North America, United States, Colorado, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Cheap Hooker
Cheap Hooker. The Black Canyon hosts some of the country’s most adventurous rock climbs and is notorious for epics, runout climbing, difficult route finding, and chossy rock. This past year saw Topher Donahue and I up a few new routes. The Hooker Buttress saw its first ascent in May 1975, by Michael Covington and Billy Westbay, with another route added in 1984, by Katie Cassidy and Earl Wiggins. These routes, The Hooker (IV 5.10+R) and Cheap Shot (V 5.10X), which from the overlooks on both South and North Chasm Views look really impressive, have had only a handful of ascents. The guidebook characterizes these routes as poorly protected, with long runouts, and “hard, consistent, and serious.”
Topher and I, lured by these descriptions, hatched a plan to do a new route on the Hooker Buttress. It would take us three tries to complete. We started by rappelling 800 feet off the rim, in between The Hooker and Cheap Shot, to try to see how good the climbing could be. After reaching a ledge under a roof, we set off on our recon. The roof looked large, intimidating, run out, and questionable. Topher climbed a corner out to the lip of the roof at 5.11+ and made a stellar hand-and-face traverse for a 160-foot pitch. The trail rope hung 20 feet out. Two pitches later we ran into the crux 5.12- crack as it started to rain. Topher freed this pitch, having placed two pins in a seam below a thin, technical face, and I finished up in a long, unprotected corner. The top section of the route proved to be on hard granite with incredible exposure and great free-climbing. We returned to try it from the bottom, but only made it up four pitches before we ran out of time and hiked out.
Seven months later we hiked back into the canyon with two gallons of water and clothing for a bivy. The first pitch is a 70m 5.9 corner. On the second pitch traverse on solid crispy edges up a slab, past a bolt, to a technical 5.11 face and a belay below a pegmatite band. Pitch three starts up a corner into a peg band and traverses left for over 100 feet, with only two bolts and a few RPs in peg crystals for pro. It’s runout, but you’re climbing at the top edge of the pegmatite on solid black 5.9 edges.
Head up a corner on bullet-hard face holds to a cam placement and run out another peg band to a belay. Climbing past a roof and up a corner leads into the third peg band. There is one bolt on this 70-foot-plus 5.9 section, which leads to the main corner of the upper wall. Topher then climbed a stellar 5.10+ corner pitch on the best rock I’ve seen in the canyon. Battleship-gray, laser-cut sheer granite with bomber gear and excellent face climbing leads to the belay we had rapped to the previous year, and we continued to the top.
This route (V 5.12- [5.9X]) is exceptionally good and well worth the effort. We drilled six bolts, on lead, and left the three pins in place. This 10-pitch route is about 1,700-feet long, not including the 400-foot scrambling approach, and was completed in a day, all free and with no falls, on May 27.