Black Canyon of the Gunnison – Guided Rock Climbing

If you’ve heard of Black Canyon of the Gunnison, it’s likely been due to its reputation for long, committing routes. If you haven’t, it’s because the Black (as us climbers affectionately call it) has world-class rock climbing that has managed to remain under the radar for decades. In this lesser-traveled corner of Colorado, the Black has some of the longest, cleanest stretches of granite in the state. This is a climbing venue where the ethic is still strongly one of adventure, rooted in the purity of climbing in a place with very little development or infrastructure. A trip in the Black won’t resemble any other climbing trip you’ve been on! 

Perhaps best said by geologist and explorer, Wallace Hansen: “Several western canyons exceed the Black Canyon in overall size … some are longer, some are deeper, some are narrower, and a few have walls as steep. But no other canyon in North America combines the depth, narrowness, sheerness, and somber countenance of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.”

Over the course of two million years, the gneiss and schist of Black Canyon of the Gunnison was sculpted by the Gunnison River and weathering processes from rain, wind, and sun. With a fascinating and unique geology, intrusions of igneous rock squeezed into this layer, creating the colorful walls of the canyon that we see today.

Perhaps you’ve heard the many stories of parties being benighted in the canyon? Not only are the routes commonly several hundred to well over 1,000 feet long; you often have to rappel into the canyon and then climb your way back out. The level of commitment and raw adventure required to climb here leaves many feeling apprehensive about taking on the challenge of the Black.

For those that do feel called to experience the enormity and extraordinary vertical wilderness of this canyon, hiring a guide for rock climbing in Black Canyon of the Gunnison is an excellent option! Our guides are exceptionally talented climbers and are psyched to take you up some of the longer or more difficult classics such as the Russian Arete (5.10-) or Scenic Cruise (5.10+). With few exceptions, we want to have climbed with you before attempting the longer routes, so be prepared for the office to ask you about your previous experience.

Even lesser known is the varied amount of climbing; there are routes for every level of ability and experience. Let us put a rope up on the classics or show you the top-notch, under-the-radar moderate routes. You’ll climb with a guide who knows the canyon and shares your passion for rock climbing!

Classic Black Canyon Climbing Routes

  • Maiden Voyage 5.9, Grade III
  • Scenic Cruise 5.10+, Grade V
  • Comic Relief 5.10-, Grade III
  • Russian Arete 5.10a, Grade IV
  • Blackjack 5.10-, Grade III
  • See the tabs below for more info!

Classic Climbs of Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Maiden Voyage 5.9
It’s unlikely a route exists in the Black that has seen more ascents than Maiden Voyage. With only a short, well-protected 5.9 crux, this route serves as a great introduction to the feeling of climbing in such a spectacular location. Depending on how the pitches are broken up, there are 5 to 7 pitches on this route. Often the route King Me is linked with Maiden Voyage to provide a few additional pitches of climbing and take climbers all the way to the canyon rim.

Scenic Cruise 5.10+
The Scenic Cruise is absolutely one of Colorado’s most sought after climbs. With 13+ pitches of stellar climbing up the cleanest stretch of North Chasm View Wall, this route deserves its status as a classic. The route starts at the river and tops out at the campground.

Comic Relief 5.10-
“If a better 5.10- granite crack climb exists in the world, I’ve never climbed it!”
– Everyone who has climbed Comic Relief.

It’s true, much of the climbing in the Black requires at least one pitch of 5.10 climbing. Comic Relief is one of the best introductions to 5.10 climbing here. The crux is well protected and every pitch is a true gem.

Russian Arete 5.10a
The Russian Arete is notable for the moderate nature of the pitches and its length. Some references describe the climb as 6 pitches. However, this omits the climbing needed to top out, which could be soloed by a strong party. After hiking all the way down to the river (an experience worthwhile in its own right!) the climb takes a striking line following crack systems onto the arete. Many will describe the rock as “loose,” but it’s worth noting this route has cleaned up exceptionally well with traffic. All said and one, it’s a classic moderate climb starting from the river with well-protected cruxes and really good crack climbing!

Blackjack 5.10-
There are fewer known routes on the South Rim of the Black Canyon, but don’t be fooled. The shady walls extend the season into the summer and host many amazing climbs!

Inclusions and Exclusions

Included in the Trip Fee:

• Guidance of our highly experienced, AMGA trained Mountain Trip guides.

• All necessary protective equipment where it is required.

• Assistance arranging post-trip activities in the area.

Not Included in the Trip Fee:

• Travel to and from the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

• Accommodations near the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

• Personal clothing and equipment per our equipment list. (Please, just ask us if you need anything!)

• Travel and/or rescue insurance.

• Costs incurred due to evacuation or unplanned departure from the area due to illness or other problems.

• Costs incurred as a result of delays beyond the control of Mountain Trip.

• Costs as a result of force majeure.

Refunds and Cancellations

Mountain Trip recognizes how difficult and disappointing it can be for guests who must cancel trips. Guests must also recognize that, due to the nature of planning trips and contracting guides for specific dates, Mountain Trip also accrues significant expenses in organizing our excursions. We must therefore adhere to a strict refund policy for all guests.

We require 100% payment at the time of booking and at least 72 hours’ notice for cancellations and rescheduling of activities. If you would like to purchase travel insurance to protect a trip in case of last-minute cancellations, you can do so via Travel Guard HERE.

We are happy to work with you to reschedule to a new date, or if you need to cancel entirely, we will provide a full refund with a minimum of 72 hours’ notice. If you cancel inside of 72 hours ahead of a trip departure, or do not show up, you will not be refunded and will have to reschedule by paying full price.

All requests for refunds must be made in writing and received in our Colorado office. No refunds will be provided for cancellations occurring within the last three days prior to the scheduled date of a trip.

Mountain Trip reserves the right to cancel a trip prior to the departure date for any reason. In such an event, all monies collected by Mountain Trip from trip participants shall be promptly refunded. This is the extent of our financial liability.

Weather Cancellations

We, Mountain Trip and our guides, reserve the right to make all weather-related decisions in regards to the cancellation of trips.

The following is a list of guide-recommended gear for Black Canyon Climbing with Mountain Trip. For trips in the Black, we will happily provide all technical equipment, including helmets, harnesses, and rock climbing shoes. Climbers are also welcome to use their own gear upon inspection by one of our guides.

Whatever gear you choose, please make sure it fits well so you fully enjoy your experience in the mountains.

In addition to what we provide and have available to rent, there is also a good selection of gear available in Grand Junction and Ouray. If you have any specific questions about what you might need, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the Mountain Trip office.

Print Equipment


GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
Trekking Shoes or Boots for ColoradoComfortable, well broken in trekking shoes or lightweight boots will work for approaching climbs, the Telluride Via Ferrata or climbing 14ers. Good traction is important for all of the above. Contact our office for more detailed advice!

Torso Layers

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
Light Fleece HoodyLight/mid weight fleece (or wool) top with a hood. You will wear this over your light weight base layer.
Rain Jacket for ColoradoA rain shell can be your most important layer as we often experience afternoon showers during the summer months in Colorado. It should be packable and in good working order meaning that, in addition to being waterproof, it still has a functional water repellent finish and beads water on the surface of the fabric.

Leg Layers

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
Lightweight Softshell Trekking PantsA lightweight synthetic softshell pant is a great layer that you'll wear every day on a trek or for an ascent of a peak. These are water resistant, breathable and comfortable in a wide range of weather and temps.

Head and Hands

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
SunglassesSunglasses are essential in the mountains. Choose a pair that are comfortable and provide 100% UVA and UVB protection.

Packs and Duffels

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
Climbing PackSuitable climbing packs will be 30 - 45 liters in volume and have the capability of easily attaching crampons, and ice axes if used for a day of ice climbing or if needed for a peak ascent. For a day climbs, any pack in the 30 - 45 liter range will work, but we recommend that you consider the weight of the pack carefully. Overnight, alpine routes require larger (45L) packs that also let you strap your sleeping pad to the outside.

Climbing Gear

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
Climbing HelmetMake certain it fits over your warmest hat and under the hood of your shell. The super-lightweight foam helmets are great, but can get crushed in your duffel bags during travel, so protect your lid!
Climbing HarnessAn aspect of technical climbing is hanging in a harness. Having a padded, comfortable harness will make you much happier than will a thinly padded, alpine harness, and, should you find yourself at a semi hanging belay, your legs are less likely to fall asleep from lack of circulation.
Carabiners2 locking carabiners and 2 non-locking carabiners. (4 total)
Belay/Rappel DeviceA plaquette style belay/rappel device.


GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
Two (2) One-Liter Water BottlesYou will need two, 1-liter plastic water bottles. Please bring wide-mouth bottles, such as those from Nalgene, as these are much easier to fill than bottles with small openings.
CameraMost climbers these days use their phone as a camera, but if you plan to bring a dedicated camera, consider a small, light weight point and shoot camera. If you are a photography buff and really want to bring a DSLR, plan for that extra weight with your training!
Lip BalmBring a tube of quality lip balm with sun protection (SPF).
SunscreenThe sun can be intense in Colorado, so please apply high SPF sunscreen prior to your trip and bring a small tube along to reapply during the day.
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