Lady Mountain (Redux)
Zion National Park, Utah
Wednesday, September 24
Now firmly established at Zion National Park, it was time to turn our attention to the second item of this year's "Checklist Edition" trip: a re-attempt on the monolith of Lady Mountain.
Lady Mountain is one of the peaks that line the sides of Zion Canyon. It is a nearly seven thousand-foot mountain, composed primarily of clean Navajo sandstone, and steep even on its easiest aspects. Starting in the 1920s it sported a steep but "protected" official trail to its summit. That trail was dismantled in 1970, and the modern-day route up to the top of nearby Angel's Landing took Lady Mountain's place as the park's signature "airy" hike. Today, the route up Lady Mountain has reverted into a rarely-climbed, semi-technical off-piste route.
In September of 2013, we attempted the climb of Lady Mountain. We found it was an excellent mix of hiking, routefinding, and easy climbing, with fun situations. The only problem was.... we didn't make it to the top. We got about three-quarters of the way before approaching darkness turned us around. If you'd like to read about that attempt, you can click here
Before leaving that year, we vowed to come back and try to achieve what been nearly within our grasp. And so, here we were.
The Pink Companion
Lady Mountain's route is a steep hike with some scrambling and a few easy technical bits. We realized that not everyone in our group would necessarily be interested in this sort of terrain. We offered an open invitation to all (well, except perhaps the kids), and, in the end, seven of us elected to tackle Lady Mountain: myself, Jenn, Roland, Stephanie, Brian, Caroline, and Pu.
Last year's failure was primarily due to the fact that we had started too late, beginning the climb after noon (and also the fact that not all of us carried headlamps). This year, we got started quite a bit earlier. We sorted through our gear (a half-length of rope, harnesses, helmets, rappel/belay devices, a few slings, a few pieces of protection) and were packed up and ready to head off by 9:40 a.m.
Zion National Park has a spring-to-fall closure of the Zion Canyon road to public vehicles. If one wishes to visit anything in Zion canyon, one instead must take a free shuttle service - unless you happen to be a current occupant at the Zion Canyon Lodge. We were not. So, we headed over to the visitor center to catch the next bus.
We listened to the well-worn "up-canyon" audio track as our shuttle bus slowly made its way up the canyon - Zion History Museum stop, check. Canyon junction stop, check. Court of the Patriarchs stop, check. Zion Lodge stop. Ah, that was us. Shuttle exit time.
Lady Mountain Above
Lady Mountain towers over you as you exit from the shuttle at the Zion Canyon Lodge stop. I mean, right in front of you - as in, the base of the peak is only about four hundred yards straight-line from the bus stop, and the summit is only about 6/10ths of a mile away (1km) in a straight line. And not only is it a stone's throw away, but Lady Mountain's summit is nearly 3,000 feet higher than the bus stop. Needless to say, it looks high - really high. And it is.
Those in our group who were seeing Lady (as a climbing objective) for the first time - specifically, Pu and Brian, were duly impressed.
Starting off from Zion Lodge
Under perfectly clear skies and warm temperatures, we set off, crossing the Zion Canyon parkway and walking for a few minutes along the Virgin River. We crossed the sturdy steel footbridge onto the far side.
We had learned much from our initial climb attempt 12 months before: for one, we knew not to turn right and hike up to Lower Emerald Pools. That was a much more circuitous route, for no gain whatsoever. Instead, the right choice was to turn left, following the now (as of 2014, in any case) closed alternate trail to Lower Emerald Pools. One has to get on this closed section of trail to climb Lady Mountain no matter which way you go, so it's best to just take the shortest route.
The closed (and/or decommissioned) trail was for the most part in good shape - a slightly washed out section near the beginning and a smattering of small rocks and dirt otherwise. The trail immediately swung back to the north-ish, reaching an interpretive-signed lookout above the Virgin River after about ten minutes of walking.
Perhaps thirty yards beyond the interpretive sign (which I believe talks about a rockfall that was visible from here many years ago), the un-marked herdpath for Lady Mountain angled off to the left, up the loose slope. We absolutely knew this was the correct way, for it was the way we had descended after last year's attempt. No time-wasting decision-making here - up we went.
The moderately-obvious to quite-obvious foot track switchbacks once or twice up the loose tree-dotted slope, and in ten more minutes, we arrived at the start of the scrambling: a steep but very blocky chimney that did not require any technical gear.