Black Canyon of the Gunnison, summer 1972

My worst bivouac took place in fine weather, with all the right gear, at the bottom of the Black Canyon. Tom and I had scrambled and rapped down Chillumstone Gully, and set up camp by the river. Our plan was to find and climb the Kor-Culp route on South Chasm View Wall the next day. We had no topo or route description, only an impressionistic sketch by Bob Culp indicating a large ramp-like feature that we should somehow connect with.

After dining on cheese and salami I crawled into my half-bag, fell asleep and went straight to hell. Madness and pain. Dozens of voices spoke to me at once, but I could not make out what they said. The darkness around our campsite grew orange-colored, whether my eyes were open or closed. I was no longer asleep but could not wake up. I could barely move my hands through the heavy orange air. Muscles and joints all hurt terribly. No position gave relief. I did not understand what was happening to me, and could not describe it to Tom. The night seemed endless.

Morning light brought weak clarity. I knew that I was sick, that we were at the bottom of the Black Canyon, and we had to climb out although I could barely sit up. Tom took most of our gear and led back up the gully. I followed at the slowest possible pace, lying down on the talus whenever black spots swirled around. The crux was a fifth-class section past the huge Chillumstone. I belayed and then climbed with no strength, feeling almost a ghost. Wasted, we topped out in mid-afternoon.

On the long drive back to Boulder, we stopped for coffee at a cowboy cafe. Some locals tried to pick a fight because they took us for dirty hippies. Dirty we were, and I looked like the strung-out addict you don't want in your town.

I spent the next days in bed, while tick fever ran its course.

Larry Hamilton, 2003