A Brief History of Climbing in Zion.

Rock climbing in Zion began in the 20's with the ascent of the Great White Thone by W.H.W Evans. William H. Evans, who is described in a Superintendent's memo (dated 7/13/27) as a "distinctly daredevil type and a mountaineer", arrived in the park on June 20, 1927 and heard that the Great White Throne had not been ascended. One June 24, he made an attempt to climb the north side but was thwarted by steepening walls and returned to the valley floor realizing that it was not the right way to go. On June 27, armed with but 15 feet of rope and a small canteen of water, climbed to the saddle on the south side, and made his way up slabs to the summit whereupon he made several signal fires that night to prove his accomplishment to the people in the Grotto auto camp below. The next morning, he began his descent and fell. A historic rescue effort, led by Chief Ranger Ruesch, was organized the following day after his absence. After several days of searching, the rescuers found Evans motionless among the bushes at the saddle. He was delirious from shock, covered with severe bruises and sporting a cracked skull, and remembered little of the preceding days after his fall. His rescuers carried him to the East Rim Trail where he was placed on a horse and carried down, chastised for his recklessness.

On June 30, 1931, Dan Orcutt made the second ascent via Evan's route, and reported finding a human skull on the summit, perhaps the remains of some venturesome native. Both Evans and Orcutt's ascents were condemned by the park, as they were "improperly executed and done in a manner that is strongly disapproved by all alpinists having recognized reputations" (quoted from a 1931 Park Service memo).

The second major formation climbed in Zion was the Cathedral, presumably from the Angel's Landing Trail, by Walter Becker, Fritz Becker, and Rudolph Weidner on August 31,1931. This was a technical climb for the day, which was climbed with ropes and involved a difficult chimney and an overhanging rock which " taxed all their powers of ingenuity and endurance to pass".

In 1933, the West Temple was climbed by an 8 man team, with the brothers Norman and Newell Crawford reaching the summit. The East Temple was climbed in 1937 by Glen Dawson, Dick Jones, Homer Fuller, Wayland Gilbert, and Jo Momyer, followed by an ascent of the Sentinel by Bob Brinton and Glen Dawson in 1938. All of these routes are described as treacherous climbing on loose white rock, with insecure footings and holds. Today the historic ascents are still considered difficult with sections of 5th class climbing, and not for the casual hiker.

The Great White Throne, subject of a commemorative stamp of the 1934 National Park series, received only a few ascents over the next 20 years, including the fourth ascent by the legendary husband and wife team of Herb and Jan Conn in 1949.

Modern climbing in Zion began in 1967 with the ascent of the Great White Thone via the Northwest Face, the first of Zion's big walls to be climbed. Prior to this ascent, the Park Service had long refused to give permission for climbing the long and steep canyon-side faces. Fred Beckey had gained permission after sending a letter to the park guaranteeing a Seattle based rescue team on call, and particulars of each of the original team member's experience: Warren Harding, Galen Rowell, Eric Bjornstadt, and Fred Beckey. By the time permission had actually been granted, the team changed to Fred Beckey and Galen Rowell and Pat Callis, who spent several days preparing the lower section, and made the first ascent on May 5-7, 1967.

George Lowe, Karl Dunn, Dick Bell, Robert Sears, Peter Gibbs and others were also active in the mid to late 1960's with technical ascents of many formations, including the west face of Bridge Mountain in 1965, the east face of Sentinel in 1966, the Twin Brothers in 1968, and Mt. Spry in 1970.

In the early 70's, Jeff Lowe, with various partners including Cactus Byran, Mike Weis, Bruce Roghaar, John Weiland, and Wick Beavers established a number of difficult modern wall routes, awesome achievements especially considering the tools of the day (passive chocks and pitons). These routes included the north and east faces of Angel's Landing, The Toad on the north face of Sentinel, the southeast buttress of Issac, and the mega classic, Moonlight Buttress.

Bill Forrest and Bill March dominated the mid 70's with outstanding first ascents of Grade VI's in Kolob and the main canyon, while Jimmy Dunn bagged a few outstanding lines, including a new route with no bolts on the North Face of Angel's Landing (Angel Hair) with Dean Tschappat.

In the late 70's and early 80's, Ron Olevsky and Dave Jones were responsible for a new wave of quality routes, while also developing a new clean ethic largely made possible by the advent of Friends™, which revolutionized climbing smooth parallel cracks in the desert. Two separate trends that enabled many of the longer routes to be climbed clean developed: Ron Olevsky began a trend of modifying placements on routes to enable subsequent ascents to be completely clean, while Dave Jones found natural lines and pushed free climbing standards so that fewer non- clean placements were necessary. Routes of this period include The Thunderbird Wall and Catharsis in Kolob, and Monkeyfinger Wall, Spaceshot, Touchstone Wall, Shune's Buttress, and the Fang Wall in the main canyon (to name a few of the routes established during this prolific era).

Throughout Zion's history, many short routes had been established in the park, but the big attraction had always been the walls. Several trends developed in the 1990's. First, attempts to climb the harder aid lines on the walls resulted in the first ascent of the Streaked Wall by Mugs Stump and Conrad Anker in 4 days (VI, 5.10, A4+), followed shortly thereafter by the first ascent of Abraham in the Court of the Patriarchs by John Middendorf and Walt Shipley up the overhanging southwest buttress (The Radiator, VI, 5.10+, A4). Trying to free climb the aid pitches on the walls led to free ascents of routes like Monkeyfinger Wall (V, 5.11+) in 1989 by Mike ODonnel and Craig Kenyon and Shune's Buttress (IV, 5.11c) on Red Arch Mountain by Conrad Anker and Dave Jones. In 1992, Peter Croft and Jonny Woodward climbed Moonlight Buttress free (V, 5.13b), thus establishing the most sustained and highest standard free climbing route on sandstone in the world. Multiple route speed ascents have been another trend. In 1991, Conrad Anker and John Middendorf climbed the first link- up when they climbed Touchstone Wall and the northeast buttress of Angel's Landing in 8 hours, and in 1992 Doug Heinrich and Seth Shaw climbed Space Shot, Monkeyfinger, and Touchstone in an 18 hour period, later upped to four walls in a 24 hour period by Heinrich and Anker with the addition of Moonlight Buttress.

Climbing traffic in Zion has increased considerably in the 90's. In 1991, 105 climbers spent a total of 190 nights bivouacked on Zion's walls, either on small ledges or in portaledges. Today, this number has increased dramatically. It is imperative that conservation be the number one rule for climbers in Zion, as it is a precious natural unrenewable resource.