2nd ascent March, '77 by Scott Fischer, Randy Aton, Ron Olevsky
Over the next few years I learned a lot about Zion rock and saw profound changes to this route with only a handful of ascents, leading me to retrofit this route and do Zion's first hammerless wall.
True, it would never have been had not hammers been originally used, but saying it is not really a clean climb would be as disingenuous as saying the same thing about the Nose.
The thing that is troubling me now is to see how, even without hammering, the route is being worn down. In some cases where I originally used nuts on even the first ascent people have since begun using SLCDs that weren't even available then. Just the rope's action causes pivoting in these devices that leads to erosion by the outer cams thus "podding" of what were nut placements, a vicious cycle.
For this reason I would want to discourage people from the practice of ankle biting, climbing a pitch or two then rapping off.
That this wall has the shortest approach AND an easy rating makes it attractive to beginners who are often intimidated once on it and end up ankle biting without having even intended to.
This makes it doubly inconsiderate for beginners to try this as a "first aid climb".
They should really get their systems and technique down first on dozens of shorter practice climbs.
A good indicator of whether people should be on this route to begin with is if they feel the need to belay from the bolts on the right in the middle of pitch two. If they wimp out there (set up in the '90s as a convenient rappel station) then the next 40' will require the same pieces as the 40' after and they are screwing themselves.
Another indicator of a skill deficit is the addition of unsightly rap slings to perfectly usable low key rappel chains. It means that the leader failed to have the forethought to clip directly to the bolts and leave the rap link open for use, as should be done whenever even the slightest indication that a retreat might be called for.
Stringing bright slings up on the wall seems a far more conspicuous form of littering than those who drop candy wrappers on the trail, something the same climbers might eschew.
Another indicator is the use of a haul bag.
The route is only 8 pitches and a competent party should be able to do it in a day. A haul bag grossly complicates the standard descent. And people should use that descent, since this is a popular route and it keeps everyone moving in the same direction.
I could see bivouacing in the shorter days of winter mid week, but many parties have used a bivy permit on "the wall with the shortest approach" as a cheaper camping strategy with no intent of summiting.
This is abusive and could lead to climbers losing privileges.
I don't wish to come off as elitist, but this is one of the best climbs I've found and would like to know that a century from now people will still be able to enjoy it.
There is a video of this route available from Jello. I encourage those interested to PM him.
Also, there is an article in the 1985 AAJ about it.
Originally when I climbed it I just named the rock Cerberus Gendarme (from Greek mythology). It was only after the hammerless ascent in May, '81 that it took the name "Touchstone". Perhaps Chris will correct the name above when he gets to Prodigal Sun.
This is a south facing route and is a poor choice in hot weather.
Thanks for the history Ron, this was the first wall I climbed in Zion with my friend John. He led the entire time and did it amazingly well. I think almost all of his placements were nuts. We climbed in in 11 hours in the middle of July at 104 or 114 degrees...whatever it was it was hot and pretty dumb. We ran out of water after 5 hours, rapped to the ground in the dark. It was a learning experience for sure...
We had both done some Aid climbing as we decided to learn it so that we could lead the 14th pitch of Shot Tower one day in the Arrigetch.
We were slow, and painfully unprepared in the food and drink department so most anyone should be able to do it in a day if we could!
Supertopo guide was spot on. We aided P1-3 and freed P4 and up.
We brought more gear than necessary, but here is what we actually used:
DMM offset aluminum nuts: 2 sets (only used 1 set)
TriCams: #0.5, 1, 1.5 (really only need the 1 and 1.5 for placement above the roof on P2)
Metolius Mastercams #0 (never used)
Metolius Mastercams #1
Metolius Mastercams #2
Metolius Mastercams #3
Metolius Mastercams #0/1
Metolius Mastercams #1/2
Metolius Mastercams #2/3
BD C3 # 0 (never used)
BD C3 # 1
BD C3 # 2 (x1)
BD C4 #0.5 (x3)
BD C4 #0.75 (x5)
BD C4 #1 (x5)
BD C4 #2 (x3)
BD C4 #3 (x3) - was nice to have 3x on P5 & 7
BD C4 #4 (x3) - was nice to have 3x on P5 and 2x on P7
Free carabiners (x16)
Hook (never needed, don't bring)
FYI: There is a death block sitting part way up P7, above the belay, right as you enter the fist crack. We nearly knocked it off but were able to rest it back in a stable spot. It is about 1ftx2ft. Watch out and be safe.
Descent: We took the gully and it was easy to follow. One rap anchor was off a tree from eye level, but I looked right past it at first. Single 70M made it just fine.
Climbed the first four pitches before rain chased us off. The aid climbing is very, very straightforward and the bolt ladders are not reachy if you stand high in your aiders (my partner is about 5'3").
The '5.11' pitch is pathetically soft. Likely would get no harder than 10- at Joshua Tree or Idyllwild or the Valley.
Photo: Bryan Bird
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