|Southwest Ridge, III, 5.8, West Temple, Zion National Park, April, 2007
|Lat/Lon: 37.20861°N / 113.02028°W- Click for Satellite Image
West Temple (official name The West Temple, also referred to as The Steamboat
back in the day) is the highest objective in Zion National Park at 7810’. The name
"Zion" meaning "place of refuge," was given to the canyon by Mormon pioneers in
1919. The park is comprised of 229 square miles of protected wilderness and is
home to Kolob Arch, the world’s largest. West Temple was first climbed in 1933 and
named by John Wesley Powell. West Temple is a classic landmark in Zion, if not for
its towering size, then for its horse head feature that can be seen from the south side
of the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel.
West Temple sports one of the most committing routes in the park, “Getting Mo
Western”, VI, 5.11+ put up by Darren Cope and Brad Quinn in 1990. This huge
headwall faces Springdale and thus has been discussed around more than a few
cups of joe. The descent used for this route is actually an Alpine III, 5.8 ridge route
that was highlighted in an article done for Climbing Magazine by Fritz Cahall, “Earth,
Wind, and Rubble”, February, 2007. Of course once my friends saw this article, I was
no doubt destined to be conned into these “desert alpine” ridge routes (as Cahall
was by James Martin).
I had climbed Cowboy Ridge the week prior and anyone sane might have had
enough cacti and loose sandstone to last a while. But I am use to tagging 40+
mountain summits in the Canadian Rockies every year and needed a diversion from
the more technical climbing in and around Zion and St. George. The only technical
portion of the southwest ridge of Mount Temple is the final pitch of the ridge rated at
5.8, but felt more like 5.6 and included three bolts to anchor believe it or not!
We used Serendipity Road in Springdale. This is a privately maintained residential
road and there are access issues. I know one of the residents on this road and thus
did not have to investigate optional access. The other options I am aware of are a
trailhead located south of Serendipity and Black Canyon Road which takes you back
to an amphitheater. The Black Canyon Road is definitely the access you want for the
5.11+ face route. But for the ridge, I believe it is best to start further south west.
You will not need a climbing permit nor do you need to enter the park by car and thus
pay a National Park fee to access the park. However, I always purchase an annual
pass to US and Canadian National Parks. If you are going to make more than 4 visits
per year, I advise this option. No bears to worry about, but rattlers have been spotted
up on this ridge. I almost stepped on a striped whipsnake up on the ridge.
Zion National Park will have manned kiosks on Highway 9 and you will be required to
pay a US National Park fee ($20 per vehicle for a day/week pass, $50 for an annual
pass-2006) if you drive by them. Backcountry permits are required for all overnight
trips in Zion National Park, including climbing bivouacs. Climbing bivouac
reservations are available for Moonlight Buttress, Lunar Ecstasy, Prodigal Son,
Spaceshot and Touchstone climbing areas. The permit fees are based on group
size: 1-2 people: $10, 3-7 people: $15 and 8-12 people: $20. Reservations are
available for many backcountry trips in the park. A reservation does not guarantee
that you will receive a permit. Reasons that a permit will be denied include high
water, flash flood warnings, and wildland fires. Depending upon the backcountry
zone, 40%-60% of the total number of backcountry permits are available through
reservations. The remainder of permits are available as walk-in permits.
Some rock formations and routes are closed to climbing from March 1 to mid-July
each year to protect nesting peregrine falcons. Some areas that are routinely closed
include the Great White Throne, Cable Mountain, Court of the Patriarchs, and the
My favorite place for dinner in Springdale is the outdoor patio at Oscars. It also
appears to be the local’s favorite. Most of the staff is into climbing as well, so it is a
great place to plan your next climbing day and maybe even pick up a partner. Ask for
Zach. The Mean Bean across from Oscars is one of my favorite independent coffee
houses period. Ask for Joe.
When to Climb
Summer days are hot (95-110°F), but overnight lows are usually comfortable (65-70°
F). Climbing in the middle of the day during the summer in southern Utah is not
recommended. Carry plenty of water regardless. Afternoon thunderstorms are
common from mid-July through mid-September. Storms may produce waterfalls as
well as flash floods. Sandstone is weak when wet, so avoid climbing in damp
areas or right after a rain. I climbed West Temple in April, 2007. Winter in Zion
Canyon is fairly mild. Winter storms can bring rain or light snow to Zion Canyon and
much heavier snow in the higher elevations. Clear days may become quite warm,
reaching 60°F; nights are often in the 20s and 30s. Zion roads are plowed, except
the Kolob Terrace road, which is closed in winter.
There are two great campsites inside Zion’s south entrance. I have stayed at the
South Campground just inside the gates. The scenic spots are on the North Fork of
the Virgin River. This is a first come, first serve campground via self registration of
$16 per night in 2005. This is a popular park however and I advise booking a site
ahead of time at Watchman Campground if you think you are going during a popular
period. Facilities include restrooms, drinking water, picnic tables, fire grates, RV
dump stations. No showers are available at these park campsites but are available
at an in town private facility for a fee. There is also a 6-site primitive campground
called Lava Point, no water, no fee, and it is not open all year.
Springdale has tons of lodging options as well including a privately owned
campground right before the entrance to Zion National Park. If you demand the
luxuries of town, I recommend Majestic View Lodge. I have stayed here on several
occasions and the rooms are first class with great views. There is also the privately
run Zion Lodge which is in the heart of the park.
It is actually “illegal” in Zion to camp at the base of a climbing wall or in your
It is a 3800’+/- net elevation day and 4400’+/- total gain regarding “up and down”
elevation according to my altimeter. After Climbing Magazine did a spread (Earth,
Wind and Rubble) on the alpine ridge climbs of Zion, I was contacted almost
immediately by several friends and partners who wanted to jump on these “anything
but alpine” ridges. West Temple is most easily viewed from downtown Springdale,
UT, Zion National Park, as it dominates the western skyline along with Cowboy
Ridge, III, 5.7. Both of these ridges are long and loose with little technical climbing
along the way.
As with most objectives in Zion, on approach you have the distinct advantage of
being able to view and study your objective compared to true alpine environs, but you
will pay a price if you are not watching your step. There is no distinct trail to the start
of West Temple’s southwest ridge and the cacti are quite tenacious and abundant.
You no doubt won’t be packing an alpine axe, crampons, etc, but instead will be
lugging a minimum of three liters of water.
We followed the same approach for Cowboy Ridge. Once above the obvious lower
rock band, start branching out right looking for a long bush covered ramp that
enters a “V” notch in West Temple’s southwest ridge. Avoid following the wrong
rubble ridge up to the start of this ramp to avoid having to lose elevation via
intersecting gullies. In other words, take the time to study your approach.
Once in the ramp, continue along steep walls to your left until an obvious chimney
break and access the notch from there, all relatively easy ground with little if any
West Temple’s southwest ridge is definitely shorter than Cowboy Ridge. You enter
the ridge above 6000’. Start out left from the notch to gain the ridge and climb it direct,
sometimes hiking, sometimes scrambling. I almost stepped on a striped whipsnake
on this section of the ridge. Eventually you will find yourself descending to another
deep notch. This descent goes right and utilizes a tall mature tree for the final
step or two to the ground (photo). Regain lost ground to the left of the ridge. Again
you will find a ridge that goes from scrambling to hiking back to scrambling and
forms a staircase of sorts to the base of the red colored sandstone and crux of the
You come to a very cool (if still standing) white sandstone feature directly on the ridge
(photo). There is a small face to ascend to continue. There is also a long chimney on
the left side of the ridge that you can traverse into. I believe it safer and quicker to
rope up and climb the small face which sports a crack allowing you to place a
piece of protection or two. It is best to coil the rope after this for the continuation
along the ridge to the base of the 5.8 pitch. Ascend to the base of this technical
section from the right side of the ridge. It is the red colored top section of the ridge.
This last 50’ to the top of the ridge (not the actual summit) is not very aesthetic from a
climbing perspective. It is sort of a chimney with a flake sticking out in the middle.
Few if any of the moves were 5.8 as the route is “officially” rated. Move up and place
a piece or two if you want on the side of the flake, then angle back right over one
angle bolt and then two more bolts take you to the belay/rappel station. Bring up
the 2nd before you top out to avoid rope drag, dropping sand onto the 2nd.
Once at the top, the true summit will come into full view to the northeast. The views to
the northwest are incredible by Zion standards giving you a truly remote feel. The true
summit is a typical square top that can be accessed by dropping down into a broad
flat bushy plateau and maneuvering your way through the sharp and hard brush to
the other side where you can hike up some loose scree to a summit cairn with a
register in 2007. You can continue on to the communications tower shelter for better
views down into Zion Canyon and the Three Marys. Return the same. We only made
one rappel (the 5.8 pitch).
One 60 meter double rope that you can double for the ascent and use all 60m of it
for the rappel. This little trick saves quite a bit on weight. The crux is bolted, I
personally would not take a rack, but a few small-medium pieces might make you
feel more comfortable. Maybe a set of lightweight hexes might do the trick. Half dozen
slings, plenty of water, approach shoes you are comfortable climbing the crux in, sun
screen and sun glasses…..just think tons of sun!
Thomas Brereton, author of "Zion National Park: Off-Trail Routes" reportedly died in
1979 on the SW ridge of The West Temple when a large boulder he was stepping
onto shifted and fell. Supposedly the sandstone was wet. Heed the warning.
Notes: I don't see how this is rated 5.8, more of a difficult scramble by Canadian
Rockies standards. Not sure if this really is the official rating, just what I picked up in
Climbing Magazine (Feb 2007). If you are never going to climb pitch after pitch of 5.11
+ trad, this is your only other option to reach the summit of West Temple. Fine day
with Carsten. This coming weekend will be our third in a row. Nice, fast and strong, I
appreciate that. Uneventful climb, but fun to tic off the list.
CLICK TO ENLARGE PHOTOS
2. Final Staircase
3. Feature marking first crux or detour.
4. Summit View
6. Approach View
7. Typical Part of the Ridge
8. Aid Climbing
9. Indian Paintbrush
10. Typical Part of the Ridge
11 Unique Feature right below the summit