I had climbed Living on the Edge’s 1st pitch many times, but normally in guide mode. The first pitch allows the opportunity to give inexperienced climbers the feel of a sustained vertical climb as well as a free air rappel off of the arch. Kind of a two for one ride if you will. Finally, after several years of having it on my mind, a local partner joined me on a trip to the top of Island in the Sky which involves four pitches of total climbing, two pitches at the route grade, 5.10c, the common 5.10a first pitch and one full trad pitch at 5.9 to finish the route for the walk off descent versus rappel line which can only be done from the top of the third pitch.
I was no doubt somewhat motivated to get this route climbed by the fact that Climbing Magazine made it a featured climb in one of their 2008 editions. It was a tad odd to read one of my back yard (literally) climbs published as a “classic” and I had yet to climb it myself. Although written up as a classic by Climbing, one will notice when perusing summit logs, that few do actually make it to the top. A prominent reason is that 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, but perhaps the crumbling rock on this last 100’ might actually be the most scary of the route. All that said, Living on the Edge is still a worthwhile objective in the incredible setting that is Snow Canyon State Park!
Living on the Edge is to the right of the Circus Wall climbing area which contains much more popular routes like Pygmy Alien. Circus Wall is at the north end of Island in the Sky of Snow Canyon State Park fame, not to be confused with a feature of the same name in Canyonlands National Park north of Moab. Living on the Edge is on a wall we call Aftershock Wall just to the south of Circus Wall. Snow Canyon State Park is a state park of 7100 acres just north of St. George, Utah. Island in the Sky has a minimum of 64 published routes from 5.5 to 5.12b. It is a significant piece of rock (small mountain) situated at the south end of the park that is broken down into eight different climbing sections along its west wall. In the winter it keeps one busy when many of the other spots don’t look so inviting. Living on the Edge is a fairly warm route in early to late afternoon on winter days and thus a morning route on summer days.
It is easily accessed via the small pullout (east side) on the park road designated for Pioneer Names Trail. Follow the trail as it crosses a wash and ends at the wall where some early pioneers carved their name into an arch. The climb starts immediately to the right of a tall and deep arch which is located to the right of the arch containing the pioneer carvings. The first three pitches are bolted (albeit a tad more spacing than some might be used to), the last pitch requires small to medium gear covering 100’.
Route Description400’+/-, 4 Pitches, 5.10c
1st Pitch- 90’- 5.10a/ The first pitch of Living on the Edge is one of the more popular climbing pitches at Snow Canyon. Many climb to the chains and just rappel at that point, over the arch itself. Start just to the right of the tall and deep arch that is to the right of the Pioneer Names Arch. The first move is just a simple jump and reach mantel. From there, the holds are quite positive, particularly for the grade, but the wall is nice and vertical. You actually trend left the entire pitch as you hover right over the arch itself. The crux is at about the half way point where the holds get just a little crimpy forcing you to a balance move or two. The belay station is fortified with four bolts in total.
2nd Pitch- 80’- 5.10c/ This is definitely the crux pitch of the climb. Some leaders would prefer to bring a few medium cams to help with the first moves from the belay, but these moves are well below the grade of the pitch. The crux of the pitch begins as you pull the roof above sideways to your left on suspect sandy crimps with a bolt for good pro at that juncture. Follow the sandy face trending left all the while. Many times you cannot see the next bolt and the pitch can be hard to follow. Sustained moves continue upward at a leftward angle until you mantel up onto the large sandy belay ledge with a fixed station.
3rd Pitch- 70’- 5.10c/ An interesting pitch for sure. Move out right and up making the crux move between the 2nd and 3rd bolt. A rightward balancing slab move on a sandy surface. The issue with this crux is that if you miss it, you could deck your ankles on a small ledge beneath. Continue up trending left to easier ground. After another decent move at the grade, you find yourself at the base of a precarious sandstone flake that you will have little confidence in. Do not pull out, make sure to reach and pull down as you mantle the flake to its top and continue with nice holds to the fixed station above in a small alcove. Unfortunately if this flake ever does blow, this section of the pitch will probably have to be aided.
4th Pitch- 100’- 5.9/ Move out right past the only bolt on this pitch to a semi varnished crack. From the side it looks better than it really is. Once you get on it, the rock has a sort of virgin crumbly feel. Place small to medium gear in the crack as the ground eases after the cruxy first couple of moves up the crack. Continue to follow the crack. There is a fixed station, but you can continue on past and set up a belay higher up so both of you are positioned for more of a short scramble to the top.
From the top, start descending to the north. Down climb a short varnished wall and continue to a long fixed hand line that gets you down to a treed ledge. Move left there through a small slot. Continue down the north ridge and when in doubt, stay left. Eventually you do cross back to the right a little to gain a pillar that avoids the flood undercut and gets you to the desert floor. Circumvent Island in the Sky to the west back to the base of the route.