Black Wall is a 250 foot formation located along Highway 33, some twenty miles north of the city of Ventura, California.
If you climbed on Black Wall, also known as Sespe Gorge Wall, some forty years ago as I did, you already know why this rock came to be named as such. Black Wall was completely covered by black lichen. There were only two narrow lines about two feet wide that were not completely covered. The first one was the most popular route on Black Wall called “The Tree Root.” The other line was what we named “Straight Up Crack” now called “Ending Crack.” The later one was clear of lichen for only the first 80 feet. I nearly fell to mey death climbing through the lichen-covered second pitch of Ending Crack with zero protection on a windy winter afternoon thirty five years ago.
Things have changed for the Black Wall in the past forty years. Fame and fortune have smiled upon this wall and now it has become the rock of destination for many climbers. On my last visit I saw several cars with out of state license plates. With decades of hand and foot traffic, the middle section of Black wall is showing its true sandstone color. The extreme left and right sides, however, may need forty more years of traffic to get clear of lichen. There are visible signs of that happening now. Protecting the climbs on the extreme ends of the rock may be very tricky. Although the climbs are of moderate difficulty on low angle rock, extreme caution is recommended for climbing in those parts of Black Wall.
Climbs and history of climbing on Black Wall
My best guess for how far back the history of climbing on Black Wall may go, is the late fifties.
I have no doubt that Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia and a Ventura resident, played a role in establishing some of the routes on Black Wall. I started climbing on Black Wall in 1969, and I always came back with at least one tick stuck to my body. In the old times we did not have fixed anchors to rap down the face. We climbed to the top and came down the brush-covered east shoulder. I figure I picked up the ticks on the way down. In fact, for many years I called this rock “Tick Wall.” Thank to the efforts of the local climbers, there are bolt anchors on the most popular routes here. No need to go to the very top and pick up ticks. You can get to the bottom with two raps.
|Climbs of the Left Side|
|A||Half Ascent, 5.5, standard rack|
|B||McTavish, 5.6,standard rack|
|C||Chip's Block, 5.6, standard rack|
|D||Slime Climb, 5.3, standard rack|
|E||Wasp, 5.8, standard rack|
|F||Sting, 10+, standard rack|
|G||Mrs. Murphy's Rusty Old Packard, 5.5, standard rack|
There are several reasons for the popularity of Black Wall. The twenty mile drive from Ventura is really very pleasant. You may just want to go for a drive through the mountains, even if you are not interested in climbing. Another reason could be the easy approach. The approach to the base should not take more than 30-60 seconds. Black Wall is just across the creek from the road. Yes, I did say creek. The belayer stands right next to a creek. If you are climbing a route on the left side, your belayer has to find a rock to stand on. Finall, the rock itself, Black Wall is low angle and very slabby. If you have dropped out of climbing scene and want to get back on the rock, Black Wall is your ticket. The “Tree Root” is only 5.5 and as the name indicates, you have a tree at the end of every pitch. You also have a crack that you follow the entire way. You can sew up the climb if you wish.
Note: We are trying to preserve the trees. There are anchor bolts for belaying and rappelling. Please use them and use the trees only for shade.
The other extremely popular route is “Ending Crack, 5.7.” There are now two bolt anchors at the end of each of the two pitches. The first pitch is very well protected. The second pitch follows face moves with sporatic thin cracks here and there. Take some thin pieces for the second pitch. The anchor bolts are a welcomed sight and can be used for rapping to the bottom.
Note: There are several more climbs on Black Wall than the diagram and the tables indicate. There are also many variations to all of the standard climbs. It would be impossible to include all of these climbs without causing confusion. I have tried to include all the climbs that I feel receive most traffic.
|Climbs of the Right Side|
|H||Pipe Cleaner, 5.6, standard rack|
|I||White Spider, 5.7, standard rack|
|J||Ending Crack, 5.7, standard rack|
|left K||Wadka, 5.7, runout, standard rack|
|right K||Tree Root, 5.5, standard rack|
|L||Pine To Pine, 5.6, standard rack|
|M||Hairy Airy, 5.7, standard rack|
Unlike in the mountains of Santa Barbara, there are a number of campgrounds along Highway 33 on your way to Black Wall. Wheeler Gorge Campground is one. If you want to camp closer to town, there are many State Beach campgrounds along the beaches of Ventura County.
The following links should help you find a suitable spot for camping.
Ventura Beach Camping
Wheeler Gorge Campground/Ventura, Ojai camping
Emma Wood State Beach
How to get there
Directions to Black Wall of Sespe Gorge cannot be simpler. From Highway 101 and the city of Ventura, California, take Highway 33 north for 13.2 miles to its junction with Maricopa Road in the town Ojai. Turn left here onto Maricopa and drive another twenty miles. You will see Black Wall to your left across the creek.