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Moonlight Buttress Aid and Free climbing


Original Post
Eliot Augusto · · Boulder, CO · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 60

I have a buddy who wants to do the Moonlight Buttress with me. He isn't able to climb the route free, but he wants to aid. I'm fine swapping pitches in some aid/free mix, but ideally I'd like to lead every pitch free if we are already going to be on the route for 2 days. But, that is my ego talking. I envision leading the traverse, then from there alternate swapping aid leads and free leads. I'd like to have him rap and clean/unclip. I'd assume I should bring half ropes or an 80m. Is all of this just too much effort for the reward? How quickly does ol' MP think I'm going to die?


But really...What would you do?

Matt Miccioli · · Stanford, CA · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 70

I earnestly suggest you try to limit your aiding as much as possible. You can read the comments on the route description about how much it has been blown out over the years. Give it a good faith free attempt, or try out any of the other classic walls in Zion with less free climbing potential. Best of luck whatever you decide!

bus driver · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 1,100

It's a good aid climb. 30 years of aid climbing ascents, but is not ok anymore?

blakeherrington · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2006 · Points: 1,060
Eliot Augusto wrote:

 Is all of this just too much effort for the reward? 


Yes.


Your friend should go multi-day aiding on a more interesting and less popular aid climb, and you should go free climb MLB without jumars on your harness. Maybe you guys could both support each other without creating a giant mess on Zion's most popular multipitch. He could jug and clean for your free attempt (there's some "aid climbing" value in improving those skills and becoming more efficient) and as weight doesn't matter, he can keep you happy with food, water, jackets, etc. Then you can return the favor by following a different (aid) route - maybe taking over to lead a few pitches if there are some which offer relatively easier freeclimbing, but weird or hard aiding. (Chimneys, slabs, etc)



Rob T · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2006 · Points: 10

My vote would be the hauling for 2 Days on such a short climb is more impactful than aid vs free. When we were there last weekend showing our 4 yo Prodigal he asked “by the big white line?”(the drag marks left of the route from hauling). 

As for whether or not it’s ok to aid after all the ascents it’s seen, seems to be the clean climbing question of our generation. The last generation decided that hammering pins was causing an unsustainable level of damage to routes.  Looking at the changes on the routes in the main canyon over the last decade I think the same holds true re “clean” aid in Zion  


Highlander · · Ouray, CO · Joined Apr 2008 · Points: 255

I never understood the fascination with hauling on popular Zion routes. Route can be done in a day by a fast party or fix 2-3 pitches the first day and finish the route the next day; way more fun than hauling. If you want to haul do something obscure or go climb in Yosemite.

Kevin Mokracek · · Burbank · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 240

If you aid it bring a light rack and hopscotch gear as much as possible.   Don't bounce test,  almost all placements are bomber and bounce testing will just jack up the rock.   The last time I climbed it there was a team trying to free it ahead of us, every time one of them fell we would get showered with sand from the force of the fall on the gear in the rock.   It is unrealistic to think a "free ascent" will be without falls or even several falls for most parties.   I think most free ascents cause more damage to the rock than a aid ascent if the person doesn't bounce test every piece and drag a bag up the wall.   It's a great climb and location, whatever you decide just climb smart.

mpech · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 2
bus driver wrote:

It's a good aid climb. 30 years of aid climbing ascents, but is not ok anymore?

Humanity is discovering all sort of things that it used to do are not particularly sustainable in the long run-- lead in gas; freon in refrigerators; the burning of fossil fuels; etc.... 

C Archibolt · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 871

I don't really believe that the widening of MLB should be "blamed" on clean aid as opposed to free climbing. I have two reasons: 

1. Other desert cracks wear down, widen, and blow out from free climbing traffic (See: Generic Crack, Way Rambo, IHC). 

2. Whipping on gear is way more likely to damage the rock than standing on a bomber C1 placement. 

Maybe I'm wrong. If so, enlighten me. (Bonus points for stating your argument like a human engaging in rational discussion.) 

Rob T · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2006 · Points: 10

To point one I’d argue that kind of widening is unique to the shuffling method many use on hand cracks, dragging their hand up the inside of a crack as opposed to a (formerly) tips corner where this technique is less common.

As for the latter, I’d thing the less frequent placements could be a mitigating factor,  it hard to know with out a controlled test. Less force every 4’ vs more force every 10-15’

Pnelson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 380

As I understand it, the reasons for not aiding MB are less because of damage to the rock (unless you're nailing the route, in which case public drawing and quartering are most appropriate) and more just considering the flow of traffic and crowds on a popular route.  This is not to say that aid parties are always slower-- I got passed by a super fast aid party while I was free climbing MB a few years ago.  But for the most part, if you are bringing aiders, ascenders, and definitely bivy gear, you'll be causing backups.

I've said it in other threads, and plenty of folks have disagreed with me, but I think we need to start treating MB the same as the Rostrum, Astroman, or Rainbow Wall in terms of style approaches.

Rob T · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2006 · Points: 10

Based on an n of 2 I’d disagree with that. Monkeyfinger, less frequented by aid climbers, takes the same .2 it did in the Black corner as when I first climbed it in 04. The crux if Moonlight has grown a size over the same period of time. 

Edit to acknowledge that the differential popularity of the 2 routes is also likely a contributing factor. 

Kedron Silsbee · · Munich · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 0
Creed A wrote:

I don't really believe that the widening of MLB should be "blamed" on clean aid as opposed to free climbing. I have two reasons: 

1. Other desert cracks wear down, widen, and blow out from free climbing traffic (See: Generic Crack, Way Rambo, IHC). 

2. Whipping on gear is way more likely to damage the rock than standing on a bomber C1 placement. 

Maybe I'm wrong. If so, enlighten me. (Bonus points for stating your argument like a human engaging in rational discussion.) 

I agree it's not at all obvious that an aid ascent is more damaging than a free one.  The argument against aiding it that I find (somewhat) more compelling is that the amazing free climbing experience it offers can't be found on other routes, whereas as an aid climb it's nothing special.  Therefore if it can only sustain a certain number of total ascents it would be nice if as many of those as possible were by people having an amazing experience, rather than an OK one that could be replicated on any number of other walls in Zion.  That said, I don't find this terribly convincing, just as I might not be convinced by someone telling me "hey, I like cookies a lot, and you once said that they're just OK, so I guess it's cool if I eat yours?".

Back to the topic, I might not be understanding the proposed method, but it sounds pretty annoying for your friend if he has to rap and clean each of his leads.  I agree that Blake's solution sounds significantly more fun for both of you.

Kevin Mokracek · · Burbank · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 240
Rob T wrote:

To point one I’d argue that kind of widening is unique to the shuffling method many use on hand cracks, dragging their hand up the inside of a crack as opposed to a (formerly) tips corner where this technique is less common.

As for the latter, I’d thing the less frequent placements could be a mitigating factor,  it hard to know with out a controlled test. Less force every 4’ vs more force every 10-15’

Most parties I have seen trying to free MLB are far from being able to walk up to it and send.   There really are a small number of climbers, even so called pros who could walk up and flash MLB.  Most work the route over a few days, or weeks or months.   The last party I saw working the dihedral were taking countless whippers while working those pitches.   I would argue they did more damage to the rock even if I placed a piece every 5 feet but just put body weight on it.   MLB is a cake walk of an aid climb and almost every piece save for a few placements in the traverse up to Rocker Block are bomber and should never be bounce tested.   Both types of ascent cause damage but I would argue that "working" a free ascent of MLB causes more damage than an aid ascent.

Rob T · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2006 · Points: 10

Sure, as long as all free climbers are whipping and no aid climbers are bounce testing. 

Most of the desert free climbers I know are more than happy to “take”, especially on a continuous crack. That means body weight only where needed as opposed to every piece. 

Conversely, one of the frequent arguments for aid climbing MB is that it’s a great beginner wall.  How many of those beginners do you think are walking up ready to not bounce test their placements?  Maybe the same ratio as free climbers ready to flash?

George Perkins · · The Dungeon, NM · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 3,028
Pnelson wrote:

I think we need to start treating MB the same as the Rostrum, Astroman, or Rainbow Wall in terms of style approaches.

MB is regarded as the best and most aesthetic 1 or 2 climbs at Zion, because of its history, position, continuity, and singular line; famous as an aid climb even before it was freed.  Because of this, it's looked at like a goal climb along the lines of the Nose, RNWF-Half Dome, the Diamond, Ancient Art, and Supercrack, that most "5.10- climbers" don't care much about the style they do it in; they just want to be there on that formation.  It's striking enough that someone made a video of them jugging the whole climb a few years back.  Education or "aid climber-shaming" can't change that it's one of the most eye-catching lines there.

Also, there are aspiring aid climbers who want to do their first wall, but are scared of C2, and MB is more or less the only consensus C1 classic climb there; most of the other Zion trade walls are generally considered C2, though that's always kind of a blurry area of interpretation.  It's rational to want to try a C1 wall before a C2.  If "the community" and/or FAs wanted to, this could be changed, by fixing gear so Prodigal or a different route is viewed as solidly C1 and a better "first wall".  For anyone who doesn't live on the west coast, Zion's really the closest area that has entry-level wall climbing (the Fishers and the Black are considered much scarier, and don't have C1).

A climb like Astroman isn't all that appealing as an aid climb to a 5.10- climber because (a) modern aid beta on it is limited, (b) they're scared of the Harding slot and the last pitch, and (c) the South Face is an obvious alternative classic on the same formation that makes more sense for aid climbers to do, the Prow is an obvious mid-range one.

5.10 climbers don't aid the Rostrum because they can aid the Leaning Tower or climb 5.10- on MCR on climbs of similar classic-ness and be in the same general location and get just as high up.  And the rap-in approach is a bit contrived when you're thinking of a wall route (except for in the Black).

I suspect the Rainbow Wall would see aid climbing traffic comparable to that on the Nose or Moonlight or Spaceshot, were it not for the lengthy approach through bushes and up slabs. However, even ignoring the approach and descent, it would be a significantly harder aid climb than MB.  Having done it nearly free, I think various sections would be tricky to do (C2?) without getting out of aiders, and the pitches up to the bivi ledge would blow for hauling. 

(I haven't climbed all those, but I'll speculate, as I've considered all of them, done many of them, and they're in regular discussion among trad climbers. I've aided MB- freeing the 5.10 pitches; I enjoyed it but probably wouldn't aid it again, as other Zion walls were more fun for me. Would certainly love to try it in free-climbing style if I improve at cracks just a little bit more.)

kck · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 85

Does the rock get damaged if the piece holds on a whip? If it pulls then there is scarring from the cam dragging out of the crack or from cam breaking the rock, but what if it holds?

Kevin Mokracek · · Burbank · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 240
kck wrote:

Does the rock get damaged if the piece holds on a whip? If it pulls then there is scarring from the cam dragging out of the crack or from cam breaking the rock, but what if it holds?

Because sandstone is a pretty soft rock whipping on a placement that holds still causes the cam or nut to dig into the rock.

Kyle Edmondson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2012 · Points: 40

Moonlight is rightfully one of the most popular climbs anywhere.  I consider it to be perhaps the best route I've ever seen, and am not alone.  Due to this, there are often multiple parties on it every day, and that is my biggest concern.  Aiding is generally slow, especially if hauling or with beginners.  So is sieging a free attempt.  I think you have to be considerate, and not subject others to an unreasonable wait, even if you allow passing.  For the record, my first attempt failed after we waited for three hours at the rocker blocker for an aid party - they started that pitch when we left the ground.  

Brandon Gottung · · Moab, UT · Joined Dec 2010 · Points: 1,472

Another variable that deserves mention: aid parties are much more likely to climb Moonlight when it's wet. I'm rarely in the canyon after significant rain, but I've seen haul bags dangling high up Moonlight after massive rain storms when the rock was still saturated. Moonlight Buttress, as amazing as it is, is a sad example of an "industrial" rock climb, slathered in chalk, smelling of urine, scarred from portaledges and horribly podded out on pitches 2, 5 and 6. It's still a fun day out, but the massive impact of traffic makes it less than classic in my book.

Kevin Mokracek · · Burbank · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 240
Kyle Edmondson wrote:

Moonlight is rightfully one of the most popular climbs anywhere.  I consider it to be perhaps the best route I've ever seen, and am not alone.  Due to this, there are often multiple parties on it every day, and that is my biggest concern.  Aiding is generally slow, especially if hauling or with beginners.  So is sieging a free attempt.  I think you have to be considerate, and not subject others to an unreasonable wait, even if you allow passing.  For the record, my first attempt failed after we waited for three hours at the rocker blocker for an aid party - they started that pitch when we left the ground.  

Thats funny because we got caught behind two Germans who were trying to free the dihedral.  We were aiding and sat at the Rocker Blocker while they dogged their way up raining sand upon us.   I think the bottom line is be smart.  Aid parties can do it in less than ideal free climbing conditions such as higher teams or colder temps but all parties should stay off after a rain.   Aid parties should attempt to do it in a day, if you want to overnight experience you can set up a ledge at Rocker Blocker, blast the next day while leaving your crap on Rocker Block, rap the route when done and grab your crap on the way down so you aren't hauling the rest of the route.  Just some thoughts. 

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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