Into the Black Canyon

September-October 2020  |  Colorado

With sheer walls towering over 2,000 vertical feet above the Gunnison River, there's no easy way to visit the bottom of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison; every possible hiking route is a steep, rugged scramble. But the rewards are plentiful to those who venture into its guarded depths - awaiting at the bottom are incredible views of the sheer and imposing 1.8-billion-year old rock walls, idyllic riverside campsites, as well as fantastic trout fishing.

In September and October I visited the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park three times and did three different hikes down to the Gunnison River. The first trip was an overnight backpack trip down the Gunnison Route from the South Rim, the second was another overnighter down Slide Draw from the North Rim, and the third was a hike down S.O.B. Draw from the North Rim while camped at the campground there for a couple nights. Here are some photos from those visits!

Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado, photo

Purple Chasm

Looking 2,000 feet straight down vertical cliffs to the Gunnison River. The walls of the Black Canyon are composed of 1.8 billion year old Precambrian basement rock.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Gunnison Route, hiking, photo

Descending into the Black Canyon via the Gunnison Route; an installed chain provides assistance in a particularly slippery section.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Gunnison River, fishing, Colorado, photo

Black Canyon Fisherwoman

Fishing in the Gunnison River at the bottom of the Black Canyon - September.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Gunnison Route, fishing, photo

Pan fried trout filets encrusted with jalapeno, garlic, and Fritos.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison, ponderosa pine, night, stars, Colorado, photo

Black Canyon Night

Looking straight up at the stars above giant ponderosa pines and the vertical walls of the Black Canyon, from alongside the Gunnison River at the bottom of the canyon.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Slide Draw, Colorado, photo

Looking straight up Slide Draw, one of the more difficult routes into the Black Canyon - a steep chute filled with loose talus that drops straight down from the North Rim.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison, hammock, photo

I gambled by bringing my hammock to camp at the bottom of Slide Draw; when I got to the bottom I discovered to my dismay that there were hardly any sufficient trees to hang between! The only solution was to suspend the hammock using two 15-foot straps in addition to the normal 6-foot suspension, resulting in a 40-50-foot mega-span! So ridiculous... but it worked.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Slide Draw, Colorado, Gunnison River, photo

Gunnison River Evening Light

Evening light shines into the Black Canyon on a hazy September day.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison, fishing, Slide Draw, Colorado, Gunnison River, photo

Fishing in the Gunnison River at the bottom of the Black Canyon.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado, photo

Glowing Abyss

Glowing dusk light illuminates the walls of the Black Canyon after sunset, nearly 2,000 feet above the Gunnison River.

Gunnison River, paradise, Black Canyon, Colorado, photo

River Carve

Autumn colors along the Gunnison River as it carves through the Black Canyon over 2,000 feet below the surrounding land, creating an isolated paradise guarded by sheer cliff walls - October.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Painted Wall, Colorado, autumn, October, Gunnison River, photo

Autumn in the Black Canyon

Yellow box elder trees line the Gunnison River at the bottom of the Black Canyon on an October afternoon. The Painted Wall towers 2,250 vertical feet above the river in the distance.

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