|Looking west from the Mt. Carmel Tunnel into Zion National Park|
But first let me briefly describe the events that went down in Las Vegas; Day 1: Epinephrine (5.9, IV) with Jason Molina... an exquisite route up a fantastic hunk of stone in one of the most aesthetic places on Earth with an awesome partner... a great way to start my trip. Day 2: Rest. Day 3: Guiding two clients up Ginger Cracks (5.9, III). Day 4: Single-pitch guiding. Day 5: Guiding Birdland (5.7+, III). Day 6-10: More cragging with a couple longer routes mixed in... Nick Rhoads came to town, we drank a lot of beer, whiskey and watched a lot of action movies including Con-Air, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Terminator 3: Salvation, Troy and a few others. Eric Whewell and I waited out the shit weather that was happening in Zion (sad face, we were supposed to be there for a few extra days, such is life...) with some sport climbing at Sunny & Steep. I had a great time in Vegas with old friends and even met some new ones... Jemarcus Mayweather. But, I must write up about some new and profound experiences in Zion!
|Temple of Sinawava: The Monkeyfinger runs up the center of the photo in a dark corner system.|
With a name as comical as that it was hard not to put it on my list of "to do's" for this upcoming trip. But then I looked at the climbing and it became even more difficult not to include it on the list. Luckily I had found a partner who was also just as psyched to get up on this thing. Eric Whewell, my buddy and guide mentor, wanted to get on this classic line as well. The Monkeyfinger is one of the oldest free routes in Zion. This means it was one of the first to go "all free" without aid (that is climbing with the use of points of aid to weight and stand on in order to place gear higher). Drew Bedford and Roger Armory free climbed this line in 1984. At a stout 5.12 it seemed daunting but the crux corner was right up my alley. I had been on one of Bedford's 5.12 Zion routes before and anticipated a similar (read: awesome) experience. Though extremely difficult the climbing is also extremely engaging, exciting and excellent.
But because of the fleeting hours this late in the season the route didn't go into the sun until about noon. This meant we would have roughly 4-5 hours to complete the entire route and rap back down before the sun was gone. Although rappelling in the dark isn't all that difficult it's something I choose not to do if I can. We figured we'd be hard pressed to make that happen so we rallied a rack together at the parking lot near the Temple of Sinawava and hammered out as much of the route as we could. As it turns out we climbed well over half of the route in under 3.5 hours which means had we an extra few hours of daylight (in April or May perhaps- training starts now) then we would have climbed the route no problem. Here's a brief pitch-by-pitch breakdown and a few extra personal notes.
|Racking up for The Monkeyfinger while freezing our nuts off.|
|Eric destroys the first 5.11 pitch.|
Pitch 3: 5.12b, 75 ft. Looking up at the pitch it didn't seem as intimidating as the grade would suggest. Remember, Alex Honnold soloed this... The crux looked thin, 00 C3 thin and in the soft sandstone shortly after a rain I wasn't gung-ho to be taking any sort of falls onto gear like that. The crux is a black-varnished left-facing obtuse corner. This is most definitely my preferred style of climbing but the pitch proposed many cruxes within a 20 foot section. After getting established in the corner with decent gear below my feet, a strange sequence of pinch/locks led me to a restful stance. Mind you I had already fallen before getting to this rest. This first sequence seemed 12a or so. The second sequence was a backstep-stem out left, high right foot, left-hand tips lock, right-hand undercling tips lock to big throw right hand to a good finger lock. From here 5.10+ liebacking led to a fun chimney ("Mike Cripke's Basement") and the anchors. Definitely hard but very well protected.
|The roof on pitch 4.|
Descent: By this time it the sun had left the wall and we started to feel cold again. Along with the cold the sunlight was fading fast. I wanted to continue through the Monkeyhouse OW above but I opted to rappel and save the upper pitches for a longer day sometime in April or May. 2 long (double rope) rappels brought us back to the base of the route. We had climbed roughly 400 ft. of a 900 ft. route in under 3.5 hours. I was pretty pumped at the prospect of coming back and sending... so that'll keep me warm this winter.
That night in the parking lot at the Temple of Sinawava we racked up for the big bad Free Moonlight Buttress. But after dinner Eric's shoulder seemed to be bothering him and we scrapped the idea of torquing on 5 consecutive pitches of 5.12 the following day for a few shorter link-ups on the Mountain of the Sun. This turned out to be a good decision for the both of us and the routes we chose were no less than classic!
The Headache (5.10, 3 pitches)
I haven't experienced all of Zion's shorter free routes but I can take a leap of faith by saying that this is probably one of the best in all of the Park. It is certainly the best 3-pitch route I have ever climbed. The route is consistent in the grade, sustained, moderately long, has great position and simply awesome.
|Eric pulling through the roof on pitch two of The Headache.|
|Eric following pitch three of The Headache.|
Descent: Two long rappels (two ropes) down the wall between Never Again and The Headache.
Smashmouth (5.11, 4 pitches)
|Smash Mouth climbs a splitter crack for 4 pitches in the center of the photo.|
|Eric leading the opening pitch of Smash Mouth.|
|Eric following the unique face/crack climbing of pitch two.|
|Eric leads the left-trending 5.11 crack on pitch three of Smash Mouth.|
Pitch 4: 5.11, 60 ft. I was feeling pretty tired by the time I finished the previous pitch and I knew it was my turn to lead. I looked up at the pitch above skeptical of my ability to hold on for any longer... but I saw the anchors only 60 feet away and the crack above looked more splitter than it had before. It looked like a good size for my digits (.3 & .4 Camalots) and the length of the pitch inspired me to rack up and take off. I was super psyched that all the moves and all the locks were bomber and I moved fluidly (or so I thought) through the lower portion of the crack to a bulge crux. At this point my technique wavered but my ability to campus on tight locks prevailed. I just heave-ho'd my way over the bulge (quite comical actually) and kept cruising to a good stance below the last section of crack that was left-leaning towards the anchors. This was a sick pitch and the final moves, well, they are exciting...
|Eric following the excellent final pitch on Smash Mouth.|
Zion is a beautiful and majestic place to visit and climb. I think it's starting to become one of my favorite destinations to climb. The walls are towering, awe inspiring, intimidating, motivating and fucking beautiful. The Mormons nailed it on the head when they called this place "Zion." The climbing is physical, steep, relentless but generally more forgiving than the climbing found in Indian Creek. This trip was planned around the desert weather and unfortunately it seemed like it never cooperated with what we had intended. With shorter days, colder temps and unfavorable aspect on certain routes it was hard to climb what we had intended. But we made the best of it and figured out a better plan for future attempts on some of Zion's longer free routes.