Anderson Frees Three More Zion Routes
Air Force Captain Mike Anderson has free-climbed another trio of long climbs in Zion National Park. By far the most prolific recent activist on these massive sandstone walls, Anderson now has done 10 first free ascents in Zion since 2004.
Below is Anderson’s summary of his recent burst of activity: an onsight FFA of an eight-pitch 5.12–; the ground-up FFA of a 12-pitch 5.13–; and the onsight FFA of a 10-pitch 5.12 R.
— Dougald MacDonald
On February 17, I made the first free ascent of The Locksmith Dihedral, climbing with Colby Wayment and Brian Smoot. The Locksmith is an eight-pitch grade IV located on the “Gatekeeper Wall”, a diminutive summit just northeast of the Watchman. The route went free at 5.12–, with a handful of 5.11 pitches and one 5.11 R. Brian and Colby each fell once, but mostly followed it all free. I onsighted the route, as was the plan. Onsighting is, without a doubt, the best style, and something I’ve wanted to do in Zion for a while. Unfortunately, onsighting a first free ascent depends more on finding a suitable route that takes natural gear than the prowess of the climber, and up until now I hadn’t attempted any such routes.
About a month later, Eric and I returned to Hello Mary Lou, and things went better. In my absence, Eric had some time to work on the crux first pitch, so when I led it on my first try Eric was able to follow it free. We cruised towards the prominent splitter offwidth that defines the ninth pitch, 1,000 feet up. The 5.12– seventh pitch slowed us down a bit, and the only remaining aid was on the eighth pitch, guarding the entrance to the offwidth. I was able to onsight this tension traverse at 11+ R. The offwidth then sapped all of our remaining strength with strenuous knee locks and arm bars, but we got through without falling. A short while later, we topped out just as darkness fell. I was psyched that we both managed to free the route; Eric led two of the 5.10 pitches. We didn’t add any fixed gear to the route.
At 12 pitches, the grade V Hello Mary Lou is a real “diamond in the rough.” Though it has some loose rock, it has two of the most striking pitches anywhere. The first pitch is among the most perfect finger cracks I’ve ever seen. The eight-inch splitter offwidth of the ninth pitch severs a coffin-shaped slab that precariously juts out over the route, creating big exposure in a surreal setting. Freeing the route took all of my experience to deal with the very physical cruxes and the mentally trying, loose, and run-out pitches in between. The wall is similar in size to Angel’s Landing, and considering our light and fast, ground-up style, I’m as proud of this route as any I’ve yet done.
Photo courtesy of Mike Anderson.
A short week later, I was back in Zion, this time with Brian Smoot. We roped up at base of the Watchman, Zion’s most fertile free-climbing ground, hoping to free the classic Silmaril. Brian had spotted a promising variation around the A2 knifeblade crack that guards the route’s start. The first moves off the ground turned out to be the crux, and I up- and down-climbed a few times to work out the 5.12 boulder problem. The #00 TCU protecting the moves was iffy, to boot. Future parties should consider adding a bolt or two, but we had no bolt kit or pins, so I had to go for it. A pitch of 5.10 and 5.11 rounded out the variation, and a serendipitous ledge paved the way back onto the original route. A few other sections of 5.11+ and some 9+ (ha-ha) flaring squeeze chimney eliminated the remaining aid on pitches 4, 6 ,and 8, respectively.
The grade V, 10-pitch Silmaril is the seventh free route on the Watchman. I was stoked to climb The Silmaril and the The Locksmith Dihedral with Brian Smoot, who was instrumental in pointing me to many of my first Zion free routes. Brian did his first Zion Wall in 1978, so at 47 years young he has been climbing in Zion for nearly 30 years. He has pioneered seven Zion big walls, including three free routes.
The Locksmith Dihedral (IV, 5.12–, 8 pitches), Gatekeeper Wall. FFA by Mike Anderson with Brian Smoot and Colby Wayment, February 17, 2007.
Hello Mary Lou (V 5.13–, 12 pitches), Apex Wall (South Face of the Streaked Wall). FFA by Mike Anderson and Eric Coleman, March 16, 2007.
The Silmaril (V 5.12 R, 10 pitches), The Watchman. FFA by Mike Anderson with Brian Smoot, March 24, 2007.