a) Place of Refuge (literal translation from the Old Testament);
b) Place of Beauty (opinion of 3 million visitors a year);
c) Place of Adventure (for surprisingly few people).
So which is Zion National Park?
Answer: d); All of the above.
I met Jared Campbell for a few days of Zioneering this past weekend. We scouted the proposed Patriarch Traverse on Friday, went to rarely visited Bridge Mountain Arch the next day, and bagged a nice link of Mt Spry and Twin Brother on Sunday. The purpose of this quick report is to provide either enough information or inspiration for you to try a Zion adventure yourself. But maybe not these …
Jared conceived the idea of the Patriarch Traverse after our last trip there in October. The idea was to link all the summits in the cirque of the Patriarchs. Remarkably, while hundreds of great, good, and pointless link-ups have been done in mountain ranges all over the world, relatively little has been done in Zion NP. If completed, this would constitute a major alpine traverse, comparable in difficulty to some of the classics in the Sierra’s and Alps. And rather than being obscure, the route is less than a mile from the main road, in full view of every tourist riding every shuttle bus. At the same time, this route is totally unknown, including if it could be done at all.
The initial ascent up Mt Moroni went as expected. Some route finding, slow moving on shrubby, loose, cliff faces, and a rewarding view from the top (all summits in Zion could be described the same way). Jared had done a great job scouting with Google Earth, but that was just to gauge feasibility. From Moroni we surveyed the towering South Ridge of Jacob, our next objective in the Traverse, looming up in front of us. It looked like a real classic.
It wasn’t. With Jared way out front, we scrambled unroped, making sketchy moves up dirty ramps, clutching bristly bushes in an attempt to stay in the crack systems, moving carefully over un-cemented white sandstone ‘dinner plates’ perched on smooth sandy slabs ready to slide off into the oblivion. I considered naming it “Choss Ridge”. Maybe this ridge is a classic, but not in the sense one would prefer.
Summitting Jacob was nonetheless rewarding … more people climb Mt Everest in one year than have ever climbed Jacob … and we walked across the characteristic flat summit plateau toward our next objective, Lady Mountain. Lady has a fabulous route up it – an unbelievably steep and exposed “trail” that was constructed by Zion Lodge to take tourists to the top – and then abandoned by the Park Service. This construction-abandonment combination creates the optimal type of route for the aspiring adventurer. We did one rap to get off Jacob, then joined the regular route/trail to the summit of Lady Mountain, 3,200′ above the Valley floor.
We then walked across the completely flat Lady Mountain summit plateau discussing this odd and unique aspect of Zion topography. The plateau is a layer of sandstone more resistant than the others, and since it is horizontal, visually it looks like a flat wooded plain covers this part of the Park high country. As we looked over at Plateau Mountain, West Temple, and others, it seemed one could just jog over there in 30 minutes. The insanely steep, deep, and dark canyons that actually divide these summits from one another, and make passage between quite arduous, are completely invisible.
Until we intentionally enter them, which is what one does to accomplish a traverse. We got around the first problems, then rapped into the notch below Plateau Mt. It’s East Face above us looked steep. We geared up, and Jared made an excellent lead up what turned out to be the nicest pitch of the day, a continuous 5.8 crack. Another pitch above that, and … it was 4:30 pm. A descent into Issac Canyon was our objective for this initial foray, but it was on the other side of the mountain we were climbing, we had no idea how to drop into that canyon, had never heard of anyone ever doing it, the Google Earth images of that part of the route looked as smooth and steep as a toilet bowl, and the weather forecast called for 90% chance of rain that night and the next day.
I suggested we turn around. Jared is the best partner one could ever hope for; he is much stronger than I, but knows each person on the team must feel good about what’s happening, so he transferred his prodigious positive energy and enthusiasm from finishing a goal into a reversal of direction that worked for me, and agreed.
I think that was a good thing. Taking a hot shower that evening and then sharing a bottle of wine his lady-friend Mindy had brought down was far more fun – at least for me; I’m not sure about Jared – than on-sight bolting a new rap route down a 300′ blank face in the dark in the rain.
When conceived, we kept the Patriarch Traverse idea quiet. Didn’t want the riffraff to go out there and nab it before we did, ya know? After our initial foray, we are unconcerned about this route being poached.
BRIDGE MOUNTAIN ARCH
This is sort of confusing: Bridge Mountain is named after the arch on its flank – which was originally called a “bridge” but isn’t (natural ‘bridges’ are formed by streams flowing under them while ‘arches’ are not). This particular arch is one of the most spectacular on the entire Colorado Plateau, yet is almost never seen. Yet it is clearly visible from the Park Visitor Center and the highway. Got that?
Anyway, with the forecast of rain in mind, Mindy, Jared and I set out on the relatively moderate route to this arch (“moderate” means the guidebook says it takes 12 – 16 hours and parties must bring a 150′ rope and climbing gear; we brought fanny packs and a few cookies). The route is absurdly complex – while the arch is less than a mile from the highway in many places, the route is 5 miles long (don’t be surprised if Jared and Mindy go back and initiate a “direct start”).
This outing turned out to be great. It would be a mistake to complain about the long “approach” to the “goal”; rather, the entire route is wonderful in itself. A mix is slickrock scrambling, beautiful sandy canyon running, tricky routefinding, and finally, a short but steep technical pitch. We rated the crux, a 20′ high chimney, at 5.6. Once above it however, the wind picked up and the peaks across the Valley disappeared in the incoming squall. Mindy and I decided to bail – slickrock scrambling is really fun, but when wet, it can be nerve-racking. Jared powered on, and after some routefinding issues, found the arch to be absolutely spectacular; a thin 3′ wide slice of rock suspended in space. The rain mostly held off until Jared rejoined us, then with a touch of snow in the air, we headed back to the car, enjoying every minute of our 5 hour outing.
MT SPRY – TWIN BROTHER
If you’ve ever been to Zion, I guarantee you have seen these two mountains. Yet you’ve probably not known it. Another remarkable Zion paradox: totally obvious yet unknown summits.
The approach to these two summits is again very complex, and very worth it: up a side canyon, over a slickrock pass, down another canyon, one 150′ rappel further down the canyon, then a traverse out of it into the saddle between the two peaks. We scramble up Mt Spry first; it is a delight, and – I say this every time – it has one of the best views in the whole Park. This time the label might be true however, as Spry juts out into the Valley, and since it’s summit is a pinnacle rather than a flat plateau, it affords views in every direction, and makes the surrounding peaks appear that much more impressive. I was extremely impressed gawking at the West Face of East Temple … who would ever climb such a monster (hey wait, it was us, just last year!)
Our next goal was the South Face of Twin Brother. Yikes! Surveying this face from the North Ridge of Spry, I was intimidated. Jared talked about it:
“It looks real steep, chossy white sandstone, tons of exposure, and no cracks. A real ‘death’ route.”
With such words of encouragement, we set out. The route is described in the new “Zion Summits” guidebook, which rates it a surprisingly moderate 5.3. The initial moves were about that hard … so were the next … and the next … soon we had climbed this big face, 2,000′ of remarkably consistent difficulty; not too hard, not too easy. Maybe this route should be called, “Baby Bear’s Porridge” (it was just right). Downclimbing wasn’t much faster than going up, but we had tons of time, so after ‘batmaning’ back up the 7 mm tag line we had left on the first rappel, we took an alternate route back to the car over the East Temple Saddle, for another outstanding 6.5 hr day of Zioneering.
Full PHOTO GALLERY HERE.
It’s unclear when the Patriarch Traverse will get done. Sadly, I think Jared would probably require a stronger climber than I. The Bridge Mountain route was excellent, and the many virtually unknown peaks and canyons all around it looked equally appealing. Getting familiar with the S Face of Twin Brother means we can now climb Mountain of Sun, traverse TB via up the N Ridge and down the S Face, and probably throw in Deertrap Mountain as well for a nice link-up.
Stay tuned. Many things undone.