Classic Routes: Black Streak (5.10b), Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah

Where plaisir climbing first came to American soil
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Peter Vintoniv taking the Horns of Satan (5.10c) exit to the Black Streak (5.10b), Devil’s Castle, Utah.

Peter Vintoniv taking the Horns of Satan (5.10c) exit to the Black Streak (5.10b), Devil’s Castle, Utah.

The Devil’s Castle, a north-facing limestone wall 800 feet in height, broods over the upper reaches of Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah. Here, at 10,900 feet, snow patches linger into summer, and unlike the fabled granite boulders and walls lower down, the Castle’s rock appears fractured and hostile. However, a few swaths of bolted stone, including a black streak, lure climbers in.

In the late 1980s, the motivated first ascentionist James Garrett moved to town with a vision of bringing plaisir climbing to the Wasatch. This style—long, moderate routes with safe, closely spaced hardware—is popular in the Alps, and translates to “joy/pleasure.” At the time, such climbs were unheard of in America. Garrett, who’d live in Switzerland, had been inspired by Jürg von Känel’s climbs in the Bernese Oberland, including Fair Hands Line (5.10b; 10 pitches) and Adler Auge (5.10d; 20 pitches), big, evolutionary projects originally put up on lead but then later retrobolted so you needed little more than quickdraws.

Garrett’s first foray onto the Castle with his wife, Franziska, in summer 1988 was nothing close to the plaisir experience. They encountered dirty, wet, loose stone they protected—barely—with traditional pro and the occasional piton or quarter-inch bolt. However, Garrett returned in 1993 and then in later years to add bolts and straighten out the line. The 5.10 cruxes on this new, cleaner ground are found where the rock turns vertical, with solid edges. Soon, with increasing traffic, the rock cleaned up; glue-in Wave bolts replaced the old gear, and today the line requires only the occasional piece.

Garrett and others have added a dozen-odd neighboring routes, and up high on the “Great Ledge” you can pick your exit variation, joining the upper two pitches of Horns of Satan (5.10c), Evil Eye (5.11a), or Shadow of the Blade (5.10d). Sure, some of the wall’s lower-angle terrain and ledges will always have loose rock, but as for alpine climbing in the Wasatch, the Castle today is about as plaisir as it gets.

Location

Devil’s Castle, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah

Grade

III 5.10b

Length

6 pitches

Type

Mixed

First Ascent

James and Franziska Garrett, 1988

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