Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Another Year of Adventure

Andy Reger and I on the top of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley.

Another year has passed and it appears I haven't updated the blog since June... My apologies to any of you who (once) regularly checked for updates of the latest adventure shenanigans.  I am happy so say there have been a good amount of these adventures in the last six months and the stories have been steeping in my brain like a deep roast accumulating delicilousness in my french press every morning.  Each day goes on and the inspiration to explore still comes from many angles.  Over the summer and fall I had a lot of opportunities to climb, work, travel, and explore new realms of interest.   This post won't really represent them in any cohesive manner, but at least it may touch on a few.

To start the summer off Andy Reger and I went to Yosemite National Park in California.  This mecca for climbing should be visited by all, climbers or not.  The history is rich in many realms, but to many is considered the birth place of modern climbing. To some it up the place is just radical.  Recently the film Valley Uprising was created to help share some of the highlights of climbing in Yosemite Vally of the last half a century or so. Its a pretty entertaining watch for anyone who is looking to gain some inspiration for those who climbed before us. 

Matt Kuehl leading a steep aid pitch on Leaning Tower West Face 5.7 C2.
Yosemite Valley, California. 

When Andy and I packed up my van and headed towards the valley it was a pretty exciting moment, one that I anticipated for quite some time. I have always been inspired by John Long stories of first ascents, epic failures, and having no choice but to poop it someones kitchen, etc. Ha! There is so much to say, but it's hard to quickly describe the years of mental preparation that went into this trip for me. I guess it just takes a while to gather the skills to confidently walk up the base of a massive granite feature and start climbing without reserve. I get pretty fired up I guess!  On this trip we got to climb Snake Dike 5.7R on Half Dome, The Steck-Salathe 5.10 on the Sentinel, the West Face of the Leaning Tower 5.7 C2, and then one day in Tuolumne climbing the Regular Route 5.9 on Fairview Dome. Some of the routes went easier than others, but we very pleased with our trip.  We did each route in a day and it felt good to keeping moving on such impressive features.  This trip really inspired me and I'm planning another trip this summer.  Goals are focused on El Capitan this time around, and I'm hoping for a route or two during the trip.  Thinking Lurking Fear 5.7 C2 and The Salathe Wall 5.9 C2... but it's still open for change. 

Andy Hansen looks up at our objective on Isaac in Zion National Park.

Recently I headed to Zion with old friend and fellow swillbilly Andy Hansen.  We had our sights on Tricks of the Trade on Issac 5.10+ C2+.  It's a long route, up a pretty impressive sandstone feature with a distinct headwall split but some amazing looking cracks.  We hadn't had to much time to catch up of our wall team work since we live in different areas, but we figured what the hell and went for it anyway.  Climbing anything in Zion is an adventure, so when you have your sights on something you pretty much go for it, expecting unforeseen difficulties, sandy everything, and occasional crappy gear.   We planned to the route in two days in hopes of being able to enjoy our time a little more by spreading the climbing out.  I knew this would add some additional work having to haul extra gear and water halfway up the wall, but was not afraid of the little blue-collar work up there.   The opening 5-6 pitches are adventurous offwidths and chimneys, which is pretty awesome, it just takes a lot more time because the climbing is generally slower.  Not to mention hauling a large bag through a continuous chimney... not excellent but I guess we knew this ahead of time.  We stopped a little short of out anticipated high point for the day, but still set up our bivy and watched the sun go down over the beautiful canyon.  In the morning most of our mental energy was used up, and we were slow to get moving and the thought of a dwindling water supply was also taken into account.  After a little bit of climbing we realized that we had well lost our steam.  We didn't tackle our goal this time, but we did have a great time in the process of not succeeding. 

Looking up at Tatanka 5.10, A2 on the Buffalo Wall, Red Rocks, NV. 

The Buffalo Wall is another wall that has thwarted us.  This is one of Red Rock's most remote walls, and has only 4 routes on it to my knowledge.  Majority of the routes are (or were) established as aid routes, put up in a big wall style, hauling and bringing all gear along in tow.  I only included this photos because I would like to go up there again soon.  As it turns out my aid climbing interests are not fading, but rather still growing. Perhaps this is just the beginning. Getting psyched up for hard(er) aid this year... Big Wall dreams will hopefully be realized with a little help from of those who have been up there before and can "mentor" me on a route or two. I've found it a little daunting to make the transition from "clean" aid to traditional aiding involving nailing pins, beaks, etc. A whole new level of expertise and blue-collar craftsmanship I hope to acquire. More on that as the year progresses...

Tales of the Scorpion 5.10a, A3+. Zion National Park, Utah. 

"Come and get me you bastards!" Zion National Park, Utah.

Kevin Jorgeson in Red Rocks, NV. 
On another note on Big Wall about Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell up on El Cap's Dawn Wall!?  Impressive efforts up there and it looks like they are going to finally pay off with a successful free ascent.  What's equally impressive is how much media attention it's receiving.  Usually the sport of climbing is pretty isolated from the mainstream, probably because there are just too many words and other lingo that just don't translate to the brain of a none-climber.  As an example... trying to explain what "free climbing" is to your average person...  Either way this type of climbing news only occasionally crosses over into the mainstream, despite how massively impressive the efforts are.  It's been funny to read the good, the bad, and the totally inaccurate reports from major media bosses on their efforts.  Did you know they are just hikers? Ha!  Either way... above is portrait of Kevin that I shot in Red Rocks a while back. Ironically none of the portraits I shot of Kevin got selected by the magazine who requested them.  Guess none of them fit the bill.. Perhaps it's more relevant to post one now. 

Andy Reger and I starting off the new year with some high jumps. Windy Peak, Red Rocks, NV.

The rest of this post are just a few images from trips, fun days, good times etc.  Wanted to share a few to share but no need to talk about every moment too long!  I was excited to hit the slopes skiing in Brian Head for the first time in maybe 8 years?   Before that during the summer I was able to head out to Southern California to do some video work.  It was great to get more familiar with the area, spend time on the ocean, and get get my first attempts at surfing during good swell.  It was very summer-like, and I got very sun burnt. 

Winter sky skiing/snowboarding up at Brain Head, Utah. 

Documenting some serious dance moves in Southern California. 
Andy Reger and I getting in on some "surfing" action. Mostly swimming. 

A collection of old Pitons. 

One last note... If you haven't checked out John Long and Peter Croft's "Trad Climber's Bible" make sure you do.  It's a great read and there are good selection of photos from the Matt Kuehl Collection.  It's an honor to be a part of the book, and if you see one on the shelves make sure the page through it at the very least.  Climb on!

Take a look in this for photos of some of my past adventures! 

Monday, June 30, 2014

More adventures near Flagstaff, Arizona.

Zak Romuald on Crystal Clear 5.13a in Northern Arizona.

Matt Kuehl on The Grim Reefer 5.9.  Limestone offwidth in shorts?
Northern Arizona

Andy Reger digs deep on Mary Jane's Guillotine 5.10

Zak Romuald on the slab by start to Crystal Clear.

The Oak Creek / Waterfall area near Sedona.  Basalt splitters! 

Andy Reger doing a top rope run up Black and Tan 5.10

And at some point we also went to Zion and climbed Inner Chi 5.11.  It was sweet. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Pinnacle Cave, Mt. Potosi, NV.

Recently I was informed of a (relatively) new discovery in Thailand. This natural wonder was found only four years ago, and is now regarded as the largest cave currently surveyed and explored on our planet earth! Being a big fan of the great unknown, spontaneous discovery, and continuous adventure, I was pretty interested to hear more about this wonder. After doing some reading I found out that Sơn Đoòng cave or "Mountain River Cave" in Thailand is large enough to house it's own city, has a forest, and also a river. This all sounded so awesome to me, and shortly after hearing about this some friends and I started discussing all the caving in Southern Nevada. My good friend and climbing partner Andy mentioned that he knew of a cave up at Mt. Potosi just a 30-40 minute drive from the house. Although not the worlds largest, Pinnacle Cave is an adventurous limestone cave with several mind-bogling caverns that we could check out that day. Without much delay, we started driving Southwest of Las Vegas to see what this local cave was all about.

The view looking up after dropping into the cave.

This would be my first time caving, or what's also called "spelunking".  The only experience I've had that might resemble plunging into a cave is having done The Maze in Red Rock Canyon. This canyoneering route required some 22 rappels and many miles of hiking as well as swimming through narrow canyons with a pack and gear!  The two resemble each other mostly because you use rappelling as a means to get into places that would otherwise be too difficult to travel through.  They are also similar because both follow a route that was carved by water over an almost unfathomable amount of time.  This type of terrain appeals to me for the adventure and the unique way in which it makes you face the unknown constantly.  Generally once you start you can't exactly "give-up" and turn around. It is a process but generally the easiest path is the one you're already on, and it's gonna be an exciting ride. 

Vanessa and the rubber chicken about to take the maiden voyage. 
Looking down while rappelling in the dark abyss. 

Our crew for the day was a rowdy bunch.  Equipped primary with party shirts, vintage hemp ropes, and a rubber chicken, we forged ahead expecting almost certain death… or at least to loose a limb or two. Alright well maybe not exactly, but we did have some funky shirts and a rubber chicken.  It is true that only Andy and I had any extensive climbing/rappelling/ascending experience.  Next in line on the expert list was Vanessa, who first exploded onto the adventure scene after she mutlipitch-rappeled Solar Slab Gully by moonlight sometime last year.  Then there was Chris, who was likely the most intelligent individual of the group.  He was excited to take part despite never having ascended a rope (to get back out) before.  His attendance in the cave reassured us that this was indeed a good idea. Last but not least was our new house-mate Kristi, who was about to make her rappelling, ascending, and caving debut.  She likely had no idea what she was getting into, but her willingness to embrace the adventure was becoming inspirational.  

A no-flash look at the descent.
Ever try to shoot a photo in pitch black while hanging from a rope?

Caves are very dark places. Pitch black actually. It is funny how easy it is to forget this. The only bit of light that exists is at the very surface, or mouth, of the cave.  After you lose sight of that there is only darkness and silence.  Our team brought a good selection of lights including personal head lamps, small lantern style lights, and a large flash for my camera.  I made a point throughout the journey to turn off my personal light and take a look around using only the reflected light from other's lights.  I thought this helped put everything into perspective and made a larger impact of the remoteness and these spaces.  As I was rappelling down, I shot the funky-colored photo above.  My camera is set to 6400 ISO and still the image took some post-processing to present itself.  What you see above is Andy rappelling down, as the rest of group waits below.  I am hanging mid-descent and my shadow was faintly cast on the cave walls by the groups lights below.   Although it's a pretty grainy image, I was really excited by the unexpected results.

Handed over my camera so I could squeeze through the "Birth Canal".

Kristi preparing for the head-first exit of the "Birth Canal".

One of the most exciting moments of the cave is encountering the "Birth Canal".  This tight constriction seems quite improbable to pass, not to mention you've got to worm through about 10 feet of tightness to get through it.  The best, and probably only practical way to travel through is head first.  This way you can see where you're going, and hopefully not wedge yourself into the wrong hole.  To exit this section you have to semi-invert and walk on your hands for a second to get your feet back to the ground.  It was pretty radical.  The whole caving experience was enhanced by this tight and somewhat mentally challenging constriction.  I can only image being the first one to ever try and fit through! Talk about adventure...

The Music Room in all it's greatness. 

A rowdy bunch of cavers. 

The highlight of the day was hanging out in the "Music Room".  This cavern has the most aesthetic stalactites and it truly looks like something from Planet Earth the series.  I was super inspired by these formations and was really glad to have lugged my camera along with me.   I shot some photos and arranged the lights a few different ways to create some unique effects.  In the end I would love to revisit this room with more time and  also bring a tripod and some addition lighting.  Such a beautiful space really should be documented well, and I feel privileged to know about it and have the ability to record it.  Some of the features here are extremely delicate, so anyone entering this space needs to treat it with respect.  For those who are looking for an adventure and not afraid to get dirty, Pinnacle Cave has got it all.  For those who prefer not to get stuck in pitch black crevasses, I hope the photos help to share the experience. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Red Rocks Maternity Shoot w/ Adrian

I recently had a unique opportunity to shoot a few maternity photos out in the beautiful Red Rock Canyon.  Adrian was looking to do something a little different and Red Rocks was the perfect setting for some adventure-inspired maternity images. It was a fun change of pace from the climbing photography/videography I shoot more often.  Here are a few photos from our day.   

For rates and information about scheduling a portrait session feel free to email me anytime. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

New Year Updates: 2014

Andy Reger on his journey up Wise Guys Off Size 5.10c, Red Rock, NV.

Happy New Year! …  A little late, but now that I've said that I can move on with slightly more interesting ramblings.  The motivation and time to climb or shoot has fluctuated around the holidays as usual.  This phenomenon (as it seems) is actually relatively normal for those of us who choose to see our families, eat lots of great food, and have a few glasses of egg nog to unwind.  But now with the new year, the motivation is back in full swing and the great American West is looking like a lovely playground once again.  This year I plan to expand a little from the regiment of offwidth and aid climbing I have somehow found myself adhering to.  Not to say I will leave these fun disciplines behind, but rather I plan to take some time to explore a handful of challenging boulders, climb some finger cracks, and maybe take some massive sport lobbers off something I should probably be able to send by now.  Plenty of climbs to work on!

Slogging upwards after the crux on Malicious Mischief 5.10c.
Red Rock, NV.
For the first adventure of the year me and good friend Andy Reger decided to head up the non-classic Malicious Mischief 5.10c.  This route receives very little attention; I haven't talked to anyone who's been up it. Its position directly next to the classic Epinephrine 5.9 means that pretty much nobody really considers going up this climb anymore.  At first I thought it must be because the crux pitch is described as "scary" and begins in a "10-inch down flaring offwidth", but to me these things seemed relatively intriguing and moderately inviting.  Even before entering the crux, some complications were encountered and I soon had a few additional descriptive words to include. We pressed on through the sea of loose rock and on one pitch Andy selectively avoided the remains of an old webbing anchor wrapped around a now completely dead bush and opted for building a belay stance 15' below the crux pitch.  I then headed up the crux, which involved an unprotected traverse to gain the offwidth. After a few fist jams I was able to plug a piece and kept climbing.  I offwidthed my way through the flaring fun and soon was wedged into the base of long squeeze chimney.  35' feet of unprotected squeezing led to a neat flared tight hand crack corner, where I placed my second and third piece of gear on the pitch.  This brought me to a nice ledge which was an easy rest, but the spice was not over. 

This is when it got more interesting, again.  The climbing kind of halted, and it appeared that I would need to traverse 10' left to get into another wide crack system, which would continue to the top.  I envisioned a traverse route across, and as I started to climbing I ripped off a nice chunk of stone and stepped back down to the ledge. Yikes. Opting out of another unprotected free traverse on questionable rock, I chose to tension-traverse over (with the rope) and swung to the next crack system off to the left.  From here you enter another squeeze and offwidth up a ways until the crack becomes a tighter corner.  The rock quality is still pretty crunchy and many features are questionable.  I will leave it at that, an adventure for sure!

Inches from the send on Chinese Handcuffs 5.11d/5.12a.
Red Rock, NV. 
A little burnt-out on some of remaining obscure wide climbs in Red Rock, I decided to venture out into some smaller splitter cracks.  The Monument in Black Velvet Canyon features some nice splitters of the finger sized variety and a lot less loose rock to rip off.  It felt great to crank on just my fingers and toes after so many days spent jamming my whole leg or arm.  I still need to hone in on this smaller size, but overall I felt pretty good when I think about how these climbs felt over a year ago.  We'll be heading up soon for more work on these great crack features.  I sense sending soon. 

Snapshot from some preliminary moonrise time-lapse shooting. 

In my spare time I've also be pursuing a variety of video based projects.  I have been eager to explore some new shooting and editing techniques, so I found the challenge in time-lapse shooting.  I decided to start with shooting various moon-rises over Las Vegas and the desert at large.  As many of you know the colors at this time of day/night in the desert are incredible and very conducive for time-lapse work.  I have found time-lapse photography to be conceptually easy but more difficult to execute.  Lots of editing steps and lots of images to string together.  The procress has been exciting and things are coming together well.  Check back soon for some examples of this work.  

Experimenting with some angles for a video project on cycling. 

Being a regular bike commuter I have also been pretty interested in creating a cycling short video.  The concept remains mostly in my head, but the basic idea is to shoot a short ride using one camera placed in as many possible angles as I can think of.  Using a GoPro, this idea might seem trite before I even begin the project.  But using some artistic judgement I think this project could take on a life of it's own, and avoid being the helmet-cam catastrophe I see all too often. Although it might be a little time consuming.  I am currently in the preliminary stages of the project and have been working on bringing the ideas from my head into actuality.  A new and exciting process that I'm looking forward to figuring out. Well, that's all for now.  Hope everyone is having a fun a productive 2014. 

Flying above the snowy mid-west.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Action In Solitude: Red Rock Profile

Thanks to Kevin and Ian with Action In Solitude for working on this great video short.

Featured Routes: 
Offwidth AKA Desert-erata V2 - In Calico Basin beneath Alternative Crag.

Plumbers Crack (South side) 5.10 - In the Kraft boulder field in Calico Basin.

Trophy Crack V2 - In Sandstone Quarry just East of the Trophy Wall.

Chrysler Crack 5.9 - In Sandstone Quarry at the top of the Sandy Corridor.

Also featured by Climbing Magazine here.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Zion: Desert Shield, Space Shot, and Prodigal Sun

Andy Hansen works his way onto the steep headwall of Desert Shield V 5.11 C3

A few months Andy and I hatched a plan to climb a wall route in Zion, something I've been eagerly waiting to do all summer.  The steep clean cut walls of Zion are always amazing, and there are so many great looking walls to choose from.  I suggested that we get up on Desert Shield, a mixed aid and free climb that goes up onto and impressive steep headwall that looks practically blank.  It had some 5.11 free climbing down low to psyche Andy up, and two moderately hard C3 aid pitches to satisfy my cravings for big exposure with exciting gear placements up high.   The icing on the cake was also the sweet bivy ledge mid-route that allowed us a place to hang out and sleep at the end of the day to rest  up and do the upper portion the next day.  After all the route is Grade 5(V) and to us that meant it would be more reasonably done in two days.

Andy and I about to head up Pitch 2 of Desert Shield. 

But not so fast! It's not gonna be that easy... Just weeks before we were set to head up the Shield the government shut down and closed all of the National Parks.  Who would have thought! Needless to say there was a lot of disappoint all around.  My local crag of Red Rocks was minimally affected by the shutdown, it just made everything more of a walk and more of a pain in the ass. But who wants a police helicopter buzzing around them while they are climbing? Still doable I guess.  Zion was a different story, there would be no access permitted to the main canyon and thus putting Desert Shield out of the picture and even out of sight. Bad news for us.  So we let the time pass hoping the government might open the doors before our mission was to get started.  Weeks passed and our departure date was soon approaching. Out of necessity we formed another plan.  I guess the Rainbow Wall is pretty cool, but nothing that similar to the route we were gunnin' for. Seemed like fun still though but it was no Shield. After giving up hope a day before our departure day, Utah Governor Gary Herbet made a deal with the National Park Service to reopen Zion and several other of Utah's parks.  Amazing! The psyche was way high again! That night we gathered all our gear and started packing up to head out to Zion the next day. 

Snapshot of The Desert Shield Headwall in the fleeting sun.
Taken from the descent of Space Shot. 

Our strategy for the climb was to do it over two days, hauling gear, water, and food to the bivy on top of pitch 3.  From here we would leave the haul bag behind and continue up the next two pitches.  Our high point on day one would be the top of pitch 5 just below the first headwall pitches. We then were going to fix a rope there and rappel back down to the "Jungle Bivy" for the night.  Of course, things just couldn't be that easy for us.  After getting to the bivy ledge like planned and just before we we were going to head up pitch 4, it started raining.  There we were, starring up at the headwall with all our gear in tow, and the weather takes a leak on us when it was forecasted clear. There was really no choice what to do, and we had to head back down in the rain.  We got good and wet, but by the time we were back down the rain had more or less stopped.  We made the best of it by hanging by the river for while, forming yet again a new plan. Spirits were low, but I was also encouraged by the ordeal.  At least our plan was going well before the bad weather, and hauling wasn't actually that bad, dare I say fun?  That night we made a fire and dried out our stuff. Still no back up plan. 

Leading up Pitch 7 C3/C2+ on the headwall of Desert Shield.

The next morning I woke up and knew there was no way I could go home after climbing only 3 pitches of Desert Shield.  We had to go back up.  The next day we waited as long as we could, and headed up the lower pitches late in the day.  It seems our plan was back on!  Psyche was high as we enjoyed our time on the Jungle Bivy and watched the sun set across Zion.  As we settle down for the evening I was especially "in my head" thinking about the upper pitches.  How hard is this C3 gonna feel? Am I gonna be scared out of my mind?  Am I gonna pee myself shaking in the aiders and have to ask Andy to come rescue me? What if I drop my harness? Is that even possible? Some of these concerns were reasonable, while others a product of excitement and anticipation.  The thoughts filled my head and I couldn't really sleep, not to mention its wasn't really even that late and I was laying in the dirt.  Then later, as I was laying down in my sleeping bag trying to sleep, it seemed as if somebody had turned on a light. It wasn't Andy's headlamp, but rather the almost full moon rising and coming right across the top of Desert Shield.  An amazing sight that I will never forget.  Then as I was laying there day dreaming a lizard scuttled across my sleeping bag and went right past my face.  I was startled back into reality by the little creature and I laughed to myself. A friendly reminder that this would be a great adventure.  

No trip report complete without a photo of the "Jungle Bivy" on top of Pitch 3. 

After finally getting some sleep, the morning came.  We got up before the sun was up and it was hard not to feel a little tired and cold.  I think we finally got climbing at 7am.  This was a little later than expected but still would maybe just give us enough time.  Because of our one day delay, I now would have to drive straight back to Vegas to be at work by 4pm after climbing the headwall.  Not ideal.  There was a bit of a time crunch but we went for it.  Andy lead the very exposed and exciting bolt ladder/hook pitch and brought us up to the thin crack section that goes up almost the entire headwall.  I jugged the line up to him and couldn't have been more exited to finally get my chance to head up! I racked up as many sets of small offset brass nuts as possible, I think we had 4-5 sets all together and a couple sets of tiny cams and a grip of screamers.  My adventure was on!  I started up the C3 and C2+ pitch, carefully but confidently placing small wire after wire.  There were a few tricky placements, but generally speaking I felt the placements were straight forward, although many consecutive tiny placements.  Would they all hold a fall? Probably most would… but I didn't have to test it. 

Andy cleaning Pitch 7. Excellent thin clean aid climbing.
Instagram @instantmattkuehl

I let out a nice loud hoot at the anchors and celebrated a successful pitch up the wall.  Andy started jugging and I starred upwards at the next C3 pitch.  It looked classic as hell! I wanted to go up it without a doubt. When Andy came up to the anchor we were both super psyched, but our "turn around" time was approaching quickly.  We estimated it would take at least an hour to lead and clean the next pitch, and another 2 hours to get down and back to the car.  We simply didn't have the luxury of time.  I probably should have skipped out of work, but I made the less popular decision of making it to work on time. I drove straight to work and made it there with just enough time to wash my hands before punching in right on time. I was a little disappointed, but I was also very encouraged and excited by what we had done so far.  Everything in our control went pretty smoothly, and being high up on the headwall revitalized my soul.  Ultimately I was still pretty excited and I knew it was the first of many wall routes I would have the experience of climbing.  Now I just have to head back for the other C3 pitch soon! To the summit! 

Andy Reger aiding up Pitch 5 on Space Shot IV 5.9 C2

After a few days to reminisce about our incomplete ascent/attempt on Desert Shield, I contemplated what we could have done to make the ascent more successful.  Ultimately it came down to one element: Speed.  We had the skills, we had the gear, but we didn't have the time.  You can never predict the weather, but you can control your climbing pace and strategy.  So I hatched a plan with another climbing partner of mine Andy Reger, and we set our sights on two walls in two days.  The routes would be Space Shot and Prodigal Sun back to back.  This wasn't by any means a huge "link up" or speed mission.  But it was a challenge just difficult enough to make us work hard while also having a good chance of success.   Not to mention this would be Andy's first wall's in Zion, and only my second true wall with aid climbing.  My focus and our strategy was to do these routes efficiently and "hassle free" with no hauling, no going back to the base, and no bivying mid route.  Simple.

We got up early, before the sun was out and headed right into Zion in anticipation of catching the very first tram into the park.  We quickly ate some cold breakfast in the parking lot and kept our energy moving forward to the next step. We racked up and walked to the tram stop.  Going lighter meant we only had one small backpack, which could pretty much only hold water, some food, and two jackets.  We wore all the gear and both ropes on ourselves and clinked and clanked our way into our seats. Lots of looks of course. I talked to the driver and they had no problem dropping us off right at the base of the climb, how rad is that! I later found out the rock climbers are the only people that the tram drivers are allowed to drop off or pick up outside of the regular stops.  Which explains why we never had any trouble snagging a ride or getting dropped off. Thanks Zion!  So we did the short approach hike and got to the base with plenty of time for our mission and we started climbing as soon as possible. 

Andy Reger about to get his "Space Shot" on the exposed hook move on Pitch 8.

We simul-climbed the first 3 pitches, which go from 5.5 scramble to 5.7 offwidth, pretty manageable. That brought us to the base of the 4th pitch very quickly, and from here the aid climbing would begin as we worked our way up the headwall's right-leaning crack.  Andy started us off and got into his aid-climbing groove, which sometimes can take a few placements (or routes) to get dialed in on.  He took his time, but moved efficiently.  After all, we were both trying not to waste  time and energy.  We swapped pitches, leading alternating sections and getting higher and higher with every move.  We took time to monkey call over at our friends David and Carmen who were across the canyon from us climbing the ultra-classic Moonlight Buttress.  It was a damn good time on the wall!  The aiding on this climb was considerable easier than on Desert Shield, but the challenge was really efficiency after all.  There were a few tricky placements though, and two consecutive pieces were especially hard to place. A few preliminary pieces ripped out while I was bounce testing then, eventually I found just the right trick piece for the spot. Andy also had his fair share of exciting moves, including THE move in which I believe the route gets it's name.  THE move is (very) exposed hook move between piton and bolt, its a straight drop back down to the base and when looking down your body gets that adrenalin "Space Shot" direct into the veins. In the end we climbed the route in 8 hours and 20 min.  About 6.5 hours short of the speed record, but still not too bad! Great climb.

Self Portrait from the Earth Orbit Ledge atop Pitch 7 on Space Shot.

The second half of our mission was to climb Prodigal Sun the next day.   This route has caught my eye since I first visited Zion, and ascends the steep wall below Angles Landing, a very popular and adventurous hike in the park.  The route is more sustained, and has only one pitch of free climbing and all the rest C1 or C2 aid.  This meant that there would be no free pitches we could easily cruise through, essential meaning more aid = more work.  I was psyched on the challenge though, and I was ready to get my aid game more speedy.  Andy was also pumped, and it seemed that despite the previous days effort, we were still (if not more) energetic on route.   I don't think we had a choice to be tired after having to take off our shoes and role up our pants to cross the Virgin River to get the base of the route.  Another element of adventure I suppose!

Overview of Prodigal Sun V 5.7 C2  on Angels Landing Wall

I thought this route was a ton of fun, and getting to work your way up this massive wall is pretty unique.  Both Andy and I were feeling more confident after our success the day before, so we had a lot of fun up there.  I linked the first two pitches to get us started and cranked through the easy bolt ladder as fast I could and begun the long string of placements to get me to the second set of anchors.  Andy quickly jugged up the line and was ready to lead the next pitch.  My rope management could have been better here, but every transition after that was more smooth for the both of us.  Just gotta find that groove! We alternated pitches from here to the top and each had some exciting hook moves and tricky C2.  Andy also got to experience his first tension traverse on lead (sorry Andy I probably should have given you the heads up on that) and he also got to do a big lower-out when cleaning the last aid pitch.  For me the most exciting moves were the hooks and also doing some big top steps between offset nuts.  For the first half of the route we were both in concentration mode, but after gaining a great and exposed ledge mid-route and putting on some Talking Heads, we really started to get a little wild up there!  Hooting and hollering at each other, often like monkeys, singing along to the music loudly and declaring to the world "How did I get here!?"  It was a blast, and for about 5-10 minutes we had attracted a small crowd of onlookers both from the tram stop below and from the people hiking Angels Landing above.  After a little bit of ridiculousness we went back into climb mode and continued the push upwards.  Our energy was really high and I think we both probably wanted to lead every pitch.  We topped out the climb before it was dark out and clocked a time of 10 hours and 40 minutes on route.  Sweet!

Andy Reger getting down to the Talking Heads before he starts up Pitch 6 of Prodigal Sun.
"How did I get here!?"

What a great experience it all was for me.   Zion is truly a special area for climbing and I can't say enough about the quality of the routes I have done so far.  Its a great place to learn the methods and also a great place to be challenged and also get tons of sand all over your face.  I should be heading back to Zion again in a week or two for another two wall weekend with Andy.  At the moment I am thinking Touchstone Wall V 5.8 C2 and Disco Inferno V 5.8 C2+ back to back.  Slightly harder but still very reasonable.   After that I think I will start to hone in on some more difficult routes to spend a little more time on, not to mention finish Desert Shield.  A few harder routes that I'm day dreaming about are the Lowe Route V 5.9 C3 on Angles Landing, The Fang Spire IV/V 5.9 C3 and Swoop Gimp Or Be Dust V 5.9 C3.  Not to mention hitting up some mostly free routes like Moonlight Buttress V 5.12d C1 and Tricks of the Trade V 5.10 C2.  So much to look forward to!  If you've made it this far into the post you must really be psyched too! Want to climb? Thanks for reading...

Found this smashed in hex on route!  Damn that's crazy!
Sick whipper perhaps?