Rock Climbing

a rock climber clings to a gray rock wall underneath a large overhang
Rock climbing at Black Canyon is not recommended for beginners. Above photo is taken at Alimony Wall, Steppin' Out 01.

NPS photo

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park offers vast opportunities to expert rock climbers. The canyon is extremely deep and narrow. At its deepest, the canyon is 2,722 feet deep (Warner Point). The Painted Wall is the tallest vertical wall in Colorado, with a height of 2,250 feet. Around North and South Chasm Walls, where the majority of the climbing activity takes place, the canyon is 1,820 feet deep.

 
 

Routes

Black Canyon is a full-on adventure climbing area. Detailed climbing information for Black Canyon climbs is often difficult to obtain or non-existent. A few guidebooks are available and the National Park Service retains copies of topos and route information turned in by first ascent parties. Visit the South Rim Visitor Center or North Rim Ranger Station for information.

Of the 145 climbing routes that are found in Black Canyon Rock Climbs or are known by the park:

  • 8 are rated at 5.8; only 4 of these have good information available and see regular ascents
  • 21 are rated 5.9, 5 of which are aid routes, and only 6 of which see any significant climbing activity
  • The other 117 climbs have ratings between 5.10 and 5.13 and many require aid.

Many climbers have said that the ratings here can be deceiving.

Annual Climbing Route Closures

For the protection of nesting raptors, certain routes are closed from March 15 to July 15.

Climbing Safely

All of the climbs within Black Canyon are multi-pitch, traditional routes located in remote areas within the canyon. Climbing routes in the park are very deceiving. Often times you will find extremely clean cracks and excellent lines. However, in an instant the choss appears or you get off route and quickly go from a fun climb to a very dangerous situation. Loose rock is extreme. Be sure of your holds before you commit. Climbing under other parties brings the danger of being in the firing line of falling rock and gear. Always wear a helmet!

There are several things you can do to minimize risk while climbing, including:

  • Carrying enough gear to stay out overnight if needed
  • Carrying the necessary equipment to endure an unexpected bivy
  • Climbing within your ability level, especially if you are new to climbing in the Black Canyon

Do not be afraid to back off if you get in over your head. If you have to bail, the climb will be there next week or next year. Know your own abilities and that of your partners.

Rescues

Rescue in the Black is very involved. Lowering off to an awaiting ambulance is not an option.The park has rangers trained in high angle rescue, but rescues here take time and are extremely technical in nature. Be prepared for self-rescue! Being benighted due to underestimating a route is not cause for rescue at the Black Canyon. The National Park Service does not guarantee rescue.

Regulations

In addition to getting a permit and following Wilderness regulations, climbers must practice Leave No Trace climbing with these climbing-specific regulations:

  • Use “clean climbing” techniques and gear that can be removed (e.g., slings, cams, nuts, chocks, and stoppers).
  • Do not mark approach trails with cairns or anything else.
  • If fixed equipment is unsafe, replacement (anchor for anchor) is allowed without further authorization. Bolts, hangers and chains must be painted the color of the rock surface. If replacing worn webbing, use a natural color.
  • Placing of new permanent fixed equipment requires preapproval.
  • The physical altering of rock faces by chiseling, glue reinforcement of existing holds, gluing of new holds, and the intentional removal of lichen or plants from rock are prohibited.
  • A fixed rope may be left in place for no more than 14 days, while the climbing party is in the park.
  • Climbing gear may be cached for less than 24 hours (do not leave food!).
  • Use a personal human waste pack out system, such as Rest Stop.
  • BASE jumping is prohibited.
  • Highlines / slacklines: shall not be used in designated campgrounds; shall not be attached to vegetation or park property; shall not be left unattended; and shall be entirely removable. Highlines / slacklines that span any portion of the canyon or would reasonably be expected to affect the normal operations of the park require a special use permit.

New Fixed Equipment and Route Development

To inquire about placing new permanent fixed equipment or obtaining a special use permit, email (link below) the following information to us:

  • Applicant name
  • Address
  • Contact phone number
  • Location of the proposed new fixed equipment
  • Brief description of why the applicant feels fixed equipment is warranted at the proposed site.

    EMAIL to Climbing Ranger

More Information

Peak climbing season at the Black Canyon begins in mid-April and runs through the early part of June, and from mid-September through early November. Environmental hazards found at the park during these time periods include frequent afternoon thunder showers, fully leafed out poison ivy, and approach gullies inhabited by ticks.

North Rim Climbing Routes: In addition to a permit, the North Rim Ranger Station has a whiteboard that is used as an informal way of letting other climbers know who is on what route. It prevents multiple parties from piling up on routes and is a quick way to judge climber activity in the canyon.

Last updated: May 13, 2021

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

102 Elk Creek
(GPS/physical address = 9800 Highway 347, Montrose, CO)

Gunnison, CO 81230

Phone:

(970) 641-2337 x205

Contact Us