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Backpacker Magazine – September 2009

Footprints Needed: Colorado's Undiscovered Black Canyon

Descend into Colorado's Black Canyon and explore a park that has everything–life-list scenery, challenging terrain, a revitalized river–except hikers.

by: Bruce Barcott

Black Canyon's Inner Gorge (Pat & Chuck Blackley)
Black Canyon's Inner Gorge (Pat & Chuck Blackley)
Fishing for trout near the bottom of the South Rim's Warner Route.
Fishing for trout near the bottom of the South Rim's Warner Route.

America's Undiscovered Trails
19 more new and unknown hikes, from the bottom of a North Carolina gorge to the top of an Alaska volcano.

As we scrambled across a gully of broken schist, surfing the sliding rocks, Fritz paused and said, "Do you hear it?"

I cocked an ear. "Hear what?"

Fritz grinned. "The thunder of the big river," he said.

In the middle of America, where the Rocky Mountains slide into the desert Southwest and ponderosa pines give way to sagebrush, lies a canyon so dizzyingly steep that bighorn sheep, renowned for their cliff-climbing ability, sometimes fall from the sheer rock walls and die. The cut in the earth runs half a mile deep for nearly 15 miles. At the bottom of this knife-gash flows the river that made it–a waterway that, in the days before dams, would firehose through the canyon every spring, dropping at an average rate 10 times steeper than the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. The Ute Indians called the place Tomichi, land of high cliffs and water. Early white settlers, mindful of the gorge's dark, shadowy recesses, called it Black Canyon.

They named the river Gunnison after a 19th-century explorer who passed nearby without ever penetrating the inner Black Canyon. Nowadays the Gunny, as local fishermen call it, is chockablock with dams that keep its flow as steady and regular as lawn sprinklers set on a timer. Every once in a great while, though, the water that flows down from the Rockies overwhelms the best-laid concrete of mankind, and the mighty Gunny roars again. That's what Fritz and I went looking for.




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READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Mar 01, 2013

Beautiful scenery minus the crowds means less chance of other hikers finding you if you need help but it can still be a safe and enjoyable hike. Why? Because you read Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart (Amazon) before you hit the trail. A MUST READ for hikers who love the secret trails! Learn essential day-hiking skills, including items to pack, how to navigate your way with and without a map or compass, and how to get rescued. Learn to stay found by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. A compass doesn't need a signal or batteries and works in all types of weather but you need to know how to use it and this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Hike smart with this fast, easy read that could save your life and will definitely make hiking off the beaten path safer and more enjoyable!

Steve C
Oct 08, 2009

The author paid his friend Fritz Holleman one of the best compliments for an outdoorsman I've heared in a long time..."a good friend, able climber, and fly-fishing fanatic."

Steve C,
Oct 08, 2009

Having grown up around western rivers, mountains and gorges, I was transported from my cubicle to the scree slopes, with the river thundering in my ears. Great story.

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