Goals create motivation, motivation leads to goals. It’s cyclical. Without one, it’s hard to have the other, but with both anything is possible. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say “that’s my dream climb.” Dreams are for the thinkers, goals are for the doers. I’ve learned that once my dreams become my goals, they quickly become my accomplishments. Sometimes it’s hard, but I always end up with a smile on my face and memories for a lifetime.
Years ago, after starting to free longer and harder routes I thought up a logical progression of increasing in difficulty and length. The Rostrum, Astroman, Original Route on Rainbow Wall, Romantic Warrior, Moonlight Buttress, Half Dome, and Freerider. I’ve spent a lot of time training for this progression of routes. Having the list prevents me from thinking “Freerider is my dream climb.” Instead I think about how I will accomplish the next goal in the progression. Every year I try to think up the next goal, sometimes one off my list. I’ll read about it, building psych, print out pictures or a topo to put up at my desk at work, or anything else that will keep me focused on my new objective. Last year, after training extremely hard and becoming wicked fit I suddenly had Moonlight Buttress on my radar as the next route in the progression. I trained endurance, strength, and cardio, lined up a strong partner, and set a date. Unfortunately, I accidentally sliced my finger to the bone the week before we were supposed to go. It was the back of my finger, but when contemplating almost 1000′ of finger cracks that’s a rather large problem. The plan got shelved as the temperatures dropped and days became short.
Last winter, I was insanely busy with “life.” I was still training hard when possible, but I wasn’t able to fit many huge weekends of climbing in. Luckily, that all changed in March, and I had one month of weekends to train like a mad man. I started running more consistently, punching out longer harder weekend trips, climbing as many hard pitches in a day as possible, and doing everything I could to progress toward my goal. I had Easter weekend to make one attempt before I became busy again for most of the summer.
Needing a partner, I called one of the most motivated climbers in San Diego, Roberto. He’d been training harder than anyone I knew for the past year, losing weight while gaining strength, skills, and endurance. As usual when presented with the option of a long punishing day I got an enthusiastic “YES!” We set a date, and trained together in the gym, and outside climbing ever harder.
We originally planned on taking Friday off and driving out Thursday night, but as the day neared rain was forecast for Friday. Instead, wanting to give the rock a day to dry, we drove out Friday morning and rolled into Zion about 8 hours later and hopped the shuttle. It was Roberto’s first time to Zion, and as usual he was like a kid in a candy store. His enthusiasm and motivation know no bounds. He was wide eyed as we turned corners and new faces and formations came into view. Eventually, we had the shuttle drop us off at the shuttle stop for Moonlight Buttress and we scoped our climb. A dead vertical 1200′ buttress protruding from the beautiful Angel’s Landing. We were practically bursting with energy as we scoped our line. There were two aid teams already on it halfway up slowly climbing and hauling their way up the line. It looked so unbelievably beautiful!
We did some amusing “bouldering,” walked farther up the canyon drooling at all the free-climbing potential those cliffs hold, wandered up The Narrows for a mile or so and then headed back. It was starting to get a little later, and we wanted to turn in early for our predawn start the next day. We threw up a tent, cooked, relaxed and hit the sack early for a full night’s sleep.
~5am found us rolling out of bed, jumping in the car and heading toward the park. We ate some breakfast, and started the hike toward the base of Moonlight Buttress as light started to fill the valley. We could see a party from the previous day bivied about halfway up the route on a portaledge, but figured we could either pass higher on the route, or follow them to the top that day. We crossed the river, screaming at the searing cold in our feet, and were pleased to find a towel hanging in a tree on the other side! We dried our feet and finished the approach
I have a firm belief that climbing is a team activity. Some people line up partners who will jug behind them, demand to free every pitch, and have the follower climb with a pack. I’m sorry, but while it’s cool to lead every pitch of a route clean, and sometimes that is my goal, I’d rather just have a badass day with a great friend and PARTNER not follower. I could have gone for the onsight of the route leading every pitch, but more importantly I wanted Roberto on the sharp end for part of the route. I gave him all the approach pitches to lead, and I was going to take over as soon as we hit the 6 consecutive 5.12 pitches. In addition, I have a firm belief when on a route of such quality as Moonlight Buttress that instead of conserving time and energy, I’d rather haul a pack and let my partner have as much fun climbing as possible.
We headed up the cold cold sandstone above. Two hours later, the sun hit us two pitches up and my feet finally started to have feeling after our icy river crossing. We worked our way up the wall, and when the team above came into view again, they didn’t seem to be moving. We figured we’d cross that bridge when we got there and kept moving. Roberto easily onsighted the first 4 pitches, including a unique 5.11c traverse and a scary runout 5.10 pitch. (I wouldn’t recommend linking these)
Next was the “Rocker Block” and the first 5.12 pitch including the hardest single move of the route. It was time for me to take over. The free climbing belay was at a small stance in the dihedral above, the aid belay another 40′ up higher. Up until this point, the other party hadn’t really been doing anything. All four legs were hanging over the side of the ledge all morning. It was getting on toward 11am so we figured we could just pass and blast on by.
I racked up and headed up the first of the stunningly beautiful crack pitches on Moonlight Buttress. The boulder problem was difficult, but straight forward and I managed to pull it off first try. The corner above was easy to mid-11 and went down with little difficulty. I put Roberto on belay and brought him up. He’s a bit shorter than I am, so my static boulder problem was an all points off leap from the Rocker Block onto the face deadpointing into a sidepull for him. It was awesome to watch! He fell once and got it next try with a supurb effort and walked the rest of the pitch.
Once we were at the hanging belay below the aid climbers, we started hanging out (literally). The leader had taken off about 20-30 minutes before we got there, so there was nothing we could do. We ate lunch, laughed, told stories and had a generally good time hanging out there. After over an hour and a half to two hours I leaned back from our belay and much to my chagrin the leader was only about 60′ up the pitch after over two hours of climbing. We were starting to go into the shade and we were getting cold. It was time to bail… Those guys had their ledge up in the same place til about 2:30 that afternoon. Lame, considering they started climbing just as we finished the pitch under them. If you’re going to climb the most popular route in a National Park, please be considerate.
We rapped, packed and recrossed the river debating what to do. I had to work on Monday, and we had to drive back the next day. We talked about Monkey Finger, Shune’s Buttress, and other routes, but it didn’t seem right to walk away. Originally I had wanted Sunday to be whatever Roberto wanted to do, so I felt bad when I suggested sucking it up and just going for it again on Sunday, but Roberto wanted it too. We just committed to waking up around 5:15am, climbing the route, heading down, and driving back to San Diego that night for work in the morning. Nothing like a crazy plan for some excellent motivation!
The next day we repeated what we’d done on Saturday, although it was marginally warmer so we brought fewer layers and we swapped leads for expediency. The slow team had bivied again on the route and bailed off early that morning while we were on the lower pitches. The route was OURS!
We enjoyed the sun and the warmth and climbed with huge smiles on our faces. I punched it off the Rocker Block to the anchor and smiled at the clean corner above. Roberto nailed the difficult dyno and cruised the corner to meet me. While Roberto was coming up I eyed the pitch above guessing what I’d have to do, where I’d have to stop to place gear. It was the crux 5.12c/d pitch up next….
I racked up and cast off into the spectacular corner above. It started with a runout lieback to a “restful” stance where I set gear, then more steep liebacking above which was the crux. Unlike the pitch below, there were scant feet to set gear from so setting gear was the crux. When I stopped to set gear in the middle of the crux I grabbed the wrong cam, which almost burned me out, but then I finally got one in and kept moving. Above, the crack turned into a strange flare in the corner which surprisingly required offwidth skill to progress, then the pitch finished with unbelievable gently overhung bearhugging and liebacking to the free climbing anchor above. I fought and battled, rested where I could trying to balance the destruction of one muscle group with the recovery of another, and managed to pull off my hardest trad onsight to date! It was so rewarding to have all my training pay off! I hung at the next belay riding a huge high as Roberto came up below me. He managed to pull through the crux, but then got tired and botched one sequence for a single hang on the crux pitch! Go Roberto! His training was paying off as well! Woot!
The next pitch was a scuzztastic thrashfest up an overhanging acute corner with an off finger crack in the back. A total nightmare. At one point I yelled “Falling!” only to catch myself sliding out with an arm bar and a chickenwing and my legs contorted under me in a bizarre position. Wow, was that pitch hard…. I battled, almost puked, and eventually my futile efforts weren’t enough. I fell and hung on the rope trying to rest. My body was wrecked. We came to find out limits, and I found mine. If you’re not falling, you’re not climbing, right?
I finished the pitch with a few more hangs due to exhaustion and got some rest while Roberto came up. It helped to have one of the most spectacular straight in finger pitches of the climb to stare at in the meantime, as well as the surrounding mountains smattered with snow. What a beautiful day! Roberto came up and we enjoyed the view on that ledge while eating lunch. We were having a blast!
The next pitch flowed, although it was hard. 5.12a straight in finger and off-finger crack and we both cruised it. The next was another story. 30′ of vertical desperate straight in 1″ crack with no features or feet. I was exhausted and this section destroyed me. I got spit off, hard, and realized that pure off-finger cracks were a weakness. The rest of the pitch flowed well though, and in what was one of the most spectacular efforts of the day Roberto followed the entire 5.12b/c pitch clean!
We were both exhausted by this time, but only two pitches from the top at this point. Ahead lay the pitch that graces the cover of the newest Supertopo guide to Zion, “The Nutting Pitch.” It involves gorgeous technical face climbing protected by nuts into more crack climbing. It was definitely inspiring enough that I knew we would both get it clean through force of will, and I was right. The climbing was just off vertical to accommodate our exhausted state although at this point my biceps were cramping and locking up. I managed to onsight my 3rd 5.12 pitch that day, and Roberto got his 4th 5.12 pitch clean as well!
He came up, I handed him gear, and he took off on the last pitch rated 5.10. It had a roof and loose lower quality rock and as tired as we were it managed to spit us both off. However, soon we were standing on top of Moonlight Buttress each having completed one of the best climbing days of our lives!
We basked in our summit high for a while, then submitted to the pressure of the ticking clock. We weren’t even halfway done with our day since we now faced the true crux: getting to work the next day! After packing, we jogged down the Angel’s Landing trail in about 25 min, hopped on a shuttle, and jumped in the car for a long ride home. Luckily, it went super smooth and we cruised into La Jolla around 1:30am for a 7.5 hour drive including stops!
It was another great day with a great partner. Thanks Roberto for all the positive energy and setting an awesome example of what training really means.
I can’t wait for the next adventure!
Gear Beta if you’re feeling strong:
A few 2’ slings and quickdraws
At least a 60m rope to link the last two pitches
1 x 0 TCU
3 x 1 TCU
5 x 2 TCU
3 x 3 TCU
2 x 0.5 C4
1 x 4 TCU
1 x 1 C4
1 x set of medium nuts
11c traverse – #1 Camalot and slings
1st 5.12 pitch – ditch the nuts, 0 TCU, 2 x 1 TCUs and a 0.5 camalot, bring 4 slings
2nd 5.12 pitch – leave the nuts and the 4 TCU, rack on the right side
3rd 5.12 pitch – bring 1 x 1 TCU, 3 x 2 TCU, 3 x 3 TCU, 2 x 2 0.5 C4, 2 slings, place the 1 TCU first w/ sling, then 0.5 C4s, then 3 TCUs, then 2 TCUs
4th 5.12 pitch – 1 x 1 TCU, and all 2 TCUs through 4 TCU, 3 TCUs work best at crux
5th 5.12 pitch – ditch the 4 TCU and the 1 C4
6th 5.12 pitch – bring it all and gun for the top w/ 60m rope