ZION NATIONAL PARK

Posted on: July 1, 2006


The e-mail came to me in Spain: "Dear Cedar, I'm so sorry, we've had so many amazing times, and you're my best friend, and I'll always love you, but I just can't sit here waiting for you anymore." I didn't have to read any further. My face turned pale. "I've just been dumped by e-mail," I moaned.

Renan Ozturk peers into the maw of the matter on Free Lhasa (5.12a R, 1,200'), Mt. Kinesava, Zion National Park, Utah. Free Lhasa includes extensive variations to the 1990 Anker-Quinn route Lhasa (V 5.11 A0, 1,200'), including the 500-foot offwidth ("Tatonka Nuck") in the headwall cracks shown here. [Photo] Eric Draper

Soon I was back in the country, homeless and girlfriendless. Still, I had faith that somehow, things would work out. My good friend and climbing partner Renan Ozturk has equal amounts of motivation, passion and free time for climbing, and he was up for "any type of road trip as long as it entails adventure and going big."

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We raced impulsively toward Zion. Our timing was excellent: the winter weather had warmed. A repeat free ascent of the legendary Wind, Sand and Stars went surprisingly smoothly. The descent, however, did not. Without a topo and unable to locate the rappels, we endured a character-building, open winter bivy at 8,000 feet on the summit of Pariah Point. Since sleep was impossible, we talked over and over about the route instead: the crazy stemming, the insane, overhanging blobs, the two-pitch, off-route 5.10 variation with A5 protection to avoid a 5.9, and on and on.

A few days later I ran into my friend Eric Draper at the Bit and Spur. He offered to drive us through the park the next day to have a look at potential new free lines. We ended the day at the base of the world-famous Monkey Finger, theorizing on the potential of a new free climb that would follow an improbable ramp system to a dihedral to a roof splitter some 600 feet above the valley floor.

Everything turned out to be harder and steeper than Renan and I had expected. At one point my left hand crimp suddenly exploded and I reeled onto my right. A second later my right foothold snapped. I shock-loaded my right crimp, fighting with everything I had not to fall onto the string of junk protection below, then shook my way through the rest of the lead, overdosed on adrenaline.

We reached the roof at last light; Renan pulled on sketchy RURPs over the lip. Night fell and I barely followed the pitch by headlamp. On top, I collapsed in the fetal position right in a cactus. I spent the next several days pulling out the spines. Our route, The Monkeys Always Send, was something like 5.12a C2 or 12c R/X with every pitch yielding dangerous "maybe there should be bolts here?" climbing.

After a few days our confidence rebuilt, and Eric convinced us that Lhasa, a 1,300-foot Conrad Anker and Brad Quinn route on the proudest face of Mt. Kinesava, would go. On the first pitch, as I groped rotten, sand-infested slopers, I desperately tried to mantel, and then found myself airborne, praying that the cams I had stuffed in the rotten flake below me would hold. Luck was with me, and I survived the fall. A little creative protection work and I managed the first pendulum free, then continued into a body-length hand-and-fist crack through a roof. Renan led the next pitch, which entailed an improbable tunnel-through to avoid blank rock followed by a rattly finger crack in a corner. We reached the headwall and realized with horror that the next 400 or more feet appeared to be a steep offwidth capped by a roof. I ran out 200 feet of a four-inch crack with only one piece and at the end of my rope found a perfect natural belay on a small ledge. The unluck of the draw gave Renan the physical crux: 150 feet of hand-stacking topped by the 12a offwidth roof. For hours he oozed upward, leaving a sluglike trail of blood with every move. Several times he almost fell, but then just fought harder. There's no real beta for this kind of thing except "fight for your life" beta. The Free Lhasa (5.12a R) entails extensive variations to the original route, among them the 500-foot offwidth, which we named "Tatonka Nuck."

On March 16 (my birthday), we established a soon-to-be classic new free route on the East Temple. The route is the most challenging of our trifecta; we were almost shut down by the crux pitch, which took me nearly four hours of work before I (barely) eeked out a red-circle ascent. We called the route The Birthday Bash (V 5.12c/d R, 1,200') because I took a huge whipper and gobied my forehead a bit. As of this writing, Renan and I are still in Zion scoping for more new lines that we can climb in our preferred style: onsight, free and in a day.

Cedar Wright, Tolhouse, California

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