Hazel Findlay and Angus Kille climb The Free Hallucinogen Wall

© Angus Kille

Hazel Findlay and Angus Kille have made an ascent of The Free Hallucinogen Wall (5.13c), in Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado, USA.

First established as an aid climb in 1980, the route received its first free ascent at the hands of the late Hansjörg Auer in 2011, and was given the grade of 5.13. Hazel and Angus swung leads during their ascent, and topped out after a twenty-five hour push, with twelve hours of climbing.

The thirteen pitch route takes a direct line up one of Black Canyon's steepest faces, with rock that - whilst not as crumbly as it was in the 1980s - remains less than solid on the route's lower and upper reaches.

Whilst some pitches have bolts, others rely (for want of a better word) on nuts, pitons, and tiny copperheads placed years prior, with yet other pitches climbed entirely on trad gear.

We got in touch with Hazel and Angus to find out more:

Congratulations on your ascent of Hallucinogen Wall! What was it about the route that made you want to climb it?

Hazel: I first heard about the route in 2011 when climbing with the late Hansjörg Auer on El Cap. He spoke fondly of The Black Canyon and the 'H-Wall'.

Hazel on The Free Hallucinogen Wall, 5.13  © Angus Kille
Hazel on The Free Hallucinogen Wall, 5.13
© Angus Kille

Many of my other US climbing friends encouraged me to go to the Black Canyon, telling me that as a British climber I'd feel more at home with some of the runouts and questionable rock, but also that it was an impressive place with incredible climbing. So the place was always on my list and then when I suggested going there to Angus I also thought – why not try one of the hardest and most impressive walls!?

How does the climbing on the route break down? Is it mainly face climbing, crack climbing, steep, slabby, or a mix of all of the above and more?

Angus: There are about four pitches of easier climbing and the other eight or nine are 5.12 or .13. The crux pitches are mainly face climbing, but you've got to be proficient at cracks to get there, and to get out too.

The locals like to call it 'blue collar 5.10' climbing – you don't get big grades for it but it's good, honest physical labour. I think it helps to be good all-round rock climbers, and it sort of suits us as Brits because we're used to R-rated face climbing.

Angus on The Free Hallucinogen Wall, 5.13  © Hazel Findlay
Angus on The Free Hallucinogen Wall, 5.13
© Hazel Findlay

What were the crux pitches for you?

Angus: The crux pitch is the tenth pitch (depending how you count it) and it's 5.13b/c (8a/+) face climbing, which Hazel led.

To be honest I found it almost as hard to link two of the 5.12+ (7c) pitches into mega sustained face climbing, or just getting to the crux pitch through this wild roof, and getting all of it done without getting caught in the sun.

What's the protection like on the route? I've heard there are some pretty big run-outs!

Hazel: Some pitches are entirely trad, some have quite a few bolts on them. A lot of the run-outs aren't that bad if you trust really small and old copperheads (which you probably shouldn't).

Overall it feels a little run-out but not dangerous, as the chances are that one of those copperheads or your micro cams will hold if there's not a bolt to catch you.

Hazel on The Free Hallucinogen Wall, 5.13  © Angus Kille
Hazel on The Free Hallucinogen Wall, 5.13
© Angus Kille

How did you go about working the route?

Angus: We decided to abseil in to the crux pitches, which were only a few pitches down from the campsite, as it felt unrealistic to go ground up.

Then we went from the ground to try to reach our fixed lines which was actually kind of epic. We hoped to reach our lines before it got too hot at midday but we only just topped out at 7pm.

It felt like trying to onsight a string of five unchalked E5's and E6's whilst super dehydrated on baking granite. I can't believe we reached our lines – it was one of the best experiences of the project for me.

Can you tell us a bit about the logistics of practising sections on a route like Hallucinogen Wall?

Hazel: We didn't have loads of rope but we fixed the static and spare lead rope we had, re-belayed it a bunch of times and worked the sequences on micro traxions.

You don't get a lot of time in the shade there, so this way we could both be working sequences at the same time. It also allowed us to stash some water and eventually a portaledge.

How long were you on the wall in total?

Hazel: We had two mornings of checking out the top pitches, one big effort from the ground and then a send push, which took twenty-five hours (with a thirteen hour layover in our portaledge).

We would have really loved to send it in a day, but you can't wait around for clouds in Colorado, and I suppose doing it in just over twenty-four hours is the next best thing.

What has it been like exploring Black Canyon? It looks incredible!

Angus: It's an amazing place. It's big, really steep sided, and feels pretty committing. You don't want to have an accident down there, but it's also weirdly accessible, and really quiet. It's not impeccable rock, but some of the routes and pitches are really world class.

Hazel on The Free Hallucinogen Wall, 5.13  © Angus Kille
Hazel on The Free Hallucinogen Wall, 5.13
© Angus Kille

It's also good for Brits because the cracks are varied and discontinuous, so you don't have to be a crack aficionado, but there's still enough gear to make great trad climbing. And what the Americans call chossy rock really isn't that bad. 

How did you feel after finishing the route?

Hazel: Good! The whole thing was a good experience and we learnt quite a bit. It's cool to have a big enough objective that you have to push through a lot of fatigue, and even the pitches that weren't hard for us were challenging because a fall could really ruin your send push. 

What are your plans for the rest of your trip?

Angus: We're crack climbing around Indian Creek now and then we'll head to Yosemite Valley for more big stuff.

Hallucinogen Wall was a good experience on its own, but it also set us up well for climbing in the Valley. I'm pretty blown away by how much world class climbing there is around here, there's a lifetime's worth of stuff to do.

Angus on The Free Hallucinogen Wall, 5.13  © Hazel Findlay
Angus on The Free Hallucinogen Wall, 5.13
© Hazel Findlay

Hazel and Angus are both coaches at Strong Mind Climbing. You can access a free online seminar about mental training for performance in climbing here.

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23 Oct, 2023
so did they actually climb it from the bottom to the top, one pitch after another until they reached the top without leaving the wall? And climbing every pitch?
24 Oct, 2023

Hi, yes they climbed it bottom to top without leaving the wall. Mid-way through their ascent they spent thirteen hours waiting for better conditions on a portaledge that they had stashed earlier. They swung leads during the ascent, meaning that whilst neither of them led every single pitch of the route, every single pitch was led by one or the other of them in a single push.

24 Oct, 2023

Probably worth mentioning, for the benefit of our friends on the other side of the pond, that on the the pitches they didn't lead they would have seconded (free climbed) them rather than jugged up the rope. Doesn't say that in the article I'm guessing as UK climbers would assume that.

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