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Ben aids up the first pitch

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Ben moves up the bolt ladder around the first roof

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Shaun starts up the third pitch, inspired by the HAC flag and motto that The Unadventurous Life is Not Worth Living

Prodigal Son

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

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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.

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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

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Ben and Shaun kick back on the 'ledge in rain gear

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Ben sorts gear at night

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High Adventure Coalition flag (made by our own Betsy Ross--Sandra) flies from the top 'ledge

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Benjammin' lowers from the third pitch with haul bag

What's the 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 station.

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 free.

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 lowest link.

By 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.

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Base camp along the river

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Ben & Jer scope the route before wading the river


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Jeremy pops for a bucket at the Visitors Center bouldering area.

prodroute.jpg (20650 bytes)Route Description:
Pitch One: begins under a four-foot roof at the top of the trail over the river from the Big Bend parking lot, three miles up-canyon from the Zion Lodge (straight above Jeremy in the river photo above). Move up the bolt ladder (consider back-cleaning a few pitons so your second doesn't have to ascend horizontally). Continue up the C1 crack to anchors at a hanging belay. Expect some major reaches and consider bringing a cheater stick.

Pitch Two: more C1 crack straight up to a second hanging belay.

Pitch Three: More C1 unless you don't have small tricams, then C2 pin scars, but only one piece at a time. Step into your top steps and use hand holds on the rock to set a 1.5" cam or #10-or-so stopper just above the small roof. You'll find occasional pitons. Reach the chain, then step left on a large (3' x 10'?) ledge with a more convenient set of anchors. You could bivy two people here, though not very comfortably.

Pitch Four: Move up the bolt ladder under the roof. Half are machine bolts, some are reachy. Move up the crack to the roof, clip the piton and move left to the next crack. A few reachy moves and what some might call C2 placements. Shaun thought everything was bomber, but would have been lost without tricams. Reach the optional belay just over half way up, then continue up C1 crack to the belay on a small ledge. You may have to stop at the mid-way anchors due to running low on gear. Midway anchors is the yellow x in the photo.

Pitch Five: Some guides call this C1, others C2. Move up, step left, continue up.
Pitch Six: C1 or C2 again. Move up the crack with lots of stoppers, past the small arch, to anchors.
Pitch Seven: Mostly bolt ladder.
Pitch Eight: Mostly bolt ladder.
Walk off up class 3 ravine, then follow West Rim Trail down to the Zion Lodge.

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