Monday, May 07, 2012

Zion Day 8: Sheer Lunacy

Photos Map

Opie and I had absolutely decadent support from the Loobster for this climb. We did practically everything besides climb it for us. He drove in with us at 6 a.m. this morning and waded the frigid river with us. He hiked up to the base of the route so that he could bring down our approach shoes. I also ditched my jacket, as the weather forecast was perfect and if we got cold the belayer would use the one jacket we had. I took 80 ounces of liquid (Opie took 64) and it was much more than what we needed, as the temperatures never even hit 80 degrees and we  were in the shade until the 4th pitch and in the shade again for the last two pitches. 

We brought a second, thin rope as insurance in case we had to bail, but never pulled it out of the pack. We brought the rack recommended in the guidebook, but used less of it. The rack I used consisted of three each of 0.4, 0.5, 0.75,  1 and 2 Camalots, two #3 Camalots, two green Aliens, one blue Alien, one #3.5, one #4, one set of nuts, one set of offset brass nuts, plus about 15 slings and draws. I could have made use of one or two more green Aliens for the long 4th pitch.

We waded the river in Tevas and Loobster and I used our trekking poles, which aren't strictly necessary, but added some security and speed to the crossing. We were in the water much longer this time, versus our crossing for the Organ, but the water must be warmer in the morning as we never experienced in short but intense pain of defrosting. We found the well-worn climber's trail leading to the base of the route and, after gearing up, scrambled up 3rd class terrain to the base of the first pitch. Opie took the lead, as planned, and led upwards, quickly, confidently and secured the rope. I guess I could have free-climbed the 5.8 pitch, but we were in wall-mode where the second jugs the line, carrying the pack on their back, freeing the leader to rest and relax.
Pitch 2: 5.10

I led the long second pitch, straight above the belay and rated 10c. The climbing was cruxy, not very sustained, and protected well. I ran out 150 feet of rope to a huge ledge behind a little pillar. Opie jugged up quickly and after a brief discussion we decided to switch tactics from swinging leads up the route to doing it block-sytle, in just two blocks...with Opie taking the first block. Hence, I led the short, third pitch which is 5.6, but looks quite a bit harder from the belay. It isn't though and I arrived at another good ledge below a long, right facing, shallow corner that started with a roof. Here I dug out the aiders and aided everything save just a few free moves. The pitch goes free at 5.12b, but the start wasn't possible for me and the rest was too sustained to try much free climbing. It took me a bit to get my aid mojo going, but I made steady, albeit slow, progress. It took me about an hour to aid the 130-foot pitch.

Pitch 3: 5.6

The next pitch is rated 11a and I left the aiders behind, assuming I'd at least be able to french-free the pitch. One of the cruxes was about forty feet up, where I had to lieback and edge with smears for my feet, ,protected by two cams of a green Alien. I think it would have been scarier to aid that section since then I would have had to weight that dicey cam. The rest of the pitch went well, with one pumpy section and maybe one dead-point  before I arrived at the belay, having onsighted the pitch. I'd love to think I was climbing strong enough to onsight 5.11 Zion trad, but I tend to think the pitch was probably mid-5.10.

After each of my leads Opie would shout up "nice job, dude," or something else encouraging. He was climbing well also, jugging efficiently and arriving at the belays quickly. We moved well together and were ahead of schedule. I told Loobster the earliest to expect us on top was 4 p.m. and the latest 8 p.m., if we made it at all. The Loobster's plan was to drive the car back to the campground, hang out a bit, and then take the shuttle bus back into the park and hike up the Angel's Landing trail  and then the West Rim trail to meet us on top. Conveniently our route tops out about fifty feet from this trail. The Loobster would be carrying our approach shoes, a couple of packs to carry down the gear, and some water for us. What a guy...

Pitch 4: 5.12b or aid for me
I combined the next 5.9 pitch, up some steep, cool flakes and the following "face crack" pitch into one, as it made the jugging much easier for Opie (eliminating a big traverse around the corner) and because, even put together, the pitch wasn't that long. I thought about tacking on a third pitch and I had plenty of rope for it, Opie jugged up and had to deal with the rope snagging on the free-climbing-friendly/jug-unfriendly flakes. This pitch ended on another great ledge and we chilled for a bit and then I led another short 5.9 pitch up to the top of the Toquerville Tower, where another great ledge presented itself.

Pitch 5: 5.11-
We were now below the 55-meter headwall and the tree hanging over the summit looked so close. What stood between us and the top was the crux (C2 or 13b, C2 fpr us). A very thin, intimidating crack split the wall above our ledge. This was the pitch for which we brought our two sets of micro-nuts. I started by stepping high in my aiders off the belay bolt and found the going remarkably straight forward. I did use the micro-nuts, but never the smallest two. I did have to place a couple in a row a couple of times, but they set in the crack very nicely and seemed completely solid. 

I made steady progress up to the Sharp Crack and then heard someone call my name. Looking over my shoulder I could see the Loobster high above me out on top of the Moonlight Buttress. He was Already there, waiting on us. The last pitch was short and went relatively easily on aid, finishing up with a couple of dicey placements in an overhanging crumbly crack. Before I knew it I had clipped the giant chain hanging down from the summit anchor, which I'd guess is there to save the tree, which you climb right through. I topped out around 3:45 p.m. Opie joined the Loobster and I 20 minutes later and we celebrated a successful climb with our copious extra water and food. We couldn't have asked for better weather. I climbed in a long-sleeve shirt and long pants for the entire route and was never hot nor cold. 
Pitch 7 (for us): 5.9
Despite how smoothly things had gone, Opie announced his retirement from wall climbing. He decided that wall climbing wasn't for him, as it just wasn't fun. That was a bit disappointing, as I really enjoy climbing with him, but understandable. I think the soft Zion sandstone contributed somewhat to that decision, but it would have probably been the same if we were in Yosemite. That's okay, though, as there is lots more to do in climbing and in life without climbing walls. You've got to do what makes you happy.

Pitch 8: 5.13b or aid 
I'm not much of a real aid climber. I've pounded one piton in my life (on the Titan) and have only placed a handful of bolts, all anchor replacements. I've done a few hook moves in my life, but never more than one in a row. To me, a copperhead is one of the four poisonous snakes in North America (though I have clipped more than a few of them, the pieces,  not the reptiles). That said, I'm pretty good with placing gear, as I have more than thirty years of trad climbing experience. For this route I never had to work at any placement. I pretty much set them and I was done. The angle was such where I could climb very high in my aiders when necessary and make a big reach to an easier placement. Using these techniques the route seemed C1 to me. All the climbing seemed pretty solid, save and secure except for that one section on the 5.11a 5th pitch. I really enjoyed this route and would do it again, because of the relatively little aid climbing.

On top!

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