Two pairs of the leading activists in Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison have completed major new free climbs, each a multiyear project. Josh Wharton and Mike Pennings finished The Black Sheep this spring after half a dozen trips to work on the route, and then Wharton returned another five times to redpoint the 5.13 crux pitch. Topher Donahue and Jared Ogden, meanwhile, polished off Air Guitar, a 17-pitch 5.12+ that took two years to establish and two days to redpoint. Both parties said their new routes were unusual for the Black in that they required very hard sport-climbing-style moves.
The Black Sheep is located on the “Plunge Pillar” of North Chasm View Wall, starting near the popular (for the Black Canyon) Movable Stoned Voyage. The route’s seven pitches are mostly 5.10 to 5.11+, but one stopper pitch (5.12- A0) seemed unlikely to go free. But Wharton wasn’t ready to give up. “After Mike and I finished the route in April, I went and did some investigating on a Mini-Traxion [hauling pulley] and did all the moves,” Wharton said. “It took me five more trips with various partners before I finally free climbed the crux fourth pitch. It’s the first route in the Black that I’ve done that requires full-on sport climbing trickery and precision, and it certainly demanded more attention that I’ve ever given to a long route.” During his redpoint, Wharton swapped leads with Jason Nelson, free climbing every pitch.
“I’ve done over 60 different free routes in the Black, including all of those given 5.13 [except the Hallucinogen Wall] and nearly all the 5.12s, and for me this was much harder technically than any of those,” Wharton said.
Not far away, on the left side of North Chasm View Wall, Donahue and Ogden completed a two-year effort to free climb Air Guitar’s 17 pitches, 10 of which are 5.11 or harder. Donahue said the route was “unusually steep for the Black” and included many pitches so good they “would have climbers lining up for them if they were single-pitch routes in Eldo or Yosemite…but they’re not.” The two were alone in the canyon during their late-May redpoint, and Ogden said the experience was “pure magic.”
“In fact, if I had to quit climbing for a long time I would be OK because it gave me so much both spiritually and mentally,” Ogden said. “We definitely put the hard time in to get that one, and it was so, so worthy.”
Dates of Redpoints: May 23-24, 2007 (Air Guitar); May 30, 2007 (The Black Sheep).
Sources: Josh Wharton, Topher Donahue, Jared Ogden