Top Ten National Parks for Rock Climbing

Black Canyon on the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison can be quite intimidating. It is wild and rugged, like the old frontier territory surrounding it. To paraphrase Wallace Hansen, a geologist who studied the Black for many years: There are deeper canyons, and there are steeper canyons, but none combine the narrow opening, sheer cliffs, somber countenance, and astonishing depths of this Colorado gorge.

The Gunnison River carved the canyon through hard, igneous rocks on its way to joining the Colorado River at Grand Junction. Over time the Gunnison produced steep canyon walls, which plummet to depths of more than 2,000 feet. The narrow canyon, only 1,500 feet across in some places, is cloaked in gloomy shadow for much of the day. This and the walls of dark gray schist and gneiss give the Black its name.

The Black Canyon is for experienced climbers only. There are no "easy" routes and there is no rescue. Hazards here range from poison ivy to loose scree to rattlesnakes lurking on your belay ledge. The sides of the canyon often jut out in spires and crags, most of the routes are long and complex, and the rock quality is inconsistent from route to route. That said, the Black offers the purity and adventure of climbing in a truly wild setting.

The best rock and most routes are found at the North Chasm View Wall. The moderate Leisure Climb will lead you up some great crack climbing along its six pitches. On the Checkerboard Wall—named for crisscrossing, pink pegmatite bands—a route by the same name has some great face climbing. Down on the South Rim, Blackjack is a 5.10 that has a little chimney climbing, some crack climbing, and a few tricky overhangs to keep you working.


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