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High on the Outdoors
Joined: 15 Jul 2010
Posts: 2049 | TRs | Pics
Location: Grand Junction
Over the Christmas holiday weekend I went over to the Utah desert from Denver and climbed a handful of peaks, which included Bottleneck Mesa in the San Rafael Swell as well as Aires Butte and West Temple in Zion. The weather was fantastic, and warm enough to make the days super comfortable. So early in the morning on the 24th (at 3:30am) I left denver driving west on I-70. For as much as I have been driving west on 70 recently I am eerily reminded of my college days driving west on that highway every weekend. Some things just don't change...
By the time I got to Glenwood Springs it was getting light and I continued on past Grand Junction and Green River. I decided to break up the drive by making a short side trip to scramble up Bottleneck Mesa, which involved a nice detour off the interstate into the central part of the San Rafael Swell (a huge anticline in the middle of the state which I-70 cuts right through). This region has a ton of histroy with outlaws, mining, and lots of petroglyph and pictograph displays from the days of old. 28 miles west of Green River, exit 131 off I-70 gives access to Temple Mountain Road. Heading south from this exit takes you to the large area of the swell south of the interstate such as Temple Mountain, Hidden Splendor, and many awesome technical canyons in the center of the swell such as Chute Canyon and Baptist Draw. These areas are all areas I thouroughly explored while in college, but I never got the chance to go north off this exit towards the San Rafael River in years past so I figured this was a great time for a first visit. Continuing north, the road paralleld the freeway a couple miles then heads north. 19 miles from the exit on a very well graded dirt road you arrive at the San Rafael River Bridge and campground.
Since this was the day before christmas, and the swell is a little higher elevation and somewhat further north in the desert southwest there was a couple inches of snow covering much of the landscape from a small storm a few days prior. The snow actually made the drive up the dirt road smoother, filling in the washboards which was awesome. As I neared my destination along the way I passed below the west flank of Window Blind Peak on the right, the giant of the immediate area which I will climb later this winter. To the left Bottleneck Mesa and its associated peak (the shorter, but very steep tower just to the north) were directly above the road, but big cliffs gaurd the east side of this formation. A quarter mile or so before reading the bridge over the San Rafael River there is a small unnamed road leading off to the west which I turned onto continuing for perhaps another 800 feet to a small corral and the end of the road which is where I parked (green dot on map below; elevation 5142 feet). Here, I was north of Bottleneck Mesa, as the only weakness in this formation is along its northern flank. Interestingly enough, the only weakness on the majority of the peaks in this part of the Swell are on north sides contrary to what you would expect in the alpine.
1-2 inches of snow still covered the land all around, but the sun was shining strong and the sky was cloudless...just the way I like it! At about 1pm I began walking along a dry wash southward, then continued left up a smaller wash which descends down from the basin due north of the summit. This wash passes below the west side of the Bottleneck Tower (which by the way involves 5.10 climbing to reach the summit). I was however going for the higher mesa of the same name. After 3/4 of a mile up the wash the terrain began to steepen, and I lost the sun as it went behind the mesa to the south. As soon as I went into the shade the temperature dropped what felt like 20 degrees and the snow depth increased to 3 inches. Good thing I had my high top leather boots with me. The crux of the whole route was surmounting the 15 foot lower cliff band marked with an orange dot in the map below (elevation 5600 feet). There was only one weakness I found in the cliff band which was off to the right (west) of where the apex was (where water would flow over if there was any). Much of the cliff band was overhanging and about 30-40 feet tall actually, but a pile of debris allowed easy passage over to the west a bit, with the final 15 feet requiring a committing class 3 move with a traverse on a narrow ledge to the left above increasing exposure. Someone put a handline here to grasp just in case. With the snow cover I had to brush off a couple of the footholds to make it secure but otherwise not an issue at all.
Once above the cliff band, I continued south on another flat section, briefly in the sun again, but quickly crossed over to the left side of the wash and scrambled up a loose slope to the east of a small cliff band that bisected the basin into two halves. This ascent was the majority of the elevation gain to reach the summit plateau. It was lots of class 2 romping with 3 inches of snow cover and the final 30 feet to the plateau involved an east class 2+ scramble up a right trending ramp. Once on the summit plateau, and back in the sun it was an easy walk to the highest point, which was most easily reached from its southeast side (class 2). The summit elevation is at 6403 feet making the total gain only about 1300 feet so despite the snow it only took 75 minutes to reach the summit. Amazingly there was a summit register, which after inspecting I realized this is rarely climbed. My friend Jamie and his friends were the last to climb it over two years earlier. Since there was service, I texted him a photo of the register entry since I was suprised to see that. After a 30 minute summit stay I retraced my steps back down to the car and continued driving towards Zion, but I hung around the San Rafael Bridge a bit to take some more photos of impressive Window Blind Peak, and of the river.
I continued driving as the sun set and got dark. At 7pm I reached Hurricane Utah where I grabbed dinner and met up with Elaine who would join me for the next couple days to discuss the climbs we would do and make a rough plan. I then got a cheap motel and went to sleep.
The following morning I picked Elaine up and we drove through Springdale and into Zion about a 30 minute drive away. Our plan for the day was to climb Aires Butte via the Led By Sheep route; a straightforward 4 pitch 5.4 low angle route up Navajo Sandstone that was bolted about 15 years ago. We wanted to do something low key for first time climbing together, and also gain a summit with it so this fit the bill perfectly. With my handicripple pass I was able to get us into the park for free and we continued on highway 9 driving through the Mt. Carmel Tunnel and parked about a mile past the short tunnel just east of the big one (marked by blue line on map below). From the parking pullout we dropped a few feet into the wash just south of the road and walked under the bridge and continued north for 10 minutes until we reached a small petroglyph panel on an east facing cliff along the wash. There is a wood railing blocking people from touching it so it's easy to spot.
A few yards past that we continued to the right and ascended northeast up Kayenta slabs towards a broad 5920 foot saddle just south of Aires Butte. These slabs can be class 3-4 but with sticky approach shoes it should be pretty easy to pick a route up through them and emerge onto the lower angle Navajo and reach the saddle roughly 540 feet above where the car is. From the saddle we continued north wrapping around to the right of a cliff with a few small trees at its base and aiming for the southeast flank of the butte. We found a very large eye bolt at the base of the route right where the angle steepened and we put the harnesses on here.
Elaine led the first pitch, clipping bolts spaced roughly every 30 feet for about 50 meters of ropelength and reached the first set of chains. I opted to just leave my approach shoes on and quickly followed up what I dubbed a class 4 pitch. I then started up the second pitch, and I thought the hardest section of the whole route was the first 15 feet of the second pitch...perhaps 5.4, but a little trickier with just running shoes on while leading with no pro. The second pitch totalled about 45 meters, then Elaine led the 50 meter 3rd pitch which again had maybe one or two short 5.4 spots with class 4 most of the way. I led the 25 meter 4th pitch to the final set of chains where we left the ropes and scrambled the final 20 feet of class 2-3 to the summit plateau. This was a super cool spot to enjoy panramic views down into the valley below. I continued a short ways to the highest point, but trees blocked the view from the actual high point due to it being a summit plateau, so I walked to the north end to look down the north side which featured a substantial drop of about 400 to the key saddle, making this a ranked peak.
We had a quick snack and enjoyed the midday views, taking photos and with the calm winds and warm temperatures it was pleasant. We then rappelled the route, with the first rappel just using a single rope, but the following 3 using two ropes. Two 60m ropes are required to rappel this route, however just bring quick draws. It's bolted more than enough for its easy difficulty that all trad gear can be left at home. Once at the base we hiked back to the car and headed back. Since it was still early, I suggested Elaine lead the first trad pitch of Ashtar Command on Ataxia Tower (a route I had done back in 2013). She was stoked to climb a bit more so on the way back, we parked at the upper switchback on the west side of the Carmel tunnel and I belyed her up this great 5.7 pitch. Having already done it I opted for us to just to head back to Hirricane afterwards, get some dinner and plan for the much bigger day we would have on West Temple the next day. As we drove through Springdale, we stopped a couple times to study the route up West Temple since it was visible from town.
Map of the route
Bottleneck Peak (R) and Mesa (L) from road
Bottleneck Peak (tower) from the lower cliff band
View of the crux up the lower cliff band
View north up San Rafael River
Window Blind Peak from summit
Window Blind Peak
Assembly Hall Peak on right
Window Blind again
The summit from the edge of the summit plateau
View up the north slope
At the top of the crux lower cliff band
At the bottom of the cliff band
North side of Bottleneck Peak
Panoramic view from the summit
Summit register entries
Window Blind from the road
North side of Window Blind
Driving back towards I-70
Window Blind from the bridge
San Rafael River
We got some nice Thai Curry that evening and crashed for the night, waking up at 6am the next morning. We wanted to start hiking from the Chinle Trailhead at 7:30am. We were almost successful with this, and started up at 7:50am. The Chinle Trailhead is located basically next to highway 9 a couple miles southwest of Springdale. It is reached by turning north onto Anasazi Way and after going around the first bend in the road, cutting right and down a steep hill to a large parking lot at a lowly 3800 feet elevation. Back in 2013 when I climbed Mount Kinesava with Jacob, I remember we were able to drive a bit further up Anasazi Way and park right where the road crosses the wash utilized to hike north towards the peaks at 3922 feet saving just over a half mile each way, but now that there are new houses in this subdivision (and big expensive houses I might add), the parking area next to Highway 9 must be used these days.
It was a cold morning so we wasted no time getting started, hiking 0.6 miles to where the trail crossed Anasazi Way the second time where the road crosses a wide wash. We hiked under the bridge and left the trail here (which continues off to the northwest on an old double track). We continued up this wash for another 0.5 mile, reaching the barbed wire fence marking the boundary of the national park and crawled under it. It was an easy walk up the wash with many other footprints visible indicating Kinesava and West Temple are quite popular (as there would be no other reason to head up this way). After another 0.67 mile we met the terminus of the ridge that provides access above the lower cliff band. Enough people have been up here by now that there is a nice trail leading all the way up this ridge and beyond. The trail starts by cutting right (east) out of the wash at 4067 feet elevation, and weaving up to the crest of the broad and gentle ridge. Continuing up the ridge, after another half mile (1.8 miles from the trailhead) the trail crosses under a set of power lines at 4470 feet where a small saddle is crossed. These lines I assume connect Springdale to the grid!
Next a steep and somewhat loose 600 foot hill is ascended to reach the flat plateau above at about 5100 feet. From here, it is possible to follow the trail all the way acorss this flat area towards the northwest, then over a small hill, and switchbacking up the next steep slope towards the ramp leading to the 6600 foot saddle between Kinesava and West Temple. It is very important you take the rightward ascending ramp to reach this saddle, and avoid trying to climb to it from directly below. You also want to avoid taking the other ramp off to the left leading higher up to the summit plateau of Kinesava. In the photo below, the blue line is the correct route to the notch, while the green line is the standard route up Kinesava.
Aires Butte Overview Map
Aires Butte from the short approach
Petroglyphs from the wash at the base of the slabs
Hiking up Kayenta slabs
Nearing the saddle
Elaine starting the first pitch
View south from the route
Looking up the route from P2
Slightly higher butte to the south
East face of Aires Butte from summit
View west from summit
Elaine on the summit plateau
Lower Navajo dome just south of Aires Butte
Making the 1st rappel
Headed back down the approach slabs
Descending the slabs
Aires Butte from the highway
West Temple on the left from Springdale
We continued heading more or less towards the ramp, hiking over the small ridge and beginning a steep, sandy ascent, following a bit of a trail and cairns up the ramp and eventually reaching the notch. Here we took a break and realized we had to climb up and over an unranked Peak 7085 on the ridge before the final ridge scramble and climb to the summit plateau. We initially started up to the left of the crest, crossed over to the right and climbed an exposed low 5th class crack for 10 feet or so and reached easier class 2+ terrain with occational 3rd above that led up to the top of the unranked peak. The top of this point was actually a narrow sidewalk of sorts with wild exposure to both sides. A short ways down the north side there was a deep notch that involved a class 4 exposed downclimb, where a tree had to be then climbed down to finish the final 8 feet or so to reach the notch. From there it was easy descending to the next low saddle at 6900 feet. The next stretch of the ridge was the most pleasant and was simple walking on mostly flat ridge with gorgeous views in all directions. As we got closer to the final climb though the terrain got steeper and steeper. I scouted a way we could scramble up class 3 and 4 terrain staying near the ridgecrest the whole way. We bypassed the wide chimney on the right closer to the crest that some people have called mid 5th class and actually climbed. Some loose and exposed class 4 climbing was had followed by a low 5th class section at the very top of the chimney after we traversed left into it near its top. We both agreed we would make the two rappells down the chimney on the way back since it was pretty scary what we had just solod.
East side of West Temple from the approach. Note the blue line is the route.
Soon enough, we reached the base of the final 50 foot 5.7 pitch to the summit plateau. We roped up and I led the fun pitch involving a flake to climb over, then an inset crack, past three bolts (first one is trash) to the chains. I belayed Elaine up and we pulled the last 5 feet above the chains to the summit plateau with the help of a small tree. From here we dropped all our gear and made the remaining easy flat walk towards the summit dome. The knee high bushes all over the plateau were annoying to walk through but it was quick walking overall. After 15 minutes or so we made the hike up the final 200 feet to the upper summit plateau, which to my dismay was even bushier than below, and I still had to hike to the north end of this plateau to reach the highest point (although the entire thing was so flat you'd never know). The summit register was sitting in the bushes right next to where the final hill ends on the south end of the summit plateau. Upon signing it, I noticed Seano had just been there about a month earlier, and coupled West Temple with Kinesava. I remember Cowboy Ridge on Kinesava from nearly 8 years earlier as a very fun route so I was stoked to see Sean getting out in Zion.
We took a 30 minute break to enjoy the summit. After I walked to the northern end, I bushwhacked back and visited the eastern end where there are radio towers (what?)...yes helicopter access radio towers on the top of this peak! The view down into the Zion valley from this side was incredible though, with gigantic cliffs dropping off below. Knowing we had a long descent ahead of us, and with it being already 2:30pm we started back. Upon reaching the chains at the top of the final pitch we made a short 20 meter rappel, then another two single rope rappells off bomber webbing anchors tied around big trees down the chimney. After that we retraced our steps down the ridge, with a couple tricky downclimbs to get off Point 7085 back to the notch but nothing requiring a rope for us. I wanted to ensure we were at least onto the flat 5100 foot area before it got dark and we nailed that perfectly. The sunset ended up being fantastic also! Only the last ridge down back to the powerlines and the hike back the initial wash to the Chinle Trail did we have to do in the dark, and at about 7:15pm we were back at the car. Another well earned dinner was had and back to Hirricane we went for the night.
The next day since there was supposed to be a snowstorm in the afternoon, I left Hurricane at 9am for the 9 hour drive back to Denver, making it back home just before snow started to fly. All in all an excellent trip and a well overdue trip back to Zion in the books.
Kinesava (L) and West Temple (R)
The notch off to the left
View east towards Bridge Mountain
Springdale down below
East Temple across the Virgin River Valley
Closing in on the notch
At the notch
On the ridge
View back over the notch at Kinesava
Remaining climb to Point 7085
Kinesava behind Elaine from Point 7085
Elaine climbing one of the class 4 bits
The remainder of the ridge to West Temple
Sidewalk in the sky
East Temple off in the distance
Elaine climbing the upper part of the chimney
View northwest from the top of the 5.7 pitch
Final summit mound now visible
Ascending the summit mound
Elaine on the summit!
View east from the summit
Radio towers on the summit
View down the ridge
Rappelling the 5.7 pitch
Some class 3 downclimbs
Looking back at the steep ridge
Sunset glow on Bridge Mountain and East Temple
Gorgeous sunset glow
Route map of the southern half
Route map of the northern half
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Joined: 16 Jan 2018
Posts: 119 | TRs | Pics
Looks like a nice trip. I was in the San Rafael Bridge area for the first time this year and was unaware people climbed the buttes around there (we hiked a ways up the canyon from the same TH you used). Looks pretty lonely there this time of year; we saw a huge party of RVs, ATVs etc etc camped at that corral in May!
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