Angel's Landing, Lowe Route

Posted on: July 1, 2005

Mike Anderson working out the moves on the Lowe Route, which he freed, with a three-pitch variation, at 5.13a R over three days in December. The route is the first free ascent of the north face of Angelís Landing; in 2003, Flyín Brian McCray nearly nabbed the FFA with his efforts on Ball and Chain (he freed all but one move of the 900-foot route, which went at 5.13b A0). [Photo] Andrew Burr

Angel's Landing, Lowe Route, First Free Ascent. "How's it going up there?" my partner asked. His inflection indicated that he already knew the answer. A long pause ensued as I faced the facts: this pitch, these ten measly feet, simply would not go.

My goal was to free the north face of Angel's Landing, the most obvious climbing feature in Zion Canyon. This, my third recon trip on the Lowe Route, had been going well until the bolt ladder on Pitch 8. I was certain I could free everything but those ten feet. Instantly, I realized the frustration of big-wall free climbing.


The project's origins began last spring in Yosemite Valley. Every time I walked through El Cap Meadows, I heard about people's progress on various free-climbing projects. Inspired by this enthusiasm, I made a free ascent of Free Rider on El Cap with my brother, Mark. As we drove home to Utah, I realized that I might have an aptitude for big-wall free climbing. I wanted to be a part of this revolution, if not in Yosemite, then perhaps somewhere closer to home... like Zion.

Zion is ripe for such a revolution. For decades, climbers in Yosemite have been systematically eliminating aid from any route that will go. In Zion, apart from Douglas Heinrich, most climbers just don't bother.

I decided to bother. I called everyone I knew, hyping up the revolution that was going to take place in the fall. Unfortunately, because of unusually high rainfall, it didn't really pan out.

I engineered a three-pitch face climbing variation around the bolt ladder, but the route wasn't ready for an attempt until late November. The canyon is a lonely place that time of year, and the idea of a free-climbing revolution seemed quite laughable. Nevertheless, over three frigid days in December (11-13), I managed to free every last foot of the north face of Angel's Landing via the Lowe Route (V 5.13a R, 15 pitches, three new).

The revolution may not have happened as I had hoped, and time will tell where this ascent fits into the story of Zion climbing. Maybe my efforts will serve a catalyst, maybe not. Regardless, I'll be back this spring. Perhaps we'll have our revolution then.

—Mike Anderson, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Here at Alpinist, our small editorial staff works hard to create in-depth stories that are thoughtfully edited, thoroughly fact-checked and beautifully designed. Please consider supporting our efforts by subscribing.