Zion National Park, The Streaked Wall, Wet Stone Wall (VI, 5.10 A4, 11 pitches).
By Ryan Frost, AAC
At mid-height on our new Zion wall route, we discovered a huge ledge. We unfurled pirate flags and settled in with our camp stoves and travel speakers. Although we were giving snide or evocative titles to nearly every feature on the route, we never named this ledge, even though it was our home for three nights. We would go out and work on the French Ladder or the Wave Goodbye Pitch and then come back to sleep on our anonymous ledge. It was like visiting your grandma in Milwaukee and returning—you never have to name the place you come back to, because it’s your home.
Nate had spied this new line as he climbed, over the years, route after route on the Streaked Wall. This one has a different character than those right-slanting seams: longer, less steep, wandering up a seasonal waterfall through insane arches and chimneys. He sussed out every quarter of the thing, swearing he could see, from a mile off, climbable patina all over. When I made the mistake of mentioning that I had a little time at the beginning of October, Nate fired off a call to Joe and up we went.
The first few pitches were highlighted by heads-up beaking, a touch of hooking, some mandatory free out of Joe, plenty of grit in the teeth, and a couple of fabulous trundles. Then we confronted the Great Arch. It was the best feature on the wall: intimidating, sweeping like a scimitar, the kind of thing you dream of climbing until, finally arriving face to face, you wish you didn’t have to. The first hundred feet were mud-packed, infested with vile shrubbery, and watched over by flocks of chirpy birds as territorial as fluffy little gang bangers. This pitch might be in the running for the worst in the known universe. A trowel and a shop-vac with a clip-in loop might not be a bad idea.
Joe and I sat on haul bags and watched Nate dink his way along the next pitch, another hundred feet of horizontal diceyness, upward-driven arrows, and assorted mank that ripped on the clean. The birds twittered at these large creatures on their turf and perched on the haul line to get a look at the excitement. The sun went down. Joe thought about his monstrous free-space lower-out with the bags, and I looked at the jingus I had to clean, and both of us wouldn’t have minded being down at Oscar’s for a garlic burger instead. Nate, having bolted to the lip of the great beast, started yipping like a little kid—the rock above was solid patina, and he scampered right up with a couple of hooks in hand, just another happy nocturnal rodent out in the canyon.
When we jugged up to join Nate, we found him strutting about our huge ledge in his John Stockton shorts. This was home, big enough for us to unrope, with saplings for shade and ambience, all sitting in a black streak under a major drainage. Joe rigged a three-to-one, we brought up our luggage, and we made ourselves some dang quesadillas. In the morning we started fixing above. Joe ended up with the only hole ladder on the route. Above were more roofs leading to some gargantuan chimneys of excellent quality. With nearly 600 feet fixed, we retreated to the ledge and had some Thai and a Daft Punk hoedown.
Not sure what it is about walls, but there appears to be a mathematical property describing the effort required per pitch. Each seems to exact the pain of the previous pitch plus half again, and by the end of a long route, it seems like you can barely get ahead. The rock quality, as is common in Zion, was fading from splitter red sandstone to the white grit of sugar cubes. Add to this a change in the weather, plus some work-related time constraints and other problems of the real world, and we were facing a real live formula for getting taken out back of the woodshed. The next day it was summit or bust.
We were back at our high point by dawn, thanks to Nate and his early-morning psych. I got the aid-climbing junk show, a traveling exhibit of tied-off knobs and assorted beakery. Though I have no real recollection of time passing, this appears to have taken half the day. I sat at the top of that pitch in another realm, and Joe came up and gave me some water, and we looked at the grey scud in the sky and huddled in the wind. It sprinkled and then it stopped, and we thought about every piece of wall gear that we owned, piled down there on the ledge where a waterfall lands. The next pitch looked like another nailer, and we tried to sell each other on the merits of giving it a go. To be honest, we were over it.
Nate came up from the clean. The turn in the weather had forced him to zip his pantaloons back on. Well, he was having none of our mutiny. He’d been after this route for 10 years. Free shoes, hooks, drill, a few beaks for luck, and Nate was off. A terrified giggle floated down as he ran it out up black razor patina pasted to white grit. He manteled the last edge and drilled. This was the old Zion supersizing game, putting successive sizes of angle in holes that never held them tight. Later he whipped and was caught by gear that existed mostly in his imagination. We topped out in off-and-on sprinkles. I was still cleaning Nate’s pitch when he rapped past me. I pulled his summit anchor (two peckers and a dead shrub) and bailed myself. Since Joe guides canyoneering gumbies for a living, we felt just fine having him take charge like a drill sergeant. We watched him rig the rappels, and we rapped when he told us to rap.
Back on our ledge, with our harnesses off, we watched headlights on the tunnel switchbacks swirl and zigzag like lightning bugs. Another shower caused a flurry of bivy sacks and portaledge flies, but then we saw stars. We feasted like emperors. Joe felt done with climbing for a while; he just wanted to get his new boat in a river. Nate had a billionaire’s house to remodel. The exhales of their hand-rolled smokes bloomed in the moony light of our headlamps. By the time somebody gets around to seconding this rig, in five or ten years, our waterfall anchors will have rusted. I reckon the next team will feel much like we did, pressed by the climbing, intimidated by the rock and the storms, feeling larger than life in the end and yet somehow only human after all.