re-sized Zion

Vertical climbing in Zion National Park

This is an absolutely awesome video – Alex Honnold defying gravity to solo climb Zion’s Moonlight Buttress in Utah. What did he think of the climb? “For me, the entire Moonlight Buttress is pure fingers … awesome, glorious fingers.”

Honnold is a 26-yr old big wall free solo climber who has broken a number of speed records including Salathé Wall and a 5h49m ascent of the 3,000 ft The Nose, both routes on El Capitan, but The Nose is a route that normally takes two to four days. Last year he was awarded the “Golden Piton” for his climbing achievements.

‘Courage isn’t the absence of Fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than Fear’ This could well be his motto.

Watching this video drew my attention to Zion National Park, an area I have not visited but which is well known as a centre for rock climbing. What makes this area unique is the incredible amount of big wall climbing on offer.We’re talking vertical walls here, of over 1,000+ ft  (300+ m). In fact most of Zion’s big walls are between 800 – 2500 ft (245 – 760m)  in height and there are hundreds of Grade 4 climbs in this range,which is incredible when you compare it to that other well known climbing region – Yosemite, which only has a dozen big walls. The selection of rock climbs, cragging possibilities and varied free climbing on cracks at Zion is endless.

Zion National Park, Utah, USA

Zion National Park, Utah

Photo courtesy of Jeff Stephens, Mountain Project

But whereas Yosemite is granite, Zion is sandstone which is a whole different ballgame. Sandstone takes some getting used to as it ‘feels’ weak – not to say it is, but you do have to watch out for soft rock. Sandstone is delicate and it is your obligation to protect it. There are climbing guides to advise you on how to protect the rock and I suggest you take a look at some of them or I can make it easy for you and you can follow this link to Climb-Guide.

Spring and Fall offer the best climbing conditions in Zion. Daytime temperatures in the Spring can range from the 60s and 70s F in March, but snow can be expected until mid-April. From then until mid-May the temperatures are ideal for climbing. Fall, on the other hand, has ideal temperatures from high-80s to mid-60s  from mid-September to mid-November. Summer can be scorching and very crowded. Winter is unpredictable and can be extremely cold.

Please be aware that some routes are closed for peregrine falcons from March-September – so check beforehand. It is also worth being cognisant of the fact that because there is a vertical difference of at least 1,000 ft between the valley floor and the canyon rim, weather can be different depending on your elevation.

Despite the fact that these big walls seem terrifyingly huge, there is a variety of climbing for all standards with plenty of short, one or two pitch routes for those who don’t want to venture too high. However, it is an area that is best known for its long sandstone wall routes and has good entry-level grade IV’s and V’s like Prodigal Sun, Touchstone Wall and Moonlight Buttress.

Zion National Park is an area with a very fragile eco-system and one that Park authorities are determined to protect. For this reason there is a limit on vehicles entering the Park following the winter season. All cars need to be left at the Visitors Centre and shuttle buses will take you into the Park. They are efficient and operate from 5:45am until 11:00pm.

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