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North America, United States, Utah, Zion National Park, Traverse of West Temple and Towers of the Virgin

Traverse of West Temple and Towers of the Virgin. On the spring equinox, Dan Stih and I made a complete traverse of the West Temple and the Towers of the Virgin. The idea materialized while making the first ascents of the towers in the winter of 1997. Dan and I originally climbed Altar of Sacrifice straight on, during a four-day push, fixing ropes and hauling as far as the plateau. Once on the plateau, we climbed each of the towers in succession. The following summer we planned a lightweight alpine-style traverse of the towers, including the West Temple, which would be used as a staging point.

In March, Dan and I climbed the Southwest Ridge of the West Temple (II 5.5) and made five rappels from trees and bushes into the hanging valley between the West Temple and the Sundial. We then made an exposed fourth-class traverse across the east face of the Sundial and behind the towers into Christopher’s Valley, where we bivied. On March 20, we climbed the Sundial (5.10+, seven pitches), The Witch Head (5.10, five pitches) and The Broken Tooth (5.10, four pitches). We then climbed the Rotten Tooth from the south via a grotesque route (5.3, three pitches). We climbed the Altar from the west via a prominent gully (5.9), summiting just before dark on the 20th. We then spent the night on top of the Altar’s east face, one of the most spectacular of our 75-plus bivies in the park. The following morning we rappelled down the Altar’s north face, becoming temporarily stranded in the center of a 200-meter blank vertical wall while drilling hanging rappel stations. In the end, self-preservation sent me prussiking in search of better rock. Twenty meters above, I found stone hard enough to trust three equalized anchors, and after one more station, the descent ended in a hanging valley. We made an unsuccessful attempt on the southeast ridge of the unclimbed Meridian Tower, then spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the valley between the Altar and Meridian Tower, bivying that night in the hanging valley beneath the Altar.

On March 22, we rappelled 460 meters down the gully just left of the east face, using only natural anchors. In all, we rappelled more than 1800 meters and climbed at least that much rock. The only fixed anchors on the entire traverse are on the north face of the Altar.

Ron Raimonde