Zioneering – the Temple Throne Traverse (not quite)

March 14, 6 AM, Canyon Overlook Trailhead

Jared Campbell and I are in Zion National Park. It’s a cool starry morning, and we immediately are enjoying scrambling up the white and red sandstone in the total darkness, our headlamps illuminating tiny circles in the smooth rock. Hey wait, it isn’t supposed to be dark … we timed our 6 AM departure based on when “Civil Twilight” was supposed to start.  Hmm… we keep climbing up the bare rock … then both realize that it’s not going to get light for another hour because I forgot to adjust for Daylight Savings Time. There are a few more things we should not have forgotten as it turns out… JaredMorning

The South Face of East Temple

The South Face of East Temple

Our plan is to do a huge linkup of some of the biggest summits in the Park: East Temple, Spry, Twin Brother, Mountain of the Sun, Deertrap, and Great White Throne, finishing with a descent of Hidden Canyon. We had done all these before, just not in sequence, so we were fairly confident. An attribute that probably did not work in our favor.

ET is the first summit, and is a really, really big rock. Only one route, the “Casual Route”, has ever been done to the top. If someone were to ask me to solo it, I would scoff at the ridiculousness of the suggestion and immediately say no … except I actually had soloed it twice before … so even though it’s likely Jared and I are still the only two people to have done that, I still should be able to do it, eh? I’m not that old, am I? Well, I hoped not.

To answer that question very definitively, a quarter of the way up we dropped our packs, which contained the ropes, harnesses, food and water, and set off for the top carrying nothing but a Cliff Bar stuffed in my spandex shorts. As Catwoman once said, “It’s the so-called normal guys who always let you down. Sickos never scare me. At least they’re committed.

ET Crux

We didn’t get good photographs of the crux high up on the NW face, because, well, we were concentrating on other things. Me, not plunging 1,500′ to my death; Jared, helping me not do that. I was way slower than on previous outings. The last time we did this, we did the whole thing in 1:48 TH-TH; this time it took 1:45 just to get to the top. Back then it seemed my feet stuck like glue to everything, and I speed scrambled up and then back down with hardly a hesitation. This time a particular memory is forever etched in my mind, that of standing on a tiny 8″ long dead bush protruding out of an incipient groove in the otherwise featureless sandstone … 1,500′ of verticality cooling my heels … delicately maintaining balance as I crouch down matching hand to foot … releasing both feet and doing a down-mantle with this dead bush as my only handhold … reaching a foothold further down then looking up at that dead bush not sure if I should feel gratitude or dread.


We scrambled on down, as the sun came up. I kept wondering about this dramatic reduction in my speed and security compared with 8 years ago. Was I really that good back then, or was I just crazy? Or maybe there is no difference?

East Temple, North Face. The Casual Route ascends the South Face, then curves up onto the North Face, the upper right in photo.

We next had to descend the upper part of Spry Canyon in order to reach Mount Spry and Twin Brother. We dropped one rope at the upper end to save weight, planning to pick it up after we circled back near here, as we only needed one rope for the rap into Spry. This turned out to be not true. When we got there the one rope obviously didn’t reach, ending just above a very dark, deep, cold pool of water, but Jared rapped down anyway, and as usual, had no trouble downclimbing the last 100′, pronouncing it easy. As you might guess this wasn’t exactly true either, but I rapped down, we pulled the rope, and I followed Jared down this fascinating hand traverse, using only a crack that was flowing with ice water. Normally this crack would have been worth avoiding, but since it was directly above the big black pool of ice water, cold hands were indeed way easier than cold entire body.


Mt Spry is an easy scramble, but offering amazing views of ET, which we had just climbed, and TB, which we were about to. Both faces looked absurdly intimidating. Once again I wouldn’t think I would be able to climb it, if it wasn’t for the fact that I had done it before.

South Face of Twin Brother on left; West  Face of ET on right.

South Face of Twin Brother on left; West Face of ET on right.

Summit of Spry

Summit of Spry

The South Face of Twin Brother is actually quite moderate and very good – sort of an endless Stairmaster workout but with colossal views – and soon we were at the top. I had planned on giving Jared a huge Russian novel so he’d have something to do while he waited for me, but I neglected to do so; fortunately he was tapering for Barkley in just two weeks, so taking long naps while I flailed my way upward worked well for him. JaredBowl


The North Ridge of TB is another matter. This and Deertrap are the only summits of this linkup we actually traverse; all the others we go up and back down the same way. That is because many Zion summits are incredibly steep and difficult, and there is only one route. Like ET, the North Ridge of TB is solid 5.6, and a bit steeper and chossier. One has to acknowledge that holds on this stuff can simply disintegrate, which would not result in a good outcome. Jared went first, and helped guide me on the descent. He is capable of doing this alone, while I no longer am – it was and is important for me to clearly state that I couldn’t do this without him. Honesty is key in a partnership. I think when I honestly acknowledge my diminishing capabilities, to myself and my partner, then I can relax and really enjoy and appreciate the journey. If someone is trying to live up to an expectation, then they get aggravated, down on themselves, and not only does this not improve performance, but that as well becomes an emotional burden for the stronger partner.

An additional perspective was added when Jared spotted four Bighorn Sheep on the South Face of Mountain of the Sun directly across from us. We sat down and watched. They made us look like complete doofus. They jumped and bounded down a face that has never been climbed. A newborn, who appeared to be about a foot high, got separated from his mother and started “baa’ing” for help. We wanted to continue spectating, but since it was us who probably spooked them in the first place, we left promptly so they could figure it out in peace.

I ruminated that Zion must be the ultimate Valhalla for Desert Bighorns. It’s topography is completely flipped – this is a canyon, not a mountain landscape, so the lower you go, the steeper the cliffs get, while the summits are completely flat. The summits are actually just isolated remnants of a flat plateau. Which is great for the Sheep – they climb up these steep cliffs, which their predators cannot follow, and which provides them with easy visibility of predators, then once on top they hang out and graze undisturbed.

Good Barkley training

Manzanita makes for good Barkley training

Soon we were also on the summit of MOS, but by an easier route than the inimitable Sheep. This is by far the easiest summit. But still worthwhile; we could look almost directly down to Zion Park Lodge, about 2,500′ below us, yet inaccessible … unless you’re good at basejumping.

Only two summits to go, and we felt fine. I was moving slower than I used to, but we had plenty of food, water, energy, and daylight. But it suddenly dawned on us, the one thing we did not have was Quickdraws, which are required for the last summit. Huh? How did we not think of that? We just totally forgot to bring them … the thought somehow never entered our minds to bring protection for the 7-pitch, 5.8 route on Great White Throne. How odd. We had ropes to rap off it but no gear to climb up it.

Not much to do about that now. So we continued our convoluted route, tagging all the summits, lastly ascending the South Ridge of Deertrap. This is one of the best routes – not too hard, not too easy, not too chossy, just right. We were both using prototypes of the new Fastpack 20, and were just loving it. It easily carried all the gear we needed, with zero bounce, great comfort, and easy access to water and food while on the move. At least I remembered to bring a great pack. JaredTree BuzzWatchman

After Deertrap we continued past the turnoff to GWT without saying a word. It was 4:10pm at that point, so we had plenty of time to get up it. But we were having an excellent day anyway, so no need to fret. Plus this meant we would descend Hidden Canyon during daylight instead of darkness, and probably be able hitchhike the 8 miles back to town from the trailhead instead of hiking it out on the road, as we would have getting down at night. A hot shower and cold beer awaited us on this fine evening.

Hidden Canyon was fun – we downclimbed most difficulties only rapping three times – the top part was filled with ice, but by the time we got close to the trailhead the going was easy and we saw people hiking up – the first people we’d seen all day. As we hoped one of them might give us a ride back to town, we made a point of being nice to everyone, instead of yelling, “Out of my way, I’m on Strava!” like I normally do.


6:51 PM – Weeping Wall Trailhead

An excellent day, in a place that continues to amaze me, with one of the best partners, friends, and people I have ever imagined, Jared Campbell.

I hope we get back this spring and knock this route off. I’m considering asking Jared if we can rap the two sticky sections instead of downclimbing them. I’ll let you know what he says.

Jared’s Photo Album:





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17 thoughts on “Zioneering – the Temple Throne Traverse (not quite)

  1. Buzz, so am I crazy, or is indeed the casual route on ET bolted now? We thought we were in the wrong spot as you never mentioned bolts in your previous TR’s.

    • Excellent question Spencer! Apparently a bolt line was recently added only up on the NW Face, presumably directly up from the shoulder, which is more to the right of our line. I meant to look for it, but as we didn’t have ropes anyway, I forgot to do so.

      I have mixed feelings – on one hand, it is ethically uncool to bolt a line that was established trad – but on the other, the exposure is so massive and the pro so poor, there is a legitimacy in this situation. It is possible it was bolted because they didn’t find the thin traverse to the left to start, so it’s likely you were in the “wrong” spot for the trad/solo line.

      If you have more information on this, please Comment!

  2. Good stuff as always, Buzz, from you and Jared! I’m simultaneously inspired (by the vision, the style, and the landscape) and repulsed (by dead shrubs as handholds on wildly exposed, sandy slabs). I have to make Zion a priority sooner rather than later; maybe this fall?

    • Let’s go! We talked about how perfect Zion is for your attributes and tastes.

  3. Buzz! I hope I am just as healthy, active and equally as bad ass as you when I get your age.

    Your Killing It! Thanks for sharing….

  4. Having spent some time in Zion on standard stuff (which pales in comparison), this sounds so scary and epic at the same time. You continue to inspire me by what you do, but also your attitude in doing it.

    Thanks for a great write up!

  5. Great pics to compliment the wordage. My question is about the fastpack: when can we see this? I love the PB vest but volume wise was never big enough for fastpacking. Short of trying to source all materials and sewing myself ,so far the pictures show something promising.

    • Planned Ship Date is August 15. See Jared’s Comment below – we look forward to it!

      • Sweet! Can’t wait. Although I am not a climber but backpacking and looking for something to use for some fastpacking/backpacking trips. Hopefully this pack will allow me to not have to sew my own…the cost should very easily outweigh the time to source materials,
        plan,mockplan/edit and sew .
        If you need a tester here in Georgia give me shout.

        • Patrick,
          Trust me, leave the sewing machine unplugged. Buzz asked me to test out the pack over our weekend in an effort to get any/all last-minute feedback before they go into production. I paid extra attention to the pack throughout our adventure. Not surprisingly, I had very little feedback because the UD team had already nearly perfect the design. If you like the fit of the race vests, but simply want more volume, this is the pack for you!
          Enjoy, Jared

  6. We’re in a great pattern, I post the photos and you do the trip write-up! Excellent job as usual!

    During the trip you made the comment that it always seems to take us a second round before we nail our objectives in Zion, which proved to be true again. I suppose it’s part of our process : round 1) try to wing it with a laundry list of unknowns, round 2) get serious. Interestingly don’t mind this as we get to do everything twice! It is always a true honor to get out on such adventures with you.

    • Round two should be great! Round one’s are plagued with “Casualitis”, but they’re still equally fun (possibly not including the time you carried 500′ of wet rope 2,000′ up the West Rim Trail in 102 degree heat).

  7. I should add the the Fastdraw 20 prototype pack was truly incredible. Another visionary product that only the UD team could have come up with. It has the perfect blend of simplicity and functionality. When descending Hidden at one point I had nearly 400′ of rope in it along with clothing, water, and food. While many bigger packs could do this, none of them would also work well with very little in the pack and still feel light and comfortable. THANK YOU.

  8. Pingback: Zioneering – March 2014 | Jared Campbell's Blog

  9. Buzz and Jared,
    Spencer (see comment above) and I want to go attempt East Temple again this week end, sans ropes. And are wondering for some specific Beta related to the top. Buzz, you and I discussed the bolts at Red Hot. The line is right as you finished the wrap around on the west, walk past this dead little tree on the shoulder and hit the cliff, climber facing straight east. That is were the bolts take off, (very spread out glued rings)
    We scoped down and right but it cliffed out everywhere. We searched and searched for the route more to the left. Nothing. Any tips, this time around?
    -Steve Lindsay

    • Steve: we were down there doing something else last weekend so I just now saw this Comment. The trad/solo line traverses left and very slightly up from the NW shoulder on a thin, improbable little ledge. Then up. Please let us know what you did this weekend!

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