Josh Wharton has freed the Hallucinogen Wall (5.13+ R) in the Black Canyon of Gunnison, Colorado. Originally the most popular aid route in the Black, the Hallucinogen has since been freed a handful of times. The first controversial “free” ascent by Jared Ogden and Ryan Nelson in May 2004, brought the Black Canyon back into the limelight. Ogden and Nelson completed this “mixed-free” ascent using ice axes on the crux pitch and free climbing the rest of the wall. Their ascent inspired Hansjörg Auer, who, seven years later, worked the route over three days, big-wall style, starting from the ground. He sent the line in a push, all free, in April 2011 giving it the 5.13+ R grade. Madaleine Sorkin and Brad Gobright did the third ascent over a couple of days in May 2012. The two climbed to the crux pitch 13) in a day, then finished the last four pitches the following day. Wharton climbed the route this past week, rapping in and using a Mini Traxion to suss the pitches. He then did the route free in a day. Still, he says the ascent was "
Last year, Wharton attempted the route and came close to redpointing it, freeing 12 pitches, most of them 5.11 + and harder, but falling on “the final moves of the crux pitch three times ... heartbreaker!”
Wharton says that the key this year was to begin climbing at 3 a.m., getting him to the crux by 10:30 a.m., while it was still shaded.
The crux is notorious for its bad belay position and tough climbing after 12 pitches of runout climbing. Wharton said he thought the hardest section felt like 5.13a fresh, but after the lower pitches it felt more like 5.13c. In an e-mail, Wharton says that this pitch, “has amazing position right on the nose of North Chasm View. Definitely one of the most exposed spots I've been in the Black.”
This route has a reputation for spicy gear and runout sections. However, “I think only a few truly dangerous spots exist on the route where the climbing is hard enough that a fall is possible," says Wharton. "Lots of the danger factor is determined by the integrity of fixed heads on the route, so it's very hard to judge how safe you are without falling on the iffy gear … which I never did.”
The Black Canyon remains a place for adventure climbing, especially due to the park's longtime ethics, which stress minimal bolt use and clean climbing. While the Black does not have an official bolting regulation, other than bolts must be hand drilled, a 20-bolt maximum per year is the rough guideline that climbers are encouraged to abide by. You can read the climbing management plan here.
“I think there should not be a limit on the total number of bolts allowed per year," says Wharton, "but that climbers should strive to keep bolting to a minimum, and maintain the canyon's spirit of adventure. There is room for all styles, but my hope is that the Black will maintain a traditional flavor, new routes will approached in a thoughtful way, and that harder climbs will continue to be established.”
In 2007 Wharton established The Black Sheep (5.13), also in the Black Canyon. The Hallucinogen Wall
is the last hard free route in the Black that he had his sights on, which prompts the question of what he will do there next. He believes that “new gems will emerge ... I hope I find an excuse to go back soon.”
Wharton is an accomplished alpine climber with first ascents around the world. In 2002, he made the first ascent of the Flame Spire in northeastern Pakistan and climbed the much-attempted Southeast Ridge of Great Trango Tower, among the longest rock routes in the world (54 pitches and 7,400 vertical feet). Along with his incredible climbing resume, Wharton recently became a father.