Two New Routes on Zion's Fiercest Wall

Posted on: October 28, 2009


Streaked Wall, Zion National Park, Utah, showing two new routes: Lord Helmet and Wet Stone Wall. [Photo] Nate Brown

Brian McCray on Lord Helmet. He and Chad Umbel climbed the route over two trips—five days hauling gear then six days climbing the route—in May. [Photo] Chad Umbel

Different teams have established two Grade VI aid routes on what some have called the fiercest big wall in Zion. Brian McCray and Chad Umbel spent 11 days throughout May climbing Lord Helmet (VI 5.9 A4, 9 pitches), which climbs the last of Streaked Wall's overhanging and right-leaning seams. On the same wall, from October 9-13, Nate Brown, Joe French and Ryan Frost climbed even farther right, across a prominent water streak that gives the route its name: Wet Stone Wall (VI 5.10 A4, 11 pitches, 1,700').

The east-facing headwall is notorious for its strenuous aid routes that follow overhanging, diagonal cracks through loose sandstone. This combination of factors results in sobering commitment, Brown said: once you're on the headwall, retreat is near impossible.

But McCray and Umbel were not the first to attempt Lord Helmet. About 150 feet above Rubicon Ledge they found bail slings on two hangerless, nutless 5/16-inch bolts. That first pitch above the ledge and the next six, McCray said, were reminiscent of Latitudes (VI 5.9 A4), a similar steep, right-leaning climb left of Lord Helmet. The last two pitches required drilling and heightened attention to hook and gear placements. In total, they drilled approximately 60 holes for belays and protection.

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"The line has been stared at and dreamed of by many over the years since the three great lines on this magnificent, streaked sandstone wall were first climbed in the mid 1990s," McCray said. He added that, after the climb, they drew no topo. "You can't get off route!"

Wet Stone Wall tackles the less steep and less committing—but longer—face about 1,000 feet right of Lord Helmet. It began with three pitches that included bad nailing, hooking and 5.10 free climbing. A striking A3+ roof followed: "hammering Lost Arrows upside down into, in places, bushes and wet and muddy rock," Brown said. Another roof pitch climbed into a 40-foot blank section of hooking and aiding. Varied climbing above took them through a section of A4 to the top of the technical face.

The second roof pitch of Wet Stone Wall. [Photo] Nate Brown

The trio placed 45 bolts on route, 30 of them for anchors. They climbed approximately a quarter of the wall free.

Streaked Wall has captivated Brown since 2000, when he experienced a snowy epic on nearby Rodeo Queen over seven nights. It was on that trip that he noticed the wall's north skyline that now houses Wet Stone Wall and Farmer Brown, a chossier and less pleasant Brown route further right.

"It's blue-collar fun," Brown said. "It's a good waste of time for all of us. We like to scare ourselves, you know?"

Sources: Nate Brown, Brian McCray



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