La Visage to the Hallucinogen Wall - VI 5.9 A4
As winter turned to Spring it was time to quench my thirst for some big wall climbing. My friend and legend Troutman was recently back from a really successful trip to Patagonia and was eager to learn some real big wall techniques. Trout is also a connoisseur of the infamous Black Canyon of the Gunnison and has been dreaming about climbing the Hallucinogen Wall for a while now but needed an aid climber to help him out, I suppose I fit the bill.
Looking down the Cruise Gully.
The Black Canyon is known for being sharp, loose and scary but you never really hear people actually say it's bad and most people saying this seem to have never climbed there. I had never even been there.
Trout suggested we climb La Visage, the direct start to Hallucinogen Wall. There was little or no info available on the route besides a crude topo and short description in the Black Canyon guide book. We couldn't find anyone who had climbed it but a friend assured us it went through a surprisingly clean section of wall before joining the Hallucinogen Wall 6 pitches up. I was intrigued.
The topo and grade of 5.9 A3+ painted a clear enough picture for me, plus its 1989 first ascent date assured it wouldn't be easy. The topo points out features like 'sharp roof,' 'A3 Mixed Aid and Free' and 'A3+ hooking crux.' There was no gear listed for the route and the grades were the most infamous in aid climbing. So we racked up, packed up and set out for some vertical adventure.
Headed down the Cruise Gully. Don't rap with the pig on your back...I knew better...
La Visage - Moving from the lower left corner, come out the roofs, follow the thin crack right of the diagonaling Pegmatite band, move straight up to the 'eyebrow' roof, up and over to join the Hallucinogen Wall. Then continues up…
Racking up at the base.
Headed for the 'Sharp Roof' on pitch 2.
Atop pitch 2
Getting to the anchor at the end of pitch two was exciting. Standing on a rivet, looking 15 feet up at the anchor there were good holds and a small ledge over head, beckoning me. Off the rivet I landed a small talon hook on a micro edge, committed to it and began climbing the aider. Soon I was climbing into the sub step of the ladder, and grabbing the good holds above. However, it became clear I had to mantel the ledge in order to clip the anchor.
As I pulled up and commit to the mantel, the hook I fell off its micro edge and I felt a tug from below. Looking down I saw that as the hook came off, it and my aider wrapped themselves in the last rivet preventing me from moving upwards. I hung there, looking down at my aiders, twisted and fixed to the rivet and screamer below. I tugged at it, but nothing changed. I remember wondering if I was going to have to just take the fall, something I was not excited to do, but suddenly, thankfully, the aider and hook untangled from the rivet and I was free to press out the mantel. Carefully grabbing the sun bleached, rotten tat hanging down I stood onto the ledge and clipped the anchor.
Trout coming up to the second belay.
Pitch 3 was one of the best challenges of the route. The mysterious label of 'A3 mixed Free and Aid' allowed for crack-less rock to be negotiated quickly, but you have to be ready to climb. Off the anchor you climb out right, move up and come back over top of the anchor 12 feet above. A decent slung horn leads to more free climbing, a stance, a beak, more committed free climbing to a stance and finally a good piedce of gear.
Despite the 5.9 grade of the route, I would call this pitch mandatory 5.10 free climbing with A3 aid climbing mixed in between 20+ foot sections of runout free climbing. You can see the slung horn and the small beak a good distance below me.
I climbed right past the third belay, despite two ancient, original Camalots that were left there with a stack of biners clipping things together. At the time, for various reasons, it didn't register in my mind as a belay. As I happily moved through some moderate climbing Trout yelled up that I only had 15 feet of rope left and it dawned on me. I had to make a mini anchor 65 feet above, rap down to here, build a belay, haul and then jumar back to my highpoint, tie in and climb on. What fun would it be without the adventure?!
Way past the 'hand sized gear' belay. Oops...
Back down at the third belay and psyched.
Back on it and headed for the Eyebrow Roof.
Pretty views as the first day winds down.
Trout's got the snail eye from watchin' me climb.
At the first bivy we started gettin' comfy.
Once we were under the Eyebrow Roof I clipped out the bolts and looked at the wall above. A textured yet almost featureless wall shot above for 25 feet to a roof. The climbing to get there was sparse. After a little chatting with the Trout we decided to call it early so we could enjoy a sunset bivy, it was Trout's first time on a portaledge after all.
The Black Canyon shoot west behind as I get dinner rolling.
Once dark it was...black...
We started casually the next morning. I knew that above were hard pitches and we had a lot of ground to cover. Dreading the hooking and heading above the roof, I psyched myself up and we got started.
Doning the battle regalia, harness, helmet, hooks and gear, I get psyched for combat.
Hard to tell how steep it is...
Looking back at Trout as I come out the Eyebrow Roof.
Trout coming out the roof. For a first 'big wall style' wall
Trout was doing great with all the trickery.
With one more pitch to go on La Visage, the A3+ Hooking Crux stood between us and the Hallucinogen wall itself. I was feeling good, excited, comfortable and confident. The belay atop pitch 5 had two old, crappy quarter inch bolts. I called for the bolt kit, pulled it up and started replacing the anchor bolts.
With two new bolts below me and 30+ feet of hooking from the anchor to the first gear I started climbing. Off the belay a copper head lead to the first hooks. Top stepping and sub stepping lead me from hook to hook. Standing in the sub steps I found a hook placement high and right, fingering it carefully, something felt strange about it. I craned my neck looking carefully, the placement was clearly sheared and blown out, a grooved trench was all that was left of where a tiny edge had been. I wonder what the story was...
I took a deep breath, and another. I suppressed the rising panic and fear, looking back at the belay, Trout watched me anxiously, I dared a look at the fall potential below. Clean vertical rock shot out of sight. I took another deep breath, searched the wall for tiny edges that wouldn't break or crumble, and at last I found it. A circuitous path lead me all around, not just up but down, right, left and back up. I landed the best hook yet on a good incut edge, I let out a whoop, Trout laughed, I laughed back, looking down at the 40 feet or more to the belay. I got some gear and moved onto the Fantasy Island ledge. I was psyched.
Trout coming lowering across the A3+ hooking
The Man. The Troutman.
So, where does the Hallucinogen go? Standing on Fantasy Island,
we looked at the rest of the route.
Moving onto the Hallucinogen.
The dizzying views of the river that has made the Black what it is
And it goes on forever.
Trout coming up and getting ready for his turn on the sharp end.
Pitch 7 on the Hallucinogen, again, there was some exciting mandatory free climbing.
Bad heads? No matter for Trout, he's a lightweight.
The steep and intimidating headwall above, Trout leads into the abyss.
Trout turned the crux hooking pitch on the Hallucinogen over to me,
the blank wall and lack of pro was a little intimidating. Talon hooks for glory...
The crux pitch of Hallucinogen Wall offers relentless (but positive) talon hooking. The hooking is broken up by cheater bolts and rivets keeping it pretty reasonable.
It is terrifying to think back to the first ascent and how this pitch was done over two days by Brian Becker, popcorn flakes, equalized hooks and a few copper heads. It's a shame it has been dumbed down (even though it is still full value). I don't know if I could have done it in it's original form, but the challenge is the allure, right?
Launching into the steep upper headwall, some wild sporty hooking
and a few crazy free moves put us in the steeps.
The Trout special. Totem Cam's really came through.
Enjoying a final view down canyon
After the Crux pitch on the Hallucinogen Wall, the route eased to an enjoyable but challenging level. Our second bivy was a classic, hanging out there below the headwall, staring up and the steep and intimidating formation above. The final day we moved at a fast but casual pace, with me starting the day and banging out some aid pitches and Trout taking over for the summit block.
Overall, the route was one of the finest wall routes I have done. The climbing was different, difficult and challenging, requiring solid free climbing and hard aid mixed together. It's a classic and clean line, and it's amazing that in all the times the Hallucinogen Wall has been climbed, this obvious direct start has been overlooked.