121 year old climbs Moonlight Buttress in Zion !

Well, we do have a combined age of 121!  I’m 58 and Kenn is 63 and we probably looked our age aid climbing this beautiful line !

We were training to do something larger on El Capitan and I just wasn’t game to do it without a tune up climb first so Kenn chose this great looking classic in Zion. Now it IS too hot to climb in Zion right now.  Aw hell,  if we take enough water; it will only be miserable as opposed to dangerous, right ? Kenn and I on the same rope is probably a recipe for suffering since this is certainly in my case, my main reservoir of talent. Kenn has  other talents but certainly his tolerance of pain is greater than anyone I know. We used both!

Moolight Buttress  is not a technically difficult aid climb nor is it a dangerous climb; as far as walls go. It is a wall though and it is an aid climb (unless you climb 5.13). This means it will be hard and you will climb slowly. We did. Now for me having more losses than wins on walls; that is not so novel. For Kenn; having successfully climbed up to 10 pitches a day on the Salathe and Nose of El Cap; well he didn’t consider 3-4 pitches a day as either successful or as a lot of fun !

It was hot! We got our permit around 11am after packing up the pig and pack. We started hiking and did the river crossing only to arrive around 1:30pm. I climbed the free pitch (1 crux) and then waited while a party of 3 climbed the free variation. You can’t mess with people when you have a 120 pound haul bag that could break free and knock someone off of their fingerlocks; so we waited. Kenn came up eventually while I hauled. It was hot-probably 99d on the rock. I sweated bullets in direct sunshine. Kenn did a great job freeing the off width on day 3 and the final slab pitch in the dark.

I won’t do the day by day, move by move description but will summarize our experience as follows: we climbed 4 pitches that day and 5  pitches on the last day. We climbed past dark every day and topped out at 2:30am on the final day !

A Learning Experience

Climbing: we hit about 3-4 cruxes. When climbing a wall you do whatever it takes to move quickly so I pulled on gear and clipped an aiders on free moves that were either dangerous falls or just faster to aid them. We used micro nuts to move forward but tried to have solid pieces in close by to protect a fall. There is an off-width which is probably best overcome by free climbing; take a very small rack (can tag up full rack after the crux), long sleeves help the elbows, look for any bat hook holes  and wear your rock shoes; once you get to the bolt; you can switch back to aid climbing.

Yank on gear hard in sandstone to set it. Cams will skid a bit unlike granite. Aliens can support body weight on only 2 lobes but fiddle with them to get a partial hold on 3 if you can. TCU’s sometimes fit where 4 cam units would not.  We used Omega Link Cams right on our aiders  to cam jug the cracks and just set gear much like we would free climbing; this saved a lot of time. We used purple link cams that would fit from a green alien to a .75 sized crack. Kenn had  a slew of other sizes which gave us assurance that we would have the right size.

Scheduling: Get the packing, permits and the hiking out of the way. Avoid bad conditions; such as extreme heat; go later in the day. Always try to fix 2-3 pitches then get a good night’s sleep on the ground and take off psyched the next day.

Jumaring: use a gri-gri instead of backup knots; saves time and you are more likely to have this backup in place and functioning as you go. For me; it is faster and less tiring to keep going smoothly in ¾ reach and not push for maximum reach. This is like short strides running uphill being faster than striding on the flats.

Portaledge:  I’ve been researching better ways; so this part is theoretical; use a munter (super secured / tied off) or a Yates daisy to adjust the ledge low enough so that the haul bag is above you and able to be accessed by standing up on the ledge. Tie off an inside corner of the ledge from the anchor to keep it stable and level off afterwards. This may help keep the ledge level if you set this part first and independent of the ledge strap. Stop early to set up ledge properly so you can get a good night’s sleep; still have daylight or energy and a headlamp? Fix the next pitch and rap down to a well earned dinner and a good night’s sleep.

Lighten up: take a soft pack (no back support or pad) for carrying up to the base and down from the top. You can then stuff in to the pig. We took too much gear; take a bit more than you think you need for free climbing but leave the rest and back clean if you have to. Use the tag line to bring up gear so you can start out climbing lighter. Use a gri-gri for belaying so you can attend to other tasks while belaying.

Small Haul Bag:  Take a second small bag with day’s supplies: water rationed for the day, candy bars, windbreaker or heavier jacket and hat. This bag should be easier to get in to. If you have to get to the bottom of the haul bag; you’ll skip it. Take more canned fruit and more water.

Trash: Take a few zip locs to hold the smells (everything in my pack smelled like kippers for a week afterward!). Poop tube; skip it; just use a 2 litre water bottle after  you drain it from day one; cut a slit or a door in to the bottle insert poop package (plastig bag, laundry detergent, TP, wet wipe) and close it up with duct tape. Tie AND TAPE a sling and carabiner from bottom of bag as normal; drop it in the trash on way out. Super light and super easy and even green.

Food: Take powdered gatorade. Make your own or buy some power gel. Take more canned fruit and more water. Dense foods will probably stay in the pack so go for things you can eat with a dry mouth and that are energy packed. I ate a lot of Payday bars (won’t melt) and I loved the 2 bottles of gatorade.

Hauling: learn the 2:1 hauling ratchet system (google; Mark Hudon or Pete Zabrok); it makes for an extra pound but it will get the first few pitches up without near the pain. When you get through a day or two of water; you can switch to 1:1 if you want to.

More theoretical: Consider short fixing; this will get you off the belay and out of the way of your second. It will force you to focus on a cleaner belay. Think First In: Last Out when clipping things at the belay; it takes a lot of time to unclip and unload biners and you could potentially drop that  rack if you have to pick it off to free up something else.

Finally the best advice I’ve ever heard; ”Never take advice from someone who doesn’t know a lot more than you”; so take all of the above with a truckload of salt. Safe travels and fun climbing !

Pics to follow :

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