Crack Power Girls #3
Our trip to Zion National Park? Short but fairly eventful! After a night in Las Vegas and a few hours on the road, here we are back in Utah! We reach Zion in late morning, and jump in the first shuttle bus heading for the Temple of Sinawava route at the far end of the canyon.
Zion is just an amazing place – yet another one! High red sandstone cliffs, often topped by wide seams of white rock; a river; and greenery at the bottom Awesome! For our first day, we decide to go for a spin to Spearhead and climb Iron Messiah – an attractive route, apparently! Our day out soon turns into half a day: it’s not exactly early, and it’s really very hot, but our motivation is sky-high! Packs on backs and heads down, we set off for the wall. Well, a wall!
A few twists later, the path seems to be moving in a strange direction – never mind that we’re verging on sunstroke! Maybe the two are connected... Anyways! We’re lost and going into meltdown!! We take a vital break and check the route book! It would seem we’re not heading towards the right wall, we’re not on the right trail, and we might just have got off at the wrong bus stop!!
We reorganize: it’s too late to stick to our chosen route, and it’s too hot to climb in the sun. We need a plan B (and sharpish!): a route that’s shorter, not too hard, and with a fairly short approach – a bit of a rarity in the neighborhood! Which is how we end up at Right Toilet Crack. Classy, huh? The approach trail does indeed start just behind the WCs, and the pillar you climb rises above the car park where the bus stop and picnic spot are located. Three minutes later, we’re at the start of the route! The holds are a bit dusty, and in places vegetation has crept onto the route, but Right Toilet Crack is no dump! Flo guides us wonderfully through the pitches up this big dihedral.
Our noses are constantly stuck in wide cracks, as we seek a little shade and cool air. It is very, very hot! Today we’re the stars of Zion, kind of. Down below, in the car park, we have a load of admirers, looking up and waving cheerfully! In response, we blow kisses (luckily they’re a long way off!). We chortle away at the idea that all these tourists will go home with a little souvenir of us in their cameras!
Next morning, no more silly stuff! The alarm rings early, and we board one of the first buses. Today we have a big project: Shune's Buttress, on the handsome wall of Red Arch Mountain – a superb route, but not easy! Seven 5.11 pitches, cracks of all sizes... We know it’s gonna be hard, but today we’ll give it everything we’ve got!
The first pitch soon sets the tone: a crack that shrinks as far as you can see, and tiny friends that become ever more precarious! After a few yards, Flo is categorical: "No way am I hanging on the 000 micro friend – it’s out of the question!" Well, that’s a downer! My turn: I try my luck and, after a fashion (not a very moreish fashion), manage to reach the belay point after some serious fireworks! Having now got some steam up, I carry on to the second pitch, which is shorter and easier... We’re making headway! Now Marine goes on lead, and negotiates the following offwidth. Thank you, number 5. Thank you, dangly strap!
We won’t forget the next pitch in a hurry: a sort of open chimney, not easy to protect... Marine wages battle, fails to get proper protection, and has a few frights with repeated foot-slips, while despairingly calling for the no.6 and why not the no.7 too, if there is such a thing!
A few dozen yards lower, at the anchor point, we’re scared rigid. We have all four hands on the rope, without really knowing how we’d cope with a fall. We decide on an odd method, if it happens: try and rein in as much rope as possible during the fall, to minimize it. Maximum tension! To our great relief, we don’t need to test our new belaying "technique". The situation resolves itself (unexpectedly!) thanks to… a jammed helmet! No kidding! Marine’s a magician… She jams her helmet in the crack, pulls herself up on its straps – and hey presto! Sorted! We hear her shout "off belaaaay!". The pressure eases, and we send heartfelt “bravooooo”’s back!
A short traverse pitch takes us across the edge of the pillar, then to a five-point belay station including two wobbly spits, a hangerless bolt, and an average-sized friend: nice! We’re getting towards late afternoon and still have two pitches left (one of them quite a toughie). It would perhaps have been more sensible to go back down while we could still rappel straight down the route, and while it was still light. But our desire to rise up was stronger! "We’ve never been so close!! And the next pitch is a legend!". It’s a deal – we go on! Now it’s my turn to go back on lead.
After a slightly tricky downward traverse, I manage to swing over to the other side of the pillar edge. I discover a truly striking void beneath my feet, and a super splitter above my head – a pure 165ft crack! Wow! Now I feel really alone. Hanging on small friends, I move up without clipping them, to avoid big drag that would slow me down.
This crack is really beautiful: perfectly uniform, but interminable too! I can no longer see my girlies, who are masked by the pillar, but now and again I hear bursts of laughter – which I find reassuring, strangely enough! Later on I found out that, after an hour on belay, they ended up dangling from the manky spits which up until that point had terrorized us!
Music, videos, dancing, singing and joking! What came next was a race against the clock to go as high as we could before nightfall! I tried to ignite the turbo for the final pitch, and it was dusk when I reached the top! By the time the girls joined me, it was pitch black. We only had two headlamps, we were six rappels from the ground, and the last bus had long since departed, but it didn’t matter... We were high up, under a starry sky, tired but super-happy to have topped out! We had been promised a route that was great “but not easy” – and we weren’t disappointed. Its beauty matched its difficulty, and it was fantastic! A few rappels took us back to the start, where there was a surprise in store! Our buddies from the French national men’s mountaineering team (ENAM), who had just arrived in Zion, were waiting for us, which saved us a six-mile road trek! Thanks guys!!
Back at camp, it was 2am when we slipped into our bags. We soon fell asleep after reviewing all the day’s funny and critical moments: the helmet jam was unanimously voted the day’s top crux move! Tomorrow’s a day for resting up (much needed), sorting our gear, and already looking ahead to the next phase of the trip...
Our three-handed adventure will soon end, to be replaced by a four-hander for a further two weeks. It’s time to trade lovely Marine for two hairies, Joseph and Emile. (Think we’ve been had?!) With heartstrings tugging, we entrust Marine to our ENAM buddies, who, like her, are flying out of Denver in a few days’ time, repeating fifty times over to treat her well! We’re very sad, and promise to meet up once back in France! Marine, we’ll miss you! Who else can I munch muffins in supermarket aisles with, eh?!
Next stop Yosemite, but that’s another story – and quite a story it is too. More soon!