by Rex Pieper
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Sheer Lunacy (V, 5.9, C2)
SHEER LUNACY TOPO
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.