Lunatic Binge

by Rex Pieper

Sheer Lunacy (V, 5.9, C2)
Zion National Park, Utah


I've just finished a spooky and exposed pitch that ascended a section of extremely hollow flakes. The belay is 30' to the left and around a corner, but here I am atop a foot-wide ledge hauling off a single pin. I'm backed up with a fixed line to the belay, but like I said, that's 30 feet away. If this drilled angle fails, I'll go for a big swing across a serrated arete with the pig strapped to my waist. Yeehaw. Thankfully Olevesky knew what he was doing when he placed this baby.

::: I hope, I hope :::

The pig has arrived and Keath begins to clean the pitch. Now we both are relying on the single pin to hold us and the haulbag. I don't like this, but what can I do?


Instead I again question my sanity for climbing this route. Once Keath arrives, we'll have to hand shuttle the bags across this narrow ledge to the anchors. Normally an oddity, this will be our third instance of horizontal baggage handling on the route. What was Ron drinking when he envisioned this line? What was I thinking when I suggested repeating his lunacy?


My curiosity with Sheer Lunacy in Zion National Park began several years ago when Brent Ware and I did an early clean ascent of Lunar Ecstasy on Moonlight Buttress. Each route has a great perspective of the other as they are facing for much of their paths, separated by perhaps only 70 yards. Brent and I had watched two parties from Colorado parallel us during our two days on Lunar X and we even talked across the small divide. They said it was a pretty cool route. The climbing looked good too, from what I saw during my belay sessions, but then I must have been leading while they were doing the horizontal baggage shenanigans. Otherwise, I might not have considered trying to complete my Hat Trick of Moonlight Buttress routes. But as they say, "Ignorance is bliss."

A brief window appeared in my schedule and I planned to take advantage of it in Zion. Unable to line up a partner, I intended to solo Magic Carpet Ride on Cerebrus. At the last minute my first wall partner Keath Nupuf, who had been out of climbing for three years or so, became available. I first suggested the Original Route on Angel's Landing, but he wasn't up to it, so I brought up the C2 rated, and much easier route Sheer Lunacy.

Keath made some comment about the route name which essentially was, "Didn't we learn our lesson about routes with names like that when we tried to climb the vertical garden of Yosemite Pointless?"

I dismissed his apprehensions because I had seen the route and it looked pretty cool. End of discussion. We'd keep the Lowe Route as a second choice if Lunacy was a zoo. The technical climbing of Lunacy would be far below my limit so we could concentrate on just having the break we both desperately needed from reality.

We arrived in Zion on Friday evening, picked up our bivy permit at the new Backcountry Desk and went to the parking lot to rack. Unbelievably no tourons wandered by and we were done within an hour or so. We humped our loads over to the new Tram stop and boarded the bus. This was a new thing for the Park, just opening this year and I'll have to say that all in all I like the change. The driver was exceptionally helpful and asked us where we wanted to be dropped off, even checking again at the last stop before we were to depart. In fact, all the staff and Rangers at Zion were radically different from the Nazis and Zombies that I'm used to in Yosemite.

We stopped right in front of my favorite little trail to the river and crossed where Keath and I did for our ascent of Moonlight Buttress years ago. The water was running pretty swiftly. Somewhere in the 260 cu. ft./min range and rising. We decided to split the loads into quarters and cross as the canyon began to darken. I completed both of my carries and waited on the shore as Keath brought his final load across, only to stumble and go under water with the lead rope, his harness, and wall boots. He tried to rise and stumbled under again. When he dipped in the water for the third time, I became very worried. I felt quite helpless 15 feet away from this drama. Thankfully he made it to shore, but was none too happy about the concept of spending the next few days in wet shoes and a wet harness. We dried off, broke out the headlamps and hiked up to the base with our gear.

At the base we met two climbers who were attempting Moonlight as their first wall. Team Virgin had two pitches fixed, but a party headed onto Lunar X was firmly encamped at the top of Pitch One. The poop was that Team X was none too speedy and none too willing to be passed. I figured we'd see how it went, especially since we only shared three pitches with Lunar X. As it was, they didn't pose us any problems, but they did cause some congestion with several parties that came up the next morning. We weren't speed demons either, but then we were on a seldom travelled line.

I was a bit amazed at how popular Lunar X had become and perhaps a bit saddened. Kathy Dicker told me that Brent and I had turned it into a trade route after posting our beta and revised topo to the internet. Maybe we did. If so, I'm not sure how I feel about that.

Morning came and we took our time getting going as Team X was still in bed. Soon enough though they were on the move and I was ready to lead Pitch One for the third time. The first timers asked me how hard I thought the first pitch was. When I said 5.8, they got very, very quiet. When we figured out that they had climbed the hard 5.10 direct start we all had a good laugh. Team Virgin had taken the blow to their egos in stride, but was relieved to learn that they were a bit off route rather than just being light. I remembered Brent's face when I showed him the *original* first pitch when we did "X." He was a bit crestfallen to realize he hadn't suckered me into a hard lead and then told me about that same scary 5.10 direct start he did climbing Moonlight with Wendy Joseph.

Team Virgin bid their farewells, ascended their fixed lines and hauled their bag without much problem. I figured they'd top out. With some groups you can just tell who will and who won't summit.

I've got Pitch One pretty dialed now, so it went fast. Keath begged off the lead for Pitch Two, especially since we had another party heading up Lunar X and a soloist headed for Moonlight hot on our heels. So after bringing up the bags I led Pitch Two for the first time ever. Nice pitch. The placement that took a red Lowe Ball under the roof has gotten a little bigger. I placed a Slider that's a little fatter than the red but smaller than the blue Lowe Ball. Don't know what others do there. Easy C1 on small cams and nuts lead to the belay alcove. I didn't haul, since we were going to haul from the top of Pitch Three as I had seen the Colorado Boys do a couple years ago.

The third pitch is a thrash, even the second time leading it. I did virtually the same moves as before, including the hook move to get me free from the corner for a moment. Although where I used a brown tricam in a wide scar previously, this time I used a hand placed Pika Toucan since we didn't have Brownie along. I have to admit, every now and then Pika has an original idea that actually works.

Pitch Four is where the lunacy really begins. The climbing is only 4th class, but getting the haulbags across a 60' horizontal gap requires rigging a Tyrolean Traverse on a fixed line. Keath has far more experience with such rope tricks than I, so he took the lead in coordinating the rigging after I had led the pitch and fixed the lines. Thankfully, some kind soul had left a static line for use in rigging the required Tyrolean. We used it to pull the load across the gap while it slid along our fixed static line on a second pulley.

Our topo showed that this belay was actually midpitch and there was a 30' 5.6, C0 crack yet to be climbed to the anchors and another ledge. Keath finally volunteered for a lead, and even though this was a really short and easy one, it was good to see him get on the sharp end again. While he levitated across some shrubbery to the base of the wide crack, I took another look at the large hanks of static line fixed to the anchors at this midstation. There was a single rap ring tied into all the tat and upon closer inspection I noticed it was severely grooved. Many, many, many people have bailed from this place.

Keath reached the top of the crack to find three drilled angles leading around a big loose block. When he reached the end of those, he wondered where to go next. He said it looked like it went straight up,following a crack system. He could see fixed gear up there. I knew that we had to traverse left again another 40' along a ledge system to a far corner. That's what the Colorado Boys did. I began to visualize the scenarios that forced so many retreats from this line. Teams moving slowly, frustrating Tyrolean rigging, possibly getting suckered offroute, a C2 rating that although not much harder than Moonlight spoke nothing of the pain factor this route required...the list is long. Sheer Lunacy guards her secrets well, especially from those unprepared to suffer.

It was late afternoon and we began to discuss where we were going to bivy. Keath couldn't see where we would put two portaledges and a haulbag off of the fixed pins he was at and suggested we bivy at the mid-pitch station. I wanted to get over to the main corner, since I knew that we'd lose well over an hour in the morning getting the bags up and over to the dihedral. So I decided to jug the line and take a look at the far corner. Ultimately it was the right call. I climbed over to the corner, found a single bolt anchor which I backed up with two large stoppers and then placed the first piece on the next pitch which I also incorporated into the belay. I fixed the lines, had Keath fix his ends and I walked my way back to his belay with my daisys attached to the fixed lines with carabiners. Keath rapped to the bag, I hauled. We gutted the pig onto the fixed line and set up for the night.

Keath set up his ledge in the far corner, and I took the fixed pins at the right side. We enjoyed dinner together in the middle on a small tabletop rock as the sky began to purple. Team X had been in their portaledge up on "Farewell Ledge" since around 4 p.m. From the sounds of their continual laughter all afternoon, they were completely baked.

We had finished dinner and were just hanging out watching the canyon settle down for the night when a climber popped up onto the ledge above the Evil Chimney of Pitch 3. They were headed up Lunar X too. We asked what became of the party that was behind us down lower, and Mr. Sick (he would later fall ill) of Team Quick and Sick said those guys bailed over onto Moonlight Buttress because they didn't want to plod behind Team X. Sick went on to berate Eric Bjornstadt's topo which sent them up the sucker crack above Pitch One. I had to smile. Brent had told me a similar tale of his trip up Moonlight and that if he ever meets Eric, he'll punch him in the nose. Sounds like that line is getting pretty long. Sick fixed the line and dropped back down into the alcove atop Pitch Two for the night.

We watched headlamps flicker on Space Shot, Prodigal Sun and something to the right (Lost Angel? Ball and Chain?). I marvelled at how quiet the canyon was with the new bus system. Once they stop for the night, the only visible humans in the canyon were climbers. I felt a kinship with all these people. Bumblies and vets alike. Those close by, and those who were nothing more than twinkling fireflys of light over a mile away. We are the Clan of the High Places. The Tribe of the Stone. In these days of continual restriction on climbing it is refreshing to feel as if we climbers had reclaimed our homeland, our sacred places, our happy hunting grounds, and made them exclusively our own again...even if only for the night.

We overslept in the morning when I ignored my 6 a.m. alarm, thinking I could steal just 5 more minutes. It wasn't the end of the world. We were going to be hard pressed to top out today anyways. I surprised Keath by pulling two Cokes out of my food bag along with my breakfast. He didn't hesitate to take the offered caffeine or the Pop Tart. We repacked the bags on the opposite side of the narrow ledge and I headed up into the severely overhanging arch that begins Pitch Five.

Pitch Five, C2-, "The Primo Crack" lived up to it's name. It was long, steep and thin and a lot of fun. There was chalk marks here and there from recent free climbing activity. Sometimes I'm amazed at what's being freed these days. Two hours later I reached the belay near the second section of shrubbery that sprouted from the wall next to the dihedral. My last placement was a totally open red Camalot placed in a slot. Gotta love that! Two perfectly drilled angles and several cracks that took just about anything I had left on my rack to add made up the belay. Keath was pissed when midway through the pitch he couldn't clean a blue Technical Friend. It was his. I felt bad, knowing that it was my fault it's fixed. An offering for the booty gods.

Keath reached my belay and said he was up for trying another lead, and Pitch Six, or the "Second Crack" was his best bet at C1. It began with some wide cracks that actually protect with small gear, then tackled an arching thin crack for 100' to a small ledge. Thirty feet up, Keath couldn't find a placement and wanted me to take over his lead, claiming it was way over his head. I wouldn't let him off the hook and told him he could do it, knowing that he really could do it and that if he came down, he'd regret it. A few minutes passed, then he tried one of my Hybrid Aliens, the offset ones. What had been impossible in his mind, suddenly became reality. To which he exclaimed, "I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes!" He's been out of climbing long enough to have missed the whole Offset Revolution and he needed to add those pieces into his bag of tricks. Once he did however, he settled down and finished the lead, not in record time, but pretty good for someone just off the couch. He still claimed it was harder than C1 though. Who knows? It might be.

Far overhead I saw people on what looked like our line. They had rapped in and were free climbing a few of the summit pitches and some line to the right. I secretly hope they don't drop anything on us and began to clean Keath's lead.

Team X and Mr.'s Sick and Quick climbed some of the tricky pitches of Lunar X during this time. Sick and Quick caught Team X since they weren't hauling, rather going light on water and supplies and jugging with a pack. Sick and Quick passed X by jugging their haul line then fixed the Amoeba Pitch for Team X in exchange. Mr Quick ended up hammering something into the crack at the top of the Amoeba Pitch, less than 8 feet from the belay. WEENIE! In turn, with a line fixed by Sick and Quick, Team X bypassed one of the two crux pitches and ultimately skipped the other crux pitch by taking the easier "Jarrett Finish." I felt a little saddened for them as they were missing the two most memorable (not to mention hardest) pitches on the route. But then we each climb for our own reasons and from the peals of laughter we heard all day long, they were having a fucking great time.

I reached the anchors and racked to head up the funky flakes of the next pitch, labeled the "Shroud of Elvis." I suppose if you look closely and use your imagination a bit, the dark lichen streaks look like sideburns and the flakes themselves form The King's features. The exposure was wild when I stepped out into the void at the beginning of Pitch Seven. Cams and nuts and Aliens led me up into ever more hollow sounding flakes. The topo lists this as C2 at the start, then 5.9 free. The gear was bodyweight only in my mind. No way did I want to lob off and weight this gear behind some half ton flake above my head. Plus the pitch was overhanging. My free climbing nemesis. So I decided to see how far I could aid. The deciding moment came near the top of the short pitch where the flake is completely detached, only 5" thick, but over 6 feet wide. The move seemed to be to get out of your aiders, and free climb then mantle onto the top of the loose flake. I thought, Screw that and girthed a long runner to a stopper that I slid in from the top and side. The nut was placed at a fairly thick part of the flake, near its top, while the sling hung down, behind the flake, to barely protrude beneath the flake. Standing on this I was able to hook a higher spot on the flake, move higher and then even get another shaky piece to ease me past the loose stuff. I still had to free climb a bit to the single fixed pin that marked the end of The King's puzzle, but it was only 5.7 or so with big jugs. I clipped the drilled angle and waddled 30' left around a corner to the actual belay.

Which brings me back to where this story started. Hauling off of that single drilled angle atop Elvis' Pompadour. The King must've put in a good word for us with the Big Guy, because we don't take the Swing Low Sweet Chariot ride. We shuttle the bag and portaledges along the fixed line and stare up at the next pitch. It's getting dark again and Team X has been in full on party mode for over an hour. Well at least they're having a great time.

The eighth pitch, called "The Face Crack" is 5.8 free climbing up stellar incuts on desert varnish flakes. Unfortunately the holds are covered in a fine layer of sand and the protection is poor in the chossy crack. But it's only a 90' pitch at most, so I am at the anchors and hauling the bag well before it is too dark to see without headlamp. The pig gets hung up for the umpteenth time on this route and I pity the fool who solos this line.

Keath quickly makes it up and we set up camp. I fix the haul line and tie my portaledge into it, effectively creating another level to the ledge system while Keath sets his up in the dihedral. Tonight Keath and I eat in our individual ledges, foregoing community for what's easiest. I decide to try something new for dinner and create burritos with some canned Texas-style baked beans, chicken vienna fingers and flour tortillas. It's fabulous. My only regret is that I have forgotten the beer. We can't see Team X, but we think we have caught up to be level with them. The clear night sky is streaked with falling stars.

Dawn arrives and this time we get up with the alarm. We can finally see the rest of the route and the summit, perhaps only 70m overhead. We will easily top out today barring anything disastrous. If I peer out from my portaledge around the corner, I can see the guys over on Ecstasy. I wave and one of them gives me a wave back. Cool. Human contact.

Pitch Nine is "The Hidden Crack," named for the hand sized crack tucked inside the gaping offwidth. The topo calls it 5.9, but I just slam two of the biggest cams we have into it and bypass the gruntwork. It's a fairly ugly pitch, but it goes quickly and tops out on the "Toquerville Tower" ­p; a pretty cool square ledge in the sky.

The second to last pitch begins THIN, but its fierceness has been gutted by the addition of two fat 1/2" bolts for the free version of the route. Ah, progress. I discover that I can wiggle the second new bolt. Seems it has been winged on a bit. I trust it about as much as the hook and #0 HB that I place right above it. The rock is getting sandier than it was below. I recall that the upper pitches of Lunar X had a bit of the sandbox syndrome too. This pitch probably still checks in at C2- though. Finally I reach a bomber drilled angle from which I lower and backclean my last few placements. Back at the pin, free climbing moves take me to the base of "The Sharp Crack." At first I don't see the crack, instead I focus on the blank dihedral to it's right. That looks like birdbeak hell. Thankfully, the "Sharp Crack" is finger to hand sized and eats gear. I French-free a bit and aid some too up to the belay. This section looks stellar to freeclimb, but I'm not in the mood to tag up my shoes. My topo indicates that there's a better belay another 40 feet higher, but I'm low on slings and gear of that size and decide to stop here.

It is a good choice. Pitch Eleven begins with a thrash in a chimney, reminiscent of that evil slot on Moonlight. Then the "Sharper Crack" cruises up a small face to a dihedral, ending on a tiny ledge with two more drilled angles. I mutter to myself, "This is supposed to be a better belay? Better belay, my ass!" It's cramped, but I'm not stopping here anyways. The summit is only 25 feet overhead. Keath lowers me down once again to backclean some small cams and Hybrids. I head upwards again and reach another drilled angle beneath a tiny roof. This pitch is overhung! Hanging from the pin I have two cracks to choose from. I hear the knight from Indiana Jones III say, "Choose wisely." Both options look bad. The rock is choss. And, like it's been for much of the route, the placements aren't obvious. The lack of traffic on this route makes finding the right placement a bit more interesting. Fifteen feet away the summit tree sways. Is it mocking me? Probably. I decide to go left and work the fat pod. A #4 Camalot goes in, but perhaps a #3 would be better. I retry the blind placement with the blue Camalot. Upon inspection, it's off center with only three cams touching the rock. I reset it blindly and then peer up to inspect my handiwork. POW! The Camalot falls out of the crack to bonk me on my forehead. Damn that hurt. Back to the #4. Another piece of the problem solved. I glance down and am thankful that Keath is 55 feet below, rather than only 10 feet and in my fall line, which is where he would be had I stretched the last pitch. A few more funky C2ish placements and I can toss a rope, rodeo-style over the summit tree. But wait. What's this? A gigantor chain hangs down from the summit. Sweet. Sport Aiding! I clip up it and summit. As I call down to Keath that I'm off belay, I notice the top of the tree is totally rotten. That explains the chain. I would hate to be the fool who pulled that tree on top of him and then ride it thru the air. As Keath comes up and I haul, Team X wanders by, heading home. We exchange congratulations and they thank me for the Lunar X topo that I had drawn and left in the Visitor Center guidebook, mentioning that it was dead on. Sweet. Take that Bjornstadt!

It's midday on Monday and Keath and I really need to be home by noon on Tuesday. So we blast down the trail, catch the shuttle, go eat some pizza and drive to Primm before we both start hallucinating. Our salvation is a $20 room on the border and the knowledge that we'll make it home tomorrow.

Sheer Lunacy V, 5.8, C2
11 pitches
Interesting and obscure line, but not recommended for first timers.
Rack as of April 2001:
2 sets HB Offsets
1-2 sets Stoppers
1 ea. Black Alien
3-4 ea. Blue-Yellow Aliens (Hybrids helpful)
2-3 ea. Camalot Jr.
2-3 ea. #1-#3 Camalot
2 ea. #4 Camalot
1 ea. Black Diamond Grappling Hook
1 ea. Red, Blue Lowe Balls
1 ea. Leeper Cam Hook (wide and micro)
1 ea. Pika Toucan (right facing corner bend)
Extra pulley and perhaps an extra 30m line for P4 Tyrolean.

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