we were looking to beat the heat with some casual alpine climbing, and nothing fits that description better than the excellent granite walls flanking Mt. Evans. The Black Wall lies about a mile north of Summit Lake, topping out at a bit over 13,000 feet, so named for its resemblence to the notorious Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Our objective for the day was the super-classic “Good Evans”, said to be one half Yosemite, one half Black Canyon.
After a 7:30 alpine start we headed up the twisty Squaw Pass Road. It never ceases to amaze me how fortunate I am to live in a place with so much accessible rock. To be able to get from my doorstep to the trailhead in less than an hour seems like cheating. The approach turned out to be harder than I expected so I guess that makes up for the easy drive. From the view point at Summit Lake the Black Wall appears to be an easy stone’s throw away, but the reality is you have to hike over a significant ridge to get there. Coming from near sea-level, Chris was not psyched on this ridge that I failed to mention.
The hike turned out to be fairly enjoyable, and we were able to locate the rap station with no trouble. I had some clever beta that would allow me to skip one of the 4 raps with a 70m rope, but at the end of the first rap it became clear that my 70m rope was not as long as I had expected. Fortunately this type of “jiggery-pokery” (as the Aussie’s would say) is my specialty, so we were able to make it to another anchor, but after the added delay, we were both psyched to get on the route.
The first two pitches were absolutely stellar, every bit as good as advertised and easily worthy of Yosemite Valley. This was probably the best granite I’ve touched in Colorado. The first pitch started out with some moderate flake climbing, then some bomber splitter cracks, leading to a short boulder problem crux. This section required some awkward lie-backing up an offset seam. The handholds were great but the footholds were small, sloping bumps that required good confidence in your footwear. I was wearing my new Tenaya Ra slippers and they were well up to the challenge.
After the boulder problem a long traverse leads to a small grassy ledge and the typical first belay. I still had a huge rack of gear and plenty of rope so I decided to link through the second pitch. This ptich starts with a fun lieback up a precarious but bomber detached flake. In order to protect the second on the traverse at the end of P1, I chose to run it out past the flake, which made things a bit more spicey than usual. The next section was absolutely out of this world, 5-star hand jamming up impeccable granite. Bomber jams and bomber gear in an amazing alpine setting. The only catch is that the crack widens slightly over the last 10 feet before the belay. I have relatively small, girl-ish hands, so I was full-on fist-jamming through here. Not my forte, but fortunately the footholds were plentiful so I was able to escape with minimal bleeding.
I set up a belay in a flared groove of Black Canyon-esque pegmatite below an ominous & puzzling roof. Chris quickly followed pitch one. Despite limited crack climbing experience he cruised through the splitter sections in fine style.
The next pitch begins with some easy chimneying and deceptive route-finding, culminating in a spectacular traverse around the arete–from no exposure to 400 feet in one step. A few more moderate but intimidating moves lead to the next belay, and exposed perch high above the Chicago Lakes Basin.
The next pitch, though not the best rock, is probably the most memorable and the most notorious. This pitch follows insipient cracks up an awkward leaning corner towards another ominous roof. The entire lead I was straining for some clue as to how I would surmount the seemingly impregnable looming roof. Things seemed to get steadily harder as I climbed, with a slight pump getting progressively worse, unti I reached a good shake right up against the roof. At that point a Gunks-style line of jugs revealed themselves, leading left and somewhat down around the arete to the left. I plugged in a good cammed and monkeyed my way around the corner, swinging my feet around the prow to reach a huge ledge and the belay. Chris followed with ease and we quickly finished the last short pitch to the summit.