MOONLIGHT BUTTRESS

Posted on: September 1, 2006


For the past two years, I'd dreamed about trying to onsight Moonlight Buttress, but I knew that I needed to improve my splitter-crack techniques. With that requirement in mind, I went to Indian Creek. After a month plagued by bad weather and illness, I was finally starting to feel comfortable on wide finger cracks—Moonlight has 600 feet of cracks predominantly this size—so I jumped in my van with my partner Nick Martino and raced to Zion to beat the hot weather. We'd planned to attempt the route the next day, but after I fell in the river while scoping the approach, another rest day seemed in order. The decision turned out to be a wise one; by the next morning a party was bivying in the middle of the crux pitch.

Matt Wilder reenacting his first onsight free ascent of Moonlight Buttress (V 5.12+, 11 pitches), Zion National Park, Utah. Nick Martino, who belayed Wilder on his ascent, freed the route in a push two days later. [Photo] Eric Draper

The following day Nick and I hopped the first shuttle up the valley, and I was soon on route. Perfectly warmed up from the initial four pitches, I encountered my first significant obstacle just above the Rocker-Blocker bivy. To gain the 5.11d corner, you have to crank some challenging crimp moves and a balancy mantel. I found myself hanging from the slopy mantel jug, smearing bad feet and reaching left to clip a bolt that would keep me from decking on the ledge below. To my surprise, the bolt hanger spun as I tried to clip it and my feet began skidding. I chucked the quickdraw off the cliff so I could catch myself with both hands on the jug, quickly cranked the mantel and moved onto easier terrain.

This incident helped me get into the go-for-it mentality I would need for the next pitch: the 12d crux. As the thin lieback corner became featureless, about ten feet above my last gear, I blindly placed a small TCU and glanced at the potential rest fifteen feet above. Before starting the route, I'd resolved to keep climbing in such situations, so I motored through to the rest—which turned out to be not as good as I'd hoped.

Apprehension followed me up the route faster than Nick could jug behind me. I was able to keep my poise, though, and soon I arrived at the top of the last 5.12 pitch. Only one 5.10 pitch remained, but I had to remind myself that it wouldn't be over until I was standing on the summit. The final pitch was harder than I expected, but I climbed through it and reached the top, overjoyed that I had risen to this route's spectacular challenge.

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Two days later, while I jumared behind him, Nick, who had been on the route previously, also freed the entire climb without falls.

—Matt Wilder, Weston, Connecticut

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