"Holy shit! Look at Lunar X, Rob!” were the first words out of my mouth when I first saw it from a neighboring route. As Rob reached the anchor we both took a moment to talk about how aesthetic the splitter looked on Lunar X. Being a fair distance away from a crack, it’s difficult to know if it’s a seam (where you would not be able to put your fingers in the crack) or a perfect finger crack (making free climbing more probable). After this point in the day, I was barely able to focus on the route Rob and I were climbing. My mind was spinning like a top with the possibility of Lunar X going free.
Spring break was in a few weeks and I knew that it was my best opportunity to inspect the free climbing on Lunar X. Mid-April came around and I was off armed with 900 feet of static line and a mini traxion. I hiked the most popular, classic hikes in Zion National Park, the Angels Landing Trail. All this gear was heavy and made the 1500 feet of elevation gain feel very difficult; however, ipods are a man’s best friend for making misery feel less miserable. Taking off the pack I felt like I was as light as a feather. After a quick snack, I rapped into Lunar X and I could not believe that where the crack thinned, face holds appeared. It seemed as if the crack was sculpted to climb.
My body was pumping with excitement as I tied my shoes and went to work. The first problem would be getting around a 20 foot blank section. As I looked around I noticed a major corner system that was easily reachable from lower in the route. From the corner, there were just the right amount of holds to allow passage from to the splitter crack. On the following pitch, perfect fingers led me to a difficult boulder problem with no rest. After a few attempts I was able to figure out this difficult section and continue on to more incredible climbing. All the moves went and things were going well, but there was one more pitch that could give me trouble. After some rest I set off on technical climbing that required a very specific sequence. Again all the moves went and I was tired and my fingers were bleeding so I was very satisfied with the day. I jummared my way to the top then headed down the beautiful trail again rehearsing the moves in my head, ecstatic for the next day. The days followed with each making more progress. The pitches began to come together until it was time to go back to school.
Having a project that inspires makes one feel like there is a purpose for life. One does not waste as much time and makes their gym sessions and training count. It is a great feeling having a goal to obtain. Every weekend I could drive to ZNP, I would, many times getting shut down by weather. One weekend in particular, I was packing my backpack at the parking lot and clouds began to darken. But, I was there; I had to give it a shot. Nearing the top of the hike a slight snowfall began. Not wanting to waste the hike I rapped into the route anyway. Within ten minutes I was blinded by giant snowflakes. I could not see the ground or even the top of the route. I decided to just get the gear placements all figured out and get out, though after rapping down farther, I began to get soaking wet from rock running with water. Saturated from head to toe in 35 degree weather I jummared as quickly as possible to the summit where I gathered my things and ran down the trail to my car where I blasted the heat and got a hot cup of tea to thaw my body.
The next day was 65 degrees and sunny and I was able to put the hardest pitch together without any falls. Spring is one unpredictable time of year and sometimes you just have to embrace the good and bad that comes with it.
I knew that it was time to try and put the route together so I began to wrangle up partners. But the weather seemed to worsen at this point. Weeks passed and I become more anxious. Finally a decent weekend of weather came and I found myself at the base of the route. The lower section of the route went smoothly and then gained the corner system which was all new climbing. Sandy and very loose terrain made me wonder what I was doing. I shrieked with fear as I moved upward; a 4-ton pillar shifted just by the pressure of my hand.
I tried my best to avoid touching the pillar climbing gingerly and as light as possible until I reached a safe tree anchor. As I belayed my partner up, I took the time to try and relax and focus on the incredible scenery of ZNP to keep my mind off of the horror that I just climbed through. The following pitch began well until a mandatory traverse to gain a crack began to look scary. “Oh boy!, here we go again!,” I thought. With no gear for 25 feet and a ledge 40 feet below I began the traverse on very sandy holds brushing and blowing off the holds as I went “WATCH ME MARK” I yelled. I began to reach right around the corner with my heart beating like it wanted to jump out of my chest. Thank God my fingers wrapped around a crack and I was able to place a good piece of gear. More sandy moves led me to the hard traversing boulder problem.
Thinking this pitch was much easier, I had not rehearsed it as much. However, it turned out to pack a serious punch. By the time I put it together I was tired and feeling like the next pitch may be over my limit. “One good attempt,” I told myself as I entered the difficult section. I reached for a small edge and my body began to fall away from the wall. I was falling and knew that could have been it. After some rest and a bit of a bar, I gave it another shot and fell lower, my arms were throbbing and energy was depleted. Damn it! I had to throw in the towel and surrender. Sometimes, trying your hardest is just not good enough.
I came back two weeks later and after a few attempts was able to climb smooth and efficient enough to complete the pitch that had previously shut me down. As I clipped the anchor, I let out a huge scream of excitement and the feeling was overwhelming. I knew at this point the route was in the bag. The next pitch was difficult with small gear, although the climbing was easier so I was confident. I set off but fumbled the beginning, so came back down and then fired it off. What a relief it was to be done with the two hardest pitches. The next pitch was very sandy and the gear was less than desirable. Again, I had not been on the pitch before because it looked like it would not be a problem. I quickly began to realize that bad gear and sandy rock can make any grade gripping. I placed a blind piece and began to trust a smeary foot and then my foot slipped, barley being able to hold my swinging body, I grunted and recomposed myself gunning the top. One more pitch was all that remained between me and the summit.
I started going up the final pitch, placed one piece that was my only piece in 40 feet (not smart) and began to rock over a bulge the rock was crumbling and I stepped high and began to rock over my foot. Crack! I felt a pain in my foot and I was hanging upside down. What just happened? After a minute of hanging, I gathered my thoughts and noticed that my fingers had crumbled a hold and I hit a ledge 15 feet below. My foot was throbbing and so I lowered and took my shoe off. My foot was slightly swollen and very sore. I knew I had to finish this route off so I ate, drank some water, sucked it up and finished the route with an enormous sigh of relief. Suddenly, all of the mishaps faded into the back of my head and I was filled with happiness. A gigantic smile spread across my face, as I set off hiking down the trail with a great friend and an experience that makes us closer. This is what climbing is all about.
In April, Nik Berry established an FFA on the incredible Lunar X, a classic 5.10 C2+ aid route in Zion National Park. The climb, which goes at 5.13 free, has stirred up quite a buzz.
A huge thank you goes to Jeremiah Watt for use of his photos in this post. You can find more of Jeremiah's photos on his website as well as on his blog. More from Nik can be found on his blog, as well.