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North America, United States, Utah, Zion National Park, The Bishoprics, First Ascent

The Bishoprics, first ascent. Over three days in April, without sleeping bags or a water filter-pump, David Everett and I did the first ascent of the Bishoprics, as labeled on the Zion National Park topographic map.

The Bishoprics are a group of formations in a remote setting that is difficult to reach. Reaching the Bishoprics is like reaching the Sun Dial or the Altar of Sacrifice; these formations all sit atop large plateaus. Once on these plateaus you walk to the base of the formations, where technical climbing begins—usually 1,000 feet or more of it to the summit. Successes lie not in climbing hard but in finding creative passages and strategizing. The difficulty lies more in the committing approaches and descents than the climbing.

Short of putting up a major aid line on the thousand-foot cliffs below the Bishoprics plateau, we took what appears to be the only way to reach them. We hiked the West Rim Trail from Angel’s Landing and rappelled into the Phantom Valley. We then skirted the east side of the Inclined Temple, climbed out of a slot canyon, and traversed around to the Bishoprics. We got lost, really lost. Originally we were headed toward a different formation. On day two David thought we should look for a way out, but I convinced him that as long as we were there, we should climb the Bishoprics.

Once we reached the plateau, the climbing on the Bishropics was not difficult (south face, 5.5/5.6) but the white-cap sandstone is extremely rotten, like sand cakes on a beach. Protection was minimal and from small, tied-off, drought-stricken bushes—Zion ridge climbing at its best.

From the Bishoprics plateau, the only practical descent to terra firma is to follow the ridge southwest until it is not possible to traverse any farther, and then rappel into the valley of Coal Pits Wash. We did more than 1,200' of rappels, and we had not planned to come out the way we did. We hiked Coal Pits Wash for several miles to the highway and hitchhiked back to Springdale, a long way from where we started at Angel’s Landing, inside the park.

Dan Stih