Type: Trad, Aid, Alpine, 500 ft (152 m), 5 pitches, Grade IV
FA: Kirk Miller & Ken Trout
Page Views: 5,611 total · 29/month
Shared By: Ken Trout on Jul 9, 2008
Admins: Leo Paik, John McNamee, Frances Fierst, Monty, Monomaniac, Tyler KC

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6 Opinions
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Description Suggest change

Start up Cannonball Corner and diverge as the topo shows. Easy aid to the end of pitch two. There were some loose things that we may have skipped cleaning on the pitch two traverse because we were gunning for the top in one day. This would all go free and be really nice, maybe 5.11, maybe harder with pump factored in to the rating. It might be very tough to retreat from the end of pitch two.

The third pitch is outstanding. Hands and fingers up to a great ledge. Might be just 5.9. Like the good stuff on Cannonball, only thinner and thus "better". I wrote "dry bivvy" on the topo, even though we got up in one day. The important thing is that from the end of pitch one to the end of the crux aid the route stayed dry during a huge rainstorm.

Pitch four is an upside down rurp traverse. Bad swing into the dihedral wall if it all rips, thus A4-. I don't think anything ripped for the second, so maybe not too bad. A rope left hanging from the top would perhaps be lasso-reachable for an insanely exposed, upward, jumar escape.

Our last pitch is also the last pitch of Cannonball. Easier, unless it is wet and dark.

Location Suggest change

This route is located close to the cave-like zone cut by the Rusty Dagger. The Black Wall's alcove shape, wetness, joint patterns, and rock glacier signal, at least to me, the potential for catastrophic mass wasting. I'd like to make the point that most routes on this wall, not just Undertow, are unusually dangerous.

Alcoves usually form within cliffs located under plateaus, like we see in Canyonlands. The flat surface above the cliff collects groundwater, the water weakens the rock, and the wet zone weathers into an alcove. Most alpine cliffs have only small summits above and dry quickly. Climbers know the Black Wall has a summit plateau that soaks up water like a sponge, taking days or weeks to dry out. Compare the dripping rim of the Black Wall to the once familiar and now abandoned Yosemite cliff, Glacier Point. The largest rock avalanche off Glacier Point is proven to have been the result of a mistakenly located outhouse adding lubricant to the wall's joints. It's not raining poo up on Mount Evans, but a wetter wall is hard to find.

What really worries me most are the vertical cracks forming Cary Granite, Good Evans, and Cannonball Corner. These cracks increase in size, from left to right, towards the undercut center of the Black Wall. Road Warrior is widest and the little "J" at the bottom helps visualize the whole pillar as a collapse on temporary freeze-frame. Maybe it's time to move the belay bolts to the offwidth's left side, so they don't end up in the rock glacier below.

Glaciers certainly delved the cirque, but this wall is so actively falling apart that any signs of glacier ice scouring it have long ago become a part of the rock glacier below. Rock glaciers are more common under loose mountains. They abound under the rotten volcanic peaks of the San Juans. The rock glacier below the Black Wall is not even under a peak. The talus on it is large and fresh.

UNDERTOW is even closer to the alcove and the center line of the rock glacier. The route follows a large, undercut, flake, but the climbing is some of the best on the wall. The same forces that have, and will, cause mass wasting of the Black Wall also created one heck of a steep alpine route. Irresistible?

Protection Suggest change

My memory is that rurps and small copperheads are key to aiding the summit roof. Everything below could be done with small wires and cams up to big hands.

A bolted rappel route might be nice from the end of pitch two. It didn't look too steep, but we didn't test that. If two 70m ropes don't reach the base ledge, then a bolt anchor would be needed and probably have to be placed in the line of fire of the horrible summit drips.