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[TR] Escape From the Gray Monsoon - Solo Trip to Zion - Touchstone 3/25/2011

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Trip: Escape From the Gray Monsoon - Solo Trip to Zion - Touchstone


Date: 3/25/2011


Trip Report:

I had to escape the gray monsoon environment that I was wallowing in. I had been climbing all winter in the cold and crumby conditions in and around Portland, Oregon. I even had employed techniques such as using a kayak paddle jacket and dry pants to stay dry while aid climbing in the rain. This technique had some success, but not much. It was mostly miserable solo aid climbing to agony and drenchedness.

One of my wall partners had thrown down the gauntlet earlier in the year. We would climb Spaceshot in Zion National Park and using that as a training climb would go to Yosemite to climb Lurking Fear on El Capitan. My ultimate goal is to climb El Capitan by the time I am 50 years old. I am now 48 at this writing. I have a little time left, but not much. As there is a lot to know before casting off to climb something so big.


I have been working on the goal for sometime now. Last year I got up one pitch on The Nose before being blown off by heat, a partnership that didn't pan out, and lack of preparation. At least we knew we didn't have the right stuff before getting too high. I loved that first pitch though. Not many people even have the privilege to get that far. I led it well, with no falls, even if it was slow.


I had been training and losing weight for the trip to Zion. Then with just days before leaving my partner had something come up and was not able to go. In my mind I was going even if that was to happen. I was prepared even before I got the news. "I AM GOING TO GET OUT OF THIS RAIN!!" The weather was looking awesome as I looked at the forecast every hour for a week before leaving. The forecast was 60 to 65 degrees with little chance for rain. I would be crazy not to go. Some would say I was crazy planning on going by myself.


It was just what I need to clear my head. Plenty of driving endless miles, driving in terrain that didn't require much attention. I jumped in my car and was off to collect some gear from a friend. He was going to loan me a Pro-Traxion. This would be essential as I would be doing a lot of hauling on the route I was doing.


I planned on doing the Touchstone route. Granted I had never been to Zion, but I had some experience with sandstone climbing in Indian Creek Utah and I had climbed Independance Mounument in Colorado National Mounument. I had also looked at Ancient Art and the Titan at Fisher Towers, which are in a catagory all thier own.


My partner and I thought I may have a good chance of pulling off this classic route. I had the guide book and a description, a topo, drive and a want to attitude. So I was off on an adventure. Solo all the way. Driving by myself doesn't bother me. I have clocked loads of hours in all kinds of weather and felt very comfortable getting there.


The drive there took me about 18 hours. I pulled over a couple of times and slept in the car for a few hours. Then I would hit it again. At Mountain Home, Idaho when getting gas I saw a woman with a Black Diamond haul bag and I asked if she was a climber. She told me she was, and I told her I was on my way to Zion. She said I was just there and the weather was awful. You will have a great time though. The weather will be great for you.

When she wasn't looking I did a little jig. I was fired up to get there.


I pulled into the south entrance to the park after dark on Saturday and didn't want to spend the money for camping as it was $16. I saved the cash and slept in the car again.

I awoke at 4:00 a.m. and headed into the park. I drove to the base of the cliff and parked. Sorted gear in the dark and humped my load up to the base of the cliff. I found the start of the climb and started to set up to climb. I built my solo belay anchor with no problem. Three bomber pieces of gear all equalized in a horizontal crack.




Scott PetersonMy bomber anchor on the first pitch of Touchstone route

I got on the route just as the sun was coming up and WOW what a way to be introduced to Zion National Park. The colors and the sun coming up over the rim of the canyon were awesome sights to see.



The first pitch of this route is a series of 14 drilled pitons. The climber that put up the route Ron Olevsky must be over 20 feet tall. I got to ten of the 14 pitons by standing on my tippy toes in the top step of my aiders. Half way up there was one that was clearly a free move and with a human holding the end of my rope I may have gone for it. As it was I used the stick clip, which my buddy had told me to make sure I had.


I eventually made it to the crack after traversing into it on the piton ladder. The crack was a breeze. I burned up a lot of time and realized that I was getting really hot in the sun and I needed a back country permit if I was planning on a bivy on the wall. I thought this isn't bad. I will go down get the permit and come back and jug up to my high point and finish the next pitch, then fix that line to the anchor after the sun gets off the wall.


So I fixed my line and headed to the car and headed to the ranger station. Logistics will kill you and I was in the thick of it. Oh well, this was supposed to be an adventure and it was shaping up to be a good one. After paying the $10 fee for the two days I planned on spending on the wall, I got to back to Touchstone and found that the sun was no longer blazing the route. That was good. It would be cooler. I jugged up my rope and got back to the anchor at the top of pitch 1. Then I started building my self belay anchor. I wanted to make sure that it was bomber but well out of the way of any other climbers that would possibly need to pass me on the route. I think this is where I started to get dehydrated. I just got so sucked into what I was doing I stopped drinking water.


It started to get late after I had built the self belay anchor I decided instead of leading the next pitch I would go down and get and camp at the campground in the park and get a good nights sleep. I left my ropes fixed and my anchor ready to go. Down I went.


I over slept well into the morning. I planned on getting up at 5 a.m. but that didn't happen. I packed my haul bag and headed to the wall again. I found that in my absence another party of climbers had beaten me to the route. My fault for sleeping in. I hoped that I could work with them and it wouldn't turn ugly.


I got to the base of the route and found that it was two women that were training to climb El Capitan. They didn't mind sharing the route which was a great relief to me. I didn't want to have to argue with someone about what it was I was doing or not doing.


I jugged up to my high point as the second climber took the lead on the second pitch. I was talking to her partner as she was climbing above the crux of the route. When suddenly there was a scream and the belayer quickly caught the falling leader. The women yelled down that a nut had blown. She got right back at it and finished the pitch.


I said goodbye to the climber next to me and she took off. I continued my hauling of my bag to my anchor and finished securing my haul bag. This haul wasn't bad and I was feeling good, but the thoughts of the falling climber came to mind as I started up the second pitch.


I had a bomber anchor and used a couple of screamers on the first couple of pieces of gear. I made it to the last drilled piton on the traverse before the roof and found that I could not reach the last piton just under the roof. Normally there is a Fixed RURP that is used as the last piece of gear before the roof, but that has been replaced by a new drilled piton above and left of it. I was able to get to this piton by using



a white ity bity tricam in a shallow flaring crack. It was a marginal placement, but I was willing to use it as I didn't want to have to use my stick clip. I did want to earn some style points.


I got to the piton and clipped into it. Then I looked at the ancient RURP. A RURP piton is about the size of a postage stamp and can be a bit scary to use. Upon inspection I noticed that the cord on the RURP was old and was very chewed up and a little rotten.



I wasn't sure what kind of cord was used on the RURP. It looked like clothes line to me. I was glad that someone had the foresight to add the drilled piton.


I stood in the top step of my aiders and clipped the piton above the roof. I had passed the crux of the climb with no problem and did it in some style solo. I was feeling great until I got above the piton and realized that half of it was gone. It was an old angle piton and the top half of the eye was sheared off. I wanted another piece of gear fast. I got in a manky brass rock empire nut that wasn't that great. I remembered the fall of the lead that went before me. I moved up anyway and made the next placement. This was a bomber .65 blue Totem Cam. I never felt so blessed.



Scott PetersonBlue .65 Totem Cam. I love these cams. Easy to place, easy to clean. Bombproof and they don't walk.

The rest of the climb went great and I finished just as the sun was going down. Now I needed to rap and clean my gear, set up the haul and re-climb the route by jugging the fixed line. I was cold as I was wearing just a t-shirt. By the time I got to my haul bag after cleaning the route I was freezing. I looked in the top of the haul bag and realized that I had left all my warm clothing in the army duffel that I had under the haul bag with all my bivy gear. Now I had to rap under the bag to get to this gear as the belay was not really a ledge and I couldn't even lift the haul bag up. It was too heavy.


I only had 5 gallons of water and every thing that I owned in it. I was going to have the Hilton up on the top of the 5th pitch bivy ledge. If I could just get there. I finally got to my coat and got out a hat and gloves and then I needed to eat. I did pack food and snack on top and drank water and ate. I was feeling better.


Meanwhile I could hear the women above starting to rappel down the route. While I waited I fixed one of my ropes so that they could use it to rappel to the ground. That would save them some time and it was easy to do. If they were as tired as I was I knew I would appreciate this gesture.


They came down and had used two 70 meter ropes from the top of pitch two. They thought they would go to the ground, but none of us could tell if they had or not. I suggested they use the rope I fixed for them to be safe. After the first one got to the ground she yelled up that the two 70 meter ropes would have worked. They yelled up their thanks, wished me luck and headed back to their car. I was alone again.


It took a while before I got moving again. Now I need to lower the haul bag out as the fall line of the anchor that I would haul from was about 20 to 30 feet to my left. I got that done and started jugging the line. It was dark. Not just dark but pitch black. I had a great headlamp, but it was a bit spooky.


As I jugged up the rope I had left a few draws on the traverse to help keep me on route, but cleaning them was a little tricky. I had my adjustable daisy to pull me into the pieces of gear. I lost one draw as I couldn't clean it. Now thinking about it if I had used the rope I could have lowered myself out from the fixed piton. As it was I just moved on. I think this is where the dehydration was taking effect on my reasoning skills.


I passed the roof and jugged up the crack to my high point. Now the real fun could begin. I set up a 3 to 1 haul system. I had used the same system last summer on El Capitan. It went together fast as my partner had me not only write out the steps but also made me draw the system out on paper.


Now I was ready to haul this very large pig like haul bag. It could be more accurately be called a gorilla bastard. The damn thing beat me to death. Struggling and suffering is the plight of an aid climber. But always remember this is fun.


I don't remember how long it took to haul the gorilla, but it seemed like forever. It passed the roof with no problem. This some times can be a place where a haul bag can get stuck. Finally the bag arrived. I was so tired. Exhausted and dehydrated all I wanted to do was rest. This belay anchor was a hanging belay so there is no ledge to stand on. I needed to rest but how? I tried to sit on the bag but the straps where in the way. Thinking about it now I should have used the daisy chain to secure it to the anchor.


I decided that the best way to rest would be to stand on the haul bag. So I stood turned my back to the wall and took my two adjustable daisys crossed them across my chest and clipped them into the anchor turned off my headlamp and tried to sleep. I stood there for a couple of hours resting. Not really sleeping in the dark on a sheer rock face. It was a beautiful night. There was no moon so the stars were brilliant.


Eventually daylight came and I made the decision to pull the plug. I was done. I had over done it and realized that I had just enough energy to safely get myself down. So I started rigging my rappel. This is when I noticed that the 5 mil. cord on one of the anchors was running directly through a bolt hanger. It should have had a quick link on it. There was more cord added but it was also through this hanger. I fixed this problem by adding my own cord to that leg of the anchor and equalized it.


Then I looked a the gorilla. The beast must have weighed a 1000 pounds. If I had actually been drinking the 5 gallons of water that was in the bottom of the bag that would have helped. I thought about the weight, the cord, my girth, I had to add my own webbing on the anchor because there was no way I was going to load all that weight onto the crap that was there. The only webbing I had was electric blue. Damn it should have been something more closely the color of the rock. To live and tell the tale or aesthetics that was the debate that was raging at the moment. Living won out and I built the equalized hideous atrocity. The problem now was I had never rappelled with such a heavy load. I attached the gorilla to my belay loop on my harness so that when I was on rappel the weight of the bag would be on the rope and not on me, but I was not sure that I would be able to produce enough friction to hold me and the load. I have added the Autoblock as my standard back up when rappelling. Even with that would it be enough to hold the load of the giggling gorilla and me?


Well there was only one way to find out. I was really dubious about this, maybe a better word would be really freaked out. I almost puked, but I did everything right and checked a rechecked all the components. This is one of the toughest things about solo aid to me. It is all you, there is no one to look over your shoulder to see if you did it right. But you get all the glory and pain and I love it.


I cast off and was greatly relieved to find that all was well. I made it to the next anchor after some trickery which involved a traverse to the anchor that involved using the stick clip. I set the next rapp and I made it to the ground.




At this point I just sat for a while and rested. After gathering my stuff I stumbled to the car. I looked up at the route and saw my electric blue webbing maring the wall. Damn what a blight. I went into the rangers office where I got the back country permit and told them about then anchor and the crap that was there,especially the hanger that I added the quick link to. I apologized about the webbing. He was a climbing ranger and said he would look at the anchor.




I learned a lot on this adventure. Mostly what not to do. I was so dehydrated that I couldn't really enjoy Zion and I was out of money. I was unable to find the free camping that I was counting on, so I hit the road. I would sleep in the car again. On the way home I recovered enough that I thought a solo run up the Westface route on the Monkeyface at Smith Rock seemed reasonable. I was able to shave a 1/2 off my best time on my previous attempts on the first pitch. This was even with a 40 mph gusting wind. So all in all it was great training, a long drive, and I had escaped the grey monsoon.




Gear Notes:

I wear a gear kilt. The kitchen sink was included.


Approach Notes:

5 mins several times.

Edited by Plaidman

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where's the pix?


can't imagine not having help on that gigantic goddamn drive


wtf where you hauling 5 gallons of water for? :) even if you're out for 2 full days, 2 gallons oughta be just fine, and you hardly have time to drink anyway when soloing!

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nice tale.


On an escape from a wall, I was tasked with riding the pig down and I used a pair of carabiner brakes to increase the friction and it went well and easy to control. Basically the pig was connected to the paired biner brakes directly and I was attached to the biner brake via a daisy chain.

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Awesome, Dude!! There are few feelings like being out there on your own, I wish I can do this kind of stuff soon myself! Just to brake the inertia of the couch and decide to go solo is a triumph...


You did not have time for any pic, I imagine?


And did I miss it or you did not mention what did you use for self-belay?


Thanks for the TR, inspiring...

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Ron Olevsky must be 20 feet tall

Maybe if he was standing on his gun collection.

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Ron Olevsky must be 20 feet tall

Maybe if he was standing on his gun collection.


:lmao: :lmao: classic.


that must make layton kor 23 feet tall





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