Type: Trad, 6 pitches, Grade IV
FA: Layton Kor and Larry Dalke, 1962
Page Views: 19,788 total · 105/month
Shared By: Julian Smith on Sep 27, 2003
Admins: Leo Paik, John McNamee, Frances Fierst, Monty, Monomaniac

You & This Route

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Access Issue: Seasonal Raptor Closures Details


"The Russian Arete, you know, like Russian roulette" (a quote by Layton Kor taken from Black Canyon Rock Climbs by Robbie Williams).

As its name implies, the Russian Arete is a long, loose climb. The climbing is good and clean, due to much traffic over the years, but the loose rocks, flakes, and boulders are everywhere to be found. Remember to pull down and not out. That being said, the Russian Arete is a wonderful climb, ascending a series of chimneys for 800 feet, not including scrambling, from the river to the rim. Do not the let loose rock be a deterrence, but rather delight in a pleasant ascent of a Black Canyon classic. Expect 8 - 200 foot pitches on the route plus much scrambling to get to the base of the route from the river and the back off the thing to the rim. From the campground on the North Rim, descend the SOB Gully almost to the river. Look for 2 gullies on the downstream side. Head up the gully on the left, on third class terrain, aiming for the base of a large pillar. The climbing begins on the right side of the pillar, heading up a series of wide cracks. There are many ledges in this area, climb to the highest one possible and belay.

Pitch 1. Climb the wide cracks as high as possible, and belay on a ledge beneath the pink "railroad cracks" that identifies the 2nd pitch, 5.8, 200 feet.

Pitch 2. Do more of the same. Continue up the crack system, through the best climbing on the route, encountering a little bit of everything, hands, roof, and chimney. Belay where suitable, as high as possible, 5.9+, 200 feet.

Pitch 3. Climb more of the same. Get the picture yet? Continue up a series of chimneys, belay as high as possible, 5.8, 200 feet.

Pitch 4, 5, and 6. Climb more chimneys. There is supposed to be a 5.9 crack in this area somewhere, but with all of the chimneys, it gets lost in the shuffle. 5.8 to 5.9 200 feet each pitch.

Now for the finish. Head up to the rim. Continue roped climbing for at least 2 more pitches or so to reach easier terrain that can be comfortably scrambled. Head to the highest point possible and back into the woods, trending ever so slightly to the right until the trail back to the ranger station is encountered. It is a good mile to mile and a half, depending on the level of dehydration and exhaustion, back to the ranger station. The route can be checked out from the North Rim overlook. Use Black Canyon Rock Climbs by Robbie Williams as a reference. Enjoy.


Bring a standard Black Canyon rack, up to #4 Camalot.
Vince Anderson  
The route is great and well worth doing as the description above implies. I did not feel like I encountered any more loose rock than one might find on any big route in the Black. There is some here and there, but not too much in my opinion. That being said, I would think twice before climbing underneath another party on this route. The description here and in Robbie's book is generally good. I would offer the following comments having done the route twice now: A nice belay for pitch two is just after exiting the final roof and climbing the short slab out right. The wall kicks back a bit here and there is a good perch in some peg out right. You can get good cams placed downwards behind a large flake behind this stance. The next pitch (and all subsequent ones) heads up the obvious chimney system out left of this belay (20 feet). I found pitches 3 and 4 to be about 100-120 feet long and could be combined by stretching out a 60-70m rope, though there are some nice belay ledges that are hard to pass up. The 5th pitch goes for a long time (60 m) up through the chimneys and passes another 5.9 peg section below a black roof. After this pitch, the way is easy -- up another 30 feet of chimney and then easy terrain out right. Keep to the right until it is easy to break to the ridge crest which you can follow to the rim. Most of this the ridge is 4th class. The climbing is surprisingly good the whole way. It should take a competent party about 6-8 hours on route. Oct 20, 2004
Had to climb over a friendly 5 ft. bull snake on this route...he was sunning on a small ledge around pitch 4 or 5at least it wasn't a buzzworm...still a little exciting though- nice snake, nice snake.... May 6, 2005
This route is so good! 5 steep pitches, and a bunch of beautiful 3rd-classing right on the crest. Spectacular! Sep 23, 2005
Trask   Broomfield
Did this route on April 29th of 08 with Erik Wellborn, and we were the only ones there.....Nice!! I suppose there are two ways to access the "true base" of this route (right of the big, detached pillar). Either way is loose and should be soloed with a good amount of space between you and your partner as you can see by my eye in one of the photos. Nonetheless, a fun route with lots of quality rock on it. Vince, thanks for the beta on the belay at pitch two, really fun pitch. There are so many ways to finish up the last scramble to the top, we took a way that involved a lot of 4th to 5th classing. Took us 8 hours to get back onto the trail and back to our beer. Great Route. May 1, 2008
T Bauck
T Bauck  
Only pitch 2 is 5.9+. Pitch 5 felt like 5.9-. The rest of the route is 5.8 or easier. Jul 4, 2009
Jon Griffin
Glenwood Springs, Co
Jon Griffin   Glenwood Springs, Co
What a fantastic route!!! My partner and I thought it was a little sandbagged at 5.9, but I guess that's the black, or maybe it was just a lil' more run-out in spots without a #4!!! Haha! I ended up going through that black roof that Vince mentions on p5 after the 5.9 peg section, and it felt like I should have headed out right and belayed.... Either way it was full-value!!! Sep 5, 2010
Jeremy Werlin
Cedaredge, CO
Jeremy Werlin   Cedaredge, CO
Excellent, high quality route. A lot of blue collar climbing. I brought one set of nuts, single small cams, doubles from #0.5-#3 and one #4 (Camalots). Start early. A 70m cord is helpful. Jun 8, 2011
DaveF Farkas
Durango, CO
DaveF Farkas   Durango, CO
Just climbed the route this past weekend. What a great time. The Railroad pitch felt a little tougher than 5.9...the rest was spectacular. So many ledges to chill out on. We started early and finished late. Typical Black adventure. I found that once you headed out right onto the easier terrain, you can put your approach shoes back on and enjoy the hike up. Lots of scrambling through bushes, boulders and the occasional easy 5th class 20 ft section of rock. Go right then straight up. Getting of the top was as much the crux as anything on the route. Definitely a Black classic and super fun!!! Sep 26, 2011
RyanO   sunshine
Well, first off, a Russian accent is key to success on this route. If your Russian accented cursing is not dialed, everything will seem much more serious. What a great route! My cheeks hurt more than anything else after this one, lots of stemming while smiling ear-to-ear and gazing down a thousand feet of air to the river below. The start of the route is much more enjoyable with a #4 Camalot, but we didn't have one and didn't need it anywhere else - #1 Camalots were the winner on this one. Simul-climbing everything 5.8 and under makes this something like 6 pitches bottom to top and really adds to the adventure aspect of the whole experience :) The top out, I think, is easiest if you head to the LEFT, the trail to the ranger station is obviously to your right, but there's a hillside of sticker bushes in between you and it. If you take a slight detour to the left, you'll end up close to Exclamation Point (the view is well worth it), and the trail, with minimal bushwhacking. Oct 11, 2011
DaveF Farkas
Durango, CO
DaveF Farkas   Durango, CO
Just got off the Russian with my bud Lou. Wow...I can't believe I did it again. We had a late start and still managed to fire the route in about 6 hrs.

Here's the rack as suggested by Nick from the Park which worked well.
1 x 3.5 & 4
2 x 0.5 - 3
1 standard set of nuts.

The route sits in the sun...all day...bring H2O. Don't EVER follow another party up it. An excellent adventure. Sep 4, 2012
Car to car 3 hours. So super easy. I am so good. May 29, 2013
prod. Kenny
Boulder, Co
prod. Kenny   Boulder, Co
Fun route. 5.9+ seems about right for the 2nd pitch. The rest felt 5.8 or easier.

We took:

1 set nuts to medium.
Double cams through #3.
1 #4.

If you climb it as described above and do 6 60m plus pitches and you are not great at running it out in the 5.7 rangem I'd recommend bringing another #2 and #3. There are also plenty of ledges to make shorted pitches if you wanted to break it up.


Prod. May 24, 2017
Sam Feuerborn
Sam Feuerborn   Carbondale
This this was far better than I expected! OS go took about 8 hours pitching out the whole thing with a 60m and wasn't bad at all. So many stellar belay ledges. We thought we were going to be blasted by the sun, and it came in to the shade around noon.

We brought a double set of cams from 0.4-0.75 and singles of 000-red C3 and 1-3 and made for some healthy runouts but was nice and light. May 29, 2017
Pat Light
Charlottesville, VA
Pat Light   Charlottesville, VA
Absolutely incredible route. The climbing is sustained & blue collar, with great feet the whole way up giving you a ton of spots to rest and breathe. It's much cleaner than the name implies (as of May 2018). Be careful, but don't be scared.

Beta spraydown incoming, just in case you want to feel less spooked:

Gear: bring wide stuff (#4, #5, & I'm positive you could place a #6) but don't expect too much offwidth. In general, you'll stem, jam, and face climb past your large placements, with maybe two or three short spots of offwidth or chimney work. You'll have ample opportunity to use pretty much every piece in a full standard rack as well. Since the pitches are super long, slings are very helpful. Hardboys and hardgirls can probably get by with a rack of singles; strongly consider doubles, though. A 70m is great, but you won't be in trouble if you bring a 60m.

The crux/technical climbing: the technical crux is very likely the bulge in the second pitch (hard 5.9 but not a sandbag), but you'll also hit a short cruxy squeeze chimney on pitch 4 or 5 (depending on how you link it). Nothing is convincingly 5.10 hard. The "real" crux is the pure physicality of 1000 feet of blue collar, 5.8/5.9 climbing sandwiched between hundreds of feet of hiking and scrambling. Don't be fooled by "just" six pitches. Water, complex carbs, and a good night's sleep, kiddos.

Approach/descent: starting just before dawn is a great idea. It'll be cold on the hike in, but any extra layers you wear will be dead weight by the second pitch. Expect short, semi-serious sections of soloing 5.5 to get to the base. After the final pitch of technical climbing, you'll scramble 4th and 5th Class for a long time, some spots more exposed than others. Be efficient, but don't be too proud to tie back in. The last 5th class scramble to the rim is well worth roping up for, especially onsight (and especially because you'll be tired).

I'm sure you'll love it. The 5.9+ crux is delightfully exposed. Go get some! May 6, 2018