Lunar Ecstasy

After sending this story to Rock and Ice, the Alpinist, and Climbing Magazine with no interest, I’ve decided to publish it to Just Rolling By for all to read, for better or worse. Enjoy!

 

LUNAR ECSTASY

By Linus Lawrence Platt

 The early nineties was a confusing, but glorious time for me in regard to bouncing from location to location in search of a climbing scene with the most caliber and diversity. Having spent a year and a half in Moab, then heading to Boulder for a 5 month stint there, I was ready once again for a change. I had the wall itch flowing in my veins and I figured a trip to Zion for a spell was in order; at least it wasn’t too far out of the way going to the Valley from Boulder. Driving west, I swing the decrepit van south onto Highway 191 to my old stomping grounds in Moab to hang with my buddy Kyle and learn that an avalanche in the La Sal mountains just outside of town has killed several of my friends. It was a long and grievous week that followed and when I finally did get back on the road,  I felt like I was heading to a gregarious gathering of climbing and new friends that I hadn’t yet met. Zion was calling.

Back in those days one could drive into the Park and scope out climbs and approaches, cook meals in your van, and pull off the occasional incognito bivouac at the Zion Lodge parking lot, which, on that late evening in February 1992, is exactly what I did. Being a newbie to the walls of Zion, I set my eyes on soloing the Touchstone Wall on the Cerberus Gendarme, figuring it to be a good initiation; even though Navaho Sandstone was not unfamiliar to me, jumping in moderately seemed appropriate, especially solo. I fix the first couple of aid pitches and rap for a retreat to town. Later that night, at the Bit and Spur sitting at the bar, I strike up a conversation with local Springdale climber Brad Quinn, who mentions he wouldn’t mind doing the Touchstone with me if I wanted the company. Brad was a sandy haired, good natured fellow who was born and raised in Rockville and Springdale, making him a true local. His list of activity and first ascents in Zion were impressive and being so easy to get along with made me want his company on this climb; I liked him immediately. I say “Sure Thing” and by the next evening, we are happily descending from the Gendarme’s summit. The day had gone without a hitch and Brad and I seemed a good pair. On the descent, while simul-rapping, Brad tells me of an unclimbed route he had been scoping for a couple of years or so…  A thin line to the left of the omnipotent classic, Moonlight Buttress.

In those times, Brad’s house, the “Rock House”, named for it’s construction of stone blocks, proximity to the park entrance and world class bouldering, and the fact that it’s occupants were all climbers, was the de facto hang of the Zion Wall climbing scene; the Camp 4 of Zion, if you will. 1992 was an exciting year to be in Zion; there was an abundance of activity in the park that season and it was the year that I met the likes of Barry Ward, John Middendorf, Alan Humphrey, Jeff Hollenbaugh, Chris Circello, Eric Ramussen, Darren Cope, and many, many others.  An unusually high number of quality, modern classic aid lines were ticked that year. Brad and I spent hours at the Rock House contemplating his new proposed route, but it wasn’t for a couple more days ’till we drove up canyon to have a serious look. After scoping with binoculars and scribbling notes, we are certain it will go; thinking it will most likely be a semi difficult nail-up. Later, Ron “Piton Ron” Olevsky, a fixture of Zion climbing back then, had told us he had “scoped the line” but deemed it “too thin to climb in good conscience”. Thin was what we were looking for and the thought of such a new route stoked us up.

After a couple of days of free climbing, swimming in the river, and Brad showing me his secret bouldering circuit, we began the process of getting together the gear and logistics for the adventure ahead. Two days later, after procuring the necessary hardware and food, we found ourselves fiording the Virgin River and humping our loads to the base of the route. In an attempt to create a line of originality and a sense of it’s own, we opted not to follow the first couple of pitches of Moonlight Buttress, but instead start in a left leaning corner system that branched off Moonlight’s first 60 feet that we hoped would lead to the steep and monolithic features that characterize much of the route. And lead us to those features it did, but 2 or pitches of less than desirable rock had ensued to attain this. Such was the price. The first “real” pitch was one that concerned us slightly, as it appeared from the road to be a featureless wall of scallops and traversing that we certainly took for granted to be a drill fest. Upon casting off on this “Half Moon Traverse”, Brad found the pitch to be a mixture of drilled and natural hooking, some nailing, and the crafty use of Tri-Cams. After cleaning said pitch, I arrived to find Brad standing there, on a tiny ledge, the headwall we had so appreciably desired looming above his shoulders, and a shit-eating grin adorning his mustached face, with the wind blowing his sandy hair above his boater’s cap, signifying we had reached our goal and the route was under way. While perched upon that tiny ledge at our day’s high point, a clear view of the thinnest part of the route above lay clearly visible, even in the waning daylight. The crack in question was not even a seam at the level of this “Farewell Ledge”; in fact it didn’t become a feature capable of accepting even the thinnest of Bird Beaks for at least a couple of body lengths. We drill 3 bolts, rap to the deck, and head to the Rock House for celebration.

We spend the next 24 hours resting and getting some thin nailing gear together, revamping our drill kit, and swedging together rivet hangers and other miscellaneous. The year before, while putting up routes near Moab, Kyle Copeland, who had the year prior, made the first ascent of The Fang in Zion with John Middendorf, taught me a trick for an alternative to bathooking on sandstone. He would drill a 3/8″ hole, about 3/8″ deep, and instead of bat hooking the hole, tapped a Bird Beak into it. it’s removal could be achieved by a simple twist and the Beak would simply pop out. I figured that to reach the portion of the seam that would finally take gear would require a technique such as this, so we adjusted our drill bag accordingly. That evening, hitting the sack early, I dreamt of flawless vertical fractures and of pitons and of great exposure and of seeing the world from high above the earth. I sleep.

After jugging up fixed lines to Farewell Ledge, the sharp end is mine, and I cast off; a series of drilled Beak and hook moves then finally a sequence of Beaks in the fissure, gain reward by means of tied off KB’s, giving way to tied off Arrows. By the time I  sunk in a Baby Angle, I was in looking at a possible 60 footer right onto Brad. Finally getting in some TCU’s provided relief, and at ropes end, I drill another belay. Brad’s next lead was a dream pitch consisting of perfection in the form of  a parallel splitter, mostly blue Alien size. Leapfrogging this outstanding pitch, provided not one of the hardest, but certainly one of the best pitches of the route. Cleaning the pitch found me arriving at the belay with Brad already having set up the porta-ledge and sipping a victory beer. Soon joining in after organizing the rack for the following morning, I too felt the immense sense of gratitude, being on this magnificent first ascent of such a fine line, relaxing on the porta-ledge our first night out, sipping beer, and watching the phosphorescent moon rise above the north face of Angel’s Landing, we felt a place of purpose and dignity in the world. Soon we sleep… That night, very late, I awake and peer into the deep sky of night and the stars and moon come alive within me and I feel as free as any Man on Earth. The canyon’s presence is a deep impression in my soul and being on this climb, this wall, imposes a larger than life sensation that is a parallel to my own life and why I am here.

We are up before the sun and soon I am slithering up a thin KB corner, then gently tip toeing across a sizable Amoeba flake that seems to be entirely detached from the stone. Once past the offending protozoa, I am able to drill a Beak hook past a blank section where the corner changes direction; a dicey free move deposits me onto a small ledge and I am grateful for it. We are moving with intent on this new route: not too fast but not too slow; after Brad fires off another straightforward pitch, a big ledge appears and we are in the mood to relax and enjoy our last night on the route. The porta-ledge is assembled, regardless of the big ledge, and our gear spread out in a luxuriant fashion for reorganizing. Sleep comes earlier than usual and allows us an early start in the morning for what turns out to be the unexpected crux of the route: the final pitch.

After packing the bags and putting away the ledge in anticipation of descending from this Stone, I cast off, up a loose corner, and peer above. A headwall of steep and varnished rock looms wildly above. I consider this for a moment, and decide that it could be a time consuming nail fest and in the interest in getting off this route, opt for an escape to it’s right. On the third ascent of the route, Brad Jarret climbed this headwall and that’s the way it’s been done ever since. Traversing under the headwall, I spy an easy looking flake system that is topped by a small roof. Above, lay a shallow and sinister looking groove that spirals to the summit. I clamber up the hollow sounding flakes, aid climbing on questionable hardware, tossing in the occasional free move to shake it up, and peer beyond the roof. I can see the top, but to get there, I’ll have to pull some tricks out of the bag. Over the roof, a sloping hook and a KB put me into the groove and I can see all of it’s inability to receive gear. After fumbling with Beaks in the back of the groove to no avail, a small Tri-Cam decides to stick long enough for me to fire in a LA at the feature’s end. Soon I am running up 5.6 slabs with abandon and latching arms around the Juniper tree at the top. Brad cleans and I haul the worst haul of my life: the nasty ‘ol pig scraping loudly across loose choss and sandy slabs, all the while knocking debris onto Brad’s vulnerable skull. Soon and without mishap, Brad and I are standing on the summit, grinning wildly and filled with ecstasy that we pulled of a fine climb. A quick scramble down some 3rd class blocks puts us onto the paved tourist trail where friends are waiting to help hump loads to the bottom and ease our pain; we are a grateful pair, Brad and I.

Throughout the climb, I had been shooting pictures and once on the deck, I was anxious to get them developed for a slide show at the Rock House once we were settled and de-rigged. A couple days later, I stroll into the photo joint in Springdale to pick up the shots and look them over quickly on their light table. Anxious, I split for the Rock House where a party ensues. The photos, having never been looked at that night, were set aside and in a drunken haze, I crawl into my van for some much needed slumber. Upon entering the Rock House the following morning, I see Brad pacing nervously. Looking upset, he seems to be searching; the picture are gone he says. Only a couple of loose slides lying on the table remained.  Somehow, over the course of the evening party, the photos of the climb had disappeared. We spent the next few days searching and hoping they would turn up, but alas, they never did. A snapshot of climbing history vanished.

A week following, on the second ascent of Lunar Ecstasy, as we called the route, Jim Funsten, on that last mysterious pitch, couldn’t get the Tri-Cam to stick and wound up drilling a bolt at the crux. Such is the evolution of an aid climb, especially one on sandstone. Later, on the 3rd ascent, Brad Jarrett avoided the funky last pitch altogether and climbed the steep headwall at last, providing not another crux, but another fine pitch to the route. After Lunar X, I stayed in Zion for another 6 or 7 months, ticked off a few more walls, made a little money, and headed to The Valley in the Fall.

 

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