Desert Shield, Zion National Park, Trip Report


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Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Original Post - Dec 6, 2005 - 11:45am PT
There’s a reason not many people climb in Zion in December: “Its cold out there!”

They understand average route gets less than 5 hours of sun a day and temperatures in the shade hover around freezing.

The cold doesn’t like me. I usually have to wear three layers of clothes in the winter to stay warm… inside a heated house. So I tried to get Ammon McNeely to go to Mexico and climb the Trono Blanco. But he was already in Zion and wouldn’t be free so venture south until January… I needed to climb walls right now!

Morning temps were in the teens. By noon, temperatures had warmed up to just above freezing. On the drive into Zion Canyon the climb I pointed at a few frozen waterfalls hanging off the walls. Maybe we should have brought the ice tools.

“Its cold out there!”

because it was so cold, and we are so smart, we choose a route on a north facing wall, of course: Desert Sheild.

The regularly sandy trail leading to the base had formed into permafrost. It was kinda cool to walk on surface you expect to be squish under your foot only to have it respond to your shoe sole like steel. If only this effect didn’t depend on the temperature being below 32 degrees.

I led the first five pitches. I soon realized that there are both pros to your hands freezing. The pain of the cold does mask the pain of poor hand jamming technique. The cold also makes you move faster.

Here is me on the second pitch:

I led the first half of the route in just under and hour and then Ammon took over. The first five pitches are really just the approach for the Desert Shield: 400 feet of flawless, steep, and richly red sandstone.

Ammon starting up the bolt ladder on pitch 6.

I was really glad Ammon was leading these pitches. You basically just place offset stopper after offset stopper in placements that are often a little more shallow than you like. You often ask the question “Is that stopper biting INTO the rock or biting THROUGH the rock.”

Ammon starting up pitch 7.

At one point, Ammon called down. “Whoa… this stopper that I am standing on just broke the rock under it and slid down a bit.” You can’t get that kinda excitement in Yosemite.

Two pitches from the top, despite our attempts to avoid it, we actually found ourselves in the sun. Well, the sun was glancing off us anyway. It didn’t really warm the rock but it did make for some cool photos.

Two pitches of Ammon at the top of pitch 8.

When we topped out, for the first time, we were actually directly in the sun. it was glorious. Despite doing the route in under 3 hours (2:57) Ammon felt we could have moved a little faster.

“Today I didn’t want to fall so I was being a little more cautious,”

“uhhh… there are times where you don’t care about falling?” I asked.

”Sure!!” he shot back, “Sometimes I am just like “F--- It! I don’t really care .”

I wanted to say “Yeah, I can relate to that… the feeling of fearlessness while standing on crappy gear thousands of feet above the ground.”

But I can’t. There are times when I have no fear on a big wall, but they are pretty much limited to 5.8 C1.

We rapped the route back to the ground and I took this photo on the way down.

And this photo of the surround walls on the way back to the campground.

For an updated topo of the route that I just made, click here:

For other free topos, go here:

For the trip reports for Days 2 and 3 click here:


Trad climber
San Rafael, CA
Dec 6, 2005 - 12:27pm PT
Cool! Looking forward to a "Trono Blanco" trip report sometime soon.

Dec 6, 2005 - 12:34pm PT
The rich red colors and undulating textures of the rock are just gorgeous. Sweet TR Chris.

Trad climber
Gunks end of country
Dec 6, 2005 - 12:54pm PT
Are those dikes climbable? Protectable? Awesome picture.

Trad climber
pitch above you
Dec 6, 2005 - 01:31pm PT
Uh... dikes? No dikes...

You talkin bout the exfoliation lines on the pitch 6 photo or what?

Dikes aren't in sedimentary rock like the sandstones in Zion.


Trad climber
Gunks end of country
Dec 6, 2005 - 01:38pm PT
Sorry. Closest thing I ever took to a rocks course was 7th grade science.

So do the exfoliation lines go? Grade?

NOT Fresno
Dec 6, 2005 - 01:44pm PT
Oh yeah, well I did a Cherry Crack/Squeeze Play link up yesterday in under three hours.


Cold toes...check.

Trad climber
Dec 6, 2005 - 02:36pm PT
So you guys did a 9 pitch route in less than 3 hours and you feel that it could have been quicker?? How do you guys move so fast?

I've only been aiding for about a year but just leading an average C1/C2 pitch takes me 45 minutes at best. What am I missing from my basic system (two daisies, two aiders, fifi) that is preventing me from cruising a bit quicker. Any ideas??

Trad climber
places you shouldn't talk about in polite company
Dec 6, 2005 - 03:38pm PT
Any ideas??

here's one: don't compare yourself to the fastest climbers on the planet. everything will seem more reasonable to you that way.
John Vawter

Social climber
San Diego
Dec 6, 2005 - 04:48pm PT
Nice pictures.

Although it is often sunny and nice at Canon Tajo in the winter, it is at 5,000 feet and usually in the 50's. When we get clear high pressure, it snaps down to into the 40's. If the wind is blowing, and it often cranks on the East Face, you won't get very far. I've seen it snow there in April too. I don't know where this myth about "70's degrees year 'round" got started. Gets bloody hot in the summer too.

San Clemente, CA
Dec 6, 2005 - 06:53pm PT
Nice job Chris and Ammon! Cool pics and report.

45 min. a pitch is pretty good Cloudraker. At that rate you could climb the Zodiac in under 13 hrs! Advise Ammon has given me is Make as few moves as possible, repeating moves slows you way down. Step up and keep moving watching what your next placements may be.

Beerz! Gabe

ps Also, I am sure they were short-fixing ;)

Trad climber
Dec 6, 2005 - 07:24pm PT
Matt and Gabe, thanks for the advice.


Social climber
desert south west
Dec 9, 2005 - 10:20pm PT
Just out of Curiosity, did you use cam hooks on the desert shield?
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 10, 2005 - 08:32pm PT
nope, no cam hooks used on desert shield.

i want to put in a plug for ammon's web site. he keeps track of the zion speed records, FA info, etc.

check it out:
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 11, 2005 - 12:35pm PT
For an updated topo of the route that I just made, click here:

For other free topos, go here:

Boulder climber
Russia, Moscow
Jan 21, 2006 - 08:21am PT
Do you have guide books for Zion National Park?
I looking for climbing in Zion at the end of February.
What is with weather in this region?
I looking for one or two routes, maybe solo.
Could you please advice routes for first time climb in Zion.


Trad climber
Durango, CO
Jan 13, 2007 - 07:55pm PT
SWEET lloks like a good time
Messages 1 - 17 of total 17 in this topic
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