The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a deep and narrow canyon that inspires real adventure climbing. But like most places, it is so much more than that! I have only visited on two separate occasions and on both trips, I have learned a lifetime of lessons in patience and love through climbing in this canyon. Most of all, I have learned how to be brave when I was lacking courage of any sort. So it goes without saying that the Black is an incredibly special place to me, and for many other climbers who have ventured up its walls.

I’m positive that most people who have experienced The Black will agree: it is truly a treasure. They will also most likely agree that before the new guidebook came out, half of the adventure was trying to figure out what the heck you were getting on. Most will recall a giant binder full of handwritten topos by various contributors.

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So I’m grateful to have in my hands Vic Zeilman’s new guide, which was in high demand for quite some time. Writing a rock climbing guidebook is no easy feat. There are so many essential components, but Vic really took the time to thoroughly research and include everything to create this comprehensive climbing guide. In “The Black: A Comprehensive Climbing Guide to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park”, you will find over 500 pages packed with detailed route information, dozens of previously undocumented lines, and full color photographs of wall routes. But that’s not all.

Vic lovingly includes essays from first ascentionists as well as historical photography. A guidebook without both of these things is simply just a sandwich without the fixings. It will do enough to curb your hunger, but it’s just bread. And bread is boring! You certainly won’t starve, but the things that fill the binding are what make it so delectable. Vic Zeilman adds all of the bacon, avocado, and tomato.

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Topos of routes are hand-drawn to perfection with spot on descriptions and often a subtle humor. There is just enough detail to get you to the top. Overall, Vic takes a more minimalist approach when it comes to some descriptions of routes and route starting points, but that for sure leaves it up to the reader to pick and choose his or her adventure line. This is not a guidebook that is going to hold your hand and walk you through your climb. It’s not going to spray you down with what piece of gear to save for the crux. It will not babysit you. It’s going to tell you where you need to go, what you need to do, and then you need to sack up and do it. And to be honest, that is the embodiment of adventure climbing in the Black Canyon.

Prior to my second trip, Chris Kalous’ description of the Black was: “Bite off more than you can chew, wander through stepped, bushy ledges in the middle of the night, get off route and terrified, pull some holds off.”

In this new guidebook, Vic skillfully captures the essence of Kalous’ words. Much more than route names and grades, a climbing guidebook is an experience. What lies beyond the years that it takes to accurately accumulate information, confer with locals and developers, and get a book to print? The untold experience. The countless times Vic Zeilman and partners descended into the canyon and summited on top, only to dip back down again. Piecing together topos scribbled in a notebook to re-draw them back home. Daybreak on the North Rim, chugging coffee and runny oatmeal. Missing getting to the summit by sunset but clambering around in the dark instead, anyway. Climbing out of a knife blade thin crack only to run it out another twenty feet. Vic Zeilman’s guidebook to the Black Canyon is a true labor of love.

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This book is the perfect addition to your climbing guidebook collection. Vic Zeilman gives just enough for a new climber to cut his or her teeth on and more than enough for returning veterans. While the Black is considered one of the most intimidating climbing areas in the country, armed with Vic’s guidebook, your appreciation of how unique and wild the climbing is will grow with each returning visit.

If the Black truly is considered one of the ultimate quintessential big wall climbing areas, then “A Comprehensive Climbing Guide to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park” is its perfect partner.


You can purchase your copy of the new Black Canyon guidebook here.

Disclosure: The author of this guidebook sent me a copy in exchange for this review. All of my opinions are always honest and my own.

*All photographs courtesy of Vic Zeilman

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