By Tim Jones
Last April, I got a call from climbing photographer Andrew Burr. “Want go to to the Black Canyon next week?” Apparently Nik Berry and Hayden Kennedy were heading down there to make a one-day free climbing attempt on the infamous Hallucinogen Wall, and Black Diamond wanted us to document it. Up until that point, the Black Canyon was merely a place of legend to me. I had heard the tales of how scary and committing the climbing was. How bad the poison ivy was in the bottom of the canyon. But I had never made the trip to see for myself. Climbing there, let alone producing a video there, made me uneasy. Scared or not, this was an opportunity I couldn’t resist. I was in.
As the days approached, Burr and I made tentative plans but knew that a lot would hinge on the weather conditions and how Nik and Hayden were feeling. Their plan was to spend a couple of days working the upper crux pitches of the route before hiking to the bottom and giving the whole thing a go. When things started falling into place, the day they wanted to attempt the route got moved up from Saturday to Friday. I had a whole day shoot in the Wasatch backcountry scheduled for that Thursday with the Utah Avalanche Center, so I knew I’d have a long day making it to the Black Canyon to be ready to go by morning. After an entire day of filming while sun baking in the snow, I hit the road at around 4PM. With loads of coffee I cruised through the dark and eventually made my way to the campground on the north rim of the Black Canyon.
When I arrived around midnight, Burr was still awake and greeted me with a cold beer. He told me the plan: we were waking up at 4AM, and I’d be hiking to the base of the canyon with the climbers. Once they started climbing, I’d hike back out and Burr would rappel in from the top to film from the wall. Then I’d make the hour and a half drive around to the other side of the canyon and get long lens shots of the climbers on the upper pitches. Sleepy and overwhelmed, I went to sleep in my car.
I’m not sure if I ever fell asleep, but either way, 4AM came way too soon. I met Nik and Hayden for the first time in the dark as we cooked up some quick breakfast. “Ready to go?” We put on our harnesses, I threw a million pounds of camera gear on my back, and we started down the canyon. If you’ve never hiked to the base of the Black Canyon, you should try it for the first time in the dark with a heavy camera pack on. I was woken up by steep and loose sections followed by long rappels into blackness. Stopping only a couple of times to film on the way down, I just tried my best to keep up with these two overly-anxious professional climbers. It was pretty amazing to get my first views of the Black Canyon from halfway down the trail as the sun started to come up. All of a sudden, I was surrounded by massive, intimidating walls. I was feeling alive. Then I remembered the stories I heard about the poison ivy at the base of the canyon.
Once we got to the bottom, we were only a short walk from the base of the route, which took some searching to find. I shot some b-roll, snagged a couple quick interviews with the guys, and then they were off. Slightly relieved I’d done my first duty of the day, I trundled my way down to the river at the very bottom of the canyon and relaxed for a bit. I set up my tripod and filmed them climbing the first two pitches as I took in the amazing beauty of the canyon. Before I got too relaxed, I packed up my bag and started to slog straight back up the hill. “I wish I was climbing”, I remember thinking. After about an hour and a half, I made it to the top of the trail.
As Andrew Burr spent the rest of the day rappelling and ascending ropes to film the climbers on the wall, I drove to the other side of the canyon and filmed from there. Nik and Hayden exceeded even their own expectations, and finished the route much sooner than any of us expected. As I drove back to camp, I picked up some burritos in town and we all un-winded while stuffing ourselves.
We spent the next couple of days shooting b-roll, including an interview with one of the H-Wall first ascentionists Jim Newberry. It was a treat for all of us to hear some of Jim’s stories from back in the day. Jim recalled of The Hallucinogen Wall that “Climbers looked at it and said “you’d have to be hallucinating to see a route up there.””
Now that you’ve got some insight into what it took for us to make this one, here it is, courtesy of Black Diamond Equipment. Oh, and one more thing. I never got poison ivy.