West Temple 3.7.20

Blair Ballard

Apr 4, 2013
Hey Guys, long time lurker, but first time poster here on BC Post. I've been inspired by many of the trip reports over the years and I finally started to write up trip reports this past year of things I've done. My wife, and I, have a website that we're hoping to turn into our own blog/guide/brand or whatever it turns out to be. The website is canyoncouple.com. I've posted several trip reports over there, but I really wanted to post this one on here to receive some feedback from you guys. I hope everything gets formatted correctly on here as, once again, it's my first time posting on here. It's long, but I hope you enjoy it!

March 7th, 2020

West Temple had been on my wish list to climb for several years. It’s been something I’ve marveled at each time I head to Zion. I’ve worked in the shadows of this monolith for years and always wondered what the view from the top of one of the most recognizable features in Southern Utah is like. Its prominence makes it visible for miles in each direction. Originally known and Steamboat Mountain, or just “The Steamboat” by early settlers, the unique shape and colors of the West Temple welcome visitors to Zion Canyon driving from the West and offer a glimpse of what the scenery further up canyon will be. In my opinion, there should be a lot more buzz about this peak as far as the marketing for the park is concerned. For every thousand pictures of Angels Landing, The Watchman, Checkerboard Mesa, or the Great White Throne that you see, you only see a couple pictures of the West Temple. I think it would be seen more if there was a trail behind the Zion Human history Museum that went back into the canyon that it towers over. People never really get a true feel for how massive it really is just driving past it. In reality, the difference from the elevation of Springdale to the top plateau of West Temple is just shy of 4000 feet. That’s 400 solid feet higher than the height of El Cap from the Yosemite Valley floor. Enough of the mini history lesson though.

This trip definitely required quite a bit more preparation than some of my previous wanderings. First of all, there’s not a lot of information about it available. A few Zion climbing guidebooks mention the Southwest Ridge route, but there aren’t a lot of trip reports out there that give good information. A lot of this trip was built on carefully studying Google Earth and comparing what I saw on there to what I saw while staring up at it while working. If you haven’t noticed yet, I use Google Earth a lot for any of our trips. I don’t know what I’d do without this tool and all the people who did these types of things without it were certainly bold spirits. I’m constantly looking at satellite maps and for this particular trip, the 3D landscape rendering was an absolute godsend. It’s so detailed; you can honestly pick out every single obstacle we encountered along the way. I could praise Google Earth all day, but this trip also required some knowledge of traditional climbing. In my previous Cowboy Ridge trip report, (read here) I’d learned to do a little of this in a bit of a baptism by fire situation, but I hadn’t really done much of it since. I did slowly collect a full rack of cams and nuts though by now and I’d learned to use them and be more comfortable with them with lots of Youtube videos and limited hands on practice. Not the best way to learn, but it was enough to make me confident for the 5.6 YDS technical pitch at the very top of the Navajo Sandstone portion of the climb. The experience of Cowboy Ridge was also vital in simply learning how to mentally deal with the exposure. The last bit of preparation I needed was just the physical nature of the trip as a whole. Hiking 4000 vertical feet is never a walk in the park let alone and at the start of this year I was not in the shape I needed to be. A few months of dedicated gym workouts during the offseason of my work did the trick for that. I felt better physically on this trip than I have in a long time.

Good partners are definitely required for this trip as well. Not only do they need to be up to the physical challenges of this trip, they need to be mentally up for the task. Embracing the suck that is the hike up the route and dealing with the exposure on the way down are not optional traits one has to have. Mitchell was an obvious first choice and his two good friends Noah and Greyson fit the bill as well. We all met a couple days before the trip to make sure everyone was square with the beta for the trip and a 6am Chinle trailhead start was scheduled for March 4th. I was a little concerned about the amount of daylight we’d have so we made sure to have a hard turnaround time of 1pm that afternoon. None of us wanted to be hiking out in the dark.


Got to see our objective lit up like this for all of about 2 minutes on the approach.

After fueling up on some Maverik gas station breakfast, we were just a few minutes late for our 6am start time. We started with headlamps and jackets as we cruised through the Anasazi Drive neighborhood and across the park boundary. By the time we headed off the trail aiming toward the lone weakness in the Springdale band of sandstone, twilight was in full swing. The first rays of sun lit up our objective beautifully for all of maybe 2 minutes before evening out into beautiful early morning light. We were moving quickly and passed the Springdale band a little bit after 7:15. By then, we had shed our jackets and were gassed from the approach so far. 1000 feet or so of vertical done 3000+ to go. From here our objective was in clear view; a small V like notch that separates the massif of the West Temple from that of Mt. Kinesava. It was fun to return to this spot after doing Cowboy Ridge last year. This was the point at which the routes for these two objectives diverge into two. We did what we could to follow faint social trails from this area, but most of them petered out and led to us just heading directly toward our objective cross country most of the time. Eventually, we met up with the Kinesava exit route trail which was a little more defined. The trail steepens as you get closer to the mountain and you have to make sure to pick out the path of greenery that lead up to the notch. You have to mentally note that location every few minutes so you don’t miss it and end up on the Kinesava side. Thankfully, a few well placed cairns exist and are fairly obvious if you are looking for them. The narrow ridge leading up to the notch doesn’t look like it should exist until you’re basically on it. It’s on this ridge that you get your first hint of exposure although it would be nothing compared to what we’d do later that day. After scrambling for a little more than an hour, we arrived at the notch, getting our first view to the other side of the ridge.


One of the first good views of the “Notch” on the approach


The Notch after turning off the very faint Mt. Kinesava trail and beginning the scramble up the narrow shelf.


Finally onto the ridge!

We arrived at the notch a little bit before 9am and I was happy about where we were on time. We had done a majority of the elevation by this time, and we had 4 hours to negotiate the ridgeline. From this point, we were less than one linear mile from the temple cap formation of the West Temple, but I knew that we were just getting started with the day. We quickly climbed up and out of the notch and found ourselves on the narrow ridgeline. It didn’t take long for the first bit of sketchy, exposed scrambling to reveal itself. Right after squeezing through an odd, slot canyon like rock, we were met by a short, but exposed arête that had no obvious way around it. On even ground, this task would be trivial, but with exposure on all sides where a slip wasn’t an option, it became more of a challenge. This would become a theme throughout the day. I think all 4 of us took a different approach, but we all made it up with no problems. Unfortunately, after a few more up climbs, Greyson began to have some pretty serious leg cramps. He had been having minor ones earlier in the day, but he was able to manage them. However, with the exposure that we were starting to face, we decided it was best that we take a break to see if we could curb them. We didn’t want one of these cramps to happen at a bad time where it could lead to a bad accident. Arriving at one of the few flat-ish spots on the ridgeline, we stopped to get some fuel in our bodies and hope that Greyson could recover. After 10-15 minutes, it became clear that this break wasn’t going to be enough to keep him going. The cramps didn’t recede and we were faced with some hard options. We considered waiting longer or even turning around at this point. Greyson insisted that we kept going, but that meant that we would have to leave him there on the ridgeline because getting back down was going to require the rope that we needed to go up. He opted to wait it out right there and the other 3 of us begrudgingly headed forward without him. We were able to keep contact with him the rest of the day though since we had cell reception the entire time.


Wussy Peak on the approach. This is right before we separated from Greyson.

Shortly after leaving Greyson, we encountered what would turn out to be the highest consequence exposure we had to overcome. A slabby, awkward dihedral face that angled out away from the ridgeline had to be negotiated very carefully. Upon seeing it, I wanted to rope up and put some protection in to help us climb it, but due to the awkward nature of the climb it just wouldn’t work. To add to the problem, the rock quality was getting progressively worse the higher we went and any protection I could have put in was not likely to hold in the event of a fall. So, each of us took a different way up being careful to test every hand and foothold that we chose to trust. This would be another theme that would be apparent throughout the day. I’m not sure the full extent of how sketchy this part registered with us fully until we returned to it on our way back. From here, more scrambling over loose, chossy rock led us to the top of what many call “Wussy Peak”. It doesn’t look like much from the canyon floor, but getting to this point on the peak was no trivial task. It’s characterized by a notch that separates the peak into a north and south side. Vertical walls on both side of the notch would present a significant problem if it wasn’t for a single, healthy ponderosa tree growing out of the notch. This tree it perfectly placed so that you do a short series of down climb moves before you can actually climb into the tree and climb down it. Each limb of this tree felt infinitely more secure than any of the rocks we had been holding onto for the last little while.


The view toward our objective from Wussy Peak.


The Sketchy down climb to the world most useful live tree in Zion


Springdale from the ridge.

After the notch, we went through a tight slot like feature where I wedged myself in tighter than I intended giving my camera an unwanted sanding. After a few more down climbs, we were finally on some flat, secure ground with the final climb dead ahead of us. The stoke was starting to rise in all of us. The previous challenges had slowed us down a little bit, but it was becoming more and more clear that we were in good shape to summit. This final section of scrambling went fairly quickly. We were getting accustomed to the terrible rock quality and moving efficiently. Route finding was the more difficult part as the terrain steepened and became more complicated. About midway up, we encountered a short, vertical face with a small handcrack splitting it right down the middle. Previous groups had mentioned that there was a way to go around this, but after checking what that might entail; we opted to throw a nut in the crack and attach a short etrier to the nut to give ourselves a leg up. I’m sure that each of us could have climbed it if we really had to, but it didn’t make sense to waste time on such a short section. We left the etrier behind for the way back as we didn’t intend to need it further up. Higher and higher we went until I got my first glimpse of the technical pitch we would need to be climbing. One more awkward scramble got us to the bottom of it. We geared up and I tied in to lead it. I spotted one bolt quite a ways up, but I knew there was supposed to be three. I slung my rack of cams up and headed up the slabbed crack. There was no good place to put any protection in for the first 20 or 25 feet. After fighting through a live bush, I arrived to a ledge and found the first bolt. I hadn’t placed a single piece of gear yet so the bolt was a welcome sight. I could see the next bolt, but I couldn’t see the third one. I continued climbing placing two pieces of gear in the finger crack leading to the next bolt. It wasn’t until I was at the second bolt that I could see the 3rd. One more piece of gear later I clipped the 3rd bolt and scrambled up to the anchors. Setting up the belay was simple and Noah followed after me cleaning up some of the rope drag I’d created with one of the cam placements. He was next to me in no time and he unhooked and was the first person to get on top of the Navajo Sandstone layer. I sent the rope back down to Mitchell and he too was quickly through the climb.


The short hand crack that we aided.

I felt like I built the next moment up in my mind for so long leading up to this. I was finally passed all the technical nature of this climb and all that stood between me and the summit of West Temple was a few hundred yard bushwhack through heavy manzanita and a short hundred feet up a scree slope to the top. There were still a few feet of snow in the shady areas at the top here, but we quickly covered the distance nonetheless. At the top, I found a Canyon Keg acting as the trail register for the route. I opened it and immediately smelled something suspiciously sweet. That got a good laugh out of the three of us. I signed the register and left the electric lettuce for a future peak bagger. We then made our way over to the radio towers looking over the town of Springdale. The views were great, but to be honest, a little anti climatic. It not like a typical peak where you get commanding, 360 degree views of everything around you. The top was flat and you had to work through lots of manzanita in order to get your views. The feeling was what it was all about though. I’ll never drive to or from Zion without looking up at this mountain and thinking fondly of the amount of work it took to get to this point. We summited at just before 12:30pm giving us an hour to take it all in. I also brought up a signal mirror and called my work to signal the crew that was on that day. I thought it was a pretty fun thing to do and one of the few things from the Boy Scout days I’ve taken along with me.


First clear view of the summit all day! Almost there!


Mitchell taking in the views.


Noah on the highest point on the mountain


Heading back down the talus slope on the Temple Cap.

The half hour we had to enjoy the top was over far too fast. I basically had time to sign the register, signal my work, and take a handful of pictures from the east side of the ridge. If we’d of had more time, I would have liked to go to the North side of the mesa to get a view to that way. There was a whole lot of manzanita bushwhacking that would have been involved in that though. I guess you always need reasons to come back! We headed back toward the scree slope and across the mesa. We had dropped our packs and left the rope anchored to the top of the technical pitch. We stopped a few times to take pictures, but we quickly found where we dropped our stuff and Noah began getting roped up to head back down. Mitchell somehow got separated from us on the way back and got a little disoriented as to where we’d dropped our stuff off. After I got him back with us, he and I both headed down in quick succession and so began the descent.


Looking back toward the summit shortly before Mitchell got lost.

From a few of the beta sources, I’d heard that the descent often takes just as long. It was quickly evident that that was going to be true at least for hiking back on the ridgeline. It’s a common occurrence for people to climb up things and not be able to get down as easily. This was no different for us. We believed that the rock was sketchy on the ascent, but it seemed significantly worse on the way down. Things we climbed up without a second thought became intimidating on the way down and in multiple cases made us take alternative routes down. Sometime those routes were better, but it seemed like more of them ended up being worse. The best example of this was midway between the top and the short hand crack that we put up the etrier on. We had ascended a ridge that was probably 6 feet wide with heavy exposure on both sides. It probably amounted to about 80 to 100 vertical feet. Scrambling up on all fours, it was quick and we didn’t take the time to appreciate the amount of exposure on both sides of us. On the way down was different. I took one look at the beginning of that and decided to look for other options. We opted for a long, angled chute that ran to the west of the ridge. It was fine at first, but became more and more off camber as we headed down. We had a narrow crack that we could use for part of the way down, but it disappeared and we were left to rely on whatever friction we could muster with different parts of our body to get down. Thankfully, besides Noah breaking a hold and giving us all a good fright, we got down just fine. I’m not sure that going the other way would have been any better, but next time it would be worth it to sling a bush and just rappel down instead.


The view back down from the top of the 5.6 Pitch.

We partner assisted down the hand crack and retrieved our gear from earlier before heading back on the nice flat ridge. We were all ready to get off this route by this time. At this point, we had all been on high alert for about 6 hours and it was starting to wear on us. The ascent of Wussy Peak heading back went smoothly including ascending back up the tree climb. Shortly after getting over the top of the peak, we had visual contact with Greyson back. We still had to navigate the sketchy climb we did earlier, but this was easily dispatched by setting up a rappel. After meeting back up with Greyson, we took a couple minutes to regroup before heading back toward the notch. One more rappel got us back there in good time and put an end to our time on the ridgeline. Now, 3000 vertical feet of descending was all that stood between us and a tasty dinner in Springdale. As we moved downward, we decided a trip to Meme’s Café was in order when we got back to the car. I contacted Karina to meet us in Springdale for dinner around 6pm. I expected her to beat us there, but we made fantastic time coming off the mountain. After carefully navigating the narrow ramp leading up to the notch, we cruised down the Kinesava exit trail. Good company and conversation made the descent go quickly for us. It also allowed us all to unwind from the trip. I started to feel the stoke build inside each time we took a second to look back at what we had just done. None of us will ever look up at that mountain and see it the same way. We had seen something that 99.99 percent of the millions of people who visit Zion each year would ever see. It’s hard not to be a little prideful of that.


Rapping down the last technical portion off Wussy Peak. Still not sure how we went up this without a rope.

Before long, we were trudging back through the Anasazi Drive subdivision and arrived at our cars at 6:07pm marking almost exactly 12 hours from the time we left earlier. We drove into Springdale where Karina was waiting for us at Memes Cafe. I enjoyed a well-earned Teriyaki Burger (if you haven’t had it you’re missing out) and stared up at West Temple from our table. It was a surreal feeling knowing we had just been up there. A lot of preparation and planning had come to fruition today and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as we finished up dinner and went our separate ways. As fun as it was, it felt even better to be back with Karina and the baby. Someday, I hope to share this experience or others like it with them. That’s the only way you could beat the feeling I had as we drove back home to Cedar City.
Lol I love "lurkers" and when people call themselves "lurker" haha. I want to be one someday.

Thank you for feeling comfortable sharing with us! Beautiful views and photos!! Goodluck with your website/blog. That is definitely its own adventure!
WOW!! west temple truly is a trip! one of my acquaintances was the kid of a super nature athlete and I remember him telling me his dads experience on west temple, having boulders wobbly with thousands of feet of exposure being one of them and getting sketched out. Very impressive getting up there! not many make the commitment to do it! very good post
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