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First Ascent of Gregory Butte, Kolob Canyons, Roped Solo

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Dan, Jul 16, 2016.

  1. Dan

    Dan

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    Small miracles, hummingbirds and blackberries
    First Ascent of Gregory Butte, Kolob Canyons
    Roped Solo, July 5-10

    1..

    Over 6 days in July, in a cool spell (90 degrees F), I made the first ascent known ascent of Gregory Butte in Kolob Canyons.

    It all began when C.P., Author of Zion National Park: Summit Routes, asked me, “Now that you’ve done the Altar (of Sacrifice) I suppose you are going to do Gregory Butte?”

    “Gregory Butte? I replied. I had never heard of Gregory Butte (GB). Being the type of climber that is motivated by long, epic ascents in the back country, I immediately started looking into it.

    I initially hiked out to the area near Kolob Arch and explored the canyons between Timbertop Mesa and Gregory Butte. I thought I might pull a trick by climbing Timbertop and dropping a line down the other side onto the hanging valley between Timbertop and the upper summit of Gregory Butte. If one can do that they forgo having to climb the first half of Gregory butte. Obviously climbing Timbertop Mesa is as big of feat itself as climbing Gregory Butte. There doesn’t seem to be an easy way up Timbertop.

    There is a g route up to the plateau, the hanging valley by the upper summit block of Gregory Butte. It’s called the “Arch Route.” The route is in the “black book” at the Kolob Visitor Center. I scrambled up to the base of it. It looked steep, wet and bushy. I preferred to establish my own route.

    With no more tricks up my sleeve, I attacked Gregory Butte straight on, attempting a line on the Southwest Spur. 2. Southwest Spur.

    There are no continuous crack systems on GB. After two days of climbing I realized that was not the way. It was going to take a long time. C.P. told me there were gullies to look for on the eastern side. I set out to do a better job of finding them.

    Now thanks to a post by Scott Patterson on Canyon Collectives pointing out that the gully route(s) are not in the “black book”. I went on some more exploratory hikes.

    I eventually found the gully described in “Kolob Arch - Fred D. Ayres and A.E. Creswell”, published in the American Alpine Journal, 1954. They reported climbing the gully in August, 1953.

    3. overview.

    The “Blake Paper” in the Zion Park Museum Collections, reports Victor Fritz and George Riley initiially tried to climb the gully in 1951. Fritz, also trying to measure the length of the arch, was successful in climbing the gully in 1954.

    (Image: the Arch as seen from the ground. Gregory Butte looms high above)
    4B. The Arch.

    (Image: Back of the arch as seen from the base of the upper formation of Gregory Butte)
    4. Back of arch.

    I made a copy of the Ayres-Creswell report and used it as a guide. It would still be a frustrating time finding the correct gully. My first attempt was in May, 2016.
    5. Notes.

    There is more than one gully/canyon on the east side of the arch area. I was not sure which was the right one. Water was flowing down the canyon walls. I tried climbing up the chimney-like pitch, delicately playing hopscotch with my feet to place them on dry holds. Higher up I could hear water cascading off the rock. I ran out of dry places and continued a bit higher up before I thought it dangerous to continue. The depths of the gully glowed a glistening, emerald green. It would have to wait for the water to stop flowing and the rock to dry out.
    6. gully 1st pitch.
    I planned to return in August. I got anxious and went back in July. Fritz and Riley made attempts in July, 1952. Why does everyone climb there when it’s hot? It’s definitely too wet to climb in the spring. Does it get wet again in September? Maybe it’s the long summer days.

    In July I found the gully to be completely dry. But while water was not flowing, the first pitch was mossy, slippery and dangerous even in “dry” conditions. This was my first encounter with the hummingbird. It hovered close to my face at the bottom wondering who I was and what I was doing.

    I used a knife blade piton to scrap thick moss off foot holds on the left side of the wall. It was like uncovering buried treasure. Hand holds were harder to come by. Ferns filled what looked like a crack in the back of the gully. They didn’t take to pulling on like zion bushes normally do. They came out like plucking pedals off a flower. I pulled them out in an attempt to find placements for protection in the back of the crack. There are almost no cracks in the gully that will take pitons or cams. I got one cam at the bottom for belay and one angle half-way the pitch. Higher up I panicked as everything was slippery and it seemed I might fall at any moment. I was not sure I was in the right gully or if there would be anything for belay at the end of my rope. Placing a blot won’t work. The rock is soft and mud-like even in dry conditions.

    Near the top of the pitch the angle lessened allowing me to scramble up to a relatively flat rest area. Here I realized I was in the proper gully as the “great chock stone in the sky” Ayres-Creswell describe becomes visible.

    Once at the top of the first mossy pitch, the route description by Ayres and Creswell is spot one. The next two pitches were relatively fun. It took me a lot of time, solo belaying. I had to squeeze through a hole in the wall and crawl about ten feet where you exit at the next belay and climb out on to the face of the canyon wall again. This is called the Cave Pitch. I had to make three trips back and forth crawling through the cave with all the gear and water I carried.

    [Image: Belay inside the cave]
    7A. Exiting the cave.

    (Image: exiting the Cave pitch)
    7b. Exiting the cave.

    At the end of the cave crawl, just after the belay there are old rap anchors for descent.
    8. old rap anchors at cave **.

    The pitch out of the cave is short and on exposed face. Then you're back to normal gully land. No moss. Wide open spaces with dry conditions and easy scrambling. It’s longer than Ayres-Creswell describe to get to the next roped section.

    The last pitch is quite stout for the 50’s. These guys were hard-men and true mountain climbers for their day. Maybe it was because I was soling and had a bit of slack in the rope and never knew how far I might fall; Maybe it was the 1950’s bolts and bolt hangers. This pitch got my attention. Ayres-Creswell mention four bolts. I remember three. Ayres-Creswell mention using angel pitons for protection. The pin placements are difficult. The “cracks” are shallow and flaring when you can find them.

    9. Old bolt hanger2.
    9B. bolt hanger.

    The last pitch was two pitches for me even with a 200 foot rope. I belayed an additional 100 feet up to a good tree. From there it was scrambling to the top of the plateau.The humming bird buzzed me.

    From the top of the plateau I explored the north side of the upper section of GB, west to where it meets a water fall. There does not seem to be any viable routes on the north side of GB that go to the summit. My route ascends the south face, starting where the west ridge meets the upper GB summit formation. It looks discontinuous and no fun. It’s a long hike from the top of the gully around to the south face. It took two trips to get the gear over there. I brought a full aid rack. Slow going in the heat. I didn’t think I’d make the climb in time for the number of days I asked for on my bivy permit.

    [Image: Water bottles]
    10. Water bottles.

    [Image: Bottom pitches of upper summit route]

    11. upper route.

    Small miracles. The route unlocked and I was able to climb up what seemed from the ground would require the linking of several discontinuous,over-hanging, dirty crack systems. The hummingbird meet me on top.

    After climbing to the top off my “route” I was still lower than the summit and had some ridge climbing to do. After several hundred feet of ridge climbing, just below the summit, I ran into a vertical head wall about thirty feet high. Instead of going back and getting my rope I soloed it. The Hummer hovered in my face trying to speak to me. I was on top.

    [Image: Summit]
    12. summit bushes.

    [Image: Rapping the route] 13. Rapping route.

    If I can recall correctly (I was wandering in the heat so much of the time), descent took me a day and half (from route to car). Because of the heat I broke up the loads and I made three carries back to the top of the gully before rapping it (3 times) with loads.

    Out of food, I noticed that the crack at the bottom of the gully was chocked with a long section of blackberries. Humming bird watched me pick it clean. I took my time. Once out of the gully I was back in the heat of direct sunlight where it was a hot slog back to the car.

    In 1957, Victor Fritz died of a heat attack during the night following a trip to the arch. He was found dead in his sleeping bag at base camp.

    Small miracles that my route unlocked itself and allowed me to climb to the summit at all; hummingbird to watch over me, and blackberries....why wait for what you think it should be...enjoy the space to get where you’ll be.

    14. Me on summit.

    Attached Files:

    • 6. gully 1st pitch.
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      6. gully 1st pitch.jpg
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    • 7b. Exiting the cave.
      Filename:
      7b. Exiting the cave.jpg
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      2.5 MB
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    Ram, Kuenn, Scott Patterson and 7 others like this.
  2. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Wow. Awesome. Congrats Dan, and thanks for sharing.

    Tom
  3. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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    Wow...great effort and trip report!!
  4. Scott Patterson

    Scott Patterson

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    Excellent report. Any guesses as to the YDS rating?
  5. Southern Canyoneer

    Southern Canyoneer Desert Hiker

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    Epic & Awesome. Congrats!
  6. Rich Bud

    Rich Bud

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    Incredible stuff! Thanks for sharing!
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