Route Profile: Maiden Voyage, Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Grade III, 5.9, 6 pitches

Route Profile: Maiden Voyage – Grade III 5.9, six pitches.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison has a reputation of being for the extreme climber. With its remote circumstances, tick and poison ivy infested approaches, loose and unpredictable rock, challenging route finding, difficult and unprotected pegmatite bands, and long committed routes of up to Grade VI, climbing in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is not for novices or for climbers who are not fully competent in free climbing on big, remote walls.

In fact, climbing at the Black Canyon – often looked at as Colorado’s version of Yosemite – is as much a form of alpine climbing as it is pure rock climbing. The limited view of incoming weather or unforeseen problems on an otherwise “moderate” route can turn a pleasant day’s outing into a nightmarish epic. Remember that every climber needs to be thinking “self rescue” in Black Canyon. No helicopter will pluck you to safety. Still, for experienced, competent and committed climbers, the fearsome “Black” offers some of the North America’s greatest rock climbing challenges in a wild and rugged setting.  KMG tends to avoid the gnarly and go for the more fun moderate routes.  Hence, Maiden Voyage AKA The Red Dihedral.

The climb Maiden Voyage is about as far from gnarly as can be and by far the route we guide the most. This climb consists of great rock, relatively easy route finding, an easy approach with minimal poison ivy, and 6 moderate pitches of climbing. This is the most popular climb in the Black Canyon and maybe one of the best 5.9’s in the country.

In addition to the reasons listed above, the canyon gets a harsh reputation due its committing nature. Unlike a traditional climb of a UT desert tower or Red Rock Canyon wall, at the Black you start on top and work your way down with hikes and rappels. There are only a few gullies that allow access the inner canyon. Maiden Voyage is on the CheckerBoard wall on the North Rim of the Black. The climb is reached by descending the Cruise Gully, named after the Scenic Cruise climb (one of the best 5.10’s in the country). This gully involves two mandatory rappels on fixed lines that the park service installed. The Robbie Williams guide book talks about down climbing some exposed sections. All but the most confident climbers would prefer to use the fixed lines and rappel, a much better way to mitigate the risk of getting hurt before even reaching the climb.

After the rappels it’s a short hike on a descent trail (great for the Black Canyon) leads to the base of the climb. There is minimal poison ivy on the approach. I (nock on wood) have never had any issues with me or my clients getting any of “the green itch.”

The first pitch consists of roughly 100 ft of wandering 5.6. While the climbing is fun, the gear is minimal. Some climbers choose to link the first two pitches. However, the crux of the climb is at the start of the second. We choose to shorten the first pitch, which allows for an easy transition to the second. This also allows for the climb to get the crux of the route over right after their break.

The third pitch climbs fun cracks and corners to a 5.8 roof. This is the routes second crux. The moves are all there with great holds, but not obvious at first. After the roof, relatively mellow climbing takes you to the belay.

Pitch four continues up fun cracks and corners, involves some stemming, and leads to a great belay ledge. Pitch five is all less than vertical 5.7 climbing to the final belay ledge. Some parties choose to stop at the top of pitch five. Typically though, KMG chooses to go one more pitch to the summit of the wall. The last and sixth pitch ascends 5.6 climbing up fun ledges and edges to reach the summit block. From the summit block, we have a spectacular view of both the north and south chasm view points. If you squint, you typically can see folks grasping the guard rails and peering into the abyss. Awesome! A quick rappel gets us back down to the top of pitch five. From there it’s a 20 minute hike back to the rim and the North Rim Ranger station. Congratulations! You just climbed a six pitch classic in one of the deepest canyons in the US

Skylar and Dan racking up at the base of Maiden Voyage.

Skylar and Dan racking up at the base of Maiden Voyage.

 

Skylar topping out pitch 3, Maiden Voyage

Skylar and Dan enjoying lunch on one of the huge belay ledges that Maiden Voyage has to offer.

Skylar and Dan enjoying lunch on one of the huge belay ledges that Maiden Voyage has to offer.

 

John topping out Maiden Voyage

John on Maiden Voyage

John is peering into the abyss of the Black Cnayon of the Gunnison after climbing Maiden Voyage.

John is peering into the abyss of the Black Cnayon of the Gunnison after climbing Maiden Voyage.

John and Carson enjoying some post climbing libations as their hang on the North Rim guard rail, Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

John and Carson enjoying some post climbing libations as their hang on the North Rim guard rail, Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

 

Josh Kling, 
AMGA Certified Rock Guide
AMGA Assistant Ski and Alpine Guide
AMGA Aspirant Mountain Guide 
AIARE Level 1 & 2 Course Leader

 

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