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Black Canyon of the Gunnison: The Scenic Cruise

The scenic cruise topo climbing map

The Scenic Cruise (Grade IV, 5.10+)

The Black Canyon is home to some of the longest and best rock climbs in the state of Colorado.  It is a place that has an intimidating and dark reputation.  Horror stories of bad rock, dicey runouts, and getting benighted can be heard whenever the The Black is mentioned.  Think of Yosemite’s bad ugly brother that lives in the attic and you’ll get the picture of this brooding canyon.   Despite The Black’s fearsome reputation, the classic routes are as good as you will find anywhere and can be a great place to hone your skills for bigger alpine rock objectives in the greater ranges.

One of my personal favorites, not just in The Black, but anywhere is the ultra-classic “Scenic Cruise.” It’s a 15 pitch (by the guidebook) mostly crack climb straight up the southwest face of the North Chasm View wall. It has everything a climber wants: great climbing, aesthetic quality, good rock, and you top out at the beer cooler. Your first time on a route of this magnitude can be intimidating physically, mentally, and logistically. I hope to dispel some rumors and give some hopefully helpful beta on how to climb The Scenic in a timely, expedient manner.

If you are a solid 5.10 trad leader climbing this route in 8 hours should be totally attainable. Before you go, make sure you and your partner are fast with belay transitions and have good route finding skills. Do your homework: Research the climb beforehand. Read guidebooks, online trip reports, talk to friends, and look at any beta photos you can. Become as familiar with the terrain as you can. Plan ahead: Scout the Cruise Gully entrance the day before so you don’t get lost in the morning. Each climber should have a copy of the topo with them on the climb. Figure out who is leading what pitch before you go. Know that retreat would be difficult and expensive. So here it is, the how to.

The Gear Kit:

  • Small backpacks for leader and follower (10-15L capacity e.g. Black Diamond BBEE)
  • Minimum of 2L of water each  (Hydration systems are helpful)
  • Roll of athletic tape
  • Enough food to keep you going for 12 hours
  • Knife
  • Headlamps
  • Camera
  • Emergency space blanket (this is something I always carry with me on long routes)
  • Good weather forecast!

The Climbing Rack:

  • 70m rope mandatory for linking pitches
  • 1-2 sets of stoppers with RP’s
  • 1x green C3
  • 1x red C3
  • 2x .3 Camalot
  • 2x .4 Camalot
  • 2x .5 Camalot
  • 2x .75 Camalot
  • 2x 1 Camalot
  • 3x 2 Camalot
  • 2x 3 Camalot
  • 1x 4 Camalot
  • 1x 5 Camalot or #3 Big Bro(optional for OW on crux pitch)
  • 14 alpine draws

The Beta:

Don’t forget to sign the board at the Ranger Station. Depending on the time of year (May and October are best) hiking by 6am is usually the best. It will be cold in the morning but you will be basking in sun hanging from perfect hand jams by the time you make it to pitch 3. The Black Canyon mantra of “A rope, a rack, and the shirt on your back” certainly holds true. Light is right. Hike down the Cruise Gully in your climbing shoes. It’s not far to the base of the route and then you won’t have to carry extra shoes on the climb. The rappels in the gully are usually fixed by early May. Check with the Rangers before you go. If you are there in the spring, there’s usually a forest of poison ivy at the base. It can be avoided. Be careful or wear a Tyvek suit if you are allergic. Scout the upper pitches from the base and look to make sure you know where the Scenic goes left and the Cruise goes right. It should be obvious from the base.

The Spraydown:

Pitch 1 – 5.8
Climb the 5.7 arete then into the slippery groove up through some easy but funky terrain and through the 5.8 hands section to a good stance.  There are a number of old rappel anchors in this section.  You will be simul-climbing a short ways with your partner.  You just linked the first 3 guidebook pitches.

Pitch 2 – 5.9  Traverse left from the belay into a slightly loose blocky crack system.  The climbing is steep and fun.  Continue up the corner to a small stance below a shallow right facing corner.

Pitch 3 – 5.10 Climb the thin corner off the belay (its harder than it looks) to a small stance with a perfect hand crack above you. Fire up the hands passing a small overlap and finishing in some funky peg.

Pitch 4 – 5.10- “The Peg Traverse.” Not as bad as its reputation. The runouts are on easier terrain and the rock is mostly solid. Climb up off the belay, clip the fixed nut (there is usually some long slings on it). Start climbing down where you can eventually place a .5 camalot that protects stepping around onto the ramp. You can then back clean the piece to protect your partner. Continue up the ramp to a horn belay with fixed slings.

*When your partner arrives at the belay, have him/her continue to the ledge below the crux pitch and build an anchor.  It’s a short pitch and keeps momentum going rather than swapping gear/leads.

Photo taken from

Pitch 5 – 5.10+ Climb the overhanging corner. It’s steep and sustained but has good holds. Look for the occasional stem rest and fixed wire. Exit the roof to the right and catch your breath, then fire up the 5.8 hands and straight into the 5.8 offwidth slot. Save a big cam for the slot. Belay on a great ledge off mid sized cams. Pitch 6 – 5.8  Climb the blocky crack system on the left. Some steep climbing leads to easier rambling up and left. Belay below the big flake off of .5 and .4 camalots. Pitch 7 – 5.7 Continue up to the flake and chimney behind it. Climb up and right to some funky flakes and a good ledge with a bolted belay.

Pitch 8 – 5.9+  Traverse right off the belay into some flakey rock.  Continue up and right into peg while passing 2 bolts and an old bolt missing a hanger (a little runout).  There is still an exposed stud.  Fire through on some sloping holds to a short corner and small ledge.  Punch up the short but difficult layback into easier terrain. Belay at the good ledge above.

Photo taken from

Pitch 9 – 5.9  Traverse left from the belay on flakes into a right facing corner.  Continue up the sustained crack passing an old fixed cam.  Keep climbing on slightly easier ground until you get to a small but good belay stance.  Belay here or continue to the terrace.  Once at the terrace, you can unrope and walk the easy (3rd class) exposed terrace or do some roped traversing pitches.  Follow the path of least resistance and look for a blocky chimney exit to the rim.  The last short section should be 4th class and is easily soloed.  High five your partner and be psyched you just did one of the most classic rock climbs in the nation!

An average time for a river to rim ascent by a competent team should be around the 8 or 9 hour mark without any major route finding errors. The Scenic is great spring preparation for those people looking to climb a summer route on the Diamond such as The Casual Route or Pervertical Sanctuary. While the Diamond routes aren’t as long they require speed and efficiency to beat the afternoon thunderstorms. It’s also the “entrance exam” to the other bigger routes in The Black such as the Southern Arete on the Painted Wall or the Flakes on the South Rim. Oh yeah… I forgot to mention…  Earl Wiggins free soloed the second ascent of the Scenic Cruise in 2 hours wearing Kronhaufers and no chalk bag!
I hope you can enjoy this route as much as I have.
Eric Whewell
Colorado Mountain School Senior Guide
800-836-4008 x3

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