Moonlight Buttress: The other end of the rope.

Goals create motivation, page motivation leads to goals.  It's cyclical.  Without one, it's hard to have the other.  I don't know how many times I've heard people say "that's my dream climb."  Dreams are for the thinkers, goals are for the doers.  I've learned that once my dreams become my goals, they quickly become my accomplishments.  Sometimes it's hard to make the mental conversion, but when I do I always end up with a smile on my face and memories for a lifetime. Years ago, after starting to free longer and harder routes, I thought up a progression of routes.  They increase in difficulty and length in a logical progression.  The Rostrum, Astroman, Original Route on Rainbow Wall, Romantic Warrior, Moonlight Buttress, Half Dome, and Freerider.  I've spent a lot of time training for this progression of routes.  Having the list prevents me from thinking "Freerider is my dream climb."  Instead I think about how I will accomplish the next goal in the progression.  Every year I try to think up the next big goal, typically a specific climb.  I'll read about it, building psych, print out pictures or a topo to put up at my desk at work, anything that will keep me focused on my new goal.  Last year, after training extremely hard and becoming wicked fit I suddenly had Moonlight Buttress on my radar as the next route in the progression.  I trained endurance, strength, and cardio.  I lined up a strong partner and set a date, and then I accidentally sliced my finger open the week before we were supposed to go.  It was the back of my finger, but when talking about 1000' of finger cracks that's a rather large problem.  The plan got shelved and the temperatures dropped and days became short.

Last winter, I was insanely busy with "life."  I was still training hard, but I wasn't able to fit many huge weekends of climbing in.  Well, that all changed in March, and I finally had a month of weekends to train like a mad man.  I started running more consistently, punching out longer harder weekend trips getting in as many hard pitches in a day as possible, and doing everything I could to get my goal back in line.  I had Easter weekend to make an attempt before I became busy again for essentially the rest of the summer.

Needing a partner, I called one of the most motivated climbers in San Diego, Roberto.  He'd been training harder than anyone I knew for the past half year losing weight, gaining strength, skills, and endurance.  As usual when presented with the option of a long punishing day I got an emphatic YES!  We set a date, and trained together in the gym, and on the rock climbing ever harder.

We originally planned on taking Friday off and driving out Thursday night, but as the day neared rain was forecast for Friday.  Instead, wanting to allow the rock a day to dry, we drove out Friday morning and rolled into Zion about 8 hours later and hopped the shuttle.  It was Roberto's first time to Zion, and as usual he was like a kid in a candy store.  His enthusiasm and motivation know no bounds.  He was wide eyed as we turned corners and new faces and formations came into view.  Eventually, we had the shuttle drop us off at the shuttle stop for Moonlight Buttress and we scoped our climb.  A dead vertical 1200' buttress protruding from the beautiful Angel's Landing.  We were practically bursting with energy as we scoped our line.  There were two teams already on it halfway up slowly climbing and hauling their way up the line.  It looked so unbelievably beautiful!

We hiked farther up the canyon to The Narrows drooling at all the free-climbing potential those cliffs hold, wandered up The Narrows for a mile or so and then headed back.  It was starting to get a little later, and we wanted to turn in early for our early start the next day.  We threw up a tent, cooked, relaxed and hit the sack early for a full solid  hours of sleep. Looking back on this trip all I can remember are the breathtaking views, website like this the phenomenal rock climbing and the laughs, ed but that is only half of the story.  Be forewarned this is not your typical trip report.

In the car, on the way to Zion I suggested we both write a TR about Moonlight Buttress.  At the time I figured it would be interesting to hear both our thoughts about a monumental climb.  Josh was headed out with a valid shot at onsighting the route and me, well, I was hoping to not pull on too much gear.  Now that I sit down to write this I realize no one wants to hear about the climbing from the followers perspective, so I will let Josh tell that tale, nonetheless there is a story here that I feel is worth telling.

I have been rock climbing for almost six years now the first four years were pretty much sport climbing.  For the longest time I thought the only way to validate my efforts was to chase numbers.  I would ask, “why can’t I climb 5.12?”  I thought I wanted to climb hard, I thought I was training, but like many people I was delusional.  If you want the truth climbing hard is HARD, but my two cents…stop asking “why can’t I climb hard?” and start asking “how can I climb hard?”

Some people are simply gifted climbers, I am not one of them.  My gift is my ability to train.  That being said, I have trained harder in the last year than I have ever trained in my life!  Most days this means that I am utterly exhausted and in a bad mood.  All I want is a nice big meal and a beer, instead I eat light, do some work and pass out (a special thanks to Jenn, my wife, for putting up with me).  When you are training really hard there aren’t many days when you feel strong and you often ask yourself “is it working and is it worth it?”  Then you get the opportunity to free climb something as spectacular as Moonlight Buttress, and yeah, it’s worth it.

As we approached we noticed an aid party bivyed right in the middle of the crux pitch, but I was much more concerned with the fact that I was about to embark on the hardest climb I had ever been on.  I have only been doing long trad climbs for a year and a half now and had never attempted a pure finger crack 5.12, I decided now was not the time to tell Josh that.  Though my long trad climbing career has just begun I have learned that there is no place for pessimism on the wall.  So at the base of the climb I took a second to gather myself and began to climb…Moonlight Buttress baby yeah!

The first four pitches are referred to as the “approach pitches” and rightfully so.  Once atop the fourth pitch you look up at the beginning of 700 feet of continuous splitter finger crack.  From this stance you have an amazing view of Zion’s valley and as I belayed Josh up I thought to myself, “damn, I hope I climb well.”  I had stressed and worried about how I would climb right up to this moment and I was still not pleased with my climbing, I was slower than I wanted to be, I wasn’t perfect, I wanted to be better.  As I belayed Josh up to the Rocker Block I thought deeply about this, then I looked out at the valley…a smile came across my face and I realized, I had made this much more complicated than it needed to be.  We were just two friends on a wall.  That is it, nothing less, nothing more.  Once you are there, there is no need to worry about how you are doing or what you did to prepare, just climb and enjoy that moment, you are the lucky one, you get to feel the pain of finger lock after finger lock, you get to climb that route, you get to do reap the rewards of hard work and sacrifice.  I am not sure I fully understood the importance of this realization, but I would.

We faced some obstacles the first day and had to retreat and come back the next day to try again.  The climbing was mindblowingly good.  Josh and I both sent 8 of the 11 pitches, highlights for me were: one-hanging the 12d crux pitch, and flashing three consecutive 5.12 pitches including a 12b/c off fingers pitch I nearly puked on (this was on top rope, but I will be back!).

At the anchors below the final pitch Josh asked if I wanted to swap leads to get to the summit faster, I said sure.  I was hoping I might get the chance to top out the climb, so I headed off and quickly realized how tired I was.  While taking a short rest at the anchor I said, “that doesn’t look very 5.7.”  Josh said, “that’s cuz its 10+.”   I kinda wish he would have just said “yup.”  I got to the little roof 15 feet from the belay and ended up hanging.  I was dejected and exhausted.  I hung my head for a few minutes, but then I felt the burning sensation in my arms subside and I climbed the route to the summit, built an anchor on the tree, hauled the bag, dangled my legs over the edge and put Josh on belay.

Holy shit I was tired, but we had just climbed Moonlight Buttress!  It was not my natural skill that got me to the summit, nor was it luck.  It was all the hard work and sacrifice I had poured into my training for the last 6 months that got me there.

Often times question my abilities, I wonder if I am a good climber, I ask whether or not I belong on World class climbs, whether I should just have a beer and eat what I want.  Often times I hurt, I ache, I complain or I am sick.  Often times frustration rules my life, but sometimes, well sometimes I am free climbing big walls!  There is no greater feeling of accomplishment.  I now believe that I have the skills and dedication necessary to climb long hard routes.

A good trip report conveys the story in such a way that the reader feels like they were there with the climbers through the crux and on the summit.  This TR has a slightly different aim.  The next few lines are not directed at any one person, the comments are a compilation of trends I have seen throughout the climbing community.  My goal is to motivate people.  I am writing this for myself as much as I am writing it for you.  I don’t care if you get offended, but I hope that it helps you to reach a goal.

Here is an awesome quote from

"I lost 20 pounds...How? I drank bear piss and took up fencing. How the fuck you think, son? I exercised."

I don’t pretend to be an expert or personal trainer, but in the last two years I have lost 40 pounds, I broke through the 5.12 barrier and began to climb long trad routes.  This is major improvement!  I have only had one person ask me how I have gotten stronger over the last two years; and talking to Josh no one has ever asked him how he got strong.  I think people just assume that climbing comes naturally and all you have to do is want it enough.  As I said earlier climbing hard is HARD!

If you want to climb hard you have to train hard, read books, put yourself out there and meet others who are climbing hard.  If you want to climb big walls or long hard backcountry routes, be realistic about your training.  You are not going to onsight a 15 pitch 5.12 if all you do is boulder two days a week and go to your local crag for a nice Saturday.  You need all day endurance, so get off your ass and run or bike or swim!  I don’t mean go for a two mile jog.  I mean run 6-10 miles at a decent pace and throw some hills in there.  Most approaches are at least an hour, THEN you get to climb.  Don’t let the crux be the approach.  Then once you have built that base run and climb all in the same day.  If you want to do a climb that requires your highest level of performance for 12 hours, then train accordingly.

One of the hardest aspects of training is finding a weakness and working until it is a strength.  It is really easy to train your strengths, it is a lot more fun too, but you have to find and eliminate your weaknesses.

Now here is where I offend people.  If you are saying “well I just don’t have the time,” then I say to you… “You have the time, you just don’t have the desire.”  If you really, and I mean REALLY, want to accomplish something it requires sacrifice.  It becomes a lifestyle choice.  Are you willing to change your lifestyle or even level of comfort to achieve the goals you have set forth, or do you just want to talk about it?  If you feel you are willing to sacrifice, then be more realistic with your goals and be more realistic with yourself.  I think it would be amazing to free climb Salathe, but for me to accomplish that I would have to live in a van in the valley and climb year round for a couple of years.  I know that this is not realistic for me (right now), so I have set goals that I feel are realistic.  Not only that I have stopped saying “someday I would like to climb (goal climb).”  Now I find a partner and say “I am going to climb (goal climb) on (a set date).”

Climbing is like no other sport it demands the utmost physical and mental focus so as climbers we have to train to meet those demands.  Through systematic training and sacrifice you and I can accomplish whatever we want.  So let’s train!!!

There are no pictures of me suffering through a day, or drinking a coffee because I am afraid I don’t have enough energy to make it home on my bike, or pictures of my wife looking at my broccoli/veggie patty dinner with a look of disgust, but here are some pictures that make it all worth it.

If anyone ever wants a training partner I will train with anyone, just hit me up.  Let’s go climb something bad ass!  I have also attached a spread sheet as an example of a two week period of my training for Moonlight.

Original Route (13 pithces 12a)

Rainbow Country (13 pitches 12d)

Gunslinger (4 pitches 12b/c)

Moonlight Buttress (11 pitches 12d)

Soon I will be posting similar shots from the top of Romantic Warrior and Halfdome!








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Exercise Yoga durung lunch.  Intervals @ UCSD under the lights then run 6miles Hangboard board(10 repeats & seconds on 3 off X 10).  Then train endurance 1 hour bike ride, Core, 1 hour bike ride (same as cimmute) Interval training.  Most routes I can do in an 90 minutes. rest CLIMB OR ALL DAY WORKOUT
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No Count

Exercise Climb 1 hour bike ride, Core, 1 hour bike ride.  Endurance Training(Work to Half dome day then El Cap day) Yoga and a short run. Commute, core, rip your tips (Moonboard Training) REST DAY (yoga if I feel good) REST Gunslinger!!!