Gothic Arches Buttress, Brazos River Box Canyon. The virtually unknown box canyon of the Brazos River in northern New Mexico is one of the most spectacular gorges in all of North America. The east-facing wall of the canyon rises 2200 feet above the river, comparable to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison; far more spectacular country surrounds the Brazos area. From a climbing standpoint, the least impregnable line up this face, which we call the Gothic Arches Buttress, is also the most classic in its directness. This first major route in the canyon was climbed by George Bell, Larry Dauelsberg, Mike Williams and me on October 5 and 6. Preparation for the final ascent was made earlier. On September 14, Hans Frauenfelder and I first scouted the route. The difficult approach to the buttress requires repeated fording of the icy Brazos River from the mouth of the box to about a mile upstream. From the river’s edge we climbed 450 feet in five pitches up to F6 in difficulty. We discovered a hidden descent gully around these first pitches, which was used in both subsequent ascents. On September 22, Dauelsberg returned with me to push the route in mixed aid and free climbing up another 500 feet into a complex of huge open-books, which appeared to have only one reasonable way out. On October 5 the final ascent party explored this passage and found a superbly exposed F7 pitch to a great tree-filled bowl above. Easy pitches led us to the notch between a prominent tower and the main summit mass just above the immense red arches which give the route its name. Early in the evening we started up these last pitches in hopes of avoiding a bivouac on the face. Mixed free and aid climbing brought us to within 80 feet of easy scrambling above. I started up the last pitch, largely aid climbing, as the moon rose. After I got around two bulging overhangs, my highest aid pitons broke free, dropping me 25 feet to be Stopped by better pins below. Darkness discouraged further attempts and we rappelled down to bivouac in the notch. The next morning’s bright sunlight revealed an easier passage left of our upper direct-aid line and we were on top by noon. Descent was by an adjacent talus-choked gully. NCCS IV, F7, A2.
Donald J. Liska