Scenic Cruise is perhaps the best known route in the Black. It is a variation of Layton’s (Kor) major accomplishment in 1964 named the Cruise. The way we pitched it out, it is just a three pitch variation. Somehow, Mountain Project users decided this climb deserved an alpine V rating despite the fact there is no descent (you top out at the north rim campground) and the approach can be done in an hour or less. We completed the route in late September with no need of headlamps. An alpine V climb in many regions of the world would take a minimum of three days to complete. But this is Colorado, home to Arc’teryx clad urban climbers, many of which I am sure have made this route an epic tale. The old topo has it as a IV and I will go with that although it is more comparable to a III in other desert locales.
I won’t say that Scenic Cruise is really that close to the best 5.10 route I have done (many others have), but it is pretty damn good. The highlights of the route include its scenic setting with the roaring river below combined with sustained crack climbing for the grade. Its drawbacks would be poison ivy and popularity. You get behind the wrong party, you will be finishing in the dark. The good crack climbing starts fairly immediate. After a quick 250’ simul climb, you start gaining splitters on pitch 4. Pitch 5 is considered the best pitch by many, but I thought pitch 7 (the crux on the topo) was every bit as good if not better. The mental crux of the route are the first two (three traverses total) poorly protected traverses, pitches 6 and 10. Neither of these first two traverses protect well and offer insecure moves at their cruxes. The route keeps coming at you and finishes with a spectacular long 5.9 section that reaches 4th class slopes below the rim.
Cruise gully is accessed by hiking from the campground back towards the ranger station and turning right on the only trail on the right side which is located approximately half way in between the two. Descend Cruise Gully, which requires two fixed rope raps (2015), almost down to the river. The south-facing large buttress on the North Chasm Wall sticks out like a sore thumb on your right. There is an obvious large right facing corner covered at the base in poison ivy. Climb the facial arête to the left of this corner as it leads back into the corner above (photo to the left).
Route DescriptionScenic Cruise, 1800+/-, 5.10+
1st-3rd Pitches- 280’- 5.8/ Most parties that are tackling this grade of a climb will be comfortable combining and simul-climbing these first three pitches. From a flat mashed down spot in the poison ivy, climb up the left outside arête (vs the main corner) and continue into the easy large corner above. Pull through an easy roof and angle up and right through grassy ledges to a nice left facing hand crack. Continue to the top of this crack to a gear belay. The Cruise goes straight up, Scenic Cruise goes up and right through an obvious bulge.
4th Pitch- 120’- 5.10-/ Move up and right stemming through the small roof (bulge). You can also gain the bulge by climbing easier ground to the right and traversing back left. Follow the finger/intermittent hand crack to a small stance gear belay below the obvious stem start to the steep cracks above. There was a fixed micro piece on this pitch in 2015. This is the first of several sustained pitches.
5th Pitch- 200’- 5.10+/ Although not as mental of a crux as the two traverse pitches yet to come, this pitch would be considered the second most physically demanding pitch on the route. It is sustained for a full 200’. Off the belay, stem up placing gear in the right crack, extending it, then commit to the left crack. It is mostly fingers for the first 100’ and lets up to hands above. The finish seemed to have a punch to it as I recall. Belay several meters below a piton rap (2015). The next pitch will traverse hard-left, therefore don’t enter the right facing corner above. This gear belay is at a semi-stance at best.
6th Pitch- 100’- 5.9+R/ The first of two mental crux (poorly protected traverses) pitches on the route. Avoid the right facing corner above. Rather, climb up the pegmatite face on the left. This short face section protects well via several small cracks. The “horn” above had no fixed sling in 2015 and I did not sling it until I already traversed below it. I preferred to traverse left about a meter below the horn counting on a decent cam placement out right. It is a wide reach around slab move to the left. I then climbed up the left side to sling the horn and weighted the sling with my approach shoes. It is not the most dependable “slung horn” by any stretch. Descend back left to the base of a closed flake corner. The crux of the pitch is hand- railing it up this closed feature to a small ledge on top. A lead fall here could have consequences. It involves bold and exposed movement. From the top of this feature, continue a long run-out traverse left. You can go high or low (run-out) as you tie back into the Cruise route in a big right facing alcove. There is a decent sized ledge at the base of the alcove that has old fixed gear. A slung block here makes for a good belay.
7th Pitch- 180’- 5.10+/ This is the technical crux pitch, but the pro is solid throughout as it was on the 5th pitch. They are both pretty close in difficulty, but I thought this pitch was slightly easier via more hands than fingers. The crux is fairly immediate. Head straight up the obvious crack pulling an awkward roof. There is quite a bit of stemming and contorting and even some lie-backing to pull through. There is a critical small chock stone that helps enter a wide section. After that it eases up quite a bit to a nice belay ledge.
8th Pitch- 130’- 5.9/ This pitch is far easier than the last four pitches. Some folks combine pitches 8 and 9 but I found rope drag to be significant and belayed as per the topo on a nice flat ledge at the base of the large flake/small pillar. Head up the left choice of cracks via the left facing corner. Hand jam and stem to the top of the corner. Traverse left and up easy but run out face. Climb the left side (chimney) of the feature above to access the large flat ledge below the pillar/flake.
9th Pitch- 75’- 5.7/ Climb up the left side of the pillar above and mantle it to the right. Traverse to the left and climb to the top of the next flake/pillar and make sure to toss the rope in front of it. It can easily get stuck behind it. Scramble up an easy chimney to the right and land a ledge with the only fixed belay on the route (2015.) You will soon learn why! Trying not to get the rope stuck on this pitch is the crux and why it is best not to combine it with the pitch below or above. My partner got it stuck twice and I finally just soloed up the pillar to get it straightened out. The topo is a bit off on this pitch (2015).
10th Pitch- 100’- 5.9R/ Due to the traversing nature of this pitch (the 2nd mental crux=poorly protected traverse) it again is best done without combining it with another. From the fixed belay, traverse straight out right (5.7). You get a good piece or two in and make one exposed move across space. Climb up and right past an ancient bolt (2015) to a decent bolt (2015). This next section is the run-out portion and for me the mental crux of the whole route until you have climbed it once and realize where everything is. Straight above is a hangerless 3rd bolt (2015). Do not climb up to it. Use the lone feature just above the 2nd bolt to lie back your feet up on precarious slab that allows you to reach a face hold up and right. The ease of this move can be height dependent. Finger rail across it to the right and reach more positive holds stepping up and off the face on much easier ground. Follow the crack system up and right to the base of a left facing corner with a nice ledge.
11th Pitch- 50’- 5.9+/ This short pitch has a long traverse pitch below it and above it, each going opposite directions. I advise to pitch it out on its own. Make a wide crack awkward (5.9+) entry into the corner and follow it to the top.
12th/13th Pitches- 260’- 5.9/ We simul-climbed and did this as one pitch, but it is easy to split up anywhere you want. Traverse up and left approximately 40’. As you near the arête, it looks improbable, but actually goes at the grade via a few facial features. Once you gain the arête, the crack system above reveals itself. Fun jamming and stemming through a multitude of bulges and mini-roofs leads to the top of this crack system. Nothing hard or scary about these last two pitches, just fun, easy to protect, crack climbing.
You can un-rope or not for the final 300’. Continue up and right via 4th class terrain to a significant tree. Then turn left and walk along a bushy ramp. Cut back right and up 4th class blocky terrain in a corner to the top which is a tourist lookout vista based out of the campground.