Ben aids up the first pitch
Ben moves up the bolt ladder around the first roof
Shaun starts up the third pitch, inspired by the HAC flag and motto that The
Unadventurous Life is Not Worth Living
Nearly a year after our climb on Space Shot, Jeremy, Ben and Shaun returned to Zion National Park
better prepared to finish Prodigal Son.
With more than enough food and water, we were ready
to spend two nights on the wall if necessary, though climbers have bagged them both in a
single day by packing light and moving efficiently.
We got some light rain the first day but not enough
to make the sandstone dangerous.
Different Topos reported different pitches as being
either C1* or C2. We found three possible reasons for this:
1. If you don't have a good set of tricams for pin
scars, it's definitely C2.
2. If you're not ready to get into the top step of
your aiders now and then, it's definitely C2.
3. If you have tricams and aren't afraid to high
step, it's bomber C1 (at least half way up).
*read climbing jargon definitions here
Shaun looks down-canyon from atop the third pitch
Jeremy made the 'ledges this year, which worked out
great. Light weight and sturdy, we had no trouble with three people walking on them. A
large tent rain fly protected the top ledge from night winds but the temperatures fell far
below last year. Shaun brought a sleeping bag and gave Ben a fleece liner, while Jeremy
shivered the night away.
Shaun steps into the top etrier step once again, careful not to dislodge his
placement, as he exits the slightly-overhanging fourth-pitch bolt ladder
Ben and Shaun kick back on the 'ledge in rain gear
Ben sorts gear at night
High Adventure Coalition flag (made by our own Betsy
Ross--Sandra) flies from the top 'ledge
Benjammin' lowers from the third pitch with haul bag
hardest part of a big wall? For some it's trusting dicey pro. For others, the exposure.
For Shaun, it's waiting. He grew antsy just sitting there doing nothing. Once he got
moving on lead, though, all anxiety quickly vanished. Of course, he didn't have any dicey
pro to deal with....
The third pitch was straighforward and there were
decent hand holds for the only time Shaun had to step into the top etreir step to reach up
for the next placement. When Jeremy and Ben reached him at the narrow, sloped ledge at the
third belay station, neither of them were in the mood to lead, so Shaun took on the fourth
pitch as well. Maybe the slightly-overhanging, widely spaced bolt latter with nothing but
machine bolts protruding from the wall had something to do with it. After sliding the head
of a nut down and threading the wire around one of these bolts, leaning back in your
etrier could pull your piece right off. Maybe spending too much time off lead had
something to do with it - jugging means blind faith in ropes and anchors set above you
that you can't see and judge, and a diminished sense of control over your fate. Whatever
the reason for their reluctance, Shaun didn't argue and climbed on toward the next belay
Fifteen feet below a set of anchors half way up the
pitch, Shaun remembered something his friend Abe had told him about his first big wall -
Moonlight Butress, just up canyon. He said that after aiding for a while, stepping out to
free climb again terrifies you. The rock sloped off slightly and a few features offered
hand and foot holds, and Shaun decided to find out first hand how it would feel to go
At first, it wasn't that bad. Real climbing shoes
would have made it a cake walk. Then the music stopped abruptly. He had neglected to
detatch his daisy chain from his last piece - a large stopper now several feet below him.
He could either down climb - never an attractive option - or yank out the piece and
continue. Ripping that piece would increase his fall potential by another six to fifteen
feet, depending on whether the next small piece held. A solid piton was the third piece
back, which stopped the risk of zippering farther. He yanked the piece and continued up to
the chains, relief sweeping comfortably over him the moment he clipped a draw through the
time Jeremy followed Shaun up the fourth pitch--tired, not feeling well, and after a long
time without climbing--the exposure was beginning to bother him enough that he still
didn't feel up to leading. Along with the exposure, a natural mistrust of sandstone - the
way placements often ate at the rock and sent sand grains trickling down, and spending a
cold night on the wall didn't help his state of mind despite extensive climbing experience
on first ascents and even drilling bolts on lead. The two of them hung in the anchors a
few hundred feet off the ground and discussed options for fifteen minutes.
This is what they came down to: If Shaun was willing
to lead any slightly difficult pitches, they could continue. But even then, even on a
relatively easy C1/C2 wall, a thousand feet is a long way up to be if you're not feeling
well and enjoying it. Jeremy voted for retreating. "Radio!" Shaun shouted down,
and when Ben had turned his on and discussed the situation, he and Shaun conceeded.
We didn't regret backing off too much, calling it a
wise choice, considering. Besides, we planned to return soon and polish off the route. As
the time now passes without returning, Ben has had twins, moved to the mid-west and begun
medical school. Jeremy has built a highly energy-efficient home in the Arizona desert and
continued to pioneer new multi-pitch routes in Isolation Canyon,
which he discovered. Shaun has traveled the world, written books, and now stares at
the route and counts: "Another half pitch would have put us half way. Two and a
half more pitches and we'd have finished all possible C2 and reached the bolt
ladders." The seeds of regret have begun to sprout. The more they grow, the more
urgent the desire to return becomes. It won't be long now....
We spent the last night camping at the base, sorted
gear in the morning, bouldered at the huge rock exactly west of the park entrance, then
ate our traditional farewell meal at Oscar's, and headed for home - Jeremy and Ben south
to Mesa and Shaun north to Orem.
Base camp along the river