Thursday, October 29, 2009

Moonlight Buttress

Moonlight Buttress is an 11 pitch route that ascends an imposing red sandstone wall in Zion National Park, Utah. The climb is most popular as an aid route, due to its spectacular aesthetics and the relatively straightforward nature of the aiding. As a free route, Moonlight Buttress offers up pitch after pitch of sustained, quality crack climbing that demands endurance and the ability to writhe up cracks of all sizes, from thin fingers to awkward full-body flares.

The route begins with four ‘approach pitches’ to the business: an insecure and sandy 5.8, a 5.10c with some liebacking through a small roof, a techie 5.11c traverse, and a 5.10d thin flake to face climbing. These pitches spit you out at the infamous ‘Rocker Blocker’, a feature like the Boot Flake on El Cap, the Split Pillar on the Stawamus Chief, and the Harding Slot on Washington Column that exemplify the way climbers have created their own geography and nomenclature for the physical features that have meaning to us. The Rocker Blocker is a completely detached mini-bar sized block that teeters disturbingly on the apex of a blunt tower directly beneath the steep dihedral that comprises the midsection of Moonlight Buttress.

It is at the Rocker Blocker that the free climbing difficulties begin abruptly, with a reachy face climbing sequence and strenuous mantle to sustained finger locks and laybacking. If you are under 5’11” you may want to consider standing on your pack, the rope or a piss-soaked rock poached from behind the Rocker Blocker unless dynoing to sandy crimps is your forte. The next pitch is the technical crux of the route, and unfortunately for the belayer, begins off a steep, hanging stance. Climbers with bigger cajones than me (OK, it’s true, I don’t really have cajones) link the previous pitch into the crux, giving a 180’ super pitch of powerful laybacking with only a few stems and stances for respite. The crux pitch involves steep laybacking up the thin crack through a bulge: big moves between the sausage-finger friendly pinscars, or desperate tips-locks in between, take your pick. Stepping into the bottom of a shallow triangular slot allows a quick shake and a chance for your sweat glands to catch up and really lube things up for the subsequent 10 feet of heinous, flared, graceless groveling. Working out this section left me with some painful raspberries on my biceps and shoulders that several weeks later are still scabby and peeling. At the top of the flare you have to suppress the powerful urge to grab the tat on the three bolt aid climbing anchor and continue up 40’ of 5.11- climbing to the proper free belay under an imposing roof.

Time to pull the roll of tape out of the bullet pack, because from here on up the cruxiest climbing is going to be hard on your fingie skin. Some 5.8 chimneying past a bolt feels pretty reasonable until the chimney opens into a shallow dihedral and once again, it’s all about the laybacking. A long and skinny ledge provides the perfect opportunity for a real rest and a chance to take in the views of the Virgin River winding lazily through stunning rock formations. If you’re lucky like we were, you may even spy a giant California Condor using its 9’ wingspan to surf the updrafts. But don’t get too comfy because the remaining four pitches of the route are still looming overhead. The next section has to be some of the most aesthetic climbing I have ever done. A single finger crack with occasional footholds and shallow corner features splits the dead vertical headwall. The exposure is breathtaking owing to the location of the route on a steep buttress underlain by a roof. Three pitches of tight to rattly finger locks and occasional jugs brings you to the last pitch, where in typical sandstone style, the rock quality begins to deteriorate due to weathering. A few sandy slab moves lead to the summit mantle and a gnarly pine belay.

I first climbed Moonlight Buttress two years ago and performed terribly. My husband Evan ended up leading most of the hard pitches and I spent the whole day feeling intimidated and unworthy of such a route. However, as with most climbing projects, the seed was planted and I hoped that someday I could come back and climb the route in better style. A road trip in Utah this fall and a chance to climb with a committed, motivated and strong female partner allowed me the opportunity I needed. After spending several days working out the route with Jen Olson, we were left with one day before she had to head back to her job as a mountain guide in Canada. We swapped leads on the route, switching order at the crux so I could lead both the crux and the two big-finger pitches (she has pretty, feminine hands, while I have chubby sausage fingers). I whipped off the crux pitch on my first attempt, but lowered off the aid climbing anchor, cleaned my gear, pulled the rope and successfully lead it on my second go. I had previously sent all the remaining pitches, so had the mental advantage of knowing I was capable of climbing them. I held on tight for the rest of the route and managed to send.

Now I am left with one month of my road trip to go before heading back to Canada for the long and chilly ski season. I can only hope that the rest of the trip can offer some more of the high quality climbing and enjoyable adventures that my time on Moonlight provided.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


The end of summer brought such a dizzying variety of activities and adventures that I hardly know where to begin. I jetted out of Squamish for the last week in August for a few days of quartzite climbing at the Back of Lake Louise along with a week of heavy-duty manual labour at Valhalla Mountain Touring to get ready for the upcoming ski season. The back of the lake schooled me big time, but I enjoyed the chance to learn a bit about climbing a new rock type and managed to get up Scared Peaches, a steep and beautiful 12a crack as well as a few super fun sport routes. Here are some shots from the back of the lake:
Evan milking a rest on the awesome arete, Dew Line 5.11c
Jen Olson on Where Heathens Rage, 12c

I was too busy wielding a shovel, brush saw or other implement of torture to take any photos at VMT. We built a new collection pond on Silveretta Creek for the hydroelectric system, improved the one on Ruby Creek, rebuilt a new house for the turbine and cleaned up the remnants of the old one (the house was pulverized by an avalanche in January), dug a new shitter hole for the staff accommodation (I'll take privacy over a flush toilet even if it has an icy seat!), brushed out the access to the Cariboo ski area, and brought up and stacked a whole winter's worth of firewood for the lodge, sauna and staff cabin. Whew! We even found enough time to pick a few huckleberries.

Following the work party at the lodge, I spent a few days at my Mum's place helping her with her bakery, Manna Organic Microbakery. She was preparing for the Hills Garlic Festival, and I helped her make around 150 croissants from scratch. Half were chocolate filled and half were savory, with roasted garlic, sundried tomatoes, chevre and a mix of herbs from the garden. Yum!
Rolling croissants is hard work

...but the final result is worth it!

Bounty from my Mum's garden

September saw me back in Squamish finishing up the guiding season with a contract for the TREK outdoor program from a high school in Vancouver. Teaching these grade 10 students how to climb involved belay practice on the fence in their school, a viewing of the John Long classic video Rock Climbing Basics (worth it for the spandex and short-short bouldering shots alone), as well as a day in the smoke bluffs in Squamish. A few days of climbing around Squamish and a quick hit of surfing in Tofino with Evan's parents was all we could fit in before the rains began and it was time to head south in The Mountaineer, a small camper for the back of our truck and the newest addition to the family. Before we left I managed to tick The Ghost, a Petrifying Wall gear route that always intimidated me but turned out to be quite safe and super fun.

Benny at Chek, chalked up and ready to send The Fleeing Heifer

First stop on the trip was Smith Rocks, Evan's least favorite place to climb. We spent a two days of climbing on the tuff before we were driven out by a snow storm. I enjoyed (while Evan tolerated) the fun and techie Sunshine Dihedral and Take a Powder. Next it was a heavy 15 hour drive to St. George, where we clipped bolts for three days at the Cathedral Cave, Turtle Wall, and a few pitches in Kolob Canyon. Next stop, Salt Lake City for the American Alpine Club Craggin' Classic. The event involved food, drinks, parties, slideshows, clinics and a great chance to hang with other climbers. It was especially fun for me to reconnect with all the peeps I used to hang with in SLC when I lived there a few years back.

It felt like the road trip truly began when we scooped up our climbing partners Colin Moorhead and Jen Olson, and settled in for 8 days of climbing in Zion N.P. It was so nice to be in one place after so much travel. We even found a great Doggy Dude Ranch for Benny to spend his days while we tackled our multipitch projects.

Inspired by Kate Rutherford and Madeline Sorkin, the first women to free the route in all-female team style, Jen and I were psyched to try Moonlight Buttress. So far we have spent four days on various parts of the climb, including one day top-to-bottom. It's going really well, but tomorrow is our last day on it before Jen has to head back to Canada. That's the way it goes with multipitch projects, there's just no guarantees. Hopefully the heat will back off a little and it will all come together! Moonlight may be one of the most inspiring multipitches I have ever been on, and that's coming from a self-professed granite lover. I just feel so fortunate to have this time to play on such an amazing route.

Me on the crux pitch, just getting into the evil flare section

Jen patiently waiting at the rocker blocker as the 4-team cluster clears outs

Our friend Jesse Huey left us a heartening note on the wall
Jen on the upper headwall

View from high on Moonlight Buttress

Starting up one of the 12a fingers pitches on the upper headwall of Moonlight

Me on the send of the big fingies pitch on the upper headwall

Colin doing some recon using the new guidebook

What happens on rest days...

...stays on rest days!