Type: Trad, 7 pitches, Grade III
FA: Ed Webster, Chester Dreiman, 1982
Page Views: 32,604 total · 156/month
Shared By: Charles Vernon on Nov 1, 2001
Admins: Leo Paik, John McNamee, Frances Fierst, Monty, Monomaniac

You & This Route

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Access Issue: Seasonal Raptor Closures Details


Escape Artist is a great, prominent natural line, acclaimed as one of the best routes in the Black Canyon. The rock quality is for the most part quite good though there is some funky pegmatite in the long corner system. The wild (but well-protected) traverse pitch is a Black Canyon classic. Escape Artist is a better route than either Maiden Voyage or Leisure climb, if you're looking for a reasonable length route in the 5.9 range, but it is much more sustained than either of those routes.

The route is on the Escape Artist Buttress, next to Comic Relief, with which it shares the final 400 feet. Descend the SOB Draw, to the third major buttress on the left (in order, Casual Buttress, Debutante's Ball area, and Escape Artist buttress). The buttress is separated from its uphill neighbor by a long, dark, narrow cleft.

Scope the route before scrambling to the base. There are two obvious features: a long, left-diagonaling crack low down (the Vector), followed by a long, left-facing corner system on the left edge of the buttress. Walk out onto a platform below the buttress, and scramble over/around a short cliff, 4th class, to the center of the buttress.

P1. The first pitch is identified by two parallel, left-arching finger/hand cracks which reach the Vector. Climb moderate rock up into the right of these, and follow it (excellent 5.9) to a belay under an overhang where it intersects the Vector. Depending on how high you scramble, a 60m rope may be necessary, or do this in two pitches.

P2. Follow the Vector left to its end at an excellent belay ledge. This is easy at first but then wild 5.9 above an overhang.

P3. Follow the long dihedral (route crux near the top of the pitch), sustained, interesting climbing with good rests. The pitch is a little longer than fifty meters, so bring a long rope. If simul-climbing 10 feet or so, neither climber will be in the midst of 5.9 moves. The best belay is with a piton out left, just before the corner system jogs right.

P4. Continue up thin cracks in the right wall of the corner and pull onto a huge sloping ledge, 5.8.

P5. Climb the obvious 5.9 corner. It looks a little mungy but offers quite nice jamming and stemming. Stretch up and right to a belay ledge on the summit slabs. Variation: climb the beautiful, splitter Lightning Bolt Crack, a 5.11 on the overhanging right wall of the corner, to the same belay area. Note: despite referring to this as a variation, I believe that this was actually the line of the first ascent; however, most parties now do the 5.9 corner as it is more in keeping with the rest of the route.

P6-7. Continue up the slab to the summit of the buttress, on easy to moderate 5th class. We simul-climbed, but there are definitely some loose spots so this may not be advisable if another party is below you. On the other hand if you don't start simul-climbing, they probably will. Be careful with your rope/hands/feet no matter how you do it.

Trend center-left on the slab (going right, as the new Black Canyon guidebook recommends, leads to annoying climbing along a ridge). There are two sets of rappel slings about 25 feet apart, the left-hand one gets you down with a 60m rope (rappel under the tunnel created by a chockstone). Make sure to go up the gully which leads north--much easier than it looks. Apparently, the other obvious gully (which leads more or less east) eventually requires more rock climbing. The campground is not far from the top of the gully.


Bring a standard rack with RPs or HBs, stoppers, small cams, and doubles of Friends to #3. Bring a #3.5 Friend. There are no notable run-outs, but the crux pitch has some tricky pro and mandatory 5.9 climbing.
Bryson Slothower
Portland, OR
Bryson Slothower   Portland, OR
The new book suggests that after rapping from the top of the route it is possible to climb a few more pitches on the climbers left hand side of the gully heading north. Anyone done these pitches? Rating? Quality? it looks good. Nov 19, 2001
Charles Vernon
mind & body in Colorado, he…
Charles Vernon   mind & body in Colorado, he…
You must be thining of the gully that heads east. The left side of the north gully is a sheer overhanging wall. After we did Escape Artist, I talked to a guy in the campground who said that, instead of rappelling, they did a short down-climb from the very high point of the buttress (climber's right, from the rappels), then climbed a few nice easy pitches more or less straight east to the campground. That would be on the climber's right of the east-heading gully, to keep things straight. Dec 5, 2001
This route is so good! Given how good the majority of the rock is, it is apparently not too Black Canyon-esque, but it is a stellar route.

Scramble up high, as Charles suggested, and the first two pitches go easily in about 185 feet. The second pitch, the Vector Traverse, is possibly the best pitch of 5.9 I've ever done! It is just so good!! Lots of fingers to small hands pieces protect the pitch (#3-#4 Metolius, .5-.75 Camalot, etc), and the exit is spicy!

The crux pitch felt like hard 9 or 10a, following. The next pitch is no giveaway at 5.7, and the final 5.9 pitch felt like 9+ to me. The leader is very committed on this pitch, as an early fall would likely land him or her on the sloping ledge below, but the jams are solid, and there is good gear.

Can't say enough good things about this route! Jun 11, 2002
aaron voreis
Edina, MN
aaron voreis   Edina, MN
Strongly reccomended route but probably not the best intro to the black for 5.9 leaders. Don't be deceived by only 5 serious pitches as they are very long and strenous and there is a lot of extra easy climbing. The route description above is much better than the one in the guidebook.

One 60m rope is AOK! Bring lots of .5 and .4 Camalots...

The 5.7 arete mentioned as an option in the guide book instead of the 5.9+ dihedral or lightning bolt crack is junk. Bad rock, Bad pro, Scary not Spicy. Not recommended.

You can do the whole top in one pitch after the 5.9+ next to lightning bolt. Traverse right to a good belay on a nice ledge. From there climb one 190 foot pitch on an obvious crack in the center of the wall to another ledge, we had to simu-climb the last 10 feet. When your 2nd gets there, unrope and traverse accross left on an obvious and easy ledge until you see a bunch of grassy and bushy third class. Climb this for awhile staying left until you see a horn with a bunch of slings on it. Rappel! Woo Hoo! Climb the south facing gully out. Apr 23, 2003
David Conlin
David Conlin  
As my first black canyon climb, I give this 2 or 2.5 stars. It was definitely worth doing, but I just don't think it was top-notch.

We had problems linking the first two pitches up. Came up about 30 feet short. Looking at the photo, we started further right, where Comic Relief starts. To us, the pedastal from atop which we started seemed the obvious high point for scrambling. We climbed a nice 5.9 lie-back hand/finger crack up into the corner and then angled left along the vector, diverging from Comic Relief. The photo makes it look like we should have started further left and climbed the face, rather than the corner. Maybe this strategy would have let us go all the way to the 2nd belay in one pitch, but what we did was worth climbing, too.

Also, beware the 2-bolt anchor about 7 feet above the vector, 20 -25 feet before it ends. We were lured up onto this, which requires some 5.8-5.9 face climbing on slopers for a few feet (hard to reverse). Above this, discontinuous cracks/flakes lead up to the left side of the triangular roof, where it may rejoin Escape Artist. Anyway, we decided against climbing into unknown territory and got back on route. To make a long story shorter, we tried to link the first two pitches into one, and ended up doing it in three!!! After that, things went a little smoother...

Anyone know anything about the above variation?

We took the standard top out, rappelled into the gully and climbed the Northward gully, which is indeed easier than it looks from across the way. Sounds like it would be possible to climb all the way to the top of the formation, downclimb or rappel(?) to a saddle and take some easier rock climbing to the rim. All this is to the right of the normal top-out. This would be appealing if one isn't hard-pressed for time (which you shouldn't be-its not that long of a route, even with our route-finding fiasco on the vector) and would avoid the gully slog. I will try that when I do Comic Relief and keep y'all posted if it is indeed recommended.

The Black definitely lives up to its rep -- sustained climbing in a stellar setting.

Sustained, but I don't think it warrants the 10- that the guidebook gives it. Stellar climbing on positive holds with frequent rests and good gear...5.9+

Added a new cord to the rappel anchor at the top-out. Sep 29, 2003
I made the same mistake David made. When you get to the top of the ledge, the sweet finger crack just beckons to be climbed. We then had to thrutch through a desparate slot to finish up the traverse. An easy mistake to make. May 11, 2004
The two bolts above Escape Artist are the second belay on Stand Up Comic(III, 11+). It starts on the left hand side of the buttress and climbs left out a very obvious roof, aqnd up a short dihedral. Second pitch comes up directly to the bolts with some fun face climbing (5.11, but can aid the hardest part) , the Third pitch climbs the flakes to the triangular roof and goes right (11+) to join the Comic Relief variation to Lightning Bolt Ledge. At the ledge it goes back right and up a finger to hand crack on the arete (5.10). There is a bolt at the bottom to the Finger Crack, that is not all that nessessary, however, when I lead it, there was a rather large flake that is no longer there, and so it was not protectable.

The climbing is fun and slightly harder than most routes on this wall, but still an easy day. Putting in the route I thought the triangular roof may have been 12-, but most of my guesses are later downrated so it will probably end up at 11+ , either way its still a nice warmup route.

Also, after the rapple off of the buttress, you can immediately climb the wall behind you and stay on the arete all of the way to the top. No gully at all. May 13, 2004
Ken Heiser
Boulder, CO
Ken Heiser   Boulder, CO
I climbed this route yesterday. This was my first route in the Black Canyon. I really enjoyed this climb. I thought the Vector traverse was really neat and very intimidating and scary despite perfect protection. What I remember is going left on the ramp and it getting thinner and thinner till it looked like it would not go at all, then holds appeared for the wild moves at the end that I found to be very awkward and strenuous. I thought the crux pitch was one of the best pitched of its grade I have ever done. Not having a comparison of other Black Canyon routes I gave this a 10a, because I believe the crux is as hard as any of the Eldo 10a's I have done recently. So, overall I found the route to be easy to get to very sustained in difficulty and highly enjoyable. This took us about 8 hours from campground to campground. Jul 26, 2004
After the crux dihedral it's really easy to traverse right to do the comic relief corner which is really good. Ithink I've done this route twice now and have never don the original finish because it look like a dangerous loose pile. Aug 10, 2004
As is the case with "The Black," there is only a limited amount of information about the routes available and without taking the photo posted here when you are at the base of these two climbs well it's not totally clear. Like a lot of routes, you figure some of it out after you have done it. We did the "Vector Traverse" starting from Comic Relief. It makes for a LONG pitch and a long traverse but you can do it with a 60m rope and a double rack. I didn't have much left on my rack when I got to the belay, but it was one of the longest, 190' or more, pitches I've strung together while going along a traverse. Superb, slightly sustained, but it does give you good rests and places to figure out your next moves. Would I do it like that again, probably not, but it sure was fun !!!!! Sep 10, 2004
Michael Amato
Michael Amato  
Christa Cline and I climbed this route on 9/18/2004, what a fantastic route... long, technical, exciting, sustained, good pro, and quite "unusual" in some spots as well. I agree with Ken above as far as the route's difficulty and feel that an overall "Eldo 10a" rating is accurate. Also, we climbed Maiden Voyage, 5.9 the day before and Escape Artist is significantly more difficult, significantly more committing and significantly more sustained.

We were the second party on the route. AC/Patrick- if you were the three-person party, we were right above you. For what it's worth, we did not drop rocks on you. The party above us got off-route on the fourth pitch, got onto the loose stuff to the left and eventually retreated back down over 50 ft. to get back on route. I believe this is when the rock fall you mention occurred, though the huge rock fall you mention was not caused by them or anyone else on this route. We heard it, too - it seemed to be somewhere off left (or was that the echo?). It scared the hell out of us as well. I sure hope nobody was below that one.

We found the north-leading exit gully to be quite straight-forward. By showing the amount of care and attention appropriate for any third and fourth class scrambling, we were quite easily able to avoid dislodging any loose rock or breaking any holds. However, I surely wouldn't want to be below any other parties in this gully. As usual, the best advice is to get an early start if you want to be the ones on top. Sep 20, 2004
Christa Cline
Christa Cline  
Great route, very sustained, strenuous, and steep many times. The Vector Traverse certainly requires some nerves of steel in my book, I needed those just to follow the pitch. Though the feet surprisingly seemed to find decent placements all along, it was overall very awkward and very exposed and strenuous. The third and fifth (5.9 corner) pitch were also very challenging, steep and also very sustained but solid. Excellent climbing.

Route finding was quite easy and straight forward up to the point of locating the rap stations that were supposed to get you to the gully. My partner had a good hunch when he set up belay 80 feet short of the summit at the last tree (juniper) before the summit and we decided to head left (facing the rock) around the corner of the summit rock in search of the descent route. Going that way, choose the first rappel slings, i.e. the slings closer to the north leading gully you eventually will climb out of. The rappel will get you all the way down to the base of the exit gully. If you chose the second set of rap slings away from the exist gully you will have to downclimb to the base of the exit gully which is certainly manageable though loose. The actuall exit gully was solid, very steep but aside from some loose stuff which is to be expected in any gully anywhere there were plenty of solid holds to choose from all the way up.

As with any trad route, be it in an alpine setting or in Eldo or Boulder Canyon, there always is potential of rock fall with parties above you. There is no avoiding that. Overall, I thought Escape Artist has a lot less potential of rock fall as compared to many popular routes in Eldo. Getting an early start and being first on a route is the only way to avoid potential rock fall from parties above you. Sep 20, 2004
Mike S  
Does anyone know anything about the left-hand of the two cracks leading to The Vector? I just did this route for the second time over the weekend and tried that option. It's really good, a bit thinner than the right-hand crack. The crux is at the top and pinches off a bit like the Comic Relief crux does. Probably not as hard though. It should be recommended as another option. May 2, 2006
El Manzano
kirkadirka   El Manzano
Unless you love rotten rock, stay away from the corner on the 4th pitch. It may look like the more obvious line, but at least one serious fall has taken place here and my partner was lucky to escape himself. Instead, look on the face to the right for two parallel cracks and follow these up to the big ledge. Jul 9, 2007
Lee Jenkins
Tucson, Arizona
Lee Jenkins   Tucson, Arizona
There is a fixed #3 BD Camalot (Blue) ~ 30' before the end of the Vector. Take some tools! May 7, 2009
luca moz
luca moz   italy
Did the vector traverse from the belay of Comic Relief: super 200 feet pitch! Sep 8, 2009
Bosier Parsons
Colorado Springs, CO
Bosier Parsons   Colorado Springs, CO
Climbed this yesterday, and a 70m rope from the right rappel anchor at the top will leave you just three feet shy of the bottom of the gully with an easy step down from the end of your rope. Sep 28, 2009
tom bohanon
Glenwood Springs, Colorado
tom bohanon   Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Climbed this last weekend with Dave Meyer. A very good route with good pro the whole way...3 stars, in my opinion. Did not need RPs or a #3.5 or 4 Camalot. I think the best rappel is far to climber's left from the summit, down the ridge. It's an easy 4th class downclimb of about 20-30 meters to good anchors that drops you right at the base of the exit gully. A 60 meter rope was fine. Jun 14, 2011
This is the route to avoid the north gully exit: The Escape. Sep 19, 2012
Fritz Nuffer
The Western Slope
Fritz Nuffer   The Western Slope
We had no need for a BD #4 or a second #3. Triples of #0.4 and #0.5 were nice for the crux pitch.

The "other" exit gully (right of the standard) featured some chimney bouldering, bush-aiding and a clever hole to squeeze through, plus a couple moves of low-5th to get back to the rim proper. Sep 22, 2013
Pink Thunder
Sacramento, CA
Pink Thunder   Sacramento, CA
I'd like to add my voice to the chorus of folks on here who equate Escape Artist to "Eldo 10a." That's what I'm used to, and that's what I'd call it. Both the Vector Traverse and the crux pitch dihedral were solid, and the crux I thought had a few 10 moves on it.

We also did Maiden Voyage the day before, and that was more like 5.8 than 5.9; EA was WAY harder than MV.

Also, at the top of the fourth pitch, there's a fixed anchor with a couple of nuts that looks like they've been there for years. And beware that last corner; there are a couple of pretty loose blocks with big Xs on them.

All in all, awesome route.

Also, we had a #4 Camalot, and were very glad we did. My buddy who led the crux placed it right at some of the hardest moves, in the upper part of the dihedral, and it was bomber. Also placed it several other times throughout the route. Nov 4, 2013
Pink Thunder
Sacramento, CA
Pink Thunder   Sacramento, CA
And some video of me and Mike climbing the Vector Traverse and then the crux pitch:

gazette.com/climbing-the-bl… Nov 4, 2013
Stan Pitcher
Stan Pitcher   SLC, UT
I thought the 1st, 2nd, and 4th pitches all had climbing as hard as the supposed 'crux' pitch. May 12, 2014
Wow, the Vector Traverse is one of the best pitches I've done. Great exposure, sustained 9 climbing, and some really fun movement. No other pitch on the route even came close to the quality of this one. I think 9+ is spot on for the grade. We took a #4 and used it, because we carried it but definitely didn't need it. Aug 3, 2014
Eliot Augusto
Boulder, CO
  5.9+ PG13
Eliot Augusto   Boulder, CO
  5.9+ PG13
Vector Traverse is my favorite pitch in climbing so far. Brought two #3, would leave one at home if I did this again. This was an amazing climb. If it turns into an epic I could understand if you didn't think this was a classic. I'm a terrible route finder, and not one part of this route seemed confusing, except the 5.8 cracks because the natural line puts you in a scary as fuck corner, with 40-50lb death blocks everywhere.

Humblebrag: I would call this a 10 anywhere else. I've led a couple of 10+ trad routes that were easier than this. And maybe it was the pump talking, but the last pitch was the hardest for me by far. Who knows, maybe a 5.9+ jam crack after 1000ft of climbing is harder than I think it should be.

Short beta video:
youtu.be/sQT2P-TPLSw Sep 30, 2015
Golden, Co
Keradactyl   Golden, Co
The second pitch traverse was just wild. It's not what you may expect in a traverse... the seam/crack is on a ramp, so your feet are on the ramp, your face is up against a sloping wall, and your hands are digging blindly at the crack near your feet. You basically have your face squished against the wall like a toddler meeting a glass door for the first time, and your ass is up in the air like a stink bug. As you continue along the traverse, the ramp gets narrower and narrower until it finally peters out and you are left to smear your feet while transitioning around a small bulge. My hands are sweating as I write this.

Near the top when you have to choose between a beautiful 5.11 hand crack or a 5.9 corner, I suggest: DO THE DELICIOUS LOOKING, VERTICAL, CRACK CLIMB. I tackled the 5.9 corner and was met with seeping water on foot holds and puddles of mud hidden within what looked to be a "thank God jug". As if that's not enough, above that is more runout, loose, and sketchy choss climbing. Thus: if you're feeling up to it, do the pretty looking 5.11 crack climb. Jun 3, 2016