Zion - Moonlight Buttress

March 20-21

Mike Swanicke and I met over beers in the U district, and hatched the plan to head down to Zion to climb some of the short walls over spring break. We left Seattle around 5pm on the 19th, and drove pretty much strait there arriving in the early afternoon of Thursday the 20th. The weather was warm and sunny, just perfect seeing as we left Seattle in a deluge of rain. What to do... should we start climbing now, or maybe wait until tomorrow? A quick drive up the canyon towards the climbs made the decision all too clear.

The Moonlight Buttress is the dark smooth rock on the left.

Moonlight Buttress (5.9 C2)

Our plan was not to haul or sleep on the climb, but rather to fix ropes up to the rocker block at the top of the third pitch, and then finish the climb the next day. With not a ton of time to spare, we threw together a rack, grabbed the ropes, and crossed the river around 3pm. The river was running around 60 cfs, so we only went in up to the knees, which was nice and refreshing in the afternoon. The hike up to the base was short, and we scrambled up to a nice ledge below the obvious corner/ramp of the first pitch.

Because Mike had a tweaked tendon, I was the free climbing monkey for the trip. About the time I tossed on the rack, we both realized that we had neglected to bring any slings or extra biners. Doh! I lead off for my first rock pitch of the season. The climbing is actually pretty nice, with good hand cracks down low. At mid-height there is a traverse across a slab to reach some other crack-corner systems off right. I think that is the right way to go. I continued up and found myself on a ledge with a really thin crack and blank walls. This is where I think other people have written about "1 cam hook move" and then the scary step across. I stepped on a small nut placed in the crack, and continued climbing up until I made the spooky slopping step across. The belay was on a nice ledge off of two good bolts.

The first pitch.

Mike jugged up, took a nice swing out of the corner, and setup to lead the first aid pitch. A little scrambling leads to a really reachy move up to the crack in the roof. Mike put the right alien onto his daisy and lunged for the placement, getting it first try!

Mike starts off on the second pitch.

Mike short fixing up through pitch 3's bolt ladder.

After pitch three we fixed two 60m ropes to the ground, getting down just as it got dark and started to rain.

The alarm on my watch refused to function the next morning, as is typical for it on any critical day. But luckily we were woken up 15 minutes later buy some peppy go-getters yelling "Wake up! Wake up!" to their friends. Man, aren't campgrounds great. After a quick breakfast we were crossing the river again, barefoot. It was excruciatingly cold, and the feeling didn't come back in my feet until we were at the base of the fixed lines.

Brrrr... Photo by Mike.

Mike headed up first with the rack, while I went second with the pack. With a gallon of water on my back, way too many clothes on, and an adjustable daisy attachment to my ascender slowly slipping, I was exhausted after the first 200ft. By the time we were both up the sun was blasting the climb, and while I caught my breath, Mike lead off on the fantastic dihedral pitch.

Mike begins to plug those Aliens on pitch 4.

Looking down from the hanging belay at the base of pitch 5.

Mike heads up towards the chimney on pitch 5.

When I got to the belay on top of pitch 5 I was plenty ready to rid myself of the damn backpack and take the sharp end. We couldn't find the topo with the pitch linkages on it, but I decided to just get as far as I could. The gorgeous splitter crack soared off the belay, and I was soon plugging away.

Dave starts off on pitch 6. Photo by Mike.

With a yellow and red Alien on each eitrier I moved quickly up the crack, placing a nut every so often. Looking down, the runouts looked bold, but in reality I was standing on a two cam belay most of the time! Mid-pitch, Mike found the topo, and it showed we could link the two 100ft pitches(6 and 7) with our 60m rope, so I just continued on up. If there was ever a reason to climb 12a finger cracks, this would be it. Awesome!

It seemed like we could link the last two pitches into another long one, but I didn't want to free the "runout" slab at the top with a whole rope of drag below me. So Mike lead off for a the short 8th pitch, which ends at a hanging belay a short distance above.

The Great White Throne... and Mike's foot.

Dave following pitch 8. Photo by Mike.

The last pitch (9th) shoots right off the belay again with a little thinner crack. There is also a big pod in the crack which is labeled "5.9 mandatory" on one topo, but I was easily able to aid through it with a yellow-red offset Alien (A must have piece in Zion!). Not too far above I topped out on big ledge. Above was the finishing slab, so I had Mike send up my rock shoes on the zip line.

The last bit went up and right on a small foot rail, then up and left on sloping sandy holds to the point where I could grab the rim and heave myself onto the top. In the fading light, I slung the tree and fixed the lines for Mike to follow. Sweet!

We ran down the Angel's Landing trail and made it back into town just before the restaurants closed. We ate at Oscars Cafe by the Shell station, which I highly recomended for breakfast or dinner.

Here is a great topo for the Moonlight Buttress that shows pitch lengths/links.

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