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ARTICLE: Moonlight Buttress

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 UKC Articles 15 Jul 2020
Canyonlands

Andy Moles reflects on his ascent of Moonlight Buttress in Zion National Park and how the process of giving everything to a climb is often the most rewarding.



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 Giles Davis 15 Jul 2020
In reply to UKC Articles:

Inspiring and beautifully written.

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 dan gibson 16 Jul 2020
In reply to UKC Articles:

Lovely piece of writing, inspired me to get back to Zion.

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In reply to UKC Articles:

Inspiring. Thanks.

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 Andy Moles 22 Jul 2020
In reply to UKC Articles:

Thanks folks for the comments.

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 Offwidth 22 Jul 2020
In reply to UKC Articles:

The issue of erosion is a visible reality on that route even without any climbers. We had a failed lightweight aid attempt in September a few years back. The 5.8 first pitch is a hand crack in a slabby corner. It's a major classic climb but on that pitch it's the only one I've had to dig out sand from multiple completely filled hand jams...tiring work on a standard free lead.  We got across to the main crackline but inadvertantly disturbed a big loose block sitting on sand on a sloping ledge that, but for an instinctive reaction, could have had a tragic outcome. It was like it was running on bearings on the ledge and of course made a massive noise as it boomed and echoed down into the valley below! As it was we were fully spooked and bailed.

The sand in that start crack is there because the rock is soft desert sandstone. Free ascents by climbers talented enough to take few falls are the ideal. But a lightweight competent clean aid attempt seems no so much worse to me than a a free attempt taking multiple falls, with much higher shock load on the rock. It's climbable in a day by a fast aid party and it's easy to fix the first few pitches one day and blast for the top the next, so there is little need for dragging huge aid sacks up there.

Such an iconic line in such a place and with such low difficulty as a big wall is bound to be popular.

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 Andy Moles 22 Jul 2020
In reply to Offwidth:

I deliberately avoided talking too much about culpability for the erosion, because like I did say, even a fairly efficient ascent contributes something.

I agree that an efficient clean aid ascent is basically no more damaging than a free ascent - I guess you always weight the cams, but if done smoothly it probably makes little difference. We were almost caught on the headwall by an Italian team who were fast-frenching the route in a day - no etriers or anything, just plug and pull. I think quite a lot of American climbers do properly redpoint-siege the route, which is almost certainly worse, but it's hard to say they shouldn't without sounding elitist.

The bigger problem is haul bags - hauling has made a right scratched-up mess of some of the walls, and run deep sandy grooves into the finishing slabs. Having shared the ledge with an aid team for a night and watched their process, I was left thinking it all seemed more like labour than climbing, and that if people want to enjoy the positions of the buttress, it would be better for both the rock and them if they just walked around to Angel's Landing and abseiled it! Regardless of erosion, our tactic of depositing a haul bag on the ledge from the top the day before climbing is one I would recommend - save all that hauling energy for jamming.

P.S. if you ever do the rest of the route your abiding memory won't be how much of a sandpit that first pitch is ;)

Post edited at 11:25
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 Offwidth 22 Jul 2020
In reply to Andy Moles:

The 'pull' to go up was still strong despite the adrenaline of a near accident. I very much hope to be back.

I've not seen the damage at the top but it sounds like the haul bag damage on the slab is a route specific ethical issue. The solution would seem to be either don't use heavy bags or if you do, break it down and take time to ferry the contents off the rock for the top pitch.

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 Andy Moles 22 Jul 2020
In reply to Offwidth:

Or just rap the route to descend, carrying the bags or shepherding them in a Y hang setup.

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 Oliver Hill 23 Jul 2020
In reply to UKC Articles:

Great writing! I don't feel you should be so hard on yourself, maybe to your harsh standards  but not everyone's. It may not be as rewarding, but it is much more pleasant to climb a long route on foreign territory with an occasional rest, than exhaust yourself and hence fail much worse higher up. With a few rests you could have climbed it in less days with less taints. How many taints did you two have? More rests less taints and time to do more classics before coming back and doing it taintless when you are stronger. Well would not be an onsight of course, so at least one taint. Next time you might go in and out in a day and save all that faff.

After all everyone makes their own rules, usually pretty malleable. How about shoeless, chalkless and friendless, as Erikson outlaid in Rocky Heights, a Guide to Boulder Free climbs in 1980, possibly, probably the best guide book I have pawed thru, helping me in retrospect, realise I do not like face climbs, but prefer safer dihedrals and thin cracks.

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 Michael Gordon 23 Jul 2020
In reply to Oliver Hill:

Dunno, I tend to agree with the writer that a narrow 'fail' on a big route when you've given everything is a deeper, more rewarding experience than a 'success' at a lower standard.   

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 Andy Moles 27 Jul 2020
In reply to Oliver Hill:

Thanks Ollie.

Regarding 'taints', it really depends how you define one. It's all a game, however you choose to play. I'm probably not being as harsh on myself as it may sound - I'm proud of what we managed to do, but at the time it was close enough to what we had ideally aimed for (basically to climb all pitches clean in succession, after an incidental abseil inspection from depositing the bag), that it was hard not to feel a tiny bit "if only..."

But I find personally that over time those things stop mattering. I would only be disappointed if we hadn't given everything. There is so much to the memory - technical distinctions of style seem like a petty detail. I had considered at one point writing a riposte to Livingstone's 'Style Matters' piece along these lines, but I guess this serves the purpose in an oblique way.

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 Wicamoi 27 Jul 2020
In reply to UKC Articles:

Excellent piece. A fine contemplation of human time within geological time. "I can't be sure, because I am eroding too" - brilliant. It seems to me that whatever you came away from the desert with, it wasn't failure.

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 Oliver Hill 30 Jul 2020
In reply to Andy Moles:

Going for it is great. Much more rewarding and memorable are the narrow escapes and just failures. One thing to think about is limiting narrow escapes to one to three per year? Less as you get older, or rather more but preferring less.

Best wishes for more super classic ascents, those you plan for, fight for, and are beautiful.

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