The Scenic Cruise

The Scenic Cruise is THE route to do in The Black (unless you are climbing into the 12s) taking the 1,700ft North Chasm View Wall in a dozen or so crack and face pitches, with a couple of major traverses thrown in which take the total climbing to around 2,000ft. It warrants a “commitment grade” V, defined in The Black guidebook as: Dawn ’till dusk, fear of benightment, glad I brought my headlamp, “Is it over yet?”

If you do the maths, you’ll work out that those are L-OOO-NG pitches, typically a full 60m rope length (the first one is a 100m simul-climb of what would probably be a classic 4-pitch VS in The Pass). We’d ummed and ahhed about having a go, and dismissed it as being just too hot – the route is in full sun from about 9am until 3pm and it was 34C in the shade. However, buoyed by a good experience on Comic Relief, my confidence flattered by The Lightning Bolt Crack, and no doubt a few beers, we decided to give it a try. (“Try” presumes that you have the option of not succeeding – actually escaping the route, once committed to the traversing pitches, would be problematic as there’s little fixed gear, and then you’d be faced with “The Walk of Shame” back up The Cruise Gully). We bumped into the only other two climbers in The Park, Mason and Charlie (also from Ouray) and guess what? They were planning to do The Scenic Cruise too. No problem with crowds though, as they were going for a 3:15am start from the campground to minimise time in the sun. Sounded like bravado, but sure enough, I heard a distant alarm in the wee small hours, and a truck rumbled out bang on time. Good effort! Our alarm was set for 5am,

with the aim of reaching the bottom of the raps (known territory for us from the previous couple of days) at first light, and then exploring the rest of the descent with a bit more illumination. We left the campsite at 5:45 to a star-lit sky – weird doing an “Alpine start” and then DESCENDING for 2,000ft!

Atmospheric, as the first rays started to light up the South Rim.

As we neared the foot of the route we caught sight of Mason’s head torch, and they seemed to be making good progress up the crux pitch 2 (after the 100m simul-climb).

… Then we realised that they were on P2 of The Cruise, the original but less popular variation that features a couple of major off width pitches. The Scenic version avoids these out rightwards via some tough climbing of its own, but not so much WIDE! Anyway, seems like they realised their error at about the same time we did, and we all arrived at the same spot where the two routes diverge (Mason rapping down as I completed the 100m P1 simul-climb). We consoled them with the story of our own navigational mishap, doing the first 4 pitches of Sea of Dreams instead of North America Wall the previous year

Here’s Charlie on the belay and Bill following the monster first pitch.Here’s Mason leading the 5.10 P2 with a fun pull through the small roof.… and here’s Bill leading the same pitch.Mason and Charlie then made the very generous offer to let us lead through (maybe it was “be nice to old people day” in Colorado?) Anyway, this left me embarking on the crux 5.10c pitch – it’s a huge energy-sapping 60m stretch with a lot of sustained gnarly jamming and more than one tenuous move. I arrived at the belay completely spent, but also very pleased to have got it in the bag. The sun arrived shortly afterwards and it was clear it was going to be a long hot day! Here’s Bill seconding… and Charlie setting off… and gurning his way through the crux.The next pitch is widely held to be “the mental crux”; the dreaded pegmatite traverse. This heads through a band of quartzy rock before a testing swing leftwards onto a flake, with gear some way to one side. No bother for Bill of course.P5 is the final desperate pitch; another 60m rope and sinue-stretching 5.10c monster – fun, steep, crimpy moves off the belay (probably the technical crux) followed by tough crack climbing to a roof. I went left round this (as does much of the chalk) but the guidebook suggests stepping right beneath it – that’s my excuse for grabbing a bit of gear to clip in extremis! Apart from that minor indiscretion, the pitch also saw Bill jettison his phone into the depths of The Black (he’d been taking a photo whilst I was trying to clip some gear, and the rest is history – as are the pics of me on The Lightning Bolt Crack!) I was almost retching with the heat and effort by the time I reached the belay – a commodious ledge that would make a reasonably comfortable bivvy for two. It marks the halfway point of the route – about a thousand feet of climbing done and another thousand to go, but probably the four hardest pitches in the bag. Time for a brief respite to enjoy the view.There’s plenty more work to be done before a beer can be enjoyed, and the 5.8s and 9s aren’t give-aways, especially with the gnawing effects of cumulative tiredness and heat. Here’s Bill on P6Following P7 up a funky flake chimney (with Mason just popping his head into view below)… and bravely setting off on P8: “The second mental crux” which involves an exposed traverse… followed by a really tricky couple of moves up a slabby wall protected by a distant bolt. Good effort! It’s around 3pm by now and the sun has finally come off the wall. I get a grungy short corner with a ridiculously hard move to enter it (5.9 my arse!) and then Bill leads a huge traverse then crack towards the rim.…and a final 5.8 (which still packs a punch!) and you’re topping out into the land of the horizontal, just a few metres from the tourist overlook where we’ve spent the last few evenings, and more importantly only a hundred metres away from the tents and Beers! We nip back to the campsite and bring a twelve-pack plus chips (and some bottles of water!) back to the top-out, to welcome Mason and Charlie to the finish. It turned out to be quite a day for making sacrifices to The Black – as well as Bill’s phone, Mason managed to jettison his backpack and Charlie shed a set of wires! Anyway, the offerings clearly appeased the Canyon as we all survived to tell the tale. Fabulous day out, and it was great to have such good company on such a testing route – team top-out selfie to follow…

5 responses to “The Scenic Cruise

  1. Fond memories to come upon this and read a couple years later. I remember the day like it was yesterday, Mason forgetting his headlamp and simul-following the first pitches in the dark… heading to the Cruise… throwing up from dehydration… Mason dropping the pack. Sorry to say Mason died in a crevasse fall in Alaska this spring… the world lost a great soul and I one of my dearest friends. Thanks for this writeup, hope adventures area treating you two well.

    • Hi Charlie. I was so pleased to see your message, until I got to the final sentence. I am so sorry for your loss. That day, as you say, is etched into my memory too, and it was made so much richer for sharing the adventure with you two guys. Please pass on my belated condolences to Mason’s family and friends, and maybe we’ll get to bump into each other on some random crag sometime, or around a campfire, and raise a beer to “Absent Friends”. Cheers, Dom

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