Type: Trad, Grade V
FA: Kor, Dalke, Goss, Logan
Page Views: 8,981 total · 42/month
Shared By: slevin on Sep 9, 2001
Admins: Leo Paik, John McNamee, Frances Fierst, Monty, Monomaniac

You & This Route

17 Opinions

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Access Issue: Seasonal Raptor Closures Details


The Southern Arete takes on the massive left shoulder of the Painted Wall in roughly 15-20 pitches. This is one of the longest climbs in the state, and should be climbed more. The climb has three somewhat distinct sections, the lower-angled buttress pitches; the central chimney system; and the exit cracks and final arete. Expect a very long day of climbing with some minor routefinding issues, lots of simul-climbing, lots of wide cracks and chimneys, and passable-to-pretty good rock.

NOTE: On the final part of the approach, contouring across the slopes below the Painted Wall will lead you to unpleasant dirt slopes that would be difficult to cross; better to stay closer to the river, then hike directly up the lower buttress to the start of the route.

Begin at a white slab and corner about 200 feet above the river, in the large R-facing corner. Climb the corner, then make a 5.8 traverse left to a belay at a couple of fixed pins. Now climb 2 more pitches, up to 5.8, along crack/corner systems, to a large terrace below a smooth wall. Walk left 200 feet on the terrace. Now follow (simul-climb?) moderate grooves 400+ feet to a comfortable belay, then walk right through a chimney-gap to belay. Climb a nice 5.7 or 5.8 crack system, then work up a clean slab (simul-climb?) to the start of a steep chimney system that starts as a gaping slot. 5 belayed pitches and much simul-climbing.

The central and noticeably steeper climbing begins here. Climb the 5.9+ slot to a long chimney (5.8, little pro) in 2 pitches. Now comes the crux, a 5.10 move getting into a wide crack at a bulge (fixed tube chock). Above follow a long chimney, exit the chimney right at some blocks, to a belay right of the arete (routefinding issues). 5 belayed pitches.

Move up and slightly left to steep finger and hand cracks going through two overhangs (5.10, a long pitch or two shorter ones). Move left onto broken terraces, then back right and up the arete, topping out in 3 more pitches.


1 set RPs, 1 set stoppers, cams 1 set TCUs to 3.5, extra 0.75 to 2, 4 medium-large hexes, optional 5 inch piece, and long slings. Bring a helmet and headlamp. 60m ropes are nice, a second cord is optional.
C'mon, Steve, aren't you ever going to add Air Voyage to the site?? I need another life-time project to drool over... Sep 17, 2001
Steve: You are absolutely correct about the difficulty manifest in any attempt to assess or assign an objective rating to a subjective endeavor. Climbing in the "Black" is as subjective as it gets. The Southern Arete of the Painted Wall is for me a perfect example of just how subjective climbing in the Black can be.

The first time I did this route was in the mid 70's. Though I had the benefit of a seasoned and gnarly Black Canyon veteran as a leader I was but a mere whelp of limited experience about to embark on my first adventure over five pitches long. I remember being battered,thrashed and terrified and that was just from the approach. We managed to pull off one of the earliest one day free ascent of this classic route. We third classed most of the middle of the route up to 5.8. and simul-climbed a good deal as well. But there are still three distinctly more difficult sections on that route that require serious concentration. The crux pitch was superb, exposed difficult climbing on great rock, with the hardest moves right on the edge at the lip of the big overhang. Limping back to (desperately needed) water in camp at dusk, I had no doubt that, even though it was my first, the Southern Arete was what a Grade V was all about.

The second time I did this route was more than a decade later when as the gnarled experienced veteren I was initiating the latest whelp d'jour. I was confident that having done the route before and having filled out my resume of comparitive experiences that this was going to be a romp. I even had temerity to schedule a date with my girl friend back in Gunnison that same evening. Well the "Black" is never casual and up high I got way off route and way spiced out at dusk.

We spent a surprisingly uncomfortable bivy way off the deck on a doormat sized jumble of broken rock in the middle of one of the epic pegmatite bands that eventually flow into the dragon. With less than a sniff of water and a dwindling bag of mini snickers for sustenance between us, we huddled together in a single bivy sac sleeplessly starring at the river foaming 2000 feet below. To this day more than fifteen years later I can't look a snickers in the nuts without gagging.

To further complicate this adventure, I was deeply troubled by the realization that not only was my girlfriend being stood up, but she had also likely by now realized I'd borrowed her car with out asking. We almost took off climbing again when the moon filled the canyon to over flowing but the morning clearly showed how fatally flawed that line of reasoning would have proven. Dicey poorly protected pegmatite traversing into those unprotected off widths you so wisely advised others to avoid. Dry heaving noughat up those last cracks to the rim I still had no doubt that the Southern Arete was what Grade V was all about.

Now that there are these ultra humans like Mike Pennings, Jon Copp and a few others who can link more than one of these monster routes togther in a single day, which I find totally AMAZING and more than a litte depressing,it still doesn't down grade the routes. A route given a 5.12 rating by overall consensus is still a 5.12 whether flashed by a 5.14 hotshot or thrashed by a 5.10 has been. One man's Grade V is another womans' warm-up, but it is still a Grade V. I agree that even though there is a good deal of moderate climbing on the Southern Arete, taken as a whole it is a Grade V.

I also agree that some of the really intense routes in the "Black" might best be considered Grade VI. Your idea of adding a (-/+) is a good one, and less pretentious than an (a,b,c,d)system. It should add clarity to what is at best an imperfect means of diseminating beta.

So how about this. Why not approach the concept of ratings like golfers and golf courses do. Knowing your own handicap you choose your virtual starting tee position. If you are a super bad ass you know that a given climb is for you a blue tee start. If you are just a regular bad ass then you step up to the red tees. White tees are for the proletariat masses and if you are just an ass and bad you know that your ascent begins from the puke yellow tees. Other than the inevitable club house lie about your handicap B.S. this would allow climbers to keep track of their own standards. As it should be. Thus eliminating the messy need to retro print all those guide books and web sites. Apr 27, 2002
justin dubois
Estes Park
justin dubois   Estes Park
Biked in on friday night to climb this.what an outstanding adventure!the canyon is in great shape, no snow on anything on N. chasm or Painted walland not much snow in SOB.

What a route. Probobly the most spectacular thing I have ever done!the crack pitches up top are AMAZING!pulling through two way exposed roofs, with about 2000' feet of air below you, on perfect hands and fingers!

i don't think this route would be possible in a day without simulclimbing some of it.we did it in 8 or 9 pitches and it still took us 10 hours river to rim.

the season we all feared is here, see you there! Mar 16, 2003
When you hit the 5.9 face with little pro do not go straight above! The holds and chalk look promising, but about 20' up the climbing becomes much harder than 5.9. The easier (and safer) way goes out to the pegmatite band out right. On the 10 pitch above the obvious jug is waiting for someone to pull on it so it can kill your belayer directly below. We would have trundled it but a party was retreating from Journey Through Mirkwood below. Also if The Cruise is grade V then so is the Southern Arete! SUPER CLASSIC! Oct 7, 2003
this route is awesome. long and superb. it starts lower and tops higher than most all other routes in the canyon. excellent rock (don't be discouraged by painted wall nightmare tales, this route is quite solid, especially for the black). as for the crux pitch, it is possible to finish directly above the 5.9 runout slab. in the new guide book this variation is denoted by an arrow, and the word "NO." However, my partner decided it was the choice line, and i followed it at something around 5.11 sketchy. personally i wouldn't reccomend it, especially since everyone says the .10 crack is stellar. Oct 9, 2003
George Perkins
The Dungeon, NM
George Perkins   The Dungeon, NM
EDIT: A variation to avoid the '5.9 face with little pro' section
After the crux OW pitch with the fixed tube chock, don't continue up the 5.7 'no pro' chimney directly above (as shown in the guidebook topo). [If you go that way, you'll have trouble moving back to the right side of the arete later on.] Instead of going up the chimney, move right into a left-facing corner, which has a fixed piton, and head onto the expansive face right of the arete. From here, you can look for the , or take other options to the right. Sep 15, 2008
Charles Vernon
mind & body in Colorado, he…
Charles Vernon   mind & body in Colorado, he…
George, that's interesting. I'm not sure what you mean by "trouble". We did the 5.7 no pro chimney (an obvious feature), and it led directly to the 5.9 R face pitch, described by Steve Levin above [edit: he's completely changed that portion of his description, I'm not sure why], and by the book. I thought that pitch was "trouble" in the sense that it was potentially dangerous, but it was on route and easy to find (and awesome climbing I might add).

How well did your variation protect? The existence of a less scary variant might make this route more attractive for me to repeat some day, as the 5.9 R pitch is for sure the mental crux of this route, the way we did it. Sep 16, 2008
George Perkins
The Dungeon, NM
George Perkins   The Dungeon, NM
We climbed the 5.7 no pro chimney pitch and looked at and started the "5.9 thin face". We thought it was much harder than 5.9 and poorly protected, so we retreated back to the previous belay (just above the fixed tube pitch), using a sling and biner someone before us had left on a horn to rappel.
The corner to the right of the 5.7 chimney that we took was well-protected, and about 5.8. At this point, we were no longer following the topo, so (at the time) we didn't know where the stellar 5.10 crack was. Looking at the photo posted on mp.com afterwards, I remember seeing it when we were up there, and I think we could have gotten to it reasonably from our variation. The 5.9/5.10- faces that we did instead were farther to the right and somewhat chossy but protected moderately well, and we passed two more fixed pins this way. Done this way, I felt the toughest pitch on the route was the 5.10 OW with the fixed tube chock (but we were bummed to miss the 5.10 crack that is reputedly the best in the Black).

If I do this climb again, I'd take this variation, but then aim for the recommended 5.10 crack. Sep 16, 2008
There is a simple way to avoid the 5.9R face. From the same start of that pitch, (on the pedestal above the chimney system) step onto the face, traverse 20 ft. left to a crack system, then 30 ft. straight up to a belay. The crack is a little dirty but protects well and is in the 5.8-5.9 range. From this belay, down climb 10ft. to the right (now back on the standard route) and continue around the corner to the 5.10 exit pitches. The only drawback to this variation is the extra belay needed to avoid rope drag.
Oct 13, 2010
Luke Mehall
Durango, Colorado
Luke Mehall   Durango, Colorado
Like my friend Dave Marcinowski told me, the Southern arete on the Painted Wall is like being lost and found all at the same time. Oct 13, 2010
Steven VanSickle
Ouray, Co
Steven VanSickle   Ouray, Co
Lots of booty on this route!
Sep 26, 2011
Josh Borof
Telluride Co
Josh Borof   Telluride Co
Did JHaskell's variation to the 5.9 face traverse pitch yesterday. Definitely less sketchy, but certainly takes longer. Traverse left until you see a corner and head up. The pitch is actually pretty fun, hands in a corner. Top out the pedestal and then downclimb about 30 ft (not 10) down and right to a pedestal and slip around the corner. This part is kind of a pain in the ass and eats time. However if you've got it and aren't psyched on the original 5.9 option, check it out. Oct 17, 2011
Just uploaded an accurate topo to the Southern Arete. If you are not having fun if you are not lost, or adventure means wondering if you are off route, then DON'T look at the topo. It is much more accurate than anything I've seen, particularly the book, and even a glance at it will certainly lower the uncertainty factor in Mr. Levin's follow your nose method.

The pitch breakdown (17) is what we used to move efficiently and safely but not particularly fast (Josh Wharton's topo shows about 8 pitches in total!) although we finished well before dark. The pitches can be compressed or expanded at many points.

We had up to an old 4 Camalot, but I think a new 5 would be worth its weight, and actually a 6 might speed you up rather than slow you down if you don't like squeezes.

Really, the book topo is okay besides the implied pitch lengths, and the tricky thin traverse is easy to miss.

I think this route is fun for the position and the size. The good climbing is sporadic - a couple good pitches and some good moves in 2000'. Most of the route is chimneys or choss but fun chimneys and choss if that's your thing.

Anyway, have fun (or don't look, and have "adventure"). Nov 8, 2011
Charles Vernon
mind & body in Colorado, he…
Charles Vernon   mind & body in Colorado, he…
Chris, I tremble to quibble with the laser-like, Supertopian precision of your topo, but you're describing a completely different traverse than Levin [edit: Steve has since changed his description], the book, and what my partner and I did. The way we did it, the traverse is a short pitch and deposits you directly at the base of the 10+ roof crack without the entire pitch of "5.9 mixed cracks" that you show. It is also easy to find, because you simply follow the chimney system (keep going where your topo says "chimney" "no") until it ends at a giant, bivy-sized ledge. You then traverse up and right from this ledge.

Obviously, based on everyone's comments here, there are a lot of different ways to do the pitches leading up to the 5.10 cracks up high - I guess that's one of the reasons why follow-your-nose works well on this route.

My favorite part of your topo is the 2nd pitch, where the corner system to the left is labelled with 3 "no's." This is clearly an improvement over the book, which only has one "no." :) Nov 8, 2011
Ha. I originally drew the topo for a friend and the start was the only place where I really doubted my instincts. That corner looks better than the junk yer climbing, and I kept thinking "should I...". So u guys climbed that chimney? I went up there and thought "god, that one looks worse than the rest!" Then I saw chalk on the traverse. Its hard for 5.9, but more in the head, then the mixed crack pitch is one of the better on the route. The grades on all the topos and discussions seem pretty fast and loose. Suffice to say, nothing is harder than 5.10 if yer on route.

I feel better that my topo might actually cause a little confusion. Par for the course, eh?

But seriously, I believe in this site as a repository for clarifying rather than maintaining confusion, and I think my topo is an honest effort toward that end, but remember you are on your own up there! Nov 8, 2011
Golden, CO
mt.wilson   Golden, CO
This is a great long outing, quite mountainy, and highly recommended! Lots of mellow climbing with a few stout pitches. We took the right variation about two pitches below the 10+ crack variation. This avoided the rightward 9+ R traverse but necessitated a 9+ R (one piton) face section to gain the headwall crack. Chris K's topo is excellent. Thanks, Chris! However it makes it the section above the final 10+ crack look much longer than it actually is. It's probably only 400-500 feet of easy terrain to the rim after the 10+ var. I would highly recommend leaving the #6 behind, we didn't bring one and didn't find anywhere where it would have been useful. The 9+ slot/chim protects perfectly with a #3. A #5 was nice, but not necessary, for the 10+ OW. Go get some, she's big! Nov 1, 2015