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First free ascent of Hallucinogen Wall/Black Canyon - Hansjörg Auer

Hansjörg Auer - Official Website

portaledge session (c) Cory Richards

First free ascent of Hallucinogen Wall/Black Canyon

Ten meters, still ten meters to be climbed free on the thirteenth pitch. In the darkness of Black Canyon all you need to do is to look at a photo to understand how it got its name. There is not much information to understand what Hallucinogen Wall is and what it means to climbers. I found out about it looking at the cover of an American climbing magazine. It was described as a sensational route, and immediately made me curious. The first ascent was made in 1980, by Bryan Backer and partners.

It makes you wonder what Bryan was thinking that day; overcoming those unpredictable and dangerous sections, anchored above nothing. The route was originally graded A5, the line is magnificent. It was repeated several times of course, but never completely freed. In 2005 Jared Odgen and Ryan Nelson made the first free ascent climbing the most difficult section with a hybrid technique mixing dry tooling- using ice axes without leashes – and free climbing, wearing climbing shoes. Climbed this way the route was graded D10+.

This was a step forward in the search for a new free climbing style on great walls, requiring both mental and physical abilities although using drytooling to free a route didn’t make sense to me. Nevertheless, “It is one of the most difficult ascents of my career. This ascent opens the doors to a new conception of free climbing on big walls” said Jared Odgen. I tried to contact him. I wanted to make the first free ascent. His email reply was what convinced me to get started: “Hi Hansjorg, the Hallucinogen Wall is 99% free climbing. Long run outs between protection in many places and on many pitches we only used the old aid gear for protection so long falls are possible. I would suggest you leave the ice tools behind and try free climbing the route. We tried without success to free this one short section where there is a bolt ladder. Good luck. Jared”

So this spring, after having trained well, I headed to Colorado to see Black Canyon. I was not interested in climbing other lines. I was there for Hallucinogen Wall. The route was graded 5.10/A3+. Together with Ben (Lepesant) I climbed it over three days ground up. We had some good portaledge sessions, great climbing and a few exciting moments with spicy run outs which made for fun times. One easy pitch from the top, it started raining, and so, goodbye tickmarks. Then three more wet days followed, during which I tried to remember the moves.

Then the weather seemed to get better. We got an early start at five in the morning, but after 10 minutes it started snowing. What should we do? Just keep going. We went down the Cruise gully and up the route. I free climbed every pitch first go, and soon enough we were at the point where we had left our portaledge for the bivouac which we didn’t need. I sent the crux pitch first go, a really cool sideways dynamic move at the end with a pumpy lower section. After 8h 41min, 18 minutes less than the speed record of Jared Odgen and Ryan Nelson we topped out, super happy. I fully free climbed the route. Just before the next bad weather period which we spent in sunny Utah crack climbing in Indian Creek, following a classic line on a desert tower called « Moses » and some awesome sport climbing in Mill Creek. But this is another story.

Thanks to Ben for belaying patiently and sharing happy times. It was fun.

Facts:

Location: North Chasm View Wall in Black Canyon/Colorado

Length: 16 pitches

First Ascent: Becker, Webster, Lella, Newberr over 17 days in 1980 due to one storm and hard aid climbing

First free ascent: Hansjörg Auer on 22th of april 2011 belayed by Ben Lepesant in 8h41min

Free Grading: 5.13+/R