Big Free Route in Zion

By Dougald MacDonald ,

Mike Anderson and Rob Pizem have freed Golden Years, an eight-pitch 5.12+ on Shuntavi Butte in the Kolob area of Zion National Park. The beautiful sandstone crack and corner line has had three pitches of aid since its 1983 first ascent by Dave Jones and Steve Chardon.

Anderson first tried the climb in July with Colby Wayment and onsighted the 5.12a third pitch before bailing in excess heat. He returned in September with Pizem, armed with a few bolts and permission from Jones to add them to protect the free climbing. Pizem led the first three pitches of strenuous crack climbing without falls, and then the two aided the crux fourth pitch and rapped down to place four bolts to protect bouldery face moves along the left wall of the corner system. (The two also added five anchor bolts to the climb.) By now it was 4 p.m. Both climbers toproped the pitch and figured they might be able to redpoint it. “We decided that if either of us sent the pitch, we would get to the top no matter how long it took,” Pizem said in an email. Fortunately, Pizem managed to redpoint the 5.12+ pitch first-try, and Anderson followed it free.

At 6:30 p.m., the two started the upper half of the climb, freeing the fifth pitch at 5.11. The rest of the route had already gone free, but the next pitch was no gimme: “Pitch 6 is the hardman pitch! It’s a slanting offwidth that you really have to commit to,” Anderson wrote in an email. “From correspondence with Dave [Jones], I knew what gear he had on the FA, so I was completely in awe of his send of that pitch. It just goes to show that even 20 years ago, in a virtual vacuum, there was some pretty impressive free climbing being done in Zion.” It took Anderson more than an hour to lead the run-out and physical pitch in the dark, and Pizem hung on to follow it free.

The two rappelled the line and returned to their car well after midnight. “It took us about 18 hours car to car,” Anderson said. “With all the hand hauling and drilling, we were pretty worked.”

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Golden Years (5.12+) takes the crack line in the middle of the buttress above the climber. Catharsis (aka Ultamahedral) is the 5.11+ corner on the left.

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