Matt and Joanne’s Page

March 28, 2008

St George and Zion NP: Moonlight Buttress

Filed under: Climbing, Roadtrip — Tags: , — Matt Stamplis @ 10:19 am

So, as promised, we’ve finally moved on to another state and some new scenery. Our first stop in Utah is the St. George area. Since our major goal here was to do a big wall route in Zion, our main focus is not really free climbing but to get some practice aid-climbing. We decided to stop in downtown St. George at a small sandstone bluff and spent a few hours aiding. Unfortunately the cracks here were mostly hand-size or bigger so they weren’t the best practice for the thin cracks we’d be aiding on.

Then we spent a couple days climbing in Chuckwalla and Snow Canyon. Joanne didn’t like Snow Canyon because the routes here were mostly slab climbing. We spent a whole day climbing the supposedly easy route Pygmy Alien (5.7). Here we had our first mini-epic/rope stuck situation. Since we didn’t own any guidebook for the area we pretty much just started climbing up the formation. When we reached the top of the 2nd pitch, Matt couldn’t see any fixed anchors so we decided to continue to the top since there is a supposed-4th class walk-off. When we got up to the top we found a set of anchors so we decided to rappel down the low-angle slabs to the left of the route.

On our second rappel down the slab our ropes got stuck when we tried to pull them. So Matt had to prusik (using some knots to re-climb the rope very slowly) up 200 ft and try to fix the rope. Then he came back down and the rope was still stuck! So up he went again (slowly). The whole time I kept telling him to try to move the knots over the lip of the rock, thinking that might be the cause of the stuck rope. Finally Matt decided to re-set the rappel because it was threaded in a way that caused the rope to be pinched on the chain anchor (we still don’t have much clue what really happened). After this we finally managed to pull the knot and first rope down and started on pulling the rest of the rope down. By this time we were both exhausted and annoyed and Matt said somehting like “It will be really funny if this rope get stuck now” and voila, the rope indeed got stuck again, caught behind this giant chicken-head and wouldn’t budge. So Matt has to lead up this slab using the 1st rope and finally got our ropes unstuck. I think it took us 3 hours to get down! I swear this is why I really hate slab climbing.

Here’s a picture of Matt rappelling down the slab from hell. Look at the big jumble of ropes below him – looks like a nice mess, eh? It was one of those days… Apparently we are not supposed to throw the ropes down when it comes to slab because they get tangled up nicely.

So aside from our Snow Canyon epic, we spent a day climbing at the Chuckwalla and Turtle Walls, just a couple miles from St. George. The climbing reminded us of Red Rock Canyon (Las Vegas) and made for a fun day of sport climbing.

Here’s the Chuckwalla Wall. It’s not real tall, it’s kind of crowded and every useable hold is chalked “to the max” but makes for a fun diversion. The routes on the right were easier mostly in the 5.10 range while the climbs on the left were mostly hard 5.11s.

The Turtle Wall might have been Matt’s favorite place to climb in St. George. It featured this cave, which was not only a fun place to relax, but had some some very fun routes up the steep cave walls. Banana Dance 5.11c, on the right side of the cave, was the best.

So now…on to Zion and the bigger walls!

Our first day in the park we climbed The Pulpit, a fun 2-pitch spire and Tourist Crack, an amaaaazing 5.9+ (that’s a pretty big plus) thin hand crack. Here’s Matt climbing Tourist Crack. The whole middle section of the route would take as many red camelots as you could throw at it.

Our main objective in the park, though, was to get up something big. And we had our eyes set on Moonlight Buttress. Here’s a picture of the wall (above). You probably can’t see on this low-resolution, but there’s two parties climbing in this picture. The route we wanted to climb, the Lowe route, follows an amazing finger crack for 5 pitches up the prow of the buttress.

To get to the good climbing, though, you have to wade through a couple mediocre pitches. Here’s Matt leading p1, a 5.9 ramp system. The pitch is a bit sandy.

Here’s Joanne on the start of the aid climbing on p2. Supposedly this pitch goes free at 5.10 but it sure looked harder than that. It was mostly protected with nuts and small cams. Since this is Joanne first aid pitch, the thin small gear was definitely very intimidating. A fixed ball nut under the initial roof made that part easier (Joanne had trouble reaching it and just a foot away from it but able to finally clip it with some nifty tricks!)

Pitch 3’s angling bolt ladder. We read that a hook move might be necassary here but it looks like an additional bolt was added here so you can keep your hooks at home.

From here we were on top of the Rocker Block, a loose-looking block that is actually bolted to the wall. Kind of bizzare – I don’t think the bolts would be able to hold it if it decided to roll. We fixed our ropes here (2 60-meter rappels will get you to the ground) and planned to come back in 2 days to finish the rest of the route.

After the Rocker Block, the next 4 pitches are amazing 5-star finger cracks. But first we had to get the haulbag up there. It kept getting stuck on the low angle section of the wall below us and it probably took us 3-4 hours to get back to our previous high point – ugh! Good thing we weren’t in a hurry (and we had a portaledge). Here’s a picture of Joanne starting up p4, The Grand Dihedral. After hauling for hours it was nice to start making real upward progress! This is the longest pitch on the route, and one of the most amazing to look at. (Joanne comment) The gears on this pitch is also super thin. Since we only have 2 sets of TCU and 3 0.5 cam and 2 0.4 cam (these are essentially the only major gears I was using for the whole 180ft pitch; recommendation online is 4-5 sets of TCUs), I had to leap frog each pieces and when nut placement is possible, I’ll end up leaving the nuts for protection.

About 20 minutes after Joanne started up the Grand Dihedral we heard some yelling from below: apparently some guy had fallen and broken his pelvis! Fortunately they were close enough to the road and one of his partners was able to run there and get help. There was another team (climbing Lunar Ecstacy?) between us and the injured party and we were not in a great position to contribute to the rescue so we briefly discussed things, then continued with our route. Here’s Joanne hanging out at the top of pitch 4, while the rescue went on 500 feet below.

A closeup of the rescue, I’m not entirely sure what they were doing but they somehow managed to take 5 or 6 hours to lower the guy 50 feet to the ground and the ambulance. We didn’t get the whole story but it sounded like the guy had intentionally pendulumed but may have misjudged just how far he was going to swing. He ended up slamming into a corner, breaking his pelvis. Last we heard, he was in the hospital and was stable, at least. Hopefully his recovery will end up going as smooth as possible.

Here’s Matt going up into the slot on p5. This part of the climb was particularly awkward as you get squeezed in a tight dihedral and you’re trying to get your gear from the back of your harness while chimneying. Wait, where is the haul line??? I noticed that when he’s part way in the climb and yelled out to him to come back down to get the line. At least he’s not that far away :).

So between our slow hauling and slow aiding we were only able to climb 2 pitches on this day. So we ended up setting up our portaledge and sleeping for the night. Here’s Joanne hanging out on our bed. We rented the ledge and didn’t really know how to set it up: we couldn’t get it completely straight so it was kind of angling and not very comfortable to lay on. Still, we managed to get some sleep!

Here’s Joanne working on p6 and p7 the next day. You just keep following this amaaaaaaazing finger crack system for most of the route. It just gobbles up small cams and looks like it would be a fantastic free climb (most of the pitches are 5.12 with great pro).

Finally, on the summit! We ended up spending about 2 days on the route (with 1 bivouac): we certainly didn’t set any speed records but we were really excited to make it safely to the top of our first big wall. I couldn’t keep the smile off my face as we ran down the Angel’s Landing trail and back to the road and the shuttle bus. Rack recommendation (all sizes are camelots): 2 sets of nuts, small tricams, as many finger and smaller sized cams as you have (3 sets or more), 3 #0.75, 3 #1 camelots, 2 #2, 2#3, and optional big piece (#5 or #6 camelot) for squeeze on p5. We didn’t need any hooks.

So what did we do with our dog when we were climbing?? Well – my Mom, Liz, and Zach joined us for the week and kept an eye on Yogi when we were climbing. I think we’ve posted enough for now so we’ll put some pictures up with the things we did with them in a few days (hopefully!!)



  1. wow, you guys slept hanging in midair?? *speechless*

    Comment by Lil — March 29, 2008 @ 10:54 am

  2. Yeah we did for 1 night. It wasn’t that bad if you don’t think about the height too much :). We are always connected to the anchor anyway so even if the portaledge blew, we’ll still be fine. When we went to bed, it was actually really warm so we didn’t bother getting our bivy sack out and just sleep in the sleeping bag. However, it got really windy in the middle of the night and I wish I had my bivy sack on but by then I was too lazy and just kept burying myself in the bag to avoid the wind, burrrr…..

    Comment by joannestamplis — March 31, 2008 @ 9:58 am

  3. Congrats on your wall!
    Looks like some of those crafty wall tricks you learned in the Mazamas AR class came in handy.
    That’s a classic route, and you sent it in good style and with great photos.
    The photo above of “Joanne hanging out at the top of pitch 4” really gives a good sense of the exposure of the route. It’s one of the best Moonlight Buttess images I’ve seen.

    Way to go!
    John Godino

    Comment by john godino — June 2, 2008 @ 8:56 pm

  4. Thanks John. We definitely used all the skills we learnt from you and Gent from AR. 1 thing we didn’t pay attention in that class was how you guys set up that portaledge as we have quite a lot of difficulty getting it to be perfectly balance. The whole night we were kinda sliding 🙂

    Comment by joannestamplis — June 3, 2008 @ 7:38 am

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