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Berry, Kennedy Go on Free-Climbing Bonanza in the Black Canyon

Nik Berry and Hayden Kennedy size up Hallucinogen Wall, on the Black Canyon of the Gunnison’s North Chasm View Wall. The pair’s trip to the Black last month yielded speed ascents of Hallucinogen (VI 5.13+) and Tague Yer Time (V+ 5.12) and a free solo of Scenic Cruise by Berry. [Photo] Andrew Burr

Hot on the heels of Josh Wharton’s own free ascent of the Hallucinogen Wall (VI 5.10 A3+ [5.13+]), Nik Berry, 27, and Hayden Kennedy, 24, made an aidless team ascent of the Black Canyon Grade-VI in a speedy 10 hours on May 2.

To prepare for the route, the team rappelled the wall twice to work out the moves on various pitches and a third time to stash emergency bivy gear partway up the wall. After a rest day they completed a ground up, all-free ascent.

Reaching their bivy gear, they realized they’d forgotten a hauling device, so “hand-over-handed our bags up the last pitches, which slowed our progress,” Kennedy said. “That was kind of heinous.”

Neither member of the team is new to big-wall free climbing. Berry made the third ascent of The Prophet, a VI 5.13d route on the far southeast face of El Capitan. Kennedy nearly freed El Cap’s El Nino (VI 5.13b/c A0) when he was still in high school.

“It’s an amazing wall. I think its one of the best free routes in the country. It’s a sheer wall with great views of the rest of the canyon,” Kennedy said.

To Berry, what makes the Hallucinogen Wall so challenging is the combination of dubious fixed copperheads, some of which may remain from the first ascent in 1980, and the high number of steep and sustained 5.12+ pitches in a row.

“It’s so fun being up there with a buddy swapping leads. [But] going in the style that we did is way less committing,” Kennedy said. “Ground up is the rad way to do it. So the way we did it took away a lot of the adventure.”

In 2011, Hansjoerg Auer made the first complete free ascent in a scant eight hours, 41 minutes. No one has completed the free climb faster.

The day after their ascent, Berry onsight free soloed the Scenic Cruise (V 5.10). “I’m not the best route-finder, so I had butterflies on the first few pitches,” he said. Higher up, he reached a short finger crack that harder than expected. “It was in the sun and super hot, and [I was] on these slopy insecure chips and blocks,” he said. “That part was kind of scary and insecure. Other than that I felt really good on the whole thing.”

The following day the team made a six-hour all-free ascent of Tague Yer Time (V+ 5.12, Donahue-Ogden, 2004).

[For more about the Hallucinogen’s 1980 first ascent and subsequent free attempts, read our May 13, 2014 NewsWire.–Ed.]

Sources: Nik Berry, Hayden Kennedy, Climb!: The History of Rock Climbing in Colorado,