"Alpine" Adventure in Zion Backcountry
Photo courtesy of David Everett.
Proving there’s still plenty of adventure to be found in the Lower 48, David Everett and Dan Stih spent three days making the probable first ascent of an extremely remote formation called the Bishoprics in Zion National Park. The Bishoprics is a sandstone dome that’s only about 500 feet high and goes at 5.6 or so, but getting there—and getting home—is another story.
“Short of putting up a major new aid line on the thousand-foot cliffs below the plateau upon which the Bishoprics sit, we took what appears to be the only way to reach them,” Stih said in an email. That meant going light—no sleeping bags or water filter—and backpacking from the top of Angels Landing along Zion’s West Rim Trail until they reached a point where they could rappel 300 feet into Phantom Valley, skirt the east side of the Inclined Temple formation, climb out of a slot canyon, and traverse around to the Bishoprics. All this to reach the “wrong” formation—Stih originally had in mind a different climb, but the two got completely lost en route. As evening fell, they climbed to a high point to try to orient themselves and realized they couldn’t recognize a single formation on their map.
After a cold, windy bivy, they decided to head for Coal Pits Wash and chose a ridge that looked as though it might offer a descent route. At the top of this ridge sat the Bishoprics.
“My partner thought we should spend our time finding a way out, but I convinced him that as long as we were there [we should] climb the Bishoprics,” Stih said. “The climbing was not difficult, but the white cap sandstone is extremely rotten, like sand cakes on the beach. Protection is minimal—small, tied-off, drought-stricken bushes.”
Photo by Dan Stih, courtesy of David Everett.
Once back down, they had to figure out how to escape the backcountry, since they had gotten so far off track on the approach. Heading down the ridge below the Bishoprics, they reached a notch that seemed to promise a good rappel route. Six double-rope rappels later, they were in the wash, just in time for their second bivy. The next morning, they walked out the wash and reached the road by late morning.
This was Everett’s first trip to Zion, but Stih has done a number of committing “alpine” ascents in the park. During the winter of 1996–97, he and Ron Raimonde made the first ascents of several major Zion formations, including the imposing Altar of Sacrifice. That March, the two adopted a lightweight approach and traversed West Temple and the Towers of the Virgin over four days, climbing and rappelling more than 1,800 meters.
“The technical aspects of ascents like the Bishoprics lie in the overall difficulty of the approach and descent, not just the 5.X climbing rating,” Stih said. “There are adventures to be had in Zion that lie between the slot canyons and the big walls.”
Dates of Ascent: April 9-11, 2007
Sources: Dan Stih, David Everett, 1998 American Alpine Journal