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Trio Fires New Black Canyon 5.12

Jason Nelson leading Pitch 3 (5.10) toward the difficulties of Pent Up (5.12c, 7 pitches, ca. 700’), Chillumstone Gully, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado. Jack Jeffries, Cody Sims and Nelson established the line–which also freed the last pitch of the neighboring Count Your Lily Pads (III 5.10 A2) at 5.11–on June 7, 2008. [Photo] Jack Jefferies

On June 7, 2008, Jason Nelson, Jack Jeffries and Cody Sims added a new route to the pantheon of hard traditional free lines in Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Pent Up (5.12c, 7 pitches, ca. 700′) ascends the west side of the South Rim’s Chillumstone Gully, just left of Count Your Lily Pads (III 5.10 A2). In hopes of reconnecting with his home crag after a winter spent in the Mexican Potreros, Nelson decided to scout potential routes he had noticed in years past.

Pent Up’s difficulties are largely defined by the sustained thin cracks on Pitch 5 (5.12c). Partly because of the adventurous nature of the canyon, only a handful of 5.12 climbs scale its south wall.

This time, though, Nelson turned to New Yorkers Jack Jeffries, who had climbed on two routes in the Black Canyon, and Cody Sims, who had never been.

“This was my first time in the ominous Black Canyon,” Sims said, “The crux pitch is the only one which did not require any cleaning.” In accordance with the National Park ethic, the trio labored to drill in four 3/8 inch steel bolts by hand–two on the crux pitch in addition to two on Pitch 6 (5.11). Nelson added that “without bolts, the route would have been X-rated. Even now though, you could log some serious air mileage in case of a fall.”

The line climbs like a perfect day at a crag: first it ascends stacked up boulders (5.6) to a colorful right-facing corner (5.9). Two overhanging hand crack pitches (both 5.10) lead to the 5.12c crux: “When the crux pitch was offered to me, I jumped at the chance to tie in to the sharp end,” Sims recounted. “The bottom of the pitch is relatively benign with some awkward 5.10 and 5.11 climbing, up to a steep corner and roof. The crux involves quasi-campusing over the roof on dime-sized edges with your right foot pasted into a lichen-infested corner. Once you get your feet up, a fall would not be pretty: it would be easy to get tangled up in your rope and reel over backwards, head first onto a slab. Some tricky leaning pinch moves then lead to a very solid pegmatite band, where you grab onto some tiny crystals that threaten to snap off in your fingers at any moment. Next, the real heady section begins. Several difficult stemming moves and a life-saving bolt leave you with twenty feet of runout 5.11 slab. At this point I nearly wet myself and prayed to the Dalai Lama, Buddha, and Mommy to keep me from taking the big ride. Eventually, after much shaking, sweating, cursing and praying for deliverance, I placed a blue alien and pulled up to the tiny belay ledge feeling like I’d just won a shoot out with Pancho Villa and his Mexican banditos.” The challenging pitch, in honor of Sims’s sentiment of a narrow escape, they named “The Mexican Standoff.” Inspired by Sims’s onsight ascent, Nelson pulled the rope and led the pitch cleanly as well.

Nelson hangs on to very little on Pent Up’s Pitch 5 (5.12c). Nelson led the pitch after an inspirational send by Sims. [Photo] Jason Nelson collection

Above, a thin crack (5.11) leads to the last pitch of Count your Lily Pads, an offwidth beast that had never been freed. Sims and Nelson climbed it, avoiding aid, at 5.11.

Sources: Jason Nelson, Cody Sims, Jared Ogden