Parker Kempf was my first east coast visitor since moving to Denver. He flew in from Atlanta for a smash and grab kind of trip—we were going to the mother fucking Black. Ever since Wyatt Payne had invited me to climb with him there, I’ve been curious to know what the canyon has to offer, and last week I got to find out: adventure and humble pie.
Neither of us had been to the Black Canyon before, and we’d discussed doing bigger routes every other day. Parker hadn’t climbed much since his trip to Norway but was feeling fit from running. We decided on the Cruise (5.10+), a variation of the ever-popular Scenic Cruise (5.10d). At 6 a.m., we began descending into the darkness of the Cruise Gully by headlamp. Both tired and tingling with excitement, we dipped further down the gully for the better part of an hour. A few rope rappels down and we found ourselves at a flat boulder and staring up at twelve pitches.
As the first light of the day began to creep into the sky, we started up the first pitch. We scurried through the first few hundred feet and made it to the offwidth. I was originally told two 5s and a 4 but wound up only using one of them and just bumping most of the way. A few good knee locks and arm bars, and before too long, I was belaying Parker up to the top.
We were a little more than half way to the finish when extreme fatigue hit me, and it hit me hard. For the most part, almost every pitch of the Cruise had a 5.10ish move on it, so the route felt pretty sustained. After the wide pitch, the climb didn’t ease off until after the 5.10 overhanging corner. Everything felt full value to both of us. We were moving, but we were getting pretty thrashed.
Topping out of the canyon in the dark, somewhere around 7 p.m., we walked back to camp for dinner. We ate pre-packaged Indian food and shoved a few cookies down our throats and passed out.
Back to back days in the Black were probably not going to happen.
I’m glad we decided to start with a moderate climb as an introduction to the Canyon. The guidebook had specifically said: “This is NOT Yosemite. Do not expect a rescue.”—basically, have your shit together.
The next morning, Parker showed me how to set up a ledge after a big burrito breakfast, and I practiced setting up, breaking down and putting the rain fly on for a few hours before we made an executive decision to head back to the Front Range. As we drove past some of our neighbors, Parker called out, “We’re going to Eldo!” followed by jaunty laughter.
The thing that I love about climbing with Parker is that he respects me as a climbing partner and a person. Parker treats me like an equal in everything we do—the climbs we choose, the choices we make, and how we deploy them. He doesn’t give me special treatment because I’m a girl. I know that personally, as a female, finding the right partner who isn’t going to treat you like you’re just a date isn’t always easy. But with Parker, I really hit the jackpot.