Climbing Hallucinogen Wall, Black Canyon, Colorado

Climbing Hallucinogen

Getting the Shot

I had never even seen the Black Canyon before this climb.  Turns out the Black is infamous for a reason, says photographer John Dickey, who joined climber Josh Wharton on Hallucinogen Wall in Colorado's Black Canyon.  “I've been shooting on big walls for over a decade and when I first stepped over the edge, it took me a minute to get my head right before continuing.

I knew the Black had some pretty difficult lighting, so I went prepared with gradient filters and a strobe.  Once I rappelled in and saw the lighting situation, I put away the filters and milked the contrast for all I could.  I toyed with balancing the light using filters and in the end stuck with the high contrast, he recalls.

In order to get the shots he wanted of Wharton, Dickey started climbing at 4 a.m.  His goal was to get a head start on Wharton and then begin the long rappel at around 6:45 a.m. to intersect on the wall a few hundred feet off the ground.  Dickey had his lighting and climbing thoroughly planned, but serious routes can give pause even to the most prepared.  The biggest challenge of the day was at the start—those first minutes stepping over the edge of the wall.  Whenever I get intimidated like that I focus on the task at hand: Check the harness, make sure the carabiner on my belay device is locked, double check camera batteries, and move on.

Dickey photographed with a Canon 6D and carried a lens.

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