Climbing in the Black Canyon with Layton Kor
Layton Kor and Ed Webster enjoy a cold beer in Layton's backyard in Kingman after climbing in western Arizona in April, 2009. Photo @ Stewart M. Green
I'm in the barren wilds of western Arizona hanging out with the great 1960s American climber Layton Kor. Layton, along with Royal Robbins, was probably the most prolific and influential rock climber during that seminal golden period in American rock climbing history. Layton climbed everywhere, putting up first ascents that are still being climbed and revered by today's rock stars.
Layton Spins Tales
In late April, 2010, while driving out to attempt an ascent of a 300-foot-high soaring prow of rotten volcanic chiprock in the Black Mountains near the Arizona and California border, Layton entertained me with wild tales of his vertical adventures.
Layton Kor Loved the Black Canyon
One of Layton Kor's favorite climbing areas back in the 1960s was the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River, now a national park, in western Colorado. The Black Canyon, a deep gorge lined with huge cliffs, was Layton's personal playground for ten years. He made the first ascents of all of the canyon's major walls, including North Chasm View Wall, South Chasm View Wall, and The Painted Wall.
Kor Worked as a Bricklayer
Here's a funny story that Layton told me as we sped across the Golden Valley from Kingman to the Mount Nutt Wilderness Area above Bullhead City in Arizona. A bit of backstory: Layton Kor worked as a bricklayer for most of his adult life. "A good job," he says. "Gave me lots of time to climb." His father Jacob Kor was a mason also, who traveled with his family, including Layton, all over the United States to find construction work.
First Ascent of a Pillar in the Black Canyon
This story recalls the first ascent of an unnamed 1,800-foot pillar below the South Rim of the Black Canyon in 1962. With a 1 p.m. start, Layton led his climbing partner down a steep brush-filled gully, doing a rappel off a large chockstone that choked the gully halfway down, to reach the base of the pillar by the Gunnison River. The pair did a few pitches and bivouacked on a ledge. The next morning dawned cloudy, with a faint mist dripping from the gray sky.
Caught in the Rain
"I was climbing in the Black Canyon with Jim Marts back in the sixties," said Layton, "and we got caught in a bad rainstorm after bivying on the wall. There were black clouds everywhere but I had told him, 'We don't have to worry about rain. It never rains down here.' Boy, was I wrong. We got caught about halfway up the wall in rain. I was soaked, water dripped into my boots. I ended up finishing the last pitch, aiding up a bushy groove to the rim at night with a flashlight in my mouth. Near the top the batteries burned out."
Driving Back to Boulder
"We got to the rim and had to drive back to Boulder. I had to be at work the next morning on Monday. At one time while we were driving, I thought he was falling asleep so I grabbed the steering wheel. We had a wrestling match with the wheel."
The Bricklayers Rib Layton
"When I got to the jobsite, I grabbed my toolbag but I was so tired I grabbed my rope instead of my level. I walked over to the wall and all the guys were staring at me. 'Layton, what are you doing with your rope?' 'Layton, you gonna use that rope as a line?' I never heard the end of that on the construction site. The other bricklayers ribbed me mercilessly. 'Layton, you bring your rope? You need to get that wall level!' Jeez, those guys gave me a hard time."
Layton Kor uncoils a haul line before we climbed the first ascent of Kor's Kastle in the Black Mountains in western Arizona. April, 2009. Photo @ Stewart M. Green