<-- Map of summer 2014
(click to enlarge)
5 Days & 10 Climbs in ZION NP
Climb 1: The Headache (5.10+, 3p)
Climb 2: Checkerboard Mesa, Wheat Chex (5.7, 600', solo)
Climb 3: Mythical Kings And Iguanas (5.10, 6p)
Climb 4: South Buttress, Angel's Landing (5.10+, 3p)
Climb 5: Cynthia's Hand Job (5.10, 2p)
Climb 6: Kung Fu Fighter (5.11-, 3p)
Climb 7: Pu Corner (5.10, 2p)
Climb 8: Operation Condor (5.10, first 2 pitches)
Climb 9: The Gypsy's Curse (5.10, 4p)
Climb 10: G-String Divas (5.10, 1p)
It had been over two months since I packed my Subaru full of climbing and photography gear and drove south out of Bellingham. My first destination had been City of Rocks in Idaho, and I had no plans after that other than to find good rock, good partners, and good weather. And hopefully make a good summer out of it. It turned out to be a spectacular summer. Over the course of three months, I strung together a series of climbing adventures: from the City of Rocks I drove down to Salt Lake City to climb for a few days in Lone Peak Cirque, then it was back up to Idaho for a week at Elephant's Perch, then to wild Wyoming for a week in the Cirque of the Towers followed by a few days at Devil's Tower, then an impromptu trip to Colorado to climb in Rocky Mountain National Park and Eldorado Canyon, and then back to Wyoming to climb some harder routes in the Cirque of the Towers. By the time this trip ended, it was late August. I had a few weeks before I needed to be home to start teaching. But I had no partner or trip lined up. My most recent climbing partner Dow was headed home to the St. George area (southwest Utah) afterward, and invited me to come down and join him for some desert climbing. How could I resist? Let the summer climbing adventures continue!
I climbed with Dow for a few more weeks. The first week and a half, we stayed "local" and climbed in Zion NP (for five days total), just an hour's drive from Dow's home. We also climbed in Snow Canyon State Park for one day, a spectacular area of red sandstone cliffs just five minutes from Dow's back door. This page gives a trip report for our climbs at Zion and Snow Canyon SP. [The second week and a half, we strayed a bit further from Dow's home, first climbing a couple of days in Red Rocks, and then driving northward to finish off the climbing trip with some desert towers near Moab. Click the links to go to these trip reports.]
I had been a bit worried about the summer heat this far south, but Dow and I climbed in the mornings and chased the shade, and climbing temperatures were actually rather pleasant. During the Zion portion of our climbing adventures, Dow and his wife Stacy generously offered me a place to stay in their spare bedroom—I'd only slept in an actual bed three nights since I left Bellingham so this was a real treat. Dow and Stacy were incredibly hospitable, plus they have two of the most adorable cats I've ever seen, and I soon settled into the style of climbing until mid-afternoon and then coming back to a cool and comfortable home to take a shower, eat fresh food, photograph Ditto and Femke, process photos, and work on my trip reports.
This page provides a trip report for our five days of climbing in Zion National Park and one day of climbing at Snow Canyon State Park. Dow and I climbed ten great routes (ranging in length from 1-6 pitches) in Zion during this time, from popular classics to rarely-travelled adventure routes. Thanks Dow for the wonderful introduction to the area. I enjoyed every bit of it. I will be back for sure.
Zion National Park
The sandstone Yosemite, Zion National Park encompasses some of the world's largest and steepest sandstone walls. In the main canyon, the Virgin River has carved through 2,000 feet of Navajo sandstone laid down as dues about 170 million years ago. There are hundreds of aid and free climbs in the 800-1500-foot tall range and more than a few taller than 2000 feet. What stands out about Zion is just how many dead vertical 1000 plus foot walls there are. Zion Canyon is a little smaller than Yosemite Valley. However, while Yosemite has just a dozen vertical big walls with a lot of low angle terrain and forest between, almost the ENTIRE ZIon Canyon is bordered by big walls ranging between 800 to 2500 feet in height. There are hundreds and hundreds of tall rock climbs and nearly endless cragging possibilities. While Zion is known for its steep and long aid climbs, there are a fair number of free routes, which is the style of climbing both Dow and I prefer. The map on the right is something I put together for Dow's Zion Free Climbs page on summitpost; this map which shows several of the popular locations for free climbing in the Park. All of the areas Dow and I climbed at are shown on this map.
(Aug 25:) Our first day of climbing in Zion, Dow introduced me to one of the best 5.10 routes in the Park—1. The Headache (5.10+, 3p)—and after this we capped off the day with an adventurous solo of 2. Wheat Chex (5.6/7, 600') on Checkerboard Mesa, which is a lithified sand dune with unique cross-bedding and cracks that are more sandy runnels than splitter. Even though these routes were in the sun and it was August, the unusually cool temperatures that day (high of 75°F, compared to the normal daily August maximum of 97°F) made climbing comfortable.
The next day a strong thundershower system passed through the area, causing significant flash flooding in the slot canyons and saturating the porous sandstone. We ended up having to wait two full days for the rock to dry before we could climb in Zion again—as we waited we climbed a couple of routes in the nearby Snow Canyon State Park and I also went hiking in Zion with my camera. Photos for both of these days are posted on this page if you scroll down.
(Aug 28:) After the thundershower intermission, we returned to Zion for a second day of climbing in the Park. We climbed 3. Mythical Kings And Iguanas (5.10, 6p) on The Watchman, which was a full day adventure climb, with some pretty good sections of climbing and great views of Zion. Dow and I both enjoy these athletic days amassing our own beta on rarely-travelled terrain.
(Aug 30:) Since we got home late from Mythical Kings and Iguanas, we took the next day off. But by the day after that, climbing junkies looking for our next climbing fix, we headed back into Zion for another full day of climbing. We climbed two routes. Both were accessed off the Zion Park Scenic Drive, so we had to take the Zion Shuttle. For our first climb of the day, we got off at The Grotto/Angel's Landing stop and climbed the 4. South Buttress (5.10+, 3p) of Angel's Landing, which was somewhat of an adventure route involving a "Chockstone O'Death" and sandstone nodules that crumbled off when you stepped on them, but despite this some pretty good offwidth and crack climbing. After lunch, I voted to do something more oft-travelled and "classic", so we got back on the shuttle and rode it to the Big Bend Stop where we climbed 5. Cynthia's Hand Job (5.10, 2p), whose second pitch has one of the best splitter 5.10 hand cracks in Zion. Great day!
(Sept 1:) Another rest day (I spent the day photo processing and working on route overlays and my trip report, while Dow worked on his summitpost route descriptions) and then we were back to climb the popular offwidth 6. Kung Fu Fighter (5.11-, 3p), followed by the appropriately-named 7. Pu Corner (5.10, 2p) and first two pitches of a newly-established route called 8. Operation Condor (5.11, 3p). Climbing these three routes in succession makes for a full and varied day of climbing, without even needing to move the packs. Plus, the Kung Fu Wall area is shaded and higher elevation, so a good choice for a day where the temperatures were pushing into the triple digits below. It was another great day in Zion.
(Sept 3:) Another rest day (I relished these rest days at Dow and Stacy's place where I could have a cool spot, cute cats, plug, and wi-fi, which was a real luxury after spending the summer living in my car and camping out at McDonalds' for plug and wifi) and then Dow and I headed back into Zion for a fifth and final day of climbing in the Park. We climbed two routes at the always-shaded Tunnel Wall area: first 9. The Gypsy's Curse (5.10, 4p), one of Dow's favorites at that grade, and then we ended the day with a good workout on the single-pitch sandbagged eats-4"-cams offwidth next door called 10. G-String Divas (5.10, 1p).
And with that my first climbing trip to Zion came to a close. What a week! What I found utterly amazing was that despite the comfortable temperatures (in the shade at least) and great climbing, we never encountered another climbing party, or even saw one from a distance. Zion is one of those rare gems where you really can have world-class rock all to yourself.
1. The Headache, The Headache Area, Tunnel Wall Area
Trad, 3 pitches, 380', 5.10+
• What better place to start my Zion climbing experience than The Headache, one of the finest and most classic free routes at Zion, good enough to have been featured in Climbing magazine on at least one occasion. The route features pitches of mostly 5.10ish hand crack climbing, with plenty of features and variety along the way to keep things interesting. The route might have gotten its name from the fact that it is easy to bonk your head when exiting the pod at the top of the third pitch.
a. The Headache is accessed by a short climbers trail that ascends left of the tunnel.
b. Looking up Pitch 1, which is 10b according to mountainproject. This was my first pitch of climbing at Zion. Splitter!
c. Dow leading off Pitch 1. So I could follow in pure fun.
d. Looking up Pitch 2, which is 5.10- according to mountainproject. My second pitch of climbing at Zion. More great stuff, and a bit more technical than the first pitch.
e. Shadow climbing.
f. A bolt on the route.
g. Looking down while climbing Pitch 2.
h. Dow starting up Pitch 3. This pitch is 5.10- if you have small hands, 5.10+ if you have large hands.
i-j. What a view: Mt. Spry, The Twin Brothers, and The East Temple across the valley.
k. Datura. Interesting fact: Most parts of the plants are toxic, and datura has a long history of use for causing delirious states and death. It was well known as an essential ingredient of potions and witches' brews.
2. Checkerboard Mesa, Wheat Chex, East Zion
Trad, 600', 5.7 (solo)
• When I passed through Zion on a photography road trip in June 2010, I came through the East Entrance. One of the first formations I saw was Checkerboard Mesa, a petrified sand dune (technically it's a lithified sand dune complex according to a geologist friend of mine) that gets its name from its checkerboard pattern of cross bedding. I remember getting out of my car and looking up to see if I could spot a feasible climbing route, but I was not the gutsy type to climb into the unknown without climbing shoes or route beta, so I drove on. Perhaps I would be back. Perhaps not. In 2014 I was back. Dow and I had just climbed The Headache, and we were looking for something a bit athletic to get our blood pumping. I was paging through the guidebook when I came upon Checkerboard Mesa. There was a 5.6/5.7 route. Appropriately called Wheat Chex, this route follows the most continuous crack system on the northeast prow of the mesa when viewed from the road. From the description, it sounded like an old school adventure route, full of soft rock, sandy cracks, run outs, and unclear belay spots. Apparently Checkerboard and its neighbors were in vogue during the 1970s, and several wild and run out routes had been ascended on the peak at the time; but ascents of Checkerboard are rare these days, since as climbers and climbing gear have improved, most of the climbing in the park has focused on the more splitter and solid sandstone that the park is famous for on the west side of the tunnel. But Dow and I were up for an adventure, plus Checkerboard Mesa was one of the few free climbs Dow had not done in the park. We initially planned on simul-climbing the route, but when we got to the base with our rope and rack, we decided to make it even more of an adventure and solo the route. With the sandy cracks and soft rock, there were a few moves that were a bit heady without a rope, but all in all it was a really fun route to solo. Most of the route was 5.5ish with perhaps four or five 5.6/5.7ish cruxes (these felt 5.7 to me, but might have felt 5.6 with a rope). We moved carefully and the route took us an hour. The walk-off descent took about half an hour.
a. Checkerboard Mesa as seen from the road. Looks like you could run up it from here, but for the most part it is steep enough that you definitely wouldn't want to slip.
b. Guess we don't need that rope and rack.
c. The cracks were kind of sandy. This made some of the steeper/slabbier 5.7ish moves a bit more heady than they would have been on granite. Also, the sandy and slightly flaring nature of the cracks would have made pro a bit more difficult to find, although we spotted decent pro placements along the way (mostly 0.5-3 Camalots).
d-e. Checkerboard Mesa is a petrified sand dune (technically it's a lithified sand dune complex according to a geologist friend of mine), so it's composed of cool striations and textures.
f. We passed some shiny new bolts on the route, which probably post-date the guidebook's comments about bad belays. But other than this there was little sign of any recent climbing traffic. Despite the roadside approach and the "climb me!" look of Checkerboard Mesa, this route is not climbed much.
g. This photo was taken on the descent, while scrambling down the wash back to the road. Zion is full of such washes, which are pretty fun to hike.
3. Mythical Kings And Iguanas, The Watchmn
Trad, 6 pitches, 600', 5.10
• Mythical Kings and Iguanas is somewhat of an adventure climb: a bit off-the-beaten-path, a bit scrappy, a somewhat onerous uphill approach, and some looseness and dirt. Nonetheless, the route makes for a fun outing and the climbing is rather enjoyable and moderate at the grade. The route ascends a crack system just east (climbers' left) of the North Ridge of The Watchman (the prominent peak at the south end of the Park), and follows that crack system for six pitches to the top of the large pillar where it joins the North Ridge route; from here you can either rap (3 raps—the first 2 with one rope and the last with 2 ropes—off trees will get you to the base) or continue to the summit. The climb mainly consists of handcracks and chimneys and a few short offwidth sections. The rock quality ranges from quite good to quite bad, but even on the bad rock the actual climbing is rather fun and varied. A big perk of this climb is that view of Zion Canyon from the route is outstanding. And by the way, the original Mythical Kings and Iguanas was the second solo LP by Dory Previn, released in early 1971; the song concentrated on the quest for spiritual fulfilment and a loving relationship.
• Click here to go to Dow's excellent description for Mythical Kings And Iguanas on summitpost.org.
9:11 am - Leave Zion Canyon Visitor Center parking lot
10:18 - Base of climb
10:49 - Start climbing (wrong route)
1:12 - Start rappelling (wrong route)
1:40 - Start climbing (correct route)
4:45 - Top of route
4:59 - Begin descent (got a rope stuck)
6:15 - Base of route
7:12 pm - Car
• About 1 hour approach, about 3 hours climbing up route, about 1 hour rappel descent to base, about 1 hour hike back to car
• About 10 hours car-to-car (3 hours of which involved climbing and bailing from the wrong route, and 30 minutes of which inovlved dealing with a stuck rope on the rappels)
a. The approach to the climb starts in the Visitor Center parking lot. From there hike through the shuttle parking lot and follow a trail-like wash system and head uphill through scrub to the base of the route.
b. On the approach, we headed uphill too early and got caught in a bit of schwacking and side-hilling. On the way back to the car we chose a better path. This photo shows where we popped onto the wash on the way down; this would be a good place to start heading up on the approach.
c. A view (taken during the climb) looking down at the approach from the Visitor Center parking lot. You can see the meandering wash which is pretty easy travel.
d. Looking up from the base of the route. The first pitch goes up the crack on the left of the right-trending crack. The second pitch goes up the splitter hand crack seen in the top center of the photo.
e. We weren't paying enough attention to the route description at the base, and we headed up the rightward leaning crack system instead of straight up. The entrance move was a fun 5.10- ish move, and the rest was 5.8 ish to the tree. The grade fit what we were expecting from the first pitch of Mythical Kings And Iguanas and we knew the first pitch topped out at a ledge with a tree, so we didn't clue in that we were off route. But I recall that while belaying at the base, I noticed that the crack just left of the ramp looked like much more fun and I wondered where that went....
f. Still blindly assuming we were on route, we headed up for a second pitch. This looked pretty clean and interesting, but did strike us as more of a chimney than the supposed offwidth to handcrack we were expecting. While belaying, I was looking up and noticing that the route we were taking was leading us in a continued chimney system (perhaps 3 more pitches) along the left side of a big pillar. This definitely did not fit the route description for Mythical Kings And Iguanas that I had read. Dow-in-chimney agreed, and downclimbed. This 4-pitch chimney be a decent route, actually, but I am not sure if there is anyone who has done it.
g. Our bail tat. We felt quite foolish and frustrated with ourselves for the route-finding kerfuffle. We had lost 3 hours because of it, and it was already 1:40pm. Back to car or up the planned route?
h. Despite the late start, we decided to go ahead and climb Mythical Kings And Iguans anyway. Here is Dow starting up Pitch 1, which is pretty good 5.10- crack climbing and stemming.
i. I noticed these incuts on the sandstone just right of the base of where Pitch 1 starts. My best guess is they have been formed by water dripping from the overhanging rock above.
j. Looking up the splitter hand crack of the second half of Pitch 2. This is past the 5.10 crux of the pitch, which is a short offwidth section just above the belay. This offwidth move is protected by either a No. 5 or a No. 6 cam.
k. Dow leading up Pitch 3, which is steep 5.8 climbing up mixed cracks. The rock is pretty rotten on this pitch, so chose your hand holds and foot holds wisely. This pitch was just under 100' and Pitch 2 was just over 100', so you could probably combine Pitches 2 and 3 into one long pitch. The belay between Pitches 2 and 3 is a tight pod and not as comfortable as the big ledge (with bolted anchor) at the top of Pitch 3.
l. A view out across the valley. The North Ridge is in the foreground.
m. Dow leading off Pitch 4, which follows the right crack system off of the ledge with the bolted anchor.
n. A photo taken midway up Pitch 4. This pitch surprised us by the quality and variety of the climbing—steep 5.8 chimney and crack.
o. There is a shiny bolt at the top of Pitch 4. There is also a crack to the left for a piece of pro (yellow alien—or perhaps smaller—if I recall correctly?).
p. Pitch 5 begins with a 5.8 offwidth. The offwidth moves are actually avoidable by climbing the face just left of the crack.
q. The only way to protect the offwidth section on Pitch 5 is with large gear. A No. 6 cam fits well, but a No. 5 cam would probably be slightly small. Note on wide gear for this climb: Pitches 2 and 5 require the largest gear. We found we could use the No. 6 cam to protect both sections. We decided that the No. 5 was not needed for the route (it could have protected Pitch 2 but would have been too small for Pitch 5). We also had two No. 4 cams which were useful for the route in general.
r. A view out to the other side of the valley.
s. Looking up Pitch 6, which is 5.3 ish climbing, but the varnished edges and features are kind of rotten so heads up (I pulled off a toaster-sized horn at one point, fortunately the terrain is low-angle enough I was able to regain my balance without falling). We combined Pitches 5 and 6 into one rope-stretching 200' pitch.
t. A view of the heart of Zion from the top of the route.
u. An old snag near the top of the route.
v. Looking up towards the continuation of the North Ridge which goes to the summit of The Watchman. It would have been nice to top out, but apparently the descent from the summit is a bit convoluted and we also did not have enough time left due to our initial off-route mistake earlier. Most parties who climb Mythical Kings And Iguanas probably descend from instead of continuing on.
w. The descent involves three rappels. The first rappel is off a tree just down from the top of the route. We did this as a 200' double-rope rappel as recommended, but got our ropes stuck, and had to climb up on loose terrain to get a better direction on the pull. I would advise perhaps rapping only 100-150' and then pulling the ropes and scrambling (3rd, easy 4th) to the next station.
x. The tat at the first rappel. Getting a bit manky looking.
y. The second rappel station, which is down the gully to the north from the base of the first rappel. After our rope-sticking fiasco of the first rappel, we opted to do a single-rope rappel for the second rappel, which worked out well, with onluy 20 feet of easy downclimbing to the third rap station.
z. The third rappel. This requires 2 ropes to get you to the ground. There might be an opportunity for an intermediate rappel if you wanted to try to rap this with a single rope, but I did not see any tat anywhere.
a2. Looking over at Mythical Kings And Iguanas during the descent. The top of the splitter hand crack of Pitch 2 and Pitch 3 are in the sun.
b2. This crack splits the arete between Chastity Crack (left of arete) and Mythical Kings And Iguanas (to the right). There is a relatively new route up it called Hoods in the Woods (5.11). Looks like a fun line!
c2. Bighorn sheep track perhaps? I noticed lots of thee tracks in the lower wash.
d2. Evening light on The Watchman on the hike back to the car.
4. South Buttress, Angel's Landing (Zion Shuttle The Grotto / Angel's Landing stop)
Trad, 3 pitches, 260', 5.10+
• This route follows an obvious crack system on the southwest facing side of the south buttress of Angel's Landing. It is clearly visible from the trail up Angel's Landing. The route is not climbed often, so it is somewhat dirty and loose, but it has the potential to be a better route if some significant route cleaning was enacted upon it. It is a cool line at least. The first pitch features a looming "Chockstone O'Death" you must climb around. The second pitch features some wear-a-long-sleeved-shirt-and-bring-some-large-gear-5.10+ offwidth followed by a hand crack; Dow and I both enjoyed this pitch. The third pitch features some friable varnish and spackles of nodules that tend to crumble off when you step on them, as well as a fun roof move and decent crack. Overall, a fun adventure climb. For the descent, you can apparently walk to the left and rap a fixed line, but we chose to rap the route—3 raps to the ground with a single rope.
• Note on large gear: We had three #3, two #4, one #5; this was sufficient for Pitch 2.
• Click here to go to Dow's excellent description for this route on summitpost.org.
• Note on route name: As of Aug 2014, this route is listed as "South Face-Unknown" in Brian Bird's SuperTopo guide and is listed as "South East Butress" (sic) by Gaar on MountainProject. This route is actually on the SW-facing side of the South Buttress of Angel's Landing (the importance of this designation is that it means the route starts off shaded but is in the sun by midday). The buttress is a bit SE-tending, I suppose, but on a map (see map to left) it strikes me more as a South Buttress than a SE Buttress. Hence I decided to call the route the "South Buttress (SW Face)" in my route description. I think Dow called it the Southwest Buttress on summitpost. Sorry for any confusion!
a. We parked near the Canyon Junction and took the Zion Shuttle to The Grotto/Angel's Landing stop. You can drive to the trailhead from November-March when the road is open to traffic.
b. The south buttress of Angel's Landing is on the right. The South Buttress (SW Face) route goes up the obvious crack system.
c. To get to the base of the route, we hiked the Angel's Landing trail until the first switchback, where we exited the trail and 'schwacked and sidehilled our way to the base of the climb. On the way back we went directly down the slope below the south buttress to the riverbed and then hiked easily to the first switchback (this is shown in the photo). This might be a better way to go.
d. Tape (and probably a long-sleeved shirt) is a good idea for this route, since the route has a fair amount of offwidth and textured crack.
e. The Chockstone O'Death halfway up Pitch 1.
f. Dow leading up Pitch 1 under the chockstone, the scariest part of the climb. We traversed right around it without touching it, but this traverse to the right is on rather friable holds so the whole section is rather sketchy.
g. We noticed that the chockstone is fracturing down its middle under its own weight. It probably wouldn't take much to crack it down the middle and let it drop.
h. Looking up the offwidth/squeeze of Pitch 2. There is a fair bit of grunting that goes on during this pitch, but the climbing is pretty enjoyable.
i. There is a bolt halfway up Pitch 2. This is in a section where there is actually a crack on the left, and it is possible to climb the double cracks and avoid some offwidth moves in the righthand crack. Dow climbed the offwidth while I climbed the double cracks.
j. Looking down Pitch 2. This pitch has the best climbing on the route.
k. On the final move to the belay at the top of Pitch 2, I pulled off a handhold, as evidenced by the fresh scar on the left in this photo. It had not looked loose, but since this route is not climbed much you have to test every hold.
l. Dow leading through the roof on Pitch 3. This pitch goes up a flaring squeeze with varnished edges, and then over a roof and then up a knobby crack. The roof move is pretty fun and airy.
m. The knobby crack of the upper half of Pitch 3. There are spackles of these sandstone nodules everywhere on this pitch, but they tend to crumble off when you step on them.
n. The route has a spectacular view looking southward out Zion Canyon.
o. We rappelled the route in three single rope raps from anchors. We had a 70m rope but the rappels could be done with a 60m as long as you go to the rappel on top of the pedestal for the final rap (see overlay for location of rappels).
p. Shadow fun while rappelling.
5. Cynthia's Hand Job, Cerberus Gendarme (Zion Shuttle Big Bend stop)
Trad, 2 pitches, 5.10
• This fun route is a great way to finish up a day of cragging. It sees less action than the routes around the corner, perhaps because the first pitch is a bit dirty. But the second pitch is one of the best splitter 5.10 hand cracks in Zion. The route is west-faccing so it was perhaps not the most comfortable choice for an afternoon climb in August (it was hot!) but it was worth a bit of suffering in the sun to climb the second pitch. Descent: rap the route.
• Note on gear for Pitch 2: We had singles to 5", along with an extra 1" and five total 2" (eight would sew it up).
• Click here to go to Dow's excellent description for Cynthia's Hand Job on summitpost.org.
a. We got back on the Zion shuttle and rode it up to the Big Bend stop.
b. Just 200 or so feet up the road from the shuttle stop is the Cerberus Gendarme area, where Cynthia's Hand Job is located. The second pitch of this route goes up the shaded corner in the photo just left of center. The first pitch goes up a crack system below and left of this just right of the shaded chimney.
c. Looking up the first pitch, which I led. This pitch features 5.9ish varied crack climbing and ends at a bolted rap station on the edge of a brushy terrace. From here we scrambled up the terrace to the base of the second pitch.
d. Dow leading off the second pitch. This pitch climbs a beautiful open book. It is mostly a splitter hand crack, but also includes a fist/OW section that requires some bigger gear. Note on gear for Pitch 2: singles to 5", an extra 1", and all the 2" you got (8 to sew it up).
e. Looking down the beautiful open book of the second pitch from the upper anchors.
f. Another photo of the second pitch hand crack. We don't have splitter cracks like these in Washington. This was the most splitter crack I've ever climbed to date. It was a blast. I am going to love Indian Creek when I can finally make a trip there happen (my academic schedule—for the last ten years as a student and for the next who knows how many years hopefully thirty or so as a teacher—has meant that I am always occupied during the time when it is pleasant climbing temperatures in the Creek).
g. Moonlight Buttress as seen from Cynthia's Hand Job. This buttress has some classic Zion aid routes. Although I am not much of a fan of aid climbing, I would like to do the 5.8 C1 route up it someday.
h. Afternoon light on the Zion canyon as seen from near the Big Bend shuttle stop. This is a spectacular area to crag in.
i. It was a hot day!
6. Kung Fu Fighter, Kung Fu Theatre, Tunnel Wall Area
Trad, 3 pitches (most parties don't climb the 4th pitch, which is pretty junky), 5.11-
• Our first objective of the day was Kung Fu Fighter. You definitely want to do this route when you are fresh, as the sustained 5.11- offwidth of the second pitch is a fight. Kung Fu Fighter is the most popular (and rightfully so!) route on the Kung Fu Theater wall. It was actually the first route done in the area. The first three pitches are great, but the fourth is rather junky, so most climbers forego getting to the top of the formation and rappel after climbing the first three pitches. It was a hot day when we climbed this route (100° a we drove out of the Park that evening), so an added benefit to the route is that Kung Fu Theater wall is always shaded and is some of the higher elevation climbing in the Park. Descent: rappel (double ropes if rappelling the route, or a single rope will work if you rappel the new anchors of the recently-established route next door called Operation Condor).
• Note on gear for Pitch 2 (the offwidth): Four C4 #4's and four C4 #3's is the ticket on the crux second pitch. The 3's are nice because you can get them further in the crack and thus not be in the way of your feet. A C4 #5 protects the top, but is not necessary.
• Click here to go to Dow's excellent description for Kung Fu Fighter on summitpost.org.
a. Pitch 1 goes up the right side of a small tower following the hand crack to a fixed anchor. It is rated 5.9, but is pretty soft. There is a variation to Pitch 1 that goes up the left side of the tower. We climbed this when we climbed Pu Corner. I felt both options were about the same difficulty (I led both), but the right was more travelled.
b. Dow racked up at the base of Pitch 2 (you can see the offwidth crack behind Dow's head). Bring your large gear! (Note on gear for Pitch 2 (the offwidth): Four C4 #4's and four C4 #3's is the ticket on the crux second pitch. The 3's are nice because you can get them further in the crack and thus not be in the way of your feet. A C4 #5 protects the top, but is not necessary.)
c. Dow leading up Pitch 2. This pitch is the crux of the climb and involves a full on sustained large fist splitter crack.
d. Looking down while climbing Pitch 2. I'd never climbed such a sustained and splitter fist crack. My fists weren't big enough for secure jams, but found that the armbar technique worked quite well for me.
e. Looking down Pitch 2 from the anchor at the top. What a pitch!
f. There was a bird nest sans bird just left of the route. This nesting spot gives Pu Corner (directly below) its name.
g. Looking up Pitch 3 of Kung Fu Fighter. This is a fantastic pitch for the grade. Continue up the crack to the roof and traverse right under the large roof, pulling over the arête to below a smaller roof out right. Chimney up this short section and pull out of it via a hand jam and follow the hand crack up to a comfortable fixed belay. The exposure is first class.
h. Looking up Pitch 4. This pitch is called "junky" on MountainProject and is "not highly recommended" by the SuperTopo guide, so like most climbers we did not climb it. We had too many other good pitches on the wall to pursue.
i. The view out towards Mt. Spry from the route.
j. We had a single 70m rope. This would allow us to reach the anchors at the top of Pitch 2, but this is somewhat tricky due to the roof. Instead, we rappelled the recently-installed anchors of the recently-put-up route Operation Condor. With double ropes you could rappel down to the Pitch 1 anchors of Kung Fu Fighter.
7. Pu Corner, Kung Fu Theatre, Tunnel Wall Area
Trad, 2 pitches, 5.10
• Just left of the second pitch of Kung Fu Fighter is a nice looking 5.10 corner called Pu Corner (probably named for the bird droppings above and on the sides of the corner). Despite the bird droppings, it still looked like a fun pitch. So after climbing Kung Fu Fighter, we climbed Pu Corner, accessing it via the left start option for Pitch 1. Both pitches featured good climbing. You can either stem or climb the finger crack in the corner straight on (I climbed it straight on since I have small fingers). Descent: rap the route.
a. We accessed Pu Corner by climbing the crack system on the left side of the small tower. This is the left variation to Kung Fu Fighter's Pitch 1. I felt both the left and the right side crack systems were about the same difficulty (I led both).
b. Pu Corner. 5.10. You can either stem or climb the finger crack straight in. Since I have small fingers, I found it pretty straightforward to climb straight in, while Dow found it to be a little thin for his fingers.
c-d. I suspect this is how Pu Corner got its name. Despite the bird droppings, it is a good pitch.
8. Operation Condor (first 2 pitches), Kung Fu Theatre, Tunnel Wall Area
Trad, 3 pitches, 5.11 (5.10 for first 2 pitches)
• When reading route beta for Kung Fu Fighter on MountainProject the night before, we noticed a new route that had been put up the previous day just right of Kung Fu Fighter. Given the great name of Operation Condor and a 5.11 grade by FA'ers Ethan Newman and Steffan Gregory, this route looked like it would be a great way to cap off a solid and varied day of climbing. We didn't even have to move our packs. The first pitch was easy 5.8. The second pitch was a bolted (a dozen bolts) vertical 5.10ish face climb on sharp varnished holds. Since the route had just been established, it had seen little traffic, so it made pulling on the thin edges a little spooky. But the rock was actually fairly solid. We had skimmed the route description a bit too quickly and had assumed that the majority of the third pitch was just the third pitch of Kung Fu Fighter, so we left our gear down below. But it turns out that probably the best section of the route—and probably the 5.11 crux—is on the third pitch, in the form of a wild finger crack splitting the face on the traverse over to Kung Fu FIghter. We were disappointed we had not brought our gear up to climb it. We cannot really claim to have climbed the route without climbing this section. That third pitch crack looks intriguing enough to return to climb it.
a. Looking down Pitch 1, a blocky 5.8 corner. I placed just one #1 and one #3 cam when I led it.
b. Dow leading off Pitch 2, a sporty pitch that follows a dozen bolts up a vertical field of sharp varnished holds.
c. A photo taken looking down Pitch 2. The rock is actually pretty solid, but it was a spooky lead due to very little traffic.
d. The wild finger crack traverse between Operation Condor and Kung Fu Fighter. We regretted leaving our gear below.
e. The dozen new bolts on Pitch 2 are painted to blend in with the rock. The FA'ers did a great job with the bolting.
f. Hot day! But in the shade and high up on Kung Fu Wall, the temperatures were actually quite perfect.
9. The Gypsy's Curse, Cragmont, Tunnel Wall Area
Trad, 4 pitches, 5.10
• This four pitch climb is one of Dow's (and now my) favorite free climbs of its grade in Zion. It is at the east end of Cragmont on the Tunnel Wall area. The first pitch is a short hand crack to a twin crack system. The second (crux) pitch is a marvelous corner that starts as fingers and progressively widens to fists. The third pitch involves squirming up a deep narrow chimney. The fourth involves a somewhat dirty corner and a ramp to a rather cool belay spot under a giant roof. Descent: Four rappels will get you down. The first and fourth are single rope raps while the second and third are double rope raps.
• Click here to go to Dow's excellent description for The Gypsy's Curse on summitpost.org.
a. Looking up the first pitch, twin cracks up a corner, 5.9+.
b. The climb was quite dirty in places, due to the thundershower system that had blown through the previous week and washed a bunch of sand down onto the route.
c. Looking up the last part of Pitch 1, some easy chinmeying behind a giant block.
d. Dow leading off Pitch 2. The 5.10+ crux of the route, this pitch follows a beautiful corner with a progressively-widening crack (start off fingers, end with fists).
e. A photo of the beautiful corner on Pitch 2. There is a cool chimney system just right of it.
f. Looking up the deep narrow chimney of Pitch 3. It is nice to be thin for this pitch. The chimney is protectable in the back.
g. Looking up the last part of Pitch 3, which goes up a somewhat runout 5.10- ramp.
h. THere is a bolt at the base of the ramp on Pitch 3.
i. Looking up Pitch 4, a dirty corner. There is an offwidth move near the top of the corner that is the 5.9 crux of the pitch.
j. Pitch 4 ends with an easy ramp to anchors underneath a giant roof.
k. The view of East Temple from the anchors at the top of the route.
l. A close up of the cross-bedding of the sandstone of East Temple across the valley. According to a wikipedia article about the geology of Zion NP, "cross-bedding is especially evident in the eastern part of the park where Jurassic wind directions changed often."
m. A view of the routes just left (east) of The Gypsy's Curse. From L to R: Cornback Rattler (5.11), Picking on the Fat Kid (5.10+), and Feast of Snakes (5.11) (see annotated overlay for locations).
10. G-String Divas, Cragmont, Tunnel Wall Area
Trad, 1 pitch, 5.10
• This one pitch climb goes up an obvious wide splitter crack cutting the face. The crack is fist to offwidth, depending on your hand size (definitely offwidth for me). The climb seemed sandbagged, as both of us found it more difficult than the 5.11- offwidth of Kung Fu Fighter we had climbed a couple of days previous. Nonetheless, it is a great line and a good climb, especially if you want a workout! Descent: rappel with a single rope.
• Note on gear: The crack takes only #4 cams for much of the climb, so the ideal rack would be a light rack to 3" with about five or six 4" and one 5" cam (the latter to protect the first 10 feet). Needless to say, our rack with only two 4" cams was entirely insufficient and resulted in a lot of walking and back-cleaning and eventually aiding for safety.
a. Dow starting up the splitter offwidth.
b. The anchor at the top is a single good bolt and a fixed nut.
c. Dow's offwidth rash he contracted during the climb. Word of advice: wear long sleeves if attempting this climb.
d. We found a shell fossil near the base of the route, a reminder of Zion's sedimentary geologic history.
Other Photos. The Riverside Walk, The Narrows, Pa'rus Trail
• When a major thundershower blew through Zion, we had to wait a day for the rock to dry out until we could climb there. I drove to the park anyway, with the intention of hiking The Narrows. But the water was still running too high and too dirty for a comfortable hike, so I entertained myself photographing the friendly squirrels on The Riverside Walk. I was using my wide angle lens and the well-fed squirrels were programmed to think my camera was a piece of food, so I got some rather hilarious photos of the squirrels reaching for the camera.
a. A Zion shuttle. You cannot drive into the main canyon, but a free shuttle will take you there. The Narrows (where I was headed on this day) is at the very end of the canyon.
b. At the entrance to The Narrows. I waded a few bends upstream, and then turned around. I'll come back sometime on a better day.
c-d. The water was quite high and dirty from the thudershowers the day before (they had closed The Narrows the previous day because of the thudershower forecast). Apparently the flash flood had been 4-5 feet high in the Canyon.
e. Muddy feet. Closed toed shoes would have been better in the murky water.
f. Some erosion from the flooding.
g. A unique view of a bush growing in the overhanging slope, with the towering sandstone cliffs above.
h-x. I could entertain myself for hours photographing critters with my wide angle lens.....
y. Ants carrying a potato chip.
z. A view of the muddy Virgin River, with the Zion cliffs behind.
Snow Canyon State Park
Dow's backyard literally abuts the looming red sandstone cliffs of Snow Canyon State Park, located in southwest Utah near St. George at the northeastern-most edge of the Mojave Desert, about an hour from Zion National Park. The state park is surrounded by the 62,000+ acre Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. From a climbing perspective, Snow Canyon boasts a little of everything, from short sport clip-ups to mixed multi-pitch routes or even long, infrequently traveled adventure climbs. The crags are sandstone, some reminiscent of the good stuff at Red Rocks, some resembling the softer formations of Zion National Park, and some fit for climbing by only the truest of desert rats. I would keep this little-known climbing area a secret, but Snow Canyon State Park already appears in various climbing guidebooks and Dow has put together a number of detailed summitpost pages for the area. Dow writes: "At 7100 acres Snow Canyon State Park is one of the best kept climbing secrets in the southwest. While hoards show up at certain seasons to crowd the Red Rocks scene in Vegas, during the same time one can find themselves to be the only climbing party in Snow Canyon. This observation despite a local guide book listing 86 published routes in Snow Canyon, most of them multi-pitch trad routes. I have been visiting this area for years."
(Aug 26:) So when a thundershower system passed through Zion, Snow Canyon State Park was the ideal destination. After all, it was less than 5 minutes drive away from Dow's place where I was staying. Dow introduced me to a couple of the classics: 1. Living on the Edge (5.10c, 3p) and 2. Pygmy Alien (5.7, 3p), both routes shaded from the morning sun.
1. Living on the Edge, Aftershock Wall, Island in the Sky
Sport, 3 (of 4) pitches, ~350', 5.10c
• Living on the Edge is one of Dow's favorite climbs in Snow Canyon, and was actually featured in Climbing Magazine at one point. The pitches are each distinctly different in nature, with the first three being very high quality. The fourth pitch to the top is a bit crumbly. Fortunately you can rappel (3 single-rope raps) from the top of the third, and the fact that you missed out on the summit is made up for by the fun hanging final rappel over the arch to get back to the ground. The position of the climb is also great, giving a nice view of the area and plenty of exposure. This was a great choice for my first route in the park. Dow's got a pretty amazing playground in his backyard.
• Click here to go to Dow's excellent description of Living on the Edge on summitpost.org.
a. The Island in the Sky formation. Living on the Edge (the first route we climbed) goes up right of the major arch in the middle of the photo, while Pygmy Alien (the second route we climbed) goes up the slabs left of this to the bowl and then up the major crack/chimney system.
b. A burly approach. 2 min maybe.
c. Dow approaching the base of Living on the Edge. The first pitch goes up the right side of the arch.
d. Dow leading off the first pitch (10a) of Living on the Edge. This is one of the most popular climbing pitches in Snow Canyon SP, full of positive holds and great exposure. Most parties climb it and then rap and do not continue up any more pitches of Living on the Edge.
e. Dow living on the edge.
f. An old pin and new bolt on the first pitch of Living on the Edge.
g. Looking up the second pitch (10c) of Living on the Edge. I led this pitch. It is pumpy, but pretty well-bolted. The crux of the pitch begins as you pull the roof above sideways to your left on suspect sandy crimps with a bolt for good pro at that juncture.
h. Dow leading the third pitch (10c). The crux move is just above him, between the 2nd and 3rd bolts. It is a rightward balancy slab move on a sandy surface, with a ledge below that could possibly hurt your ankle if you fell and hit it.
i. There is a pretty hollow sandstone flake on pitch 3. Don't pull out. This section would become much more difficult if the flake ever broke loose.
j. Pretty nice view from a belay en route.
k. Dow on the hanging rappel over the arch that gets you to the base.
l. Pioneer names near the base of the route. Dating back to as early as 1883, these were signed in axle grease by Morman pioneers.
2. Pygmy Alien, The Circus Wall, Island in the Sky
Sport-Trad, 3 pitches, ~350', 5.7
• The predicted thudershowers (the same ones that were hitting Zion much harder than us) had not yet hit by the time we got down from Living on the Edge, so we decided to eat lunch and then run up the Pygmy Alien, not far left of Living on the Edge. Pygmy Alien is three pitches of pretty steep featured 5.7 climbing, and reaches the top of Island in the Sky. The first 1.5 pitches are sport (on old pins hammered into the sandstone), while the second 1.5 pitches are trad (just a small rack is required). Most climbers climb just the popular first pitch, but then miss out on the second pitch, which is the crux of the route involving a super cool and super exposed step out of a pod onto face holds. The 4th class somewhat-tricky-to-navigate descent caps off the adventure.
• Click here to go to Dow's excellent description of Pygmy Alien on summitpost.org.
a. Looking up the first pitch of Pygmy Alien, which starts off with sandstone friction slab and ends with vertical varnish edges. It is a bit difficult to find the start since there are a lot of pins/routes here. Apparently the Pygmy Alien pins are painted green, but much of the paint has worn off.
b. The first 1.5 pitches are protected by pins hammered into the rock. I'd never seen this kind of bolting before, but I suppose it is common on old school sandstone routes.
c. I spotted this broken old ring en route. I wonder if it blew on a fall, or if someone clipped it?
d. The start of the second pitch of Pygmy Alien, the crux of the climb which involves some airy moves out to the left onto sandstone face holds. It's only 5.7....in retrospect of course.
e. Looking back at Dow at the belay from the cruxy section of the second pitch. There is nice pin for protection.
f. Looking up the third pitch of Pygmy Alien. This is an easy chimney composed of cool wacos and edges. There's not much for pro, but the climbing gets easier the higher you get. Eventually you can just unrope and scramble to the top.
g. Dow on the top of Island in the Sky looking out at Snow Canyon State Park in the distance. Being hear feels like stepping back in time into the days of the wild west.
h. An interesting circular formation on top of Island in the Sky near the start of the descent route. The descent starts on the north end of the formation.
i. There is a fixed hand line near the start of the descent. This gets you to a treed ledge. Move left there through a small slot. Continue down the north ridge and when in doubt, stay left. Eventually you do cross back to the right a little to gain a pillar that avoids the flood undercut and gets you to the desert floor. Circumvent Island in the Sky to the west back to the base of the route. Apparently there is rappel descent option but I do not know the beta.
j. Looking down the descent. There is a fair bit of 4th class downclimbing.
k. We spotted these scratch marks on the descent. Perhaps a ring-tailed cat that slipped? This page gives a good photo of a paw of a ring-tailed cat.
l-m. Ditto, one of Dow's two cats, guarding his home when we got back after our morning of climbing.
n-p. Femke, Dow's other cat. She really has quite captivating blue eyes.