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North America, United States, Utah, Zion National Park, Abraham, The Connoiseur's Variation

Abraham, the Connoisseur’s Variation. In April, Dave Littman and I climbed the south face of Abraham in The Court of the Patriarchs. Dave had started planning during the preceding winter, and luck was on my side because I was his only available partner between February and April.

Abraham’s south face is unforgettable, and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. We spent four days hauling loads and fixing ropes. Our route began in the gully on the east side of the south face. This gully is the starting point for the Radiator, the John Wilkes Booth Memorial Buttress, and possibly the Lowe route. We followed the Radiator for a couple of loose gully pitches and then moved onto some more serious climbing on JWBMB. This entire adventure was characterized by wild, loose, and difficult climbing, and the JWBMB was no exception. Several cracks on the headwall appeared to be cam cracks, as seen from the ground through binoculars. Closer investigation revealed their true identity: butt cracks with beak seams in the back. Four pitches of thin, intricate climbing brought us to the top of the first headwall crack system. A couple of hooks, a bolt, and a pendulum brought us to virgin territory. We climbed two beautiful previously unclimbed pitches to reach our high camp on a huge ledge, where we rejoined JWBMB. From there the route completely changed character, thankfully allowing our pace to improve. The angle of the cliff kicked back, but we were leaving vertical, clean, thin splitters for choss-filled cracks and gullies. For the next 50' we were on JWBMB, and then I led out an unclimbed roof to join up with Dr. Thunder, a route climbed in 1999 or 2000. We followed Dr. Thunder for a pitch and a half to gain the exit chimney of the Lowe route. The Lowe boys climbed some extremely loose choss in their mountaineering boots. Dave and I were impressed. The top of the chimney is also the top of the vertical rock and the point where all routes intersect, climbing white slabs to the summit. On the second lead up the slabs I found a lone empty drilled angle hole where I was feeling the stress of runout Zion slab climbing, so I attempted to pound a stopper into the hole with my nut tool (it didn’t really work). We had left the heavy iron gadgets down at the high camp, so the stopper in the hole was all I got. We summited late in the afternoon, finding no sign of human traffic but a couple of water-filled potholes in which we happily washed our dirty faces. We descended by reversing our route back to high camp without mishap. Dave and I spent one last night on the wall drinking cocktails and trying to consume the rest of our food. Over the previous four days we had successfully linked every known route on the mountain and added three new pitches. We climbed a total of 17 pitches and named our adventure The Connoisseur’s Variation (VI 5.10 A3+).

Bryan Bird