According to Alex McAfee’s old guide book, “Zion Rock, The Finest Climbs of Zion National Park”, he labels Cerberus as “cragging in Zion doesn’t get better.” The Falcon Guide calls the Cerberus wall base climbs the “best selection of one pitch free climbs” of Zion Canyon. One thing I can attest to is that access cannot get easier (well unless you are stuck riding the tourist shuttle in season). Cerberus is just 200’ off the park road behind the Big Bend Overlook pullout. Ron Olevsky put up one of the first big wall routes in Zion Canyon called Touchstone, IV, 5.9, C2 that ascends Cerberus Gendarme to its summit. Aton/Allison/Stern is another route that goes to the top of Cerberus. To the right and towards Weeping Rock along the base of Cerberus are no less than 14 additional published routes, mostly trad and a few sport.
The name "Zion" meaning "place of refuge," was given to the canyon by Mormon pioneers in 1919. The park is comprised of 229 square miles of protected wilderness and is home to Kolob Arch, the world’s largest. Cerberus, via Greek Mythology, was the hound of Hades, a large three-headed demon dog. Cerberus guarded the gate to Hades and ensured that spirits of the dead could enter, but none could exit.
Whether in the winter when you can drive through the main canyon or during the tourist season where you will be forced to use the bus, park or exit for Cerberus at the Big Bend bus stop. The main selection of routes are west facing and start right above the parking area with the Cave Route on the far left. Cherry Crack is the most obvious pure splitter of the group, no corners involved for the lower 200’ on the wall. Look for the blank face right of several corners (Fat Hedral, etc) and you will see the wide splitter that makes up the second pitch. The trail to the base of the wall is easily found walking south from the parking area.
The Routes are Listed Left to Right
- Cynthia's Hand Job, 5.10+, 2 Pitches- Arguably the finest single pitch of free climbing on Cerberus Gendarme and perhaps all of Zion National Park is the second pitch of Cynthia’s Hand Job, 5.10+. This route is not actually located on the main Cerberus Gendarme wall which faces west, but rather up canyon around the Big Bend about 100 yards. Due to the dirty first pitch, lack of a decent approach trail (albeit short one), this incredible 160’ hand crack (2nd pitch) will rival any route at Indian Creek: 160' of 90% 2” hand jams. Most of it has a slightly overhanging tilt making it nice and physical. There are several good rests with the pure (no feet) longest section at the end. There are two wide sections, including the start which is a bit of a flaring chimney. When you lose hands again, it will require a knee jam and/or arm bar for a meter or two to get back to hands. Dow
- Cave Route, 5.7- I guess this common route was used in one of my favorite movies and what many consider the first real climbing movie, “The Eiger Sanction”. This route ascends the obvious right-facing corner on the far left side of the wall. Off width to hand and fist crack to the cave above and bolt belay. You can use your #4 BD on the lower section. Despite what the Falcon Guide suggests, you can rap the route. Dow
- No Holds Barred, 5.8/ 40’-
- Squeeze Play, 5.10a/ 100’- Fun varying route. Starts out in perfect hand crack like the first pitch of the Headache. Then onto a ledge below a block/pillar of sorts. Climb up left of it originally, then as it becomes off-width, move back right and place small gear in crack as you make an awkward transition. This route is on the left side of a protruding section of the wall, where Fathedral is on the other side. Bring your crack skills for that first section. Dow
- The Fat’hedral, 5.10d/ 100’- This is a sustained pitch. The cruxes are mostly fingers with quite a few ring locks rewarded with hands near the top. However, I can lead it with only one easy layback move required, otherwise straight in. I prefer a single #.3-#4. Double #.4-#2. Tripple #.75 and double #4's. #5 is def not needed as referenced in the guide. You can really sew it up with my rack suggestion. Several cruxes. The trick is using features out right when they exist or back against various small corners on the left wall and of course hit it between rests. This pitch is easily rated 5.11 without the rests. Everybody concurs this is a pretty stout route. Offers quite the varied climbing. On the right side of a buttress that separates it from Squeeze Play. Fails of Power if the corner crack through a roof just to the right. Dow
- Fails of Power, 5.11b-c/ 2 Pitches- The first pitch is 5.10 and offers a great consistent hand crack for 70'. The crux of this first pitch is pulling a roof near the top (photos). You have to lie back it for a bit and then hook and jam your left foot. Great combination with the other stellar 5.10 cracks on this wall. Dow
- Scarlet Begonias, 5.11a/ 65’-
- Tails of Flails, 5.9/ 100’- Excellent fun overhanging crack lead. Start up chimney to jamming thin hand to finger crack with good gear placements up black dihedral to chains. Continue past three bolts (5.10a) to another anchor (130’ total) if you don’t mind two raps or have double ropes. Dow
- Electrica, 5.11c-d/ 120’- (a Conrad Anker route)
- Dire Wolf, 5.12a-A0/ 120’-
- Cherry Crack, 5.10c/2 Pitches- The first pitch is quite popular; the second one not so much. The first pitch is a really good 5.9 hand crack. Starts out a bit awkward, but then straightens out into a perfect hands crack that leads to fixed anchors. The second pitch is an off-width that goes best with a large rack, I prefer 6 C4# 4's! Dow
- Intruder, 5.11c/ 65’-
- Aton/Allison/Stern, IV, 5.9-A0/ (top of Cerberus)-
- Flip of the Coin, 5.10d/ 80’-
- Touchstone Wall, IV, 5.9-C2/ 8 Pitches- Olevsky put Touchstone up in 1977. I was in town in 2007 when they filmed the 30 year anniversary. I attempted the route in 2006 but was “blown off” by bad weather after five pitches. Touchstone is a Zion classic aid route and everybody along with their aunt wants to do it. It is a full outing and it is not unusual for parties to pass each other on it. Way too much congestion for me, thus why I attempted it in suspect weather, which I don’t advise. The winds can blow your ropes to oblivion if you have to rap the route. Dow
- Coconut Corner, III, 5.11a/ 4 Pitches-
Getting ThereDrive 5 miles, from the left hand turn over the bridge heading down Zion Canyon, to the Scout Lookout parking area behind Angel’s Landing on the left. I believe you are supposed to drive to the road's end and turn around to access this parking area. Walk across the road back towards the Cerberus Wall on the opposing side. There are several trails, one that heads straight up to the Cave Route and at least one further east that takes you towards the middle of the wall at Tails of Flails.
Red TapeYou do not need a climbing permit but you will have to pay a National Park fee to access the park. During tourist season, you will only be able to access the road by shuttle. I always purchase an annual pass to US and Canadian National Parks. If you are going to make more than 4 visits per year, I advise this option.
Zion 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-2006) if you drive by them. 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. I attempted Touchstone during the winter months and the cold and wind turned us around at pitch 5. Needless to say the rappel was not a joy. 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.
Camping/LodgingThere 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 to 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.