Ice Climbing Bonanza in Zion National Park

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Angela VanWiemeersch and Scott Adamson celebrate another discovery in Zion's backcountry. Photo by Andrew Burr.

2/20/14 - In an extraordinary first-ascent binge, Scott Adamson and Angela VanWiemeersch climbed more than a dozen major new ice routes over two weeks in Zion National Park, Utah. Matt Tuttle, Jesse Huey, and photographer Andrew Burr accompanied the two climbers for some of the routes, but Adamson and VanWeimeersch led nearly all of the first ascents. More than half of the climbs were 400 feet or longer.

Only one ice climb in Zion  previously was on most climbers' radar: The Zicicle (200', WI5) in Englestead Canyon, which made the cover of Climbing in late 2009. There are rumors of an old Lowe route near the Zion–Mt. Carmel tunnel. But until this year, climbers hadn't looked deeper into Zion's high country.

"Nobody believes there's ice there, even after the Climbing cover," Burr said. "Nobody has put the sweat equity into looking, because it's kind of gnarly." To find the new routes, the climbers bushwhacked through Zion’s rough high country—often for hours—to remote canyons, and then explored along the rim looking for climbs. "You could be 20 feet away, and if you're not looking in just the right spot you couldn't see the climb," Burr said.

Climbing cover

Zion's only well-known climb, the Zicicle, on the October 2009 cover. Photo by Andrew Burr.

The reward for all this effort was new routes ranging from 60 feet to 700 feet high. The climbs typically had fat ice at the top and thin, more difficult climbing near the bottom. Many were less than an inch thick for long stretches, leading to dangerous run-outs in isolated canyons where retreat or rescue would be extremely difficult.

Burr, who is working on a new comprehensive guidebook to Utah ice with Nathan Smith (slated for release in the fall), suggested this might be the “greatest water ice discovery in the U.S. in the last 10 to 20 years.”

Will these climbs be in condition every winter or was this an exceptional season in southwestern Utah? "None of us knows for sure," Burr said. "But we think they come into shape every year."

Spectacular photos of the new Zion ice routes will appear in the Gear Guide (April) and future editions of Climbing.

Dates of ascents: February 2014