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The Painted Wall

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Dragon, The T 
Forrest-Walker T 
Journey Through Mirkwood T 
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The Painted Wall Rock Climbing 

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Submitted By: slevin on Nov 30, 1999


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The Painted Wall is the tallest cliff in Colorado, and the third tallest in the lower 48 after El Cap and Notch Peak. The complex and visually stunning wall has a well-deserved reputation for loose rock and committing climbing.

Before climbing on it, and to acquaint yourself with the general downstream layout, I suggest a hike to the top of the Painted Wall along the North Rim. From the ranger station follow the North Vista trail past Exclamation Point (near here one catches a good view of the Escape Artist buttress) and towards Green Mountain. Well past here, as the trail turns noticeably uphill it is necessary to head overland toward the rim, crossing a large meadow before reaching the trees, and with routefinding difficulties, the top of the cliff. The last part of the hike should give you some respect for the inevitable late-night trudge back to the campground after climbing on the Painted Wall. (From rim to meadow was cairned as of October 2012.) About 3+ hours round trip with good beta.

Another excellent prep session is to descend SOB Draw en route to another objective, drop gear and hike downriver to the Painted Wall, then return and climb your route, knowing it will be shorter than a Painted Wall objective. Depending on season and water levels, the hike along the river can be an enjoyable romp, or a brush with Death by Poison Ivy. You will pass all the Arete climbs, from Lauren's and the Russian Arete all the way to the Porcelain Arete, the last and most elegant of formations holding these adventure climbs.

As you approach the Painted Wall from below, several features come into view. You first pass the Northern (sometimes called Eastern) Arete of the Painted Wall, a climb with good 5.10+ down low and the worst bush thrashing in the Black up high. Just left of this is a sloping talus field perched several hundred feet of lower 5th class climbing off the deck. From this platform the Dragon, Serpent and several other routes begin. Left of the terrace is a massive rib of rock descending to the river and forming a large R-facing corner. This is the start of the Forrest-Walker, Stratosphere and the Southern Arete, the climb done by the vast majority of climbers who venture here. If approaching for these climbs, try to stay low near the river below the wall, or you may get stuck too high on really loose talus. Approach is roughly 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on your objective.

Climbing on the Painted Wall involves either a very long day with lots of climbing, or a big-wall approach. If you plan on campground-to-campground in-a-day, climb fast and bring a headlamp. Best for the Southern and Northern Aretes and Journey Through Mirkwood (although many parties intentionally bivy on this), and (hopefully) for Stratosfear. In general, consider an unplanned bivy a possibility. Ascents of the aid routes, and for many, the spectacular Serpent (which has been done in an 13.5 hours by Mike Pennings and Josh Wharton) will require portaledges and haul bags. The climbing season is short due to bird nesting closures from April 1 to July 31, effectively eliminating May, the prime time to climb (with long days and lower temperatures). August and early September can be very hot; the winter can be frigid.

The nature of the rock on the Painted Wall is troubling. The rock is often shattered, plated, sharp, and loose, formed into blocky passages without distinct lines. This results in a climbing experience at once challenging, but also quite nebulous and fuzzy. This is not the place to climb on your slinky 9.0 rope; indeed, some climbers lead on double 10mm (or thicker) ropes on routes like The Serpent/Dragon and Stratosfear. Remember to interpret any route description with caution. Treat any climb on the Painted Wall as a major undertaking demanding experience and commitment from the climber.

Getting There 

From the North Rim campground, head down the SOB Draw to the river, then downstream to the Painted Wall.


A. Southern Arete, V 10 R, 15-20p, gear.

B. Journey Through Mirkwood, V 11, 2000', gear & bolts.
C. Forrest-Walker, VI 10+ A4 R, 22p, 2200', gear.
D. The Dragon, VI 9 A4 R, 16p, 2000', gear.

Climbing Season

For the North Rim Routes area.

Weather station 1.9 miles from here

5 Total Climbing Routes

['4 Stars',2],['3 Stars',1],['2 Stars',1],['1 Star',0],['Bomb',0]

Classic Climbing Routes in The Painted Wall

Mountain Project's determination of the classic, most popular, highest rated climbing routes for The Painted Wall:
Southern Arete   5.10 6b 20 VII- 19 E2 5b R     Trad, Grade V   
Journey Through Mirkwood   5.11b/c 6c+ 23 VIII- 24 E4 6a     Trad, 2000'   
Browse More Rock Climbing Classics in The Painted Wall

Featured Route For The Painted Wall
Rock Climbing Photo: From John Dickey Instagram.

The Terrible Tadpole 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a V0 4 WI3 M4 R  Colorado : Gunnison : ... : The Painted Wall
Looking for a winter adventure? Well, the deep, nasty gash to the right of the Painted Wall might be exactly what you're hoping for...or your worst nightmare. It is four stars, or a complete bomb depending on your point of view. Think of it as the "Walk of Shame," aka the Cruise Gully, on steroids.I assume we did the first ascent, but a lost kayaker or a very sad Painted Wall climber may have been there before us.Although the gully looks like it's mostly a hike (hence the "Tadpole"), there's act...[more]   Browse More Classics in Colorado

Photos of The Painted Wall Slideshow Add Photo
Rock Climbing Photo: Mike O'Donnell on 3rd ascent of Stratosphere, 1st ...
Mike O'Donnell on 3rd ascent of Stratosphere, 1st ...
Rock Climbing Photo: Rusty Baillie and David Lovejoy on the first ascen...
Rusty Baillie and David Lovejoy on the first ascen...
Rock Climbing Photo: Looking upstream from half way up Journey Through ...
Looking upstream from half way up Journey Through ...
Rock Climbing Photo: Winter shot
Winter shot
Rock Climbing Photo: Derek Hersey and Joker card found at the base of S...
Derek Hersey and Joker card found at the base of S...
Rock Climbing Photo: A picture my mom took from the south rim of me and...
A picture my mom took from the south rim of me and...
Rock Climbing Photo: Bob Horan on ascent Stratosphere VI.
Bob Horan on ascent Stratosphere VI.
Rock Climbing Photo: Autostitch rocks!
Autostitch rocks!
Rock Climbing Photo: Taken from the "Painted Wall" viewpoint ...
BETA PHOTO: Taken from the "Painted Wall" viewpoint ...
Rock Climbing Photo: Painted Wall and Stratosphere, photo: Bob Horan.
Painted Wall and Stratosphere, photo: Bob Horan.

Comments on The Painted Wall Add Comment
Show which comments
By Anonymous Coward
Sep 30, 2004
anybody have any info on the DRAGON ROUTE?rack etc..
By Russell Oakley
Oct 1, 2004
My college advisor, David Lovejoy, was on the FA of the Dragon route. He told me that he was the most scared he had ever been the whole time (several days on the wall, not sure exactly). He said there were times when he thought the whole party might rip from the wall. Rusty Baillie was the major force behind completing the climb; many people at Prescott College think he is totally crazy. I personally think he is made of bigger and better stuff than the rest of us. I have never climbed in the Black Canyon, but judging from the above description, David's comments to me, and my own experiences with Rusty when he was in his sixties (still way harder than anybody), I might suggest you take a long hard look at why you climb before taking on a project like the Dragon.

But what do I know?
By phil broscovak
Oct 2, 2004
The Dragon is a very serious route, the real deal! This is NOT a free climb, though you will do free moves on every pitch. If you go be competent on inobvious obscure aid placements. Though this is not as seriously rated as many modern air routes it is NOT a route for beginning aid climbers. Note... Rusty did some extremely crazy stuff but he was in no way crazy. He was certainly made of sterner stuff than most and a tremendously talented climber.
By Keegan Dimmick
From: Winchester, VA
Apr 2, 2008
There was an excellent story in Climbing about this route I believe. Very epic FA.
By Ben Kiessel
Sep 27, 2008
Listen to Steve when he suggests to check out the hike from the rim back to camp before you climb. We wandered around lost for hours in the dark.

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