Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Zion Link Up

Zion National Park, April, 2013

Four Three walls in a day!

Shortly after returning from Canada I packed up my car for a 6 week road trip and headed west. First on the agenda was to meet up with my friend and Trango athlete Quinn Brett in Zion National Park to attempt a link up of four classic wall routes in a day. Yes, four walls in a day... I wasn’t sure if it was possible for us at first, but I was willing to give it my all and see what we could do. Having never climbed in Zion before, the first task was just to get oriented to the area and climb the routes before figuring out how all the pieces would fit together. The idea of climbing four walls in a day was something Quinn and I had pondered for months, and it seemed like the perfect way to train and dial in our speed climbing systems for the next leg of the journey in Yosemite.

Camping in Zion
Day One

After settling in the night before Q and I went to preview Touchstone wall (V, 5.10 C1, 1000’). The plan was to divide the route in half, with myself leading the first block of sustained finger cracks and aid climbing, then let Q finish off the mostly moderate free climbing at the top. I led the first 3 pitches while short fixing in and hour and a half, then we simul rapped off to go check out Space Shot. The plan for Space Shot was the same, I’d take the first half and the aid cruxes while Q would rope gun the easier aid and free climbing at the top. We soloed the first 3 “approach” pitches to Space Shot, looked around a bit, then called it a day.

Touchstone Wall

Day Two

For my second day in Zion, the plan was to climb the super classic Moonlight Buttress (V, 5.10 C1, 1000’). I was super psyched and had been wanting to check out this route for a couple of years. Once again, I led off the first half of the route, including the super sustained 5.12+ dihedral pitches, then turned the led over to Q to finish the route. She had been on Moonlight before, and I was on-sighting. We passed a friendly Canadian team high on the route, who said it was their first wall and they we’re “learning a lot” just from watching us. After 4:07 of pure fun we stood on top one of the most classic routes in the country, and after a quick jog down the trail were enjoying smoothies in town.

Riding the bus to the climb... the look on the ladies face is awesome

Making friends on Moonlight

Day Three

Feeling confident after a 4 hour onsight run up Moonlight, we went back to climb all of Touchstone wall and refine out beta. Things started off smoothly, then I was slowed down at the aid crux, a tricky roof with broken pitons and bad, flaring cracks. After a couple minuets I fiddled in an offset cam and committed. It held as I climbed up into my top step... then POP! I shot backwards for an exciting whipper. Luckily the old broken piton somehow held. I then slowed down and took my time figuring out a secure way of climbing the roof, and took notes on exactly what to do so I’d remember for later. Despite a couple hang ups, we topped out in 3:21. It felt really cool to be climbing these routes that are often done in 2 days in a casual morning

Top of Touchstone

Day Four

Feeling satisfied with the climbing phase of the preparation, it was time to rest up and figure out the logistics for the big day. First would be Space Shot, which would involve onsighting some of the hardest aid of all the routes for me, and some serious trickery to rappel the route. We could then run over to the well rehearsed Touchstone and hopefully blast it before the heat of the day set in. Next would be Moonlight, which offers a chance to cool off wading across the river on the approach and some afternoon shade. If all went well, we could then attempt Monkey Finger, a route that Q had tried before, and was unfortunately injured on after falling and hitting a ledge 6 months before. Getting the permit to drive the bus only loop road was a funny experience. Describing our plan to the ranger at the office only confused him... “your going to do what? I don’t think you guys understand, each of those climbs take at least a day or two”. The ranger couldn’t understand that we would need a permit for multiple parking areas the same day. After some compromising we got a permit to park at big bend and figured that If we ran into trouble later we’d just deal. 

Moonlight Buttress

Day Five

Space Shot
We drove in and started climbing at 6:10 am, soloing the first 3 pitches of Space Shot by headlamp. We were psyched and energized. Despite being nervous about the aid crux my leads went smoothly, the crux went down without any problems thanks in part to bringing along a few ball nuts as secret weapons. We topped out after 3:27 having ran to the official end of the route. We had left a rope fixed from a previous anchor to facilitate a weird sideways rappelling maneuver, which worked until we couldn’t pull the ropes. Q jugged back up to reset the ropes and they pulled the second try. More problems arose, we had to make a sketchy simul pendulum to reach one anchor, couldn’t reach another, and finally got the ropes stuck again on the last rappel. All in all we figured we lost about an hour and we’re feeling stressed - not a good way to start out.

After refueling at the car we stuck with it and headed for Touchstone. We also ran into a friend from Colorado Springs, Lynn, who was biking around and cheering us on that day. Adding to the frustrations of Space Shot, the suspension on my helmut broke, and even though it’s never a good idea to climb without a helmut, especially on a big wall, I felt confident enough to leave it behind. Touchstone went well. I quickly aided the roof that sent me flying a couple days before, and pushed my lead block a little higher then before to a good ledge. Quinn took over and we passed a party up high who was doing a two day ascent. They we’re nice and just relaxed on a ledge when they saw us coming. After paddling up the last pitch I hit the lap on my phone... 2:21!!! An hour faster then our rehearsal climb! Having such a good run on Touchstone lifted our spirits and energized us for Moonlight.

Two down... Two to go! This time we were lucky enough to have the route all to ourselves. I felt that I was settling into an endurance pace, efficient and smooth rather then spastic and rushed. The climbing didn’t feel any faster then the first time, so I was surprised when the lap on my phone read 3:19 at the top. Following one of the last pitches I had a nose bleed, not triggered by anything other then the dry air and physical exertion. I hoped that it would be an isolated occurrence, although usually they aren't. We ran down the Angles Landing trail and picked up a pre stashed burrito waiting in a tree. Starting to feel tired we talked while waiting for the bus, and decided to go for Monkey Finger. 

Monkey Finger
It started getting dark as we scrambled to the base of the route. In the twilight Q started leading, as she was familiar with the start of the route. We would both be onsighting the upper pitches on this one, tired, in the dark, so starting up felt more serious then the previous routes. As Quinn climbed, my nose bleed came back, much worse then before. While I was managing it I nearly lost my glasses, which would of ended our day. Quinn asked If I wanted to bail, I insisted that I was ok to go and could keep climbing. I could tell out collective psych was starting to unravel in the fading light. Dark thoughts of making a mistake up high, falling, getting hurt, wondering if continuing was worth it started up in the back of my mind. But we were so close, only 8 pitches away from accomplishing something only a few had before, names such as Conrad Anker, Mike Pennings, Tommy Caldwell, Alex Honnold, and as far we we knew, no woman as ever done four in a day. I wanted to keep going, and was thinking about this when I heard a scream and the sound of gear clanking together from above. Quinn had fell, pulling a piece of gear right through the soft sandstone and hitting the same ledge that had injured her 6 months before. Without any discussion we knew that was it. Quinn rappelled down, we pulled the ropes and went home.

This time, bailing didn’t feel that bad. It was obvious that we made the right call. Even though we “failed” in our original goal, we had a great day, had a lot of fun, and did climb three walls in a total time of 12:23! 

Zion Link Up from Buster Jesik on Vimeo.