Monday, December 05, 2005

Desert Shield, Zion Naitional Park, in december

There’s a reason not many people climb in Zion in December: “Its cold out there!”

They understand average route gets less than 5 hours of sun a day and temperatures in the shade hover around freezing.

The cold doesn’t like me. I usually have to wear three layers of clothes in the winter to stay warm… inside a heated house. So I tried to get Ammon McNeely to go to Mexico and climb the Trono Blanco. But he was already in Zion and wouldn’t be free so venture south until January… I needed to climb walls right now!

Morning temps were in the teens. By noon, temperatures had warmed up to just above freezing. On the drive into Zion Canyon the climb I pointed at a few frozen waterfalls hanging off the walls. Maybe we should have brought the ice tools.

“Its cold out there!”

because it was so cold, and we are so smart, we choose a route on a north facing wall, of course: Desert Sheild.

The regularly sandy trail leading to the base had formed into permafrost. It was kinda cool to walk on surface you expect to be squish under your foot only to have it respond to your shoe sole like steel. If only this effect didn’t depend on the temperature being below 32 degrees.

I led the first five pitches. I soon realized that there are both pros to your hands freezing. The pain of the cold does mask the pain of poor hand jamming technique. The cold also makes you move faster.

Here is me on the second pitch:


I led the first half of the route in just under and hour and then Ammon took over. The first five pitches are really just the approach for the Desert Shield: 400 feet of flawless, steep, and richly red sandstone.

Ammon starting up the bolt ladder on pitch 6.


I was really glad Ammon was leading these pitches. You basically just place offset stopper after offset stopper in placements that are often a little more shallow than you like. You often ask the question “Is that stopper biting INTO the rock or biting THROUGH the rock.”

Ammon starting up pitch 7.


At one point, Ammon called down. “Whoa… this stopper that I am standing on just broke the rock under it and slid down a bit.” You can’t get that kinda excitement in Yosemite.

Two pitches from the top, despite our attempts to avoid it, we actually found ourselves in the sun. Well, the sun was glancing off us anyway. It didn’t really warm the rock but it did make for some cool photos.

Two pitches of Ammon at the top of pitch 8.






When we topped out, for the first time, we were actually directly in the sun. it was glorious. Despite doing the route in under 3 hours (2:57) Ammon felt we could have moved a little faster.

“Today I didn’t want to fall so I was being a little more cautious,”

“uhhh… there are times where you don’t care about falling?” I asked.

”Sure!!” he shot back, “Sometimes I am just like “F--- It! I don’t really care .”

I wanted to say “Yeah, I can relate to that… the feeling of fearlessness while standing on crappy gear thousands of feet above the ground.”

But I can’t. There are times when I have no fear on a big wall, but they are pretty much limited to 5.8 C1.

We rapped the route back to the ground and I took this photo on the way down.



And this photo of the surround walls on the way back to the campground.



For an updated topo of the route that I just made, click here

For other free topos, go here: click here

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