Moonlight Buttress Free Beta Overload

How to not get your stash stolen.
Moonlight Buttress has been climbed in 2 hours free solo, yet still gets done in 2-3 days as a seige-style bigwall. It's a difficult free climb, but certainly not cutting edge. It's also simply an amazing line, stacked with fun pitches. After coming close to sending the route a few years ago, I went back to Zion this fall for a rematch.

Although there is already scads of info in print and on MountainProject about this route, I'll add a bit more beta to the overload.

The pitch grades are my opinion (and relative to Trout Creek or stouter walls in Indian Creek):

  1. 50ish meters of sandy and steppy 5.8-5.10a ending at the left side of a large belay ledge with a tree, well left of the rest of the route. Take all the gear and slings.
  2. Move right to another ledge and follow a short lieback crack up to much larger triangular ledge where you could continue up/left for Sheer Lunacy, where a bolt ladder goes up, and where the free route climbs straight right. The standout feature of this pitch is that you could deck from the crux (~.10c) which is about 12' above the ledge. In all seriousness it is one of the headiest bits on the route. Just don't fall. All draws/slings and a double set to .5 camalot, single .75, #1. Feels like 5.10+
  3. The bolted .11c pitch, which moves right and a tiny bit down. Bring 5 draws and a red camalot. If you left the red camalot behind, your follower faces a fairly real swinging fall at the crux. A green camalot looked too small to work. Feels like Eldo/Index 5.11a
  4. The flakes pitch to the Rocker Block - .10d and feels like it.- Take a double set and all the draws. If you are under 5'10 or so, expect to have to do a few extra hard moves going straight up before stepping left at a higher point where tall folks can span over. After the step left, clip a bolt and then go HARD left again along easy ground. Straight up option has no pro. 
  5. Jump off the ledge and make some face moves and a mantle (V2/V3?) past 3 bolts. The corner above is probably no harder than 5.11-. This pitch gets a 5.12 rating due to the first 10' but it would be a seriously soft tick for the grade. I'd call it 5.11- V3- . Take all gear and slings 
  6. The crux for big-fingered technicians with no endurance. Take all the cams, no wires, and 1 or 2 draws. Layback to the flare, and jam to the anchor. A blue and green alien are nice to save for the flare or just above. Feels like .12b or so.
  7. The chimney to corner - bring the green camalot, all purples, all yellows, and 1 sling. The crux is spinning around from a chimney to a layback, sticking the 180-degree turn, and then not pumping out at the top. Pants help, as does not having anything (water or shoes) clipped to either side of your harness, as you end up scumming both sides pretty extensively. The crack slowly narrows from green camalot (very briefly) to yellow aliens. Most of the time it is purple camalots. Feels like the most physical and calorie-intensive pitch. 5.12- 
  8. The first splitter on the face pitch has more pods and generally thinner openings than the next pitch. The business comes in the first half of the pitch. Take 4x purples, 4x yellows, 3x green aliens, 1x blue alien. Feels like 5.11+/12a
  9. Be ready to crank high feet and pull hard on a tough size for the first 10m. 4-5 purple camalots will get you through it. Finish the pitch with a bit of finger crack and face climbing - 2x green alien, 2x yellow, all your purples - mid5.12 (easier if your fingers are big)
  10. Skip the hanging aid belay and link the last 2 into a 40m pitch. Rated .12a, feels like 5.11c. Bring all runners and gear, and bring the wires, which weren't useful until now. Nothing harder than 5.10 after the first anchor. 
My suggested rack for someone climbing at or near their limit on 5.12 pitches. This will provide ample gear on the meat of the route, with no need to run it out, but it will require some minor runouts on 5.10 terrain on the first/last pitches. The route goes into the shade around 1pm.

1x Blue Alien (Purple TCU)
3x Green Alien
5x Yellow Alien
5x Purple Camalot
1x Green Camalot
1x Red Camalot (could be skipped except that it seems the only option between bolts on P3)
4-5 mid sized wires (BD 6-9 or so) - really not worth bringing except on P10
2-3 draws, 2-3 slings

Random tidbits of advice for MLB:

It's easy to hike up to the top in advance to stash water/shoes/etc and the route tops out near a Y-shaped tree just north of a gully/chimney, and north of visible bolts in dark rock which are on Lunar X. But the walk down is on a paved and sandy path and can be done barefoot if you left shoes at the base. The approach is only 20min, so leaving shoes at the base and going back for them is trivial as well (though you'd want a second pair of shoes to use to cross the river and re-hike back up to the route to get your first pair). We both brought sandals and 1L of water up the route. We actually hauled this stuff (and the extra cams) on a few spots, as we had plenty of time and didn't want this gear clanking around on our waists. Simply clip to the anchor with a sling and lower down the lead end of the rope to haul on any pitch without bringing a tag line. Each pitch in the heart of the route is 35m or less, so this is no problem. You can't do this on the 5.11 bolted traverse or the final (linked) pitch. If you aren't sure about your ability on this route, just go give it a shot! You can also rappel the whole thing with a single 70m (not the best idea since you are likely rapping through parties, but certainly worth knowing if you think you may need to bail.) I definitely do not think that a second rope/tag line is worth the hassles on this climb. Rappelling down the final few hundred feet of steppy terrain used to require 1 rappel that was just over 35m, but there is a new anchor (and a tree one could use as well) so this second-to-last rappel should be no problem with 1x 70m.

 I had climbed Moonlight (MLB) once before, with sausage-fingered Scott Bennett. I think it was Scott's second time on the route, and he redpointed it that day. I recall being pretty sick (hacking up some green slime at numerous cruxes and belays) and I also recall Scott volunteering 4 or 5 of our mid-sized cams to be lent out to a lost French team we met at the base. ("oh, you guys are looking for Touchstone Wall? Well, you should just climb this thing, it's called Moonlight Buttress. It's really fun. You can't get lost. Blake wont mind trying to onsite the crux with just half a rack. You'll definitely send. It's not even 8a!") 

I fell getting off the belay ledge on P5 (the rocker block) but got the section clean second go. I actually did end up onsighting the crux, almost, stopping at an aid belay mid-pitch. I think with my relatively small fingers, that this traditional crux (Peter Croft .13b, now ~.12c?) isn't the hardest lead. This pitch was and is growing easier, as the locks open up to accept green and yellow alien sized pieces (and digits). For me, and likely other small-fingered folks, the changing corner on P7 and the 10m of splitter purple camalots on P9 marked other, more difficult sections, with no standout moves, but sustained splitterness too tight for ringlocks, and too wide for fingerlocks.

This pic, taken by our friend Jenny,
shows a bored Max yawning
after finishing the cruxes.
This time I was joined by Max Tepfer, and we teamed up for a no-falls day of the route. It was very hot, so we didn't leave the campground until 11AM, and still ended up waiting in the shade at belays atop P1, P2, and P4 as the rest of the route went into the shade. It felt good to never really come close to falling, and to share the day with Max's redpoint, as he had tried the route before as well.

A good Trout Creek MLB training day would be: 2x Alchemy, 2x the bottom 1/2 of Mayfly, 2x the bottom half of Gateway, and 2x (just one side, laybacking only) of a stem box route like Space Between.

I wanted to continue working toward a multi-year goal of ticking the "7Cs", classic "12d-ish" freeclimbs in all of North America's premiere climbing areas. It was nice to cross MLB off the list.

After MLB we climbed Shune's Buttress. A fun route with a really good first pitch, and second-to-last pitch. Save some small gear for the crux atop P1 and save a red or yellow camalot to supplement the
Max on a short face climbing pitch (#4) of Shune's Buttress
single bolt on the second to last belay.

All the rappels except for the first one would be fine with a single 70m, but the first rappel is about 41m long. (watch ends with an 80! know your reepschnur trickery) If the anchor was to be moved up, then the route wouldn't require two ropes. Even with 2 ropes, we used a single 70m for all rappels after the first, as there are large chimneys to eat your rope. 

Our rope got stuck on rappel #1, and we both discussed and agreed that there didn't seem to be any loose rocks or blocks up there (and the rope was stuck well to our right) so we felt convinced that it was snagged on a tree, and pulling was our best option. We rigged up a 3:1 hauling system (think crevasse rescue) and we were essentially hauling our own stuck rope down the cliff. Max clipped a Micro Traxion to his belay loop and we put the rope through this pulley, which uses teeth like a jumar to only allow the rope to pass in one direction. We also tied a Klemheist (prusik equivalent) around the rope a few feet above Max, between where it came down from the stuck point and Max's Micro Trax. We then clipped a carabiner to the free end of the Klemheist, and clipped the loose end of the rope (what we pulled on) through this carabiner so the rope was going down from the tree to Max's pulley, up to the carabiner on the Klemheist, and then down into our hands to be yarded on. We simultaneously pulled down, and the Micro Traxion pully would "bite" down on any rope that came through, not allowing our progress to be lost as we loosened and slid the klemheist a few feet back up the rope and repeated the process. Each time we would pull down, we could see a tree above us shaking. After a few tugs-of-war with the spiky oak, we managed to  begin lifting Max up the wall and also break off the tree, which came sailing down the wall still attached to our rope.

Without Max's handy Micro Traxion (which I usually would not have had with me) we could have substituted a GriGri or a guide-style belay plate, used in "guide mode" where the stuck tree is basically set up as the climber, and the "anchor" is the belay loop of a hanging person. This would have captured our progress as we pulled in rope, but would have added more friction, so we might have needed an additional re-direct of the rope for more mechanical advantage. For our Klemheist we used Max's small loop of 5mm/6mm cord, but could have used a dyneema runner. We also contemplated cutting the rope (and nearly decided to). We had a small knife with us, but without one (and since our belay gave us no access to a sharp stones or ice tools) we would have had to tension the rope and then use the edge of a lobe of our biggest piece (#5 camalot) to grind/hit the rope until it snapped. It's good to have these kind of tricks in mind, even if you generally carry dedicated tools for the job.
Max unties our rope from the tree after we pulled it off the mountain

The final day in the area took us to the famous Cathedral limestone crag near Saint George, Utah.
An actual tufa-in-training
This wall was stacked with amazing routes from .12- to .14+ and features some actual tufas and big pockets reminiscent of Spain. It felt nice to end our 4th-day-on with an onsight of a polished and pumpy "Speaking in Tongues", one of the steep .12b routes in the main cave, and then scrap out a tough-guy-TR-flash of a nearby .12c. The central route, "Golden", forms an amazing .14b up the center of the cave, and it struck me as one of the more inspiring hard sport routes I've seen in the states. The Cathedral and Wailing Wall (it's all one wall, just less cave-like on the right) receive no sun at all, so it has to be a warm day to head there, but I hope to be back some day!

The Cathedral, in all its sporto-glory

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