Some recent talk about Zion peaks brought to mind an experience of mine, from years past. It was May of the year of the landslide that closed the main canyon road. 1995? Not being allowed to come down canyons into the Virgin led to getting around to some projects on the back burner. We had seen the South Ridge of West Temple from many angles and, although we were very uncertain as to whether we could find a way up to the summit, we were willing to invest a day and take a peek.
We were a group of 4 on the trip, but Vladman had injured his foot badly enough that he felt a doctor needed to take a look. Ian, the Brit National who had been picked up hitchhiking and landed with us for the whole 9 day trip, agreed to be his driver. That left Steve ‘Cheeks’ Levine and me. We slept up on Smith Butte, awoke at 3 AM, drove down into town to, what I believe is now called, Kinesava Estates and started hiking up, right out of town, at 3:45 AM with headlamps.
Why such an early start you ask? Well, it had been awfully hot—mid 90s every day—and our approach route to the ridge was easterly exposed; so we thought it prudent to get as far as we could before our star started to melt us into the Kayenta slopes. The total ascent, with minor ups and downs, is over 4000 feet. A little ‘meat on the bone’ on this hike. The sun came brilliantly over the Watchman, as we approached the notch between West Temple and Mt. Kinesava. Really beautiful. We could look down at the tiny ants, ahhhh, I mean cars in Springdale, as the early crowd started their day. We carried 5 quarts of water (not enough), and one of the good things about this route is that you come back the way you came, at least on the ridge you do. So, one can cache water on the way, lightening the load.
Once on the ridge, the climbing became interesting. The ridge has a little bit of everything ... slabs, towers to turn, knife edges, chimneys, spicy downclimbs, loose traverses, a climb down a tree by a vertical wall, among other noteworthy spots, and all on mediocre to poor rock. It is not sustained in its difficulty but has everything from class 2 to easy 5th class climbing, all the way to the final pitch of Navajo rock that leads up to the high plateau. The ridge is double exposed, often with 1700 vertical feet of air on both sides. The good news is that the ‘drop’ is not right upon you. There is usually 20–30 feet of angled slope, on each side, before the world ends—a little easier on the mind. What is harder on the mind is that the ridge appears to get harder and harder as you go; it does get harder, but not nearly as tough as it looks.
The final pitch loomed. Nervous. My stomach turned. The air smelled bad. I lightened my load. The smell of fear. On with the rock shoes. No rope brought and up we edged. Two parallel open corners were climbed. Up the first one half way, step right into the second, up some more and, voila, the difficulties are over—maybe 5.6 in difficulty. A stroll over the sandy manzanita flats and up the cap stone, via a talus gully, to the summit register.
Lord, protect us on descent.
After the tough initial downclimb, the descent went uneventfully until just minutes from the notch. On the eastside of the ridgetop, I looked to climb down a sizable, slabby boulder and slip around the corner, another of many exposed spots. Facing out, I crab—walked down the boulder—the boulder slid several inches on the slab below.
Gulp! Double Gulp!
I try and descend a bit more. Almost immediately, I feel the rock slip down once more. I stop. It stops. What to do? I have that calm adrenaline thing going. If the boulder goes, I take a ride steeply down 20 feet and off into the abyss. I note a ledge to my left. I make up my mind. As stealthily as I can, I launch the few feet out to the side and come to rest, standing and facing in on the ledge. The boulder slides and off the side it goes. What a racket and the smell of rock turning to dust.
The step up, to the ridge is easy, so I ... something has a hold of me. I look down and see a small branch of a small juniper tree has entered my leg right along side the shin. It has slid along between the shin and my skin and out the other side just beyond the other side of my shin bone. Distance between entry and exit wounds is about one and a half inches. The branch is still attached to the tree. The bark is piled up against the entry wound. The branch is sticking out the exit wound about 3 inches. Sucker has got a hold of me. I try to slide it out. No go. Next, I reach down and snap the branch. Then I climb up and show Cheeks the ‘arrow’ through my leg. He has a look of bemusement. On safer ground, I slide the branch out, pour some disinfectant on it and proceed. Not a problem. Feels a bit like a minor bruise.
Down, down, down we go. Try a different route down. It takes us to the cemetery and down to the Pizza Noodle restaurant. We get there at 12:45 PM—ahhh, those early starts—Cheeks and I, on the patio under the umbrellas, sipping a couple of beers, for an hour or so. Vlad and Ian return from Hurricane and join us. Naturally the tale gets told, to the enjoyment of my pals. Upon describing the snapping of the branch and showing my battle scars, we all hear a retching sound from behind us. I turn and stare fully into the eyes of an attractive, middle–aged woman, sitting alone with her lunch. The look on her face, I took for horror. Time stood still for a second, as we all looked at her and she at me.
Then she retched hard and her jowls puffed out hugely. Her look changed to one of panic, as tears came down her face. Her jowls deflated and she gulped. Closed her eyes. Paused for a second ... grabbed her tray and ran for the door, retching all the way. We stared after her in silence, for what felt like a long time ... and then burst into laughter. We really did feel bad for the poor lady, but, you know, it was way too funny.
After lunch, more beers and an afternoon of swim and sun at the Pine Creek swimming hole. Do hope she got a doggy bag for her lunch.
© 2007–2013 Steve Ramras