Mike Anderson working out the moves on the Lowe Route, which he freed, with a three-pitch variation, at 5.13a R over three days in December. The route is the first free ascent of the north face of Angel?s Landing; in 2003, Fly?n Brian McCray nearly nabbed the FFA with his efforts on Ball and Chain (he freed all but one move of the 900-foot route, which went at 5.13b A0). [Photo] Andrew Burr
Angel’s Landing, Lowe Route, First Free Ascent. “How’s it going up
there?” my partner asked. His inflection indicated that he already knew
the answer. A long pause ensued as I faced the facts: this pitch, these
ten measly feet, simply would not go.
My goal was to free the north face of Angel’s Landing, the most obvious
climbing feature in Zion Canyon. This, my third recon trip on the Lowe
Route, had been going well until the bolt ladder on Pitch 8. I was
certain I could free everything but those ten feet. Instantly, I
realized the frustration of big-wall free climbing.
The project’s origins began last spring in Yosemite Valley. Every time I
walked through El Cap Meadows, I heard about people’s progress on
various free-climbing projects. Inspired by this enthusiasm, I made a
free ascent of Free Rider on El Cap with my brother, Mark. As we drove
home to Utah, I realized that I might have an aptitude for big-wall free
climbing. I wanted to be a part of this revolution, if not in Yosemite,
then perhaps somewhere closer to home… like Zion.
Zion is ripe for such a revolution. For decades, climbers in Yosemite
have been systematically eliminating aid from any route that will go. In
Zion, apart from Douglas Heinrich, most climbers just don’t bother.
I decided to bother. I called everyone I knew, hyping up the revolution
that was going to take place in the fall. Unfortunately, because of
unusually high rainfall, it didn’t really pan out.
I engineered a three-pitch face climbing variation around the bolt
ladder, but the route wasn’t ready for an attempt until late November.
The canyon is a lonely place that time of year, and the idea of a
free-climbing revolution seemed quite laughable. Nevertheless, over
three frigid days in December (11-13), I managed to free every last foot
of the north face of Angel’s Landing via the Lowe Route (V 5.13a R, 15
pitches, three new).
The revolution may not have happened as I had hoped, and time will tell
where this ascent fits into the story of Zion climbing. Maybe my efforts
will serve a catalyst, maybe not. Regardless, I’ll be back this spring.
Perhaps we’ll have our revolution then.
–Mike Anderson, Colorado Springs, Colorado