Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Equinox : Part I

We've been in Zion for a few days. I have other notes, but this climb was awesome. I'm going to break it into several posts...

big wall, little people
While catching some lunch in the small town of Springdale, which lies just outside Zion Nation Park, Hanmi went shopping for a pair of hiking shoes. She met a clerk there and got to talking about climbing in Zion. He mentioned that he knew a bit about climbing, had grown up in Oregon, and that Zion is a great place to climb – and he guides cayoneering trips in the park and climbs elsewhere. So, we thought it’d be nice if we asked him to show us some of the more back country places to climb, not in the typical guidebook.

We met that night for dinner, and Caleb had scoured a few routes that climbers scrawl into the park ranger’s climbing log and had also talked to a friend about routes. He presented us with two choices: A 10-pitch 5.10 climb that topped the Leaning Wall in the Temple of Sinewava, or a series of 2-pitch 5.9 routes in one of the many crags along the walls of the gorge.

The park is endless beauty

We chose the larger climbing day, a grade IV called Equinox. It’s typical for the park at the 5.9 to 5.10 grade: several chimney pitches, some plants to wrestle with and possibly dirty in places. It’s one of the more-standard routes that intermediate climbers play on, but this early in the season and it not being listed in the published guidebooks assured us that it wouldn’t have any traffic. We agreed to meet at 6AM and take the first shuttle into the park (one cannot drive into the park).

All was good as we stepped off the bus and hiked the short distance to the base of the first pitch. We decided to leave our larger packs at the base, nearly empty, and carry just a small day pack for our water, snacks and shoes. It weighed a bit, but as we drank the water it would lighten up.

Gearing up

With three people climbing there’s a risk of moving too slowly to beat the daylight hours, which can strand the party on the wall until light comes around again. Our biggest worry was trying not to dry out, as the weather had warmed up a bit and the afternoon could see 95 degrees in bright sun. The second two on each pitch would climb on individual ropes and nearly at the same time to speed things up, which works well. All taped and roped up, the first pitch started.

The first pitch was a full-on chimney and off-width battle at a solid 5.7 level. The lead was heady (“rowdy” Caleb called it) since there was little protection for almost the whole thing. Hanmi and I followed, with me wrestling the bag up the chimney, dragging it behind me.

Off-width is on the topo as "OW"

Fist jams turned into liebacks, which turned into chicken-wings and kneebars, then a leg in the crack. Footstacks, handstacks, stemming and milking the face for holds all came into the playbook – what a pitch! There were two more, harder off-widths coming. We laughed with delight and awe at the intro pitch and moved over the base of the next.

Han shows off her crack technique

Hanmi lead next. It too was large for her hands, tough to protect, and mostly a run-out solo with a “psychological piece” for confidence (it wouldn’t hold a big fall but could allow her to rest if need be). As she reached the ledge at the top, a tarantula greeted her. Thankfully, it was shy and moved along. I have a thing about spiders, and I would’ve died of fright.

We traded again and I put up the next pitch, a longer crack system that ended in a nice ledge. Then Caleb put up another pitch and we were almost halfway through the route. The sun was ferocious at this point, and we were guzzling our water.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of 3!

The perspective shifts upward

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