American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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North America, United States, Utah, Zion National Park, Various Ascents

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 1998

Zion, Various Ascents. During late winter, Dan Stih and I made the first ascent of the Altar of Sacrifice, as well as the remaining four Towers of the Virgin in Zion National Park. Over three days in early March, we climbed and fixed the grotesquely loose gully (on the southeast side of the formation just across from the Quinn route) that leads to a large plateau. Much credit needs to be given to Dan for leading the worst of the rotten chimneys, often totally unprotected and in excess of 5.10. Steve Burgess of Switzerland also helped out for the first two days on the lower section of the route.

Once on the plateau, we jumared food, water and a full aid rack, as well as winter gear, to the hanging valley at the base of the towers. On March 8, we climbed three long pitches (5.10+ Al) of chimneys on the south side of the Altar that led to the summit. The second of these pitches was choked with thick ice and Dan was forced to use his piton hammer and a long angle piton as ice tools for about ten meters. Three holes were drilled for belays and six protecting chimneys above the plateau were drilled below the plateau. On top we built a five- foot high cairn on the edge of the east face, commemorating my late friend Chris Clark, who was killed in November, 1995, climbing in the Sierra. A summit register is at the base of the cairn, which can be seen through the spotting scope at the visitors center.

The rest of the towers are approached from the plateau. The Rotten Tooth (4th class) and the Broken Tooth (5.10, four pitches) were climbed in one day. These are the two smaller tow- ers left of the Altar, and are the names given by the rangers. The Witch Head (5.10, five pitches) was climbed via the west face. This is the huge formation just right of the Sundial.

The Sundial (5.10+, seven pitches) was the last of the towers we climbed. Originally traversing across the east face, we attempted a route on the south face. After two death pitches on the horrid Whitecap sandstone, we retreated and climbed a route on the northwest face to the summit, thus having made the first ascents of all of Towers of the Virgin. We believe that water possibly exists in two pools year-round, the first beneath the south face of the Altar Of Sacrifice, and the other (and more likely) in a deep slot beneath the north face of the Sundial in a previously unexplored valley.

Ron Raimonde

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