Hallucinogen Wall, First Free Ascent

Colorado, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, North Chasm View Wall
Author: Hansjörg Auer. Climb Year: 2011. Publication Year: 2012.

When Ben Lepesant asked if I’d be interested in climbing classic routes in the Black Canyon, I did some research and discovered that the Hallucinogen Wall hadn’t been freed. Then I remembered its history and the story about the ice axes, and it became clear that we’d have to concentrate on this project. [Editor’s note: Originally climbed in 17 days in 1980 and rated A5 (Becker- Lella-Newberry-Webster), the Hallucinogen Wall was freed in 2004, except for one pitch, which was “drytooled” with specially modified ice axes. The route was re-rated 5.13- D10+ R (Nelson-Ogden) and was a feature article in the 2005 AAJ.]

We first climbed the 16-pitch route in three days, with aid, and I realized that it could go free pretty quickly. Ben knew he wouldn’t be leading any the pitches, so he gave me his complete support. I bouldered around on the crux pitches and memorized the moves.

We rested in bad weather for three days, then set off at 5:00 am on April 22. It was snowing lightly as we descended the Cruise Gully, and then we shot up the route. I climbed every pitch first go, and Ben cleaned and jumared. Things became tough on the final pitches, as I got tired, and the pumpy crux pitch with its finishing dyno was touch-and-go. But we reached the final belay unscathed, 8 hours and 41 minutes after starting. The time was a record, but this came about completely by chance. Speed records don’t really mean much to me. [In 2005 Jared Ogden and Ryan Nelson climbed it in 8h 59min—Ed.]

I had expected the crux 13th pitch would be a smooth wall with tiny crimps. But it is athletic, with good holds and cool heel-hooks. I diverged slightly from the original line three times: immediately after the belay (where I added two pegs and a copperhead); in the middle of the pitch, at the start of the bolt ladder; and just before the belay, with a leftward dyno.

The route itself isn’t all that difficult (5.13+ R), but the pro is fairly alpine, with numerous copperheads, especially in the middle section. It probably had to wait 31 years for the first free ascent because the Black Canyon wasn’t the place to be. I’m happy to have grabbed this little jewel, especially since there are so many talented climbers living less than five hours away, in Boulder. Climbing it free in less than nine hours, without a massive prior effort, is something pretty important to me.

Hansjörg Auer, Austria (based on an interview in PlanetMountain.com)