Thursday, April 7, 2011


Out for spring break, and definitely ready to get away from the world for a few days. Previously I had only climbed in Indian Creek in mormon-land (Utah). Greg Howland, an up an coming big wall climber, and I were psyched to check out the seemingly endless sandstone splitters of Zion National Park. 

Photo: Emiley Greene
Sorting heaps of gear

Photo: Emiley Greene

Moonlight Buttress - A Sockless Ascent

No, I didn't take this picture. 

We were off to a medium/ok start. The weather forecast projected 60% chance of precipitation, and didn't look like the rest of our stay was looking any better. On our way from boulder, it started pouring rain as we were on the last 100 mile stretch of the drive. We were both quieted with nervousness because the possibility of being shut down by the weather. The short amount of that we had to spend there meant there wasn't really any room to wait around for the sun to come out, let alone dry out the rock.

I didn't lose sight of the fact the first rule of climbing on sandstone is that you do not climb on it when it is wet or has rained recently.
I'll post the link to the video of my friend Kurt Ross ripping gear out again to emphasize this.

We arrived in Zion somewhere around midnight, and could only hope the the park hadn't gotten rained on recently.

We were up by 6:30am the next morning to find cloudy skies, but no rain. I hung my head low as we paid the bivy permit fee to spend the night on the wall. Not only do the charge you an annual $80 national park's pass or a $20 day pass, but they charge you a non-refundable $10 bivy permit each night you plan to stay on the wall.
(Disregard my complaining, it's completely worth it.)

A river nearly the size of the missippi offered itself to be the first crux of the climb. While attempting to cross, I thought that it would be a great idea to throw my shoes across to the other side to avoid potentially getting them wet. An underhand toss with the power of a 10 year old girl insured my right shoe didn't even make it close to the dry sandy bank on the opposing side. Somehow I managed to get it back, my cotton socks were the only casualty.
With all the climbing I have done, I still have no idea why I still thinks its a good idea to wear cotton.
I was officially going to climb this thing sockless.

Greg heading up P1

After a weird pre-haul, Greg cruised up the first few pitches and we were ready to have a good time. With only 5 pitches to climb a day, there wasn't any real rush to get to any particular bivy because we were sporting a comfy double portaledge. That being said, I still crushed out my pitches as fast and efficiently as I could. I need all the speed practice I can get for the valley!

P2. The fun begins

Looking down P4. It reminded me of Fingers in a Lightsocket in Indian Creek... but on steroids. .4 and .5 Camalots forever!

Being graded at 5.12+, and totally free climbable, I aided and french freed the whole thing. I forced myself to top step in my aiders as high as I possibly could between each piece, and it made for quick progress.

Around 6pm we got to our designated spot half way up the route to bivy. After setting up this ledge approximately 15 times, I think I've gotten the time down to around 5 minutes. By the time Greg had jugged and cleaned the pitch I had led, the ledge was almost completely set up.

Chillin in the ledge on top of pitch 5. We realized that we were going to be bivy on St. Patrick's day, so naturally we were obligated to bring up a few cans of Guiness. Burritos and beer: glory.

The sun completely saturated our neon yellow rain fly and forced us to get out and start climbing. Again, emphasizing that we didn't have to go fast on the route, we slept in and started climbing around 10am.

Sporting the sending shades.

In all epic-ness, this route would definitely be a proud free climb. I don't feel that it is too far out of my reach, and some day I hope to send it. I almost felt guilty aiding most of the route. I think that if I did it faster in a single day, not having to haul, and carrying less gear, I would have been able to free certain sections and french free through the rest.

We summited to find a cement paved descent. 3,416 switchbacks later, we got back to the parking lot where we convinced a nice couple to give us a ride back to our car 4 miles down the road. 
The hike down provided me an hour of mental time to get myself psyched up to do another wall the following day. 

Touchstone Wall 

Groggy, but ready to climb, I turned the key to start the ignition in my '97 Jeep... dead. Frustrated, I walked over to our neighbors camping next to us if they could give me a jump. "Yeah sure, just give me about 30 minutes," the guy said. I bit my tongue and didn't grumble that I was about to go climb a grade 5 big wall, and needed to start climbing as soon as possible.

We eventually made it to the base, and started climbing around 10 or 11. We were definitely sporting the alpine starts on this trip.

Heading up the first pitch, very reachy pin ladder.

Some non-memorable climbing, and we were at the summit.
Just kidding, this thing was SPLITTER! We climbed and short fixed nearly every pitch without much problem. The weird C2 section on pitch 2 scared me a bit, but I got through it using our handy offset metolius cams. We were using 2 offset tcu's and 2 offset master cams.
The offset tcu's are just about the worst idea ever for aid climbing. The 'U' stem design seems to torque the cam outwards and make it pretty easy to pop out when you weight it.
(As soon as I got home the trip I sold them as quickly as I could in exchange for mastercams)

The forecast of rain thankfully was wrong, but we were still at the mercy of the elements. I would have to brace myself while when the strong gusts of wind would rip through the canyon. As long as I was climbing and moving, I stayed warm enough in just my base layer and rain shell.

Psyched to be on the summit.

The summit. 

We took the decent route which featured a series of 9 rappelles and some scrambling to get down. It was very surprising to me how sketchy the rap stations were, considering we were on one of the most well traveled routes in the park. Ideally I would say that rapping the route would be the way to go, but you would have to lug up an extra rope. The last two pitches would not be possible to rap, they do not feature fixed anchors.  

Sorry we didn't get more pictures. Greg kept complaining that the battery was too cold for the camera to function. Just kidding, but in all seriousness, most of the pictures that were taken didn't turn out.

This trip got me super psyched for the valley. Long routes are so appealing, that I just feel like everything inside me is gravitating towards yosemite. 


  1. Good post Cheyne. Way to stay psyched.

  2. Dido that Gil... Really enjoyed reading this one. The "sport" glasses are sick! I think I'll break out some old gear.

    "Thanks" for keepin-it-real!!!

  3. Wow, that was tough. I like the pictures you got there. It makes me fell nervous too.
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