Saturday, October 17, 2009


So Tuesday night the phone rings and it's our good friend Ty Mack. He was looking for a partner to go to Zion with and try the mega classic route Spaceshot 5.13. Having climbed with Ty in the past I knew I'd enjoy his company even if the climb turned into an epic so I jumped at the opportunity. I packed up as much gear as deemed prudent, threw a bunch of camping gear in the back of the 4-runner, and after a short stint at work Wednesday morning, pointed her south and made haste for Zion National Park! Arriving at what might be THE sandiest campground ever, I pulled in to see Ty talking on the phone with beer in hand. After some big hugs and smiles, we cracked another beer, made some dinner, and got down to the business of catching up and sorting gear for Thursday's climb. Having climbed in Zion on previous trips (and having worked out the crux pitches of Spaceshot earlier via mini-traxion) I knew Ty was going to be a solid partner. We organized gear, went over the topo, filled water, stashed food away in our day packs, and called it a night in preparation for the big day ahead.

Sleep did not come easy that night.

I tossed and turned, the anticipation of what was to come gnawing at my semi-conscious mind. Was the exposure going to scare me to death? How well would we handle the belay transitions? Was it going to be too hot? Has anyone ever screamed like a girl when they fell 800 feet off the ground? I awoke early the next morning with a stiff back and wide eyes, Ty had already made the most "diesel" coffee I've ever tasted. It was just the ticket to get me fired up. Six packets of oatmeal later we were in the car headed for the park. We caught the second shuttle at 7:00 a.m. and as mornings first light played on the tops of the pinnacles, we wandered along the river bottom, Ty pointing out classic routes and future projects on the walls above.

The bus driver was kind enough to drop us off at the trail and after a two minute hike we stood at the base of by far the most impressive wall I've ever been under. We shoed up, gave each other a solid high five and a "woot woot!" and cast off up the route. The first three pitches were all easy, 5.6 range with lots of scrambling and negotiating sand bars. We arrived at the base of pitch four, the crux pitch of the route and unfortunately our last ledge stance for a while. Ty took some deep breaths, tightened the laces, and started up one of the most stunner pitches I've ever climbed on. Though wandering, the climbing was phenomenal. Perfect edges meandered up a blank wall, streaked red and black with hints of orange. Little boulder problems separated by good rests led to an awkward sideways traverse, the meat and potatoes of the pitch. The delicate and "balancey" nature of the crux spit Ty off three times, each one was a proud fall. Ty worked it out his fourth try and continued up the pin scarred seam to the belay, contemplating another attempt at the pitch to try and reign in the "free ascent".

After I arrived at the belay, the sun was starting to creep closer and closer down the wall and we made the decision to continue on try to make some headway on the wall since we still had five more long pitches ahead. We lamented the hanging belay we were at and Ty promptly cast off into the next hard pitch, a .12d pin scarred finger crack. Let it be said that Ty Mack is THE man! He strolled up that thing like he was warming up, assuring me the whole time he was gripped and pumped.... I still don't believe him. Needless to say he was solid from that point on for the rest of the day. By the time I climbed up to the belay, the sun had engulfed the wall and we were plenty warm. With the hardest pitches behind us, we looked ahead to a funky, sandy offwidth, and then splitter hands and fingers all the way to Earth Orbit Ledge, the final belay before the summit. The next three pitches were beautiful climbing, gorgeous positioning, and stunning views.

Ty ran a couple of pitches together to make for some fun endurance climbing. Unfortunately by that time, the sun was baking the wall and the hanging belays were starting to take their toll. We were both cramping up a little and my crooked ring finger wasn't cooperating as well as I had hoped in the splitter hand cracks. When I got to the final hanging belay Ty was already shoed up and ready to take off. The last two pitches were significantly more overhung and the fatigue was starting to set in. It was hard not to charge forward though since the exposure was really starting to take hold. The eighth pitch right before the ledge had phenomenal climbing, great hand jams, good feet outside the crack, and fantastic positioning since it arches hard right over the abyss! Once we were on the ledge, we drank the rest of our water, had a bite to eat, and took in the amazing views. A little lizard was quite eager to see us and found great curiosity in Ty's hard boiled egg shells. I tossed him a chunk of Clif-Bar and I'm sure he enjoyed that.

We cast off on the last pitch and certainly the most exposed terrain on the whole route. The 50 feet of ledge traversing was crazy! A flat, sloped ledge ran for probably 30 feet, and at three feet wide the whole route drops away below it. Unprotected, a fall there would land you smack dab in the middle of the abyss with little to no way of getting back up the rope... exciting! After the traverse, a handful of .12- moves lead you to the summit and those moves start off of the apex of the overhang. Pulling onto a block below a dihedral, you can see the whole route drop away below you, all 1200 feet! As exhilarating as it was, fatigue had set in an taken it's toll. Between the cramping and heat, Ty had opted for the bolt ladder and it was strenuous to even haul ourselves up that.

One more scramble pitch led to a small tree casting a bit of shade, a very welcomed sight at that point. I belayed Ty up and when he popped over the edge he said "alright a present"! Over in the dirt where two crusty old used water bottles... filled with H20! Under normal circumstances I wouldn't touch a water bottle like that but at that moment it took three seconds before Ty had the top off and was guzzling the precious fluid. After we finished off one of those he told me the unwritten code that aid climbers will often haul up too much water and it's a friendly gesture to leave extra water for parties who are dry when they reach the top (like us)! We sat and waited for the shade, taking in the spectacular views, talking climbing, route info, and geology. Once we cooled off and felt more hydrated, we set off down the slabs (in bare feet at this point which felt SO good) to the rappels. Four nice long raps set us back down on terra firma. Flip flops and shoes greeted us at our stashed pack and when the shuttle bus came around the bend, we had thumbs stuck out and were ready for beer and food.

All told it was 12 1/2 hours car to car, a solid day climb. I can't praise Ty's ability enough, he led most every pitch and had the wall systems down pat, a very solid partner. We laughed and talked and enjoyed the hell out of a long day that was quite tiring. It's almost two days later and I'm still wrecked, hurting in places I didn't know I have. It was totally worth it though, a fantastic climb and a wonderful experience all around. Unfortunately we didn't bring a camera since it would have added yet another pound or two and that would have been a pound or two too much. You can see some route photos and beta here Spaceshot Topo
I won't need the photos though to remember the amazing climbing and breath taking views. A huge thanks to T-Mack for letting me tag along on a wonderful adventure. Hopefully more Zion trips to come!

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