OverviewAshtar Command Tower is considered one of the “tunnel crags” in Zion National Park. It is (you guessed it) a tower like feature with four established routes. Ashtar Command Tower is located on the south side of Route 9 prior to passing through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, directly across from Mount Spry.
Zion National Park is a 229 sq mile protected landscape of sculptured canyons and their respective steep, towering cliffs. It is located at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin and Mojave Desert. The wildlife and ecosystem is vast for such a small area and includes many varieties of bats, reptiles and birds (including the endangered peregrine falcon ) as well as desert big horn sheep, mountain lions, black tailed jackrabbits, grey fox and ringtail cats just to name a few of the mammals. Human history in the park dates back to 6000 B.C. As I mentioned with Island in the Sky, it is favorable not to step on or damage the cryptobiotic crust as it can take over 50 years to repair itself, if at all.
At least three published guides cover climbs in Zion. They are Desert Rock, Zion Rock and Rock Climbing Utah. The Ashtar Command Tower finished routes as described in Zion Rock are: The Maneater II- 5.11, Ashtar Command- 5.9, Feeling Minnesota- 5.8 and Ground Control- 5.10+.
Utah Route 9 has an exit off of I-15 north of St. George, UT. Route 9 takes you into the south end of Zion National Park through the town of Springdale and continues out the east end through a tunnel. During the busy months, private vehicles are not allowed into Zion Canyon itself, but they are allowed on Route 9 through the park. Right before you get to the tunnel, try and turn around (can be a squeeze) and head back the other direction. Ashtar Command Tower is on the south side. The only parking is a small pullout, if you want to call it that, on the right side of the road as you face west. Let’s just say parking is at a premium. There is not a lot of room for many climbing parties in this area. Because you are so close to the tunnel and they stop traffic for RV’s to go through the tunnel, you will have quite the audience and end up in a few stranger’s photo albums, or at least we did.
Red TapeZion National Park will have manned kiosks on Highway 9 and you will be required to pay a US National Park fee ($20 per vehicle for a day/week pass, $50 for an annual pass-2005). Backcountry permits are required for all overnight trips in Zion National Park, including climbing bivouacs. Climbing bivouac reservations are available for Moonlight Buttress, Lunar Ecstasy, Prodigal Son, Spaceshot and Touchstone climbing areas. The permit fees are based on group size: 1-2 people: $10, 3-7 people: $15 and 8-12 people: $20. Reservations are available for many backcountry trips in the park. A reservation does not guarantee that you will receive a permit. Reasons that a permit will be denied include high water, flash flood warnings, and wildland fires. Depending upon the backcountry zone, 40%-60% of the total number of backcountry permits are available through reservations. The remainder of permits are available as walk-in permits.
Some rock formations and routes are closed to climbing from March 1 to mid-July each year to protect nesting peregrine falcons. Some areas that are routinely closed include the Great White Throne, Cable Mountain, Court of the Patriarchs, and the Streaked Wall.
My favorite place for dinner in Springdale is the outdoor patio at Oscars. It also appears to be the local’s favorite. Most of the staff is into climbing as well, so it is a great place to plan your next climbing day and maybe even pick up a partner. Ask for Zach. The Mean Bean across from Oscars is one of my favorite independent coffee houses period. Ask for Joe.
When To ClimbSummer days are hot (95-110°F), but overnight lows are usually comfortable (65-70°F). Climbing in the middle of the day during the summer in southern Utah is not recommended. Carry plenty of water regardless. Afternoon thunderstorms are common from mid-July through mid-September. Storms may produce waterfalls as well as flash floods. Sandstone is weak when wet, so avoid climbing in damp areas or right after a rain. Winter in Zion Canyon is fairly mild. Winter storms can bring rain or light snow to Zion Canyon and much heavier snow in the higher elevations. Clear days may become quite warm, reaching 60°F; nights are often in the 20s and 30s. Zion roads are plowed, except the Kolob Terrace road, which is closed in winter.
CampingThere are two great campsites inside Zion’s south entrance. I have stayed at the South Campground just inside the gates. The scenic spots are on the North Fork of the Virgin River. This is a first come, first serve campground via self registration of $16 per night in 2005. This is a popular park however and I advise booking a site ahead of time at Watchman Campground if you think you are going during a popular period. Facilities include restrooms, drinking water, picnic tables, fire grates, RV dump stations. No showers are available at these park campsites but are available at an in town private facility for a fee. There is also a 6-site primitive campground called Lava Point, no water, no fee, and it is not open all year.
Springdale has tons of lodging options as well including a privately owned campground right before the entrance on the right before Zion National Park. If you demand the luxuries of town, I recommend Majestic View Lodge. I have stayed here on several occasions and the rooms are first class with great views. There is also the privately run Zion Lodge which is in the heart of the park.
It is actually “illegal” in Zion to camp at the base of a climbing wall or in your vehicle.
Mountain ConditionsThe Zion National Park website has most everything you need including trail conditions or closures, wildlife notices, weather conditions, camping permits, canyon water levels, etc.
- The Many Free Routes in Zion National Park
- Oscar’s Café, the only place for climbers to truly fill their appetite (free range chicken, beef and Hank’s Tanker) and meet one of the finer climbers and individuals I know on the face of the earth, Zach Lee, someone who has established many of his own local FA’s in the area.
- Zion National Park
trail conditions or closures, wildlife notices/closures, weather conditions, camping permits, canyon water levels, etc.
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