American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Utah, Zion National Park, Zion Canyon, Isaac, Stigmata

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2001

Isaac, Stigmata. In September, Fly’n Brian McCray and I hoped to climb the elusive Middendorf-Shipley route the Radiator in a single push. Then we saw it: a stunning overhanging headwall split with a climber’s dream, a perfect comer for well over 700 feet. After five minutes of study, it was apparent that no one had ever climbed it. Our plans quickly changed.

After hiking up “Treadmill Hill” (every step up puts you two steps back), we arrived at the base of a series of changing corners. Our headwall lay 600-800 feet above. The wall is basically divided into three parts. The first section is about 600 feet high and follows vertical discontinuous cracks via free and intermittent aid, with classic Zion obstacles such as some questionable rock and spots of bushes and grass. On top of this wall, there was a jungle of thick bushes and some kind of poison oak. Brian took off on the first pitch, a 5.10+ offwidth, in great form. I led pitch two (5.8+ A1), some scrappy free/aid to a loose section. My only pro was a number 1 Camalot behind a loose tooth, with the only other good stuff 40 feet below that. As I started up, the flake I was holding onto blew, and I was off for 20 to 30 feet. Pitch three was one of the cruxes. After some A3+ beaks, Brian went straight into some 5.10+/5.11 insecure free climbing with no gear for 40 feet. When it was done, we went down to get some more gear, food, and a good sleep.

Back up the hill, I led pitch four (A2+) and rapped to our hanging bivy. Brian led pitches five (5.10+ A2) and six (5.10+ R) to a big ledge system that leads to our headwall. I then led to a perfect flat bivy. Brian led pitch eight (5.11), which takes a wheat-thin flake for 200 feet. I started pitch nine, 50 feet of blank rock to our corner system. I started bat-hooking as it grew dark, then placed a bolt a little over halfway to the corner. I lowered off and we rapped down to our bivy. Brian took over the lead the next day and hooked to the corner system. After seven hours and five or six cigarettes (if it takes Brian more than three cigs to get up a pitch, bet your cookies that it is sick), he yelled, “Off belay.” I was in awe of Mr. McCray as I cleaned this crux pitch; it was the hardest aid I have ever seen, with 150-foot fall potential onto a nasty slab. I led pitch 11 (A3), then we rapped back to our ledge for the night.

The next morning, I led pitch 12 (A3), and Brian climbed pitch 13 (5.9 R A3+) to another ledge system. The summit looked like it was merely three pitches of free to the top. It was 11 in the morning and well over 95 degrees. We decided to leave food, water, and headlamps on the ledge and go for it. Brian was in his element; I was far from it. He led pitch 15 (5.10+ R/X A1) in his Five.Ten Guide Tennies. For the next four pitches, Fly’n Brian led horror-show pitch after horror-show pitch of loose white slabby 5.9-5.10+ R/X, all in his Tennies. After every last ounce of energy in our reserves was used, long after the water ran out, and long after the sun went down, we still had one more pitch. We knew we were on the verge of an epic, so we held our heads high and started rapping. The summit of Isaac still haunts us to this day. After 17 raps and two days with less that two liters of water between us, we stood at the base of our creation, Stigmata (VI 5.11 R/X A4+, 19 pitches, 2,000').

Kurt “Burt” Arend, unaffiliated

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