Snow Canyon is divided up into five separate climbing areas: Hackberry Wash, Island in the Sky, Balkan Dome, the Enclosure and West Canyon. I have climbed in all five and Island in the Sky has by far the most routes (64+) and is further divided up into nine distinct walls with multiple routes ranging from 5.6-5.12b: Breakfast Nook, Circus Wall, Aftershock Wall, The War Zone, The Dip Area, The Doghouse, The Sand Dunes Area, The Indian Wall and the South End.
There are five published routes on the Aftershock Wall which begins to the right of a large and deep arch that divides Circus and Aftershock Wall. Two of Aftershock’s routes go to the top of Island in the Sky and are considered two of the best routes in the park, Aftershock, 5.11b, four pitches and Living on the Edge, 510c, four pitches. The other three are inconsequential single pitches high up on the wall. Living on the Edge, 5.10c, 4 pitches is considered to be the most classic multi pitch route in Snow Canyon,and was published in Climbing Magazine in 2008.
The walls in Snow Canyon are comprised of soft sandstone and therefore climbing the same grades in Snow Canyon compared to granite or limestone slabs or even hardened sandstone (Zion) makes the grading somewhat stiffer mentally by consensus but of course that still depends on who the first ascenter was…i.e….Goss’s routes seem soft, Harding and Olevsky’s routes seem stiff.
Snow Canyon is full of Red Navajo sandstone, capped by an overlay of black lava rock. This process creates significant, but sometimes delicate climbing holds called desert varnish. Wet or not, some varnish holds do give way from time to time. I have taken a 25’ whipper when one of these varnishes failed on a run out route on the Sand Dunes Area wall. I highly advise staying on the well climbed existing routes of Snow Canyon. If they are dirty (thus unattended), I can assure you they are probably not worth it. The published routes on Circus Wall and Living on the Edge on Aftershock Wall are popular in comparison to other routes in Snow Canyon, but again, this is no California. You more than likely will have them to yourself, weekend or not.
Access for climbing simply cannot get easier (ok it can). Park at the Pioneer Names trailhead pullout on the right side of the road after you pass a dip in the road beyond the West End parking lot heading northeast through the park. Stay on the trail directly up to the wall (where the pioneer names are carved into the arch). All the Circus Wall routes are left of this arch. Aftershock Wall routes are to the right of the next, larger, arch to the right. Snow Canyon is exceptional in that most are climbing nearby Zion and Red Rocks leaving it very quiet. Normally we are the only party climbing in the park and there are over 200 routes. One could camp and climb here for a week and not get bored. It has a significant state park campground. The wildlife is a little different than what I am used to in Canada. The most likely suspects are Gila monsters, desert tortoises, scorpions and the Mojave rattlesnakes which I have seen up close. Please avoid walking on the microbiological soil. It is the dark crust that holds the surface layers together and prevents erosion. It takes centuries to reoccur. This whole ecosystem is much more delicate than most.
Routes Listed, Left to Right, Bottom to Top as you Face the Wall
- Living on the Edge- 4 pitches- 510c/ The first pitch is a classic 5.10a in the park and most folks stop there and rappel the arch. The 2nd pitch is the crux pitch and considered somewhat sandbagged at the grade considering the loose and sandy holds, missing varnish, etc. One needs to be more than a competent 5.10 leader to tackle the intricate lead of the 2nd pitch. The 3rd pitch is a more comfortable 5.10c pitch involving slab balancing moves and is less reliant on fragile rock until you reach one of the more precarious flakes you will ever be forced to mount anywhere in the desert. Make sure to put the thin dude on this 3rd pitch lead. The last pitch is the easiest for the grade, 5.9, but perhaps the crumbling rock on this last 100’ might actually be the most scary of the route.
- Aftershock- 4 Pitches- 5.11b/
- Quisquose- 2 Pitches- 5.10a/ (variation finish to Living on the Edge)
- Zee Traverse- 1 Pitch- 5.8/ (side note to Aftershock up high)
- Women in Lycra- 1 Pitch- 5.10b/ (another side note to Aftershock up high)
- Snow Canyon State Park
- Red Cliffs Desert Reserve
- DowClimbing.Com Snow Canyon