Hardest Route in CO's Escalante Canyon?

Rob Pizem on The Frank Zappa Appreciation Society (5.13+). Photo courtesy of Rob Pizem
Rob Pizem on The Frank Zappa Appreciation Society (5.13+). Photo courtesy of Rob Pizem

4/17/12 – Rob Pizem has made the first free ascent of The Frank Zappa Appreciation Society (5.13+), potentially the hardest established route in Escalante Canyon, Colorado. Pizem, a high school science teacher in Grand Junction, spent about five months projecting the 60-foot climb, which features an overhanging crack with two boulder problem cruxes.

The first crux is an undercling traverse, and the second starts up an overhanging dihedral. On the second crux, Pizem campused the half- to quarter-inch crack to a powerful cross into a ring lock, followed by more campusing to a layback, to the anchor. According to Pizem, the moves “didn’t let up until the anchor was clipped.”

“I tried the ring lock campus sequence so many times,” says Pizem, “that both pointer fingers are now permanently bent and potentially ruined. It was still worth it. It feels like I followed through with what I believed and knew was possible for me to complete. Enough time and determination will always get you there to the end. The question is, at what cost?”

The route is located on the Zappa Wall, and Pizem believes it is the hardest route in Escalante. “It seems like many of the routes 5.12 and under have been freed in the canyon, but anything more challenging has been skipped,” he says.

Pizem has been climbing for 18 of his 35 years, and has made a number of impressive first ascents, including Army of Darkness (5.13d), a long horizontal crack in Moab, Utah, and one of the hardest roof cracks in the world. About The Frank Zappa Appreciation Society, Pizem says, “I don’t know whether it is my hardest FFA. I can say it is the farthest from the usual type of route I typically establish.”

Date of ascent: April 2012

Source: Rob Pizem