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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dreaming of Zion

I spent a lot of time in Zion during the ’90s, doing many of the classic walls and putting up two new aid routes, but I barely scratched the surface of the free-climbing potential. After perusing Bryan Bird's new Zion Climbing: Free and Clean from Supertopo, I'm fully stoked for some all-free (or at least attempted all-free) return trips to southwestern Utah's stunning national park.

The new Zion guide follows the now-fully-dialed Supertopo format, with clean presentation, detailed topos, color photos, and a smattering of historical essays. Renan Ozturk's phantasmagoric paintings also enliven the pages, though you'll be squinting if you try to copy one of his topos to carry it up a route. Most of the classic free and aid big-wall routes are covered in depth, including details on Zion's notoriously difficult descents. But I'm most excited about the many, many cragging areas I'd only heard rumors of: Cragmont, Kung Fu Theater, the Confluence, and more. There's soooo much to do.

Looking over the routes I've done, I found the topos and descriptions to be clear and accurate, with one exception: The topo to Wigs in Space on Red Arch Mountain has a number of inaccuracies, including not even showing the crux pitch, a fun 5.11 up double finger cracks. (The topo calls it C1; there's a good description of the route on Mountain Project.) Since both of my new routes in Zion were aid climbs with extensive use of pitons and beaks, I had to ask Supertopo publisher Chris Mcnamara why he didn't include nailing routes. He gave a good answer: "Because nailing routes change so fast—by the time five people climbed a route, it would be way different. Also, I just don't think Zion nailing is that sustainable. If someone doesn't go up there and actively create nut placements, a lot of those nailing routes are just going to turn into beat-out eyesores."

I also wondered why Bird, a Zion local, didn't include the fantastic climbs of the Kolob Canyons, in Zion's high country, even though he did cover a route in the intriguing Eagle Crags south of the park entrance and a couple of the white domes to the east. Bird: "I didn't feel as thought I was the right guy for the job. I have climbed a ton of routes in the main canyon, but very little in Kolob." Anyway, part of the Zion experience has always been exploration. It's cool to leave a bit of mystery to some of the routes.


Anonymous said...

I was wondering about that too, Dougald. If I'm not mistake, wasn't Wigs, rated 5.9, A1 or 5.11 in the book. How does A1 work in a "free and clean" book? Oh well, looks like a great book.

Dougald MacDonald said...

Wigs definitely goes clean. Must be a typo. It's correct (C1) in the topo for the route.