Lunar Ecstasy IV/V 5.10 C2
Trip ReportA December Solo of Lunar Ecstasy
So, I have always enjoyed reading the trip reports found here on Supertopo, but I have never submitted one myself. After discovering that there had never been a report posted for Lunar Ecstasy (V 5.9 C2+) in Zion, I decided that I would give it a shot...
The weather is unseasonably warm here in Western Colorado. The ice climbing is poor and everyone waits in anticipation for the snow to arrive. My buddy Jonathan is having a yard sale of gear in our front driveway as he prepares for three months down in Patagonia. I'm excited for him, but kind of jealous at the same time.
I want to get out of town as well, and my wife Heather is kind enough to encourage this mission. What a cool wife. I search the internet weather sites for various locations, make some calls to a few friends who I think might be willing to bail on work and other responsibilities at the last minute. I'm thinking Zion. Zion is always a good adventure. I check with Adam, Ian, Jeremy... but no such luck. Looks like this might finally be the trip that I go solo a route.
For me, Zion is one of the great adventure climbing destinations. I've been hooked on climbing there ever since I did my first wall in 2006 - Moonlight Buttress, between Christmas and New Years, with my buddy Abe. We had homemade portaledges, webbing aiders and too few yellow tcus. I got so gripped mid-pitch one time that I had to come back down and have him lead it. That winter we topped out to a massive full moon and drank whiskey as we walked down the Angel's Landing trail back to the car. It is an experience that I will never forget.
Ever since that trip I have loved going to Zion in late fall and winter. Not only do you get the place to yourself, but you don't have to worry about taking the shuttle and can drive all the way to Angel's Landing. Over the years Zion has delivered many a good adventure for me, including a winter ascent of Tricks of the Trade with my buddies Ian and Adam, a winter attempt of Cameron Burn's obscurity Eye Shadow (VI 5.10 A2+) on Mountain of the Sun (very little sun by the way) and many a big wall trip, such as, perhaps the longest recorded vertical camping expedition of Space Spot with my friend Adam... three days, two nights and not enough beer. We resorted to this method only after we realized that climbing Prodigal Sun in a push was not nearly as much fun.
Zion really is a spectacular place, which always provides a unique and surreal experience, especially this time of year. I had no doubt that this trip would be the same.
Soloing a wall had always been a goal of mine. I had done a few small desert towers by myself, but nothing on the scale of a grade IV/V wall. I had talked about going to Zion to climb certain routes solo, but slowly they kept being ticked off the list as I climbed them with friends.
As Sunday morning approached I looked at the weather for the park, looked at some info on a few different routes and decided on Lunar Ecstasy. It looked challenging, but not desperate. I could take my time and do it in three days, and the weather window looked perfect. No precip and highs in the 50's. I began to pack my stuff and track down some extra cams. I would drive to Zion on Sunday morning, after dropping Jon off at the airport in Montrose. I told myself that the butterflies in my stomach were simply excitement. I was ready for the challenge... an easy wall by some peoples' standards, but just spicy enough for me to realize the magnitude of the endeavor. It was finally happening.
Lunar Ecstasy climbs up the steep shield of darker, varnished rock to the left of Moonlight Buttress on Angel's Landing. In 9 pitches there are some free climbing sections, some shorter pitches and about 400 feet of steep, sustained C2 climbing with hanging belays and wild exposure.
I arrived at Big Bend in the late afternoon on Sunday and packed the haul bag. I fielded a few questions from interested visitors and pointed out the route to them while standing in the parking area. The evening light started to fade and the cold shadows covered the walls of Angel's Landing. I saddled up and crossed the creek with my 80 lb bag, walking in wet shoes to the base of the route where I quickly put on my down booties and yard-saled all the gear at the base. I wanted to get a little ways off the ground and avoid the illegal bivy, and to my delight I found a bolted anchor about 50' off the deck that was not marked on the topo. I settled in for the night, glad to have a two bolt belay for the next morning's lead.
At 5:30 I lay awake in the dark, cold and excited, and ready to start moving. I wanted to get four pitches up and bivy at the "Farewell Ledge" below the next three pitches of steep climbing on the routes headwall. Finally, I bit the bullet and crawled out of the sleeping bag and start making some coffee, shoving my free climbing shoes against my chest in my down jacket.
As sunlight finally hit the wall, I was jugging back up the first pitch and warming up my cold hands and feet. 9:30, not bad, I thought to myself.
I was happy with my progress so far. Manageable pitches, big ledges to organize the ropes, the haul bag and set up for the next lead. I finished the first two shared pitches with Moonlight Buttress and branched left into a 5.7ish C1ish chimney with some exciting exit moves, ending an a big ledge. The fourth pitch looked long... starting with some 5.8 to a stance then hitting a bolt ladder for the "Half Moon Traverse." C1. I looked at the watch and it was just after noon. I tried not to get overconfident and reminded myself that I didn't know what lay ahead.
After climbing up to the stance mid-pitch, I clipped the single bolt on the wall, stared up at three fixed stoppers leading to the bolt ladder, took stock in my rope management below and cast off. Finally it felt like I was aid-climbing something. In the middle of the bolt ladder I looked up at a blank stretch to the next bolt. Thin, with boxed out pin scars. I quietly congratulated myself for deciding to bring a few tricams as I stood gingerly on one, willing to it stay put with my mind. Wow, C1... I guess. I hit the anchors, set up my haul with slack in the rope, and rapped the haul line back to the bags at the anchors. Fortunately, with a relatively light bag I could manhandle it and pick it up off the anchor. I lowered it out and set up to clean pitch four.
I weighted the lead line and with a sudden jerk, pulled the two tricams and brass offset I placed between bolts on the bolt ladder. I shuttered a little bit and made my way to the anchors on the Farewell Ledge.
From the small perch at the top of pitch four, I looked up at the intimidatingly steep face of pitches 5 - 7. I was immediately filled with an excited and nervous energy that I knew would make it hard to sleep. I smoked a cigarette. I smoked another. Pitch five looked like the business right off the anchor... slinging an angle that was pounded between the rock and a bolt stud, angling downward slightly. From there I could see a number of other bolts and fixed angles leading to what looked like an incredibly thin crack (the original A4 pitch). If I hadn't seen C2 yet on this route I knew this was going to be exciting.
I put these thoughts out of my mind for the time being. After a few attempts I was able to get an incredibly broken cell phone call out to Heather. "All good. Top of pitch four. I'm good." ... "Nice" ... "Can you hear me?" The phone died. As I ate dinner in the dark I was filled with a sense of renewal just knowing that I could report on my progress for a brief moment. I crawled into the ledge and slept. I felt like I was a thousand miles from any living person. Utterly alone.
Again I was awake at 5:30, feeling like I had been awake since 2:00. I had decided to use my rain fly and that helped keep things a little warmer throughout the night. I sat quietly drinking coffee and enjoying the 3x6 foot ledge, knowing that I may not get another one that night. I hoped for three pitches today, but would be happy with two. I knew that leading, rapping, jugging, hauling and then setting everything up for the next pitch on a hanging belay was going to eat a lot of my time. My goal was to go slow, sew it up as much as possible and take my time so that I didn't make any bad decisions. Before the sun hit the wall I was off on pitch 5.
It felt like days later when I finally hit the anchor on that 150 foot pitch. I wouldn't be surprised if it took me 3 hours. The exposure was starting to get to me and I was glad to hang on bolts and collect my thoughts. It had definitely felt like C2+ exiting the bolt ladder to a hook move, clipping a fixed tucan, then placing some brass. I was stoked that I had one less pitch on this route to now lead, and silently prayed that it wasn't going to get much harder than that. I didn't need any more than that.
After arranging the belay for the next pitch, I cast off. Another long C2 pitch that didn't seem as difficult. It was labeled as the Alien Leapfrog pitch and that about summed it up. I was happy to have an arsenal of yellow and orange tcus.
I arrived at the top of pitch 6 mentally and physically wrecked. Not enough water. Not enough food. Any hope I had of continuing on that day was immediately disregarded once I started trying to figure out where to get things organized on the hanging belay. With an hour of light left, I set up the ledge and hunkered in for the night. Above I could see the "Amoeba" pitch, the supposed crux of the route. The start looked thin, but the wall quickly kicked back into the less-than-vertical range, giving me a small sense of comfort.
Today had been wild... steep, exposed, scary at times, mixed with some of the harder aid I had ever done (not that that's saying much) Despite my weariness I knew that I would finish tomorrow. I would sleep on the top even if I had to climb the last pitch in the dark.
In the darkness I felt nervous and excited, but pushed the thoughts down, reminding myself that I was safe and would soon be off this exposed section of wall. How anyone climbs A4 is beyond my realm of understanding.
Now dug in for the night under the fly, I drank some whiskey and listened to the ipod. It was hard to find the right music to fit my mood. One artist after another I tried until finally I simply turned it off. Surreal darkness and utter silence. I lay like a sack of bricks, exhausted, but mind reeling, trying not to shift my weight in the portaledge. Finally sleep came.
The next morning I allowed myself to sleep until almost 8:00 - the sun started hitting the wall before I was barely even out of the sleeping bag. My thoughts were obsessed with one goal. Get to the top. After my last escapade trying to get my portaledge back in the bag yesterday morning, I opted to clip everything into the anchor and start leading the next pitch. F*&k the haul bag and ledge... I would deal with it later. If you finish pitch 7 it's all C1 to the top. I longed for a natural ledge and a place to stand.
Pitch 7 went off without a hitch. I was expecting some hooks, but somehow found a path around the Amoeba feature with brass and small offset cams. Following the exposure of the last few pitches, it didn't seem that bad, and I was excited to be finishing up the hardest aid on the route. I rapped back to the anchor, packed up the bag and continued on.
The next pitch was a blur - a shorty, with an awkward 5.8 move to gain a C1 thin crack that ate up offset brass. This was followed by some heady "5.7"-gear-pulling-sketchfest and I ended at a big ledge below the "Jarrett Finish" pitch and delightedly threw my stuff everywhere on the spacious ledge. One more pitch to the top.
Pitch 9 immediately became steep, aiding on big cams before entering a long section of .75s - I could feel my mind wandering, blacking out, as I placed another bomber green camalot then reached below to back clean the one below it. Leapfrogging two at a time, while keeping a third always protecting me below as an additional piece. The gap between my last pieces that weren't green grew and grew. My feet dangled in space as the lip of the wall became incredibly steep. As I pulled onto the final thirty feet of the face I saw the bolt. I thought there were more. I was expecting a C1 bolt ladder, but I guess I wasn't going to get it. I hooked above an offset stopper and reached desperately for the lone bolt on the face and clipped it. Above that bolt provided another hook move to a reachy horizontal cam placement. I blindly placed the orange tcu, tested it, and committed to it, watching my hook fall off the tiny edge with the weight of my aider. My hands were sweating as I inched toward the piece, praying that I wasn't going to whip here so close to the top.
Then, it was over. I pulled onto the sloping ground on the top of Angel's Landing. I was done, and the light was fading fast. I let out a yell that echoed across the cold, empty amphitheater of walls. I found a tree and rigged the haul line for the wildest of the free hanging rappels on the route.
The next morning I woke with the dreary sunlight of dawn and an overwhelming feeling of comfort. Sitting on flat ground, with my harness off, I made the last of my coffee. I watched the cold, wispy clouds blew over Angel's Landing as I smoked my last cigarette. Today looked like rain. Just in time. I packed up my gear and started hiking down to the Grotto.
I laughed to myself as I thought of all the adventures I'd had here in Zion. Four times I had hiked down this Angel's Landing trail, never up it, and thinking back on all four times brought memories unique unto themselves.
I have always believed that the world shines a little bit brighter after climbing a wall. It's probably just a matter of perspective I guess.
What I would bring again:
(2-3) sets offset brass *mainly Lg/Md
(1) set offset stoppers
(1) set reg stoppers
red and pink tricam
Talon and Lg/md hook
(1-2) sets offset cams *these were money
(1) 000 C3
(2) grey tcu
(2-3) purple tcu
(3) blue tcu
(1) red C3 size (between blue and yellow tcu)
(4-5) yellow tcu
(1) orange tcu
(2-3) .5 cam
(3-4) .75 cam
(2-3) 1 & 2 cam
(2) 3 cam
(1) 4 cam (new) *second #3 and #4 only needed for Jarrett Finish
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