American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Utah, Zion National Park, Touchstone Wall, First Free Ascent

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2007

Touchstone Wall, first free ascent. The free climbing season in Zion started off with a bang, as Rob Pizem and I freed the last holdout of the trinity of classic Zion big walls. Moonlight Buttress fell in 1992, Spaceshot in 2005, and finally the Touchstone Wall in 2006. Touchstone was a reluctant project for me, despite prodding from various sources, not the least of which was Rob. I had scoured the wall with binoculars and couldn’t see a free route. The last straw came from Zion pioneer Jeff Lowe, who implored me to “take care of” Touchstone. My priorities changed.

We tried the route over a January weekend, but were stymied by the brutally thin second pitch. We returned in February to explore a promising face climbing variation to the right of pitch two, which we established from the ground up. Rob placed two bolts from aid slings, but the second bolt was a spinner. From that position, I free-climbed 15' to a stance to tap in the third bolt. This was hairy. The wall’s angle and small holds made the hand drilling tenuous. Meanwhile, there was a bad bolt below, followed by a ledge. I only managed a few taps of the hammer before I felt compelled to down climb to a rest and repeat.

The next day, February 12, we made our attempt. Rob led the 5.13a fist pitch easily. I followed, but struggled with the crux, a lingering effect of the lead bolting the day before. I took pitch two, but failed on my first two attempts. I was demoralized; convinced that the fatigue from the previous day was leading to failure. In desperation, I finally linked the 5.13b crux on my third try. I traversed left to rejoin the route and barely executed the 5.12a moves over the roof to a no-hands-rest. Rob followed the pitch on his first try, letting out a few screams, which thrilled the tourists assembled below.

The 5.12d third pitch was a change of pace, as the route transitions from viciously thin face climbing to a steep finger crack. Fortunately, I redpointed it first try, as the sun was sapping our strength. Rob soon followed, and from there we blasted to the summit. Our fatigue made some of the more “trivial” pitches feel harder than they should, but we held on nevertheless. We summited (1,000', 8 pitches, IV 5.13b) and descended by 5:30 p.m., seven hours after we had started, and just in time to make the 10-hour drive back to Colorado for work on Monday morning.

Michael Anderson, AAC

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.