It was brain freeze cold when we stepped out at the Temple of Sinawava. This was the end of the line in Zion canyon.
We decided to walk the remaining mile up canyon to kill time and warm up before committing to a wall. Freezing wind blew through my knit cap and fleece hood. I still had on 3 layers beneath my huge puffy down jacket. Adam seemed less perturbed by the cold, but the incessant drip at the end of his nose gave him away.
At the end of the trail we we passed by dry suit clad people. Bundled in balaclavas and rented gear they were wading across the river to hike farther up the canyon into the origin of the North Fork of the Virgin River known as the Narrows. We returned to the car only slightly warmer, but we could see the sun approaching.
Monkeyfinger, a test piece of free climbing in Zion’s Navajo sandstone cliffs, was our objective for the day.
Monkeyfinger is a nine pitch traditional route rated 5.12b. I have never climbed a 5.12 in my life. I have never presumed I would be able to climb a 5.12, ever. Luckily, the one pitch of 5.12 can be circumvented by climbing a direct 5.10b offwidth. Actually, that’s only kind of lucky because off width is its own brand of torture – too wide of a crack for a fist or stacked hands and too narrow to get your body in completely to chimney up. Before we even got to that though, I had to pass the first tests.
While Adam was racking up I wandered to the base and saw other climbers scoping the route. We chatted and it was agreed they would go first. They had been on it before and the follower was going to clean the route on jumars- ascending the rope instead of climbing the route to move faster. It was such a relief to find such amiable climbers in what can be an ego filled sport of assholes. After a slow start they blasted through the first few pitches and were mostly out of site.
The first pitch was an easy 5.6 warm up. Then it was game on into the 10’s and 11’s. The sun was slowly coaxing heat towards us from the left with a great arch of light across the red walls of the Temple. What was welcome at first quickly became blazing. What felt good to me sent Adam into a chalk dipping frenzy to stifle his sweaty hands. I hung at the belays batting away the snow storm of white powder.
The third pitch was to become our crux. After one fall, Adam came back to the belay and sent the whole pitch clean. At 5.11c-12b (depending on finger size) it was the hardest crack I’ve climbed and I was satisfied just to make it up- even with a few hangs. My forearms were pumped, but the game was just beginning.
The next pitch’s 5.11c roof was no small feat and it only let up to a slightly easier 5.11a after that. Adam’s grunts after the roof grew silent, at first leading me to believe it was easier above. Later I learned that every bit of energy was being absorbed into just staying in the thin finger to off finger size crack with only smooth sandy walls for foot placements.
Reaching the hanging belay in a sweaty mess I acknowledged that this was by far the most difficult climbing I had done. I held my palm out at arms length between the sun and the top of the opposite cliffs and gauged 30 minutes of direct warmth left on our wall.
Adam blasted off again and I convinced myself of one more beautiful crack pitch. At the base of the Monkeyfingers namesake pitch Adam shot up the offwidth and met up with the first party.
The sun had swept past my position on the wall and it’s great arch marched on to my right, fading out with an orange glow. We all decided to descend. Pumped out, cooling down, darkness approaching.
We shared drinks and stories with the other party around their campfire that night, my arms still throbbing from the cumulative effort. A slow morning in the sun and we are packing to leave Zion. I could stay though. Like a mother of 12 children, Zion has boundless love and energy for all who have the capacity to slow down and absorb it.