Topher Donahue and Jared Ogden established another difficult free route from May 23-4 in Colorado’s most inhospitable big-wall arena, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Air Guitar (5.12+, ca. 1700′, 17 pitches) climbs North Chasm View Wall–deemed by many to be the El Capitan of the Black–between The Diagonal (V 5.12-) and Hallucinogen Wall (VI 5.10 A3+). Donahue considers it the most strenuous climb he has done in the Canyon.
In the past five years Donahue and Ogden have established five major free lines in the Canyon: Tague Your Time, Shadowboxing, Burl Girl, The Cheap Hooker and Blacksmith. All check in at 5.12. A few years ago they decided to freeclimb one of the old aid lines on North Chasm View Wall, but every attempt forced them through sections of rotten rock that refused to go free. In the worst sections, their encounters were like finding “layer after layer of nachos taped to the wall,” Donahue said. “It was more like snow or ice climbing. The hardest part [about freeing climbs in the Black] is finding the good rock.” After an attempt to free High and Dry (VI 5.10 A3+) didn’t work out, the pair discovered that Leonard Coyne had freed Air City (5.12). That knowledge was the stimulus for Donahue and Ogden to find a climb that would enter Air City’s upper crux, a fifteen-foot, overhanging, offwidth roof. Last fall they made a one-day push on the line that would become Air Guitar, but the south-facing black rock was overwhelmingly hot and forced them off after twelve pitches. They returned on a cloudy and stormy two days in May for perfect temperatures and the successful ascent.
Donahue and Ogden started on new ground for six pitches, which included the Great Roof for Dad on Pitch 2. The seventy-foot roof traverse is twice the size of the Great Roof on El Capitan, Donahue reports, and climbs at a surprising 5.10 (“from the ground it looks like it’ll be 13+”). Three pitches of High and Dry follow. After three more new pitches, twelve high, they set up a bivy. The next morning one more virgin section led to the four-pitch top of Air City.
Ten of the pitches were 5.11 or harder, mostly on gear. They placed bolts sparsely (eight total on seventeen pitches). Donahue said that the climb was unusual for the Black, known for its funky and technical climbing, as Air Guitar forced “big sport-climbing-style moves” and a top-heavy pump. Unlike their autumn attempt, they enjoyed perfect temperatures, and the overhanging wall kept them dry when it rained and snowed on the first afternoon.
“It was one of the top ten climbing experiences of my entire life,” Donahue said, noting that there was not a single other party climbing in the Canyon that weekend.