American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Colorado, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Painted Wall, Journey Through Mirkwood

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2002

Painted Wall, Journey Through Mirkwood. In August Jonathan Copp and I descended the S.O.B. Gully at 3:00 a.m. hoping to make the first free ascent of Journey Through Mirkwood on the Painted Wall. This 2,000-foot route was one of the few older routes on the Painted Wall that had not been free climbed. Tom Pulaski, Jimmy Newberry, John Pearson, and John Rosholt made the first ascent over three days in 1977. For many years it saw few ascents. As we descended the S.O.B Gully first light awakened the canyon, and dawn illuminated the aptly named Painted Wall looming above us, dubbed for the many rotten pegmatite bands scarring its face. The pegmatite may compromise the rock’s structural integrity, but it gives it the flavor and excitement of no other rock wall. Jonathan and I began our climb at first light, simulclimbing the first three pitches. We carried only a rope and a small rack. Several more long, moderate pitches took us to just below the crux of the route, the Roofs of Mordor. This was the only section of the route that we were unsure about climbing without aid. I stared up at the roofs, a bit intimidated, but as Jonathan climbed to the belay he had the look in his eye! I knew we would not only finish the climb in a day, but it would go free. Jonathan took the sharp end, making short work of the crux pitch. The climbing through the roofs was gymnastic and powerful. Climbing through the final moves near the top of the overhang, Jonathan’s feet cut loose, forcing him to climb on small holds hanging from his hands. Somehow he held on, and as I yelled up encouragement, I wondered if I would be able to get up this pitch. When I arrived at the belay, I applauded his impressive lead, and we both reamed with excitement. Regardless of our sense of accomplishment, we still had over 1,200 feet to go and not a lot of daylight. Luckily, the climbing above was relatively moderate, and we were able to finish in four long pitches. We were happy to have completed the first free ascent of a climb on the Painted Wall, without fixing ropes, working pitches, or adding bolts.

Robbie Williams

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