I had a partner and plans to go to North Carolina for Spring Break and a couple of weeks before leaving he couldn't go due to hand surgery. So, I thought I would stick around here climb and maybe do a Tuckerman's trip but I got the itch to do something bigger so I started shopping for plane tickets and found one to Las Vegas for $400 at the last minute. All of my prior trips to Zion had been prefaced with some training and practice aid climbing, it seemed a bit crazy to drag out all the aid trinkets a week before leaving. I practiced setting up the porta-ledge, purchased and borrowed some big cams and thought I would remember the important stuff once on the wall. What I forgot was just how much shit you need to aid climb! The rack included doubles of all cams with quadruples from yellow aliens to #3 camalots. I boarded the plane with a carry-on backpack with 2 ropes and 2 haul bags totaling 104 pounds!
I drove into Springdale late at night and got a hotel. When I awoke the next morning and took in the scenery I was dumbfounded, I had forgot how beautiful this place was. I just wandered around for a while getting my bearings while soaking in the colors and sweeping walls everywhere.
I got a backcountry permit for 3 nights on the Gatekeeper Wall an obscure cliff behind the Watchman Tower with 2 routes put up in 2006. I had done some of the trade routes in Zion and wanted to get off the beaten path. That meant a longer approach and solitude. It took 2 trips to lug the 100+ pound gear to the base. No approach trail meant route finding and a bit of boulder scrambling and tree thrashing. My first foray took 2 hours up and about 40 minutes back down. The second trip went much better and I was at the base of the wall in 1.5 hours.
The next morning was cold, it was raining and snow covered the mountains. I waited for things to clear before heading up and started climbing around noon. The first 2 pitches reminded me how laborious and slow aid climbing is. It took until dusk to get the ledge set up and settle in for the night. Soloing a wall means climbing every pitch twice, once to lead it and rapping to clean it and haul. The route was nice and steep so the hauling was straight forward but it took its toll.
I'm not sure what I was thinking by choosing a North facing wall but at least I wouldn't get hot?! It was snowing when I had dinner and never got out of the 40's for the next 2 days.
The second pitch climbs for about 130 feet behind a huge pillar and since this route has seen little or no traffic since the FA there were several loose rocks, breaking flakes, and expanding blocks. It took just over 2 hours to lead this pitch despite its C1 grade.
The pitch above looked to be more of the same but MUCH steeper slightly overhanging for 100 feet. At about mid-height I encountered a stack of small microwave sized blocks just sitting in a wide crack. I was terrified of the rope dislodging this unstable tower when I jugged the pitch so I dissembled it throwing down the rocks one piece at a time. The crashing echoed from the Watchman tower as they exploded at the routes base. The climbing was strenuous and time consuming but never dangerous because it was so steep.
The next pitch was stellar! Dead vertical with a single .5 camalot crack splitting an otherwise blank wall. This was C1 leap-frog cruiser heaven with solid rock, but it didn't last long. The crack narrowed and I was using smaller and smaller gear. By the final 50 feet of this 165 ft pitch it had become a seem and I was farming our RP placements with the nut pick.
Lots of #0-#2 RP's, Lowe Balls, and HB offset brassies!
The final move of the pitch was a bit of free climbing in the 5.9 range but there was now way I could climb it with all the gear, aiders, trail line etc... weighing me down. There was a Knife Blade crack and nothing else! With a bit of farming I got the #0 RP in but it kept ripping out every time I weighted it. The sandstone was very soft here so on each attempt the piece would go in a bit deeper. Finally the cable slipped in and I hammered the head of the rp with the nut pick, this time it held! I was at the belay! I decided to spend the night there.