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Cliff Notes

Luke Mehall’s Favorite 5.10: The Cruise // Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Luke Mehall shares his favorite 5.10.

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5.10 doesn’t always get the respect it deserves. In fact, some climbers might tick one off early in their climbing careers. A gym climber might even get up one the very first day. However, certain routes out there make you realize that mastering this grade takes dedication. The Cruise in the Black Canyon is one of those routes.

Dave Marcinowski and I were college buddies, going to Western State in Gunnison, Colorado, and we chose The Cruise as our first Grade V. We wanted something proud, and this Layton Kor line, with its nearly 200-foot 5.10 offwidth followed by two more 5.10+ pitches, screamed proud. Several of our friends had climbed the Scenic Cruise, a more reasonable and popular variation that skirts the offwidth. We chose The Cruise to see if we had mastered the 5.10 grade.

The Black Canyon is always an intimidating place to climb. The rock can be suspect, runouts are common, and the low roar of the river often impedes communication. When something
unplanned happens, it gets even more terrifying.

“A rope, a rack and the shirt on your back” is a Black-Canyon mantra attributed to Jimmie Dunn and Earl Wiggins, who established many classic lines in the area in the 1970s. Dunn and Wiggins made the first free ascent of The Cruise in 1976. Today’s true Black Canyon aficionado stays true to the spirit of the early pioneers, and tries to climb the routes in long, satisfying single-day pushes. But this maxim also encourages some climbers, like us, to get in over their heads.

Climbing a route in the Black Canyon demands proper preparation. Dave and I broke that rule to start, slacking off the evening before the climb by watching the World Series, drinking Red Bulls, and then driving to the Black late into the night, dodging wildlife on Highway 92.

In the morning we stumbled down the Cruise Gully, already dehydrated, trying to avoid the poison ivy that guards the approach.