I am so psyched!!! I just did a rock and paddle combo at the Black Canyon National Park in Colorado. One weekend of paddling with friends from Durango, and another weekend of climbing with my girlfriend. The "Black's" totally awesome for kayaking...a committing 2-day kayak trip with excellent grade IV/V whitewater, long and burly portages, prehistoric poison ivy (I'm talking head high plants with bark and berries) and a fantastic camp with epic trout fishing. The climbing...old school multi-pitch trad. Each route crosses the spectrum of possibilities when it comes to rock quality. Some pitches are on solid rock while others go through bands of Pegmatite...a pinkish crystalline rock that fractures and breaks off under you. It's course, loose and hard to protect i.e. run-out and scary!!!! This place is a trad lovers paradise. What more could you ask for?
The paddling is great. You put on flat water and paddle easy grade III for a few miles until you get to Day Wrecker. A significant horizon line of giant boulders mark this rapid. It's the first grade V of the trip and from here on out, you get 2 days of drop/pool whitewater all the while the canyon walls grow taller cutting off your ability to get out if you really get into trouble. It's always good to go with someone who knows the run so you can cut time off the scouts and you know where to get out for the portages. Day one's highlight is the 20ft falls before the great portage. Once this drop is done, you've got to put your head down and just do the portage. Just keep thinking about how fun the drop was as you sweat and hike your 100lb kayak for a mile...up and down...up and down.
I've done several routes in the Black and for this weekend we chose to climb the Russian Arete and Comic Relief. Comic's a superb route at 5.10 on some of the Black's best rock. At 6 pitches + 400ft of run-out 5.6 face climbing, it really is an excellent climb. The Russian is the exact opposite. What it lacks in quality rock it definitely makes up for in adventures. You're basically following a corner system for 6 long pitches jamming hands, arms, and legs the whole way. I found myself stemming the corner for most of each pitch. Each pitch tends to have loose sections. At 5.9+ you think you'd run up this thing...well think again. It takes time and then you have a bush whack section at the top for 400ft or so climbing through multiple small bands of easy rock between the rubble. I like the Russian because I've stared at that buttress from the North Rim campground for years wondering what it would be like to climb it. It's not nearly as bad as it sounds...just be prepared for a climb that involves everything.
Whatever you do in the Black Canyon, whether it's climbing or kayaking, be prepared...it's an adventure on the highest of scales.