The Black Wall is a really amazing 700ft. wall that tops out at an altitude of around 13,000ft. The road up to the summit of Mt. Evans (which is the highest road in North America) enables a short 45 minute hike to the top of the wall from which you can rap to the base. The route that I climbed, which I called High Variance, connects a collection of striking features on the right side of the wall.
This summer I made several exploratory missions up to the Black Wall in search of new lines. I spent a few days scoping a steeper crazy line in the middle of the wall that I eventually decided would be too big of an undertaking. From that position, I was able to scope the the line that was to be High Variance. I rapped down the route and instantly became psyched on the climbing it had to offer. What ensued was a many day effort of rapping into the route, cleaning pitches, working moves, hand-drilling protection bolts and anchors, and then jugging out in a desperate effort to beat the severe lightning storms that form in the early afternoon. I probably spent about 6 days preparing the route and very little of that time was actually spent climbing. I didn't climb a single pitch in it's entirety. Mostly I just worked the hard moves and sections and tried to get everything ready so that I'd be able to climb smoothly when I decided to go for the route.
With all the prep work done, I headed up there 3 weeks ago hoping to finish the route before the season ended. The road to Mt. Evans can close at any point in the season... it only takes one big snowfall so I knew I could easily get shutdown. I arrived at the parking area with my climbing partner, Matt Owen, and Kyle Berkompas and Kevin Ziechmann from Chuck Fryberger Films who were documenting the climb. The wind was howling over the mountain and the temperature was barely above freezing. It took a lot not to bail and get right back in the car to head home. There was no way I could climb in this weather, but I had experienced this before and knew that there was a chance the wall was shielding the wind. We all hiked to the top and sure enough, the moment we rapped onto the face, the wind died and the sun felt warm. By the time we reached the base, we were stripping our long underwear and the temperature felt like it was in the low 70s. We were sitting at the focal point of a giant solar oven!
The 11a crux of pitch 2
I started up the route moving slower than expected with the altitude taking its toll. I was imagining that the first few pitches would breeze by without much effort as they are all below 11a. Instead, I found myself working hard for many of the moves and could already feel my body tiring. I was a bit concerned knowing the crux pitches where all at the top, but I've been in this sort of position before so I didn't worry too much. Instead I just kept moving. By the time I topped out on the 3rd pitch, the sun had moved off the wall and all of a sudden the conditions were icy cold again, though fortunately without the wind. I loaded up with all my layers and kept them on for the rest of the route.
Now I was moving into the harder pitches. The first crux pitch was pitch 5 which starts in a relatively easy corner but then ventures into a seam that requires hard face moves on edges and a powerful sloper crux. I was confident on this bouldery section as I had done it several times and I knew it would be over quickly. Nevertheless, I was feeling quite tired by the time I got to the anchor and began having doubts about my ability to climb the next crux pitch which I knew required much more endurance. After resting a while at the belay, I set out and struggled my way through the hardest section to a no hands rest off to the side. I sat here for a while trying to de-pump. I made several traversing missions to get gear set for the next crux and each time I got totally pumped hanging on jugs. It wasn't looking great, but I knew what to do for the next section and just needed to execute it smoothly. Eventually I pulled into the sequence and made it through to the next belay. I was definitely relieved at this point knowing that there was just one more pitch to the top that I was expecting to be easier.
The 12b crux of pitch 6
I had been moving slowly though and it was starting to get dark. I rested for a while to summon the last bit of energy I had. I climbed through what I thought was going to be the crux with relative ease and then traversed out to the splitter arete finish. I had done the arete moves on one of my first days on the route but hadn't tried them since. Now it was getting dark, I was completely tired, and I had to climb a slappy crux sequence on slopers that I hardly remembered. I never had thought that this part could shut me down, but now I was having doubts. I committed into the moves jumping to holds, slapping slopers, and letting out Sharma screams. Just as I was about to make the final move of the sequence up to better holds, I broke a foothold, skidded down a bit but caught myself before falling. I found another foot and climbed up to the next rest with darkness approaching quickly. I fought my way through the rest of the easier but unfamiliar and somewhat flakey climbing and mantled up to the last belay (20ft from the top) just as darkness settled. I was completely exhausted but totally psyched too. I knew I had it now.
A bit more climbing and I was at the summit packing up my bags and preparing for a quick exit in the cold windy dark. I was surprised by how hard the route had felt. I went into the climb feeling that success was almost a sure thing, but I ended up having many doubts along the way. Even though the crux pitches were only about 12b, the difficulty of the route was more in its sustained nature and the challenge of climbing at such a high elevation. I definitely underestimated the route and hadn't completely prepared myself physically for the fitness that would be required. I've done many long days in Yosemite and I was just thinking this would just be another routine day like those. What I forgot is that those long days came after climbing multipitch routes continually for weeks. The type of fitness you gain climbing full time in the Valley is a lot different that what you get jugging around on a route for a few days, doing a few pitches in the climbing gym, and otherwise just bouldering. Lesson learned, hopefully.
All in all, it was an amazing experience and I was thrilled to have completed a classic new line on one of the coolest alpine walls in Colorado. The timing was just right too as the road up Mt. Evans closed within the next week. I named the route High Variance because of the extreme temperature swing we experienced and also because of the variety of climbing styles found on the route. Kyle and Kevin got some amazing footage up there and are currently editing it all together for their new film: Exposure Volume 1 which will be premiering at the Boulder Theater on November 20th. They should be releasing the trailer soon too, so be on the lookout for that.
If you want to see more specific information about my route, check out the Mountain Project page I put together: