BLACK CANYON LINE ESTABLISHED, FREED

Posted on: June 12, 2007


Josh Wharton climbing The Free Nose (V+ 5.12b), North Chasm View Wall, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado. Wharton and Michael Pennings established The Black Sheep (IV 5.12- A0, 7 pitches, ca. 1000') on the same wall in early May; Wharton returned a number of times that month to practice freeing Pitch 4's overhanging dihedral. On May 30, he made an integral free ascent at 5.13 with Jared Nelson. Click here to watch an exclusive short film about climbing efficiently in the Black Canyon. [Photo] Chris Alstrin / HG Productions

At the beginning of May, Josh Wharton and Michael Pennings completed a three-year project in Colorado's Black Canyon of the Gunnison, freeing six of the seven pitches to establish The Black Sheep (IV 5.12- A0, 7 pitches, ca. 1000'). A few weeks later, on May 30, Wharton managed to free the entire route—including its cruxy overhanging dihedral pitch at 5.13—with Jared Nelson.

The line, which ascends bomber rock 100 feet left of The Plunge (V 5.9+ A4) and A Moveable Feast (IV 5.10-) on North Chasm View Wall (read about Topher Donahue and Jared Ogden's new free climb on this wall in the June 6 NewsWire), had been attempted with aid gear in the past. The overhanging nature of Pitch 4 always repelled potential ascenionists. To protect the steep dihedral and the runout slab on the subsequent pitch (5.10+ R), the pair hand-drilled eleven bolts, ground-up, over three years. On their fifth trip, in May, they finished bolting the route and climbed it from the base. However, Wharton and Pennings were unable to free Pitch 4. "From the start, Josh and I were not under the impression that the line would go free," Pennings said. "But the free climbing below the steepest section is so spectacular that we decided to keep pushing on."

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After their ascent, Josh rehearsed the 5.13 pitch by rapping in and using a mini-traxion. It took him four more trips, with various partners, to redpoint the route, which includes "beautiful crack climbing in a dihedral" that leads into "face climbing with very sparse protection," Pennings said. "It's one of the better routes I've done." Wharton added that the ascent was "kind of epic, but it's way harder than any other free climbing I've done in the Canyon." Wharton has climbed more than sixty Black routes free; Pennings has climbed nearly 100 there over twenty years, many of them first ascents without pitons or a hammer.

Sources: Josh Wharton, Michael Pennings

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