Mike Brumbaugh and Rob Pizem climbed a new route on the Great White Wall in Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison on October 6. Any Color You Like As Long As It’s Black (5.11+ PG) ascends twelve pitches, nearly all 5.10 and harder, up steep faces and thin cracks over the Gunnison River.
While the Great White Wall’s ascent history is murky, Pizem told Alpinist, he suspects at least 90 percent of his route is new terrain. Sometime before 1995, Rob Schmidt and Rich Strang climbed what may have been the wall’s first route, a 5.10+ line they named the Great White Wall route. In 2002, Kevin Cochran and Josh Wharton climbed Super Wuss (IV 5.11-), the large red arete to the left of Great White Wall. They climbed the route cleanly, without adding pins or bolts.
Any Color is etched into the black rock of the Great White Wall to the right of the Great White Wall route. Although park rangers identified no recent action on this route specifically, says Pizem, the head ranger did recall activity around the Great White Wall in the vicinity of their new route. On the ascent, Brumbaugh and Pizem came across two older bolts, but given the amount of loose rock they displaced, Pizem says he considers a previous ascent of their particular route improbable. “I was actually worried that the rangers might tell us to stop because there were some large pieces sent off the wall. Fortunately we were always within eyesight of the trail and could see whether anyone was below so there were no problems.”
Having experienced first hand the Black Canyon’s legacy of loose rock, Brumbaugh and Pizem opted to clean the route top down, rappelling from the North Rim on October 4 and finishing preparations midday October 5. “I have gone ground up and top down on routes many times, and my experience has proven to me that top down creates a better route,” Pizem argues.
On October 6 at 9 a.m. the two began climbing. They took with them an extra set of cams to cut down on drilling bolted anchors, carrying a triple set from .3 inches to three inches, two fours and numerous slings and draws. At Pitch 4, Pizem encountered a 40-plus-foot runout leading up to a left-facing dihedral. Here he placed two bolts “to make it heady but safe.” The only other fixed protection Brumbaugh and Pizem placed were single bolts at two belay ledges where gear placement was impossible.
At the halfway point on Pitch 7, Pizem ventured out onto a poorly protected face. But he was rewarded just beyond with solid gear and an easy 5.9 hand crack through a dramatic arete. About 1000 feet above the river and exposed on both sides, Pizem considered this section one of the most memorable pitches of the route. “For me, it doesn’t get much better than that,” he said. Only the final two pitches did he find comparable. Here, an equally exposed corner they call the Golden Dihedral required technical stemming, prudent gear placement and–finally–deep pockets and jugs. Brumbaugh led the first pitch and Pizem led the second. They finished the climb just before dark.
“[Any Color] is a classic Black Canyon route requiring route finding, commitment and a sense of adventure…I have completed new routes, big and small, in Yosemite, the Black Canyon, Zion and many other places,” says Pizem. “It’s one of those things that I love to do because it is way more memorable for me to establish a line than to repeat something. I will do lots of repeating when I am too lazy to first ascent!” With the completion of Any Color, Brumbaugh tallied his sixth big new route of the year, and Pizem notched his third.
Sources: Chris Alstrin, Rob Pizem, 2003 American Alpine Journal, mountainproject.com