ZION Climbing Free and Clean Book Review
ZION Climbing Free and Clean, Supertopo, $26.95 eBook, $29.95 Printed book
ZION Climbing Free and Clean is the latest addition to the Supertopo publishing empire. At 232 pages, it packs quite a punch and is a visual treat with eye popping photography, artwork and a impressive collection of climbs to keep any climber busy for a lifetime. Authored by local Bryan Bird and compiled over many years, the guidebook is the first modern comprehensive guide for the region.
Zion has always been treated as a special place with limited information sharing due to it's extremely fragile environment. Also, previous guidebooks for Zion, were either very brief or became so outdated that they didn't unlock any of Zion's dark secrets. With the explosion of the internet over the last 10 years most route beta, particular for the most popular big walls was obtained from that source, other climbers or the set of 3 ring binders at Park HQ. This guidebook is going to change that.
However, ZION Climbing Free and Clean is not the typical supertopo guide book that many of us have become accustomed to. Topo's are limited mainly to overviews and key routes. Descriptions are short and succinct and safely with enough info to get you up the route and back safety. Aspect, shade and evlavation information is provided as well. The reason for this departure from the Supertopo standard was to keep the adventure factor high throughout the book and not give away all the secrets of climbing in Zion. I think the author should be congratulated for this.
Typical of a Supertopo guide book there is a comprehensive introduction to the area with everything a first time visitor might need to know. Transport, camping (Watchman is listed as $18 a night, but tent sites are still $16), where to grab a shower, buy groceries, eat out, etc. Climbing history is well presented by John Middendorf and Mike Anderson. Geology and human history are also included.
Mike Anderson also writes several in depth history pieces on the evolution of routes, from aid to high standard free climbs. Starting with the history of the first ascent and latter sharing some of his own experiences while freeing the route years later. Moonlight, Spaceshot, Angel Hair are some examples and they add greatly to the overall feel of the guidebook. Its not just a book about numbers and routes but rather an book that captures the imagination of the first ascentist, the history and spirit of the place.
Zion must be one of the most fragile and highly visible places we climb and rightly so the author stresses how to minimize our impact. Recommendations include: avoiding hauling, keeping to trails, picking up trash and climbing free rather than aiding. However, I would have liked to see more space devoted to clean climbing practice and in particular how to aid climb soft rock. For example, describing how to test and clean gear.
Overview maps greatly help navigation and approach and descent routes. These are generally spread out throughout the book prior to route information. One of the things I've struggled with at Zion was finding the start of routes, even getting to the right formation. I wasted a day a couple years ago trying to find Gatekeeper Crack with no success, so I have no excuses now! These maps are a really helpful.
Routes are logically grouped by location, starting from Springdale and heading up the valley, describing the western side of the valley first and then returning down the valley, listing routes on the eastern side, with a short detour up to the tunnel before venturing back to the entrance station and beyond. Other brief sections cover the East Entrance and a couple pages devoted to bouldering.
I was surprised to see that Kolob canyon was not included as part of the guide. This often forgotten part of Zion National Park is home to several high quality routes such as Sunlight Buttress and sport climbing in the South Fork.
A quick look at the approximate break down of free climbing routes show a high percentage of 5.10 or above, which is no surprise for Zion. Nothing is easy for it's grade in Zion. Whenever climbing in Zion it pays to climb below your limit as there always tends to be a surprise or two, such as sandy holds and protection worries. There can also be a big difference between the range of a grade, hence in Zion many routes are listed with plus or minus grades, rather than the alphabetic sub grade:
There are 25 routes listed in the guide as aid wall routes. However, don't expect 25 full on clean aid routes to wet your appetite. Some of these routes are high end free climbs with a pitch or short section of aid. All the aid routes listed are already well known and have had topos and descriptions, pitch by pitch beta published on the internet and elsewhere. However, this book brings them together in one place with current ratings and updated information.
There has also been a change of emphasis on how some of the routes are listed. For example, Moonlight is listed as one of the greatest long free routes. It is no longer a aid route that gets free climbed now and again, it is more like the other way around.
There are a couple of routes that require a few taps of a hammer and the author has suggested that the next people up those routes perhaps donate a few pins to turn them into classic clean routes. Gatekeeper crack is one example of this. This route required several knife blade placements on the first ascent and hopefully someone will take care of this shortly. I think this is a great approach. Establish them as clean climbs now rather than wait until they become blown out from repeated hammering.
No first edition guide book is prefect and I've spotted some proof reading errors and some discrepancies on some of the topo's. These are minor errors and don't distract from the quality of the guidebook. For example, the size of the cams for the 4th pitch of Moonlight are too large, it's yellow aliens, all the way.
Also the bolt on first pitch of Moonlight (direct start), is news to me and I've been up and down that at least half a dozen times. Last time I was there was May 09, so perhaps it has been added since then.
On Prodigal Sun there is a 5.7 mandatory move on the 4th pitch which I've never heard of before. Unless something has broken off recently I don't believe this exists. I'll be going back up there with a friend early next month so I'll double check that. Also the 4th pitch is listed as the crux, whereas I think the crux is the final aid pitch which is getting pretty blown out and eventually will need another fixed piece, prior to the swing over to the bolt.
Some of the grades have changed as well, mainly to a downgrading trend, with routes that were C3, now listed as C2 and likewise with free routes as well. The first pitch on Moonlight is rated as 5.7 whereas I've always found it stout for 5.8. But on the other hand it was nice to see the 2nd pitch of Spaceshot listed as 5.7, since I always felt that was a really hard 5.6!
Recently there has been comments on internet forums about the publishing of this guide and impact it could have on Zion's fragile envrionment. Mostly comments seem to be at both ends of the spectrum. I personally believe that all guidebooks have an impact. However, I think ZION Climbing Free and Clean has struck the right balance. It provides enough information to show where the routes are, maybe spread some people out, but at the same time, it hasn't introduced any new information about aid routes where most of the destruction occurs. Sure, free climbing in Zion impacts the rock, but I don't believe it is to the same extent. In my view nailing is the most destructive and these routes have been omitted from the guide.
I suspect that most climbers will continue to go to Zion to climb "trade" routes, such as Moonlight, Prodigal Sun, Spaceshot, Shune Buttress, etc. I also don't think you are going to see an explosion of people climbing in Zion due to the fact that its hard and at times, dangerous. People are comparing it to David Bloom's Indian Creek guidebook, but I think that is a big mistake. Climbing in Zion and climbing in IC are worlds apart.
For most climbers, Zion has always been a place that we stop on the way to somewhere else. I suspect that the guide will open the eyes up to many peple of the shear quantity and quality of routes and perhaps become more a destination area over a period of time. But, it won't become a Yosemite or a Red Rocks. There just isn't enough moderate climbing there.
If you plan on visiting Zion for the first time, I highly recommend picking up a copy. It will greatly enrich your stay and ensure that you spend time on the rock rather than walking around looking for things that you can climb. Been there done that.
Respect and treat Zion for what it is, a very fragile and limited resource in a highly public arena.
ZION Climbing Free and Clean is available in both as an eBook (PDF) for $26.95 and a printed book for $29.95. The printed version will not be available until another week or two, but right now Supetopo has a special, where you can pre-order between now and August 9th. Buy the by Ebook and you receive a free copy of the printed book. For more information
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The reviewer was provided copy of the guidebook in compensation of writing this review.
Mmmm Zion...Thanks for the excellent review, John!