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 over 20 published routes on the various walls of Island in the Sky across from the sand dunes in Snow Canyon which comprise the “Sand Dunes Area.” As of June, 2007, I have climbed half of these routes. 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 hardened sandstone makes the grading somewhat stiffer by consensus. Many of the routes are a mixture of trad and sport, with much of the sport portions relying on older pins versus bolts. 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 in Sand Dunes. 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.
Access is very easy via the West Canyon day use lot within the park. Park and walk across the road gaining the sandy wash below Island in the Sky and turn right following the walls to the large loose ledges on your left across from the Sand Dunes. Start scrambling at a right to left angle on slick rock.
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 sidewinders 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.
- Rat Race – 5.9 – 2 Pitches/ Located by itself, starting from the canyon floor to the right of the first and second tier sections of the Sand Dunes Area. Rat Race is one of the worse routes in the canyon in my opinion. The first pitch climbs a wide hidden and dirty crack up to the base of a significant arch. To protect the crack into the arch, you will need large gear, up to a #5 Camelot. Follow and protect underneath the arch as you work right to the apex and first anchor. The second pitch consists of slab climbing past three bolts to anchor.
- Nemesis – 5.10d/
- Little Miss Demeanor – 5.10a – 2 Pitches/ Whenever you are on a Ron Olevsky route in Snow Canyon, you can rest assured it is an older and thus tougher rating, utilizing old pitons versus bolts. Little Miss Demeanor is no exception. It has a pure, almost vertical, slab move through a blank section between the 4th and 5th pin of the first pitch. Ron had to drill some finger pockets to make this route work and they are slowly eroding making the grade quite sandbagged (or should we say sandblasted). Like many routes at Snow Canyon, you can combine these two pitches using double rope technique to avoid rope drag. I am not sure why this one is split up, because the 2nd pitch is actually soft for the rating (5.9) in a traverse left to the shared top anchor for Twist and Shout. This is not one of my favorite routes in Snow Canyon to say the least and it is rarely climbed and quite sandy/dirty.
- Twist and Shout – 5.7/ Twist and Shout, as its name implies, is a fun route that serves as a good warm up for the 2nd tier because you scramble right past it on your way up. It is just to the right of the hand chain assist that takes you to the 2nd tier on the Sand Dunes area. It is an easy one to top rope for beginners. Involves a funky left traverse low on slab and horizontal cracks past four pins to anchor, placing a few medium pieces of gear in a crack further up to prevent run out if you so desire. You can walk off to the left and down with the chain assist or rap the route or bring up the 2nd and continue on to the 2nd tier routes.
- Clairvoyance – 5.11b/
- Closure – 5.11c/
- Kibosch Buttress – 5.6/ Kibosch Buttress route follows left into the corner and then straight up and back left out onto the face. It is an easy ramp and varnish slab past seven pins to chains. Although the guidebook calls for medium gear on this route, I felt comfortable not placing any. It also calls for two raps to the ground, (90’?), but I used one rope and rapped down from two pins used on the 5.11b Kibosch route. The photos are fairly descriptive.
- Kibosch – 5.11b – 3 Pitches/
- Little Nightmare Music – 5.8/ Start in the corner and place medium to large gear in the crack as you protect textured moves. Once you get past the large loose block stuck in the crack, move out right on unprotected ground to the right edge of the roof and protect in the crack above as you mantle your way up to a textured wall. Traverse back left onto a comfortable ledge with old pin anchors. Use long runners/draws if you are going to top rope the route to get your rope off of the edge. Traverse left via pins if you are going to continue on for Full Metal Jockstrap.
- Full Metal Jockstrap – 5.9R – 4 Pitches/ Do Little Nightmare Music for the first pitch. The 2nd pitch is a funky long traverse left and up over 6-7 pins (not 4 as in the guidebook) until you reach a small standing belay at a two pin anchor below pins that lead up to the third pitch. Everything is quite positive, but typical exposure for a wall traverse. The crux and best pitch of the climb is the 3rd. Sustained vertical straight up and trending right, hard to see pins at times as they are quite spread out and rusted. Little if any opportunity for gear with the exception of hooking a feature with a clove hitch here or there. More run out towards the top versus the bottom. Nice thin positive varnish though, makes it feel more like 5.8 vs 5.9. The 4th pitch is 5th class that can be easily protected straight up to a big ledge. Traverse right past 2-3 pins to the summit.
- Will’s Rush – 5.5 – 2 Pitches/ We scrambled up this once to retrieve some gear we left on Battle of Wills where I took a significant fall on lead and ripped one of our double ropes. Supposedly the first route in Snow Canyon. A snooze unless you are just starting out.
- Extra Texture – 5.7R/ Start just left and below Stepping Out . Locate a pin that you really don’t need and head up straight on easy ground through a corner and locate the 2nd pin. From there start to traverse aggressively out left aiming for the remaining pins as you spot them amongst the varnish which can be a challenge. Eventually the angle eases up and it is a race to the chains above and left of the cave. There are more pins that continue to your left that represent Will’s Rush, the first established route in Snow Canyon. It is not advisable to top rope Extra Texture without the draws in to protect a fall. If one person is climbing, he/she will need to be lowered and re-climb the route to clean it.
- Stepping Out – 5.9 – 4 Pitches/ The first pitch is 50’ to chains. One pin low, small to medium gear in the crack. Start right, crux move back left (5.9), easier climbing to anchor. One of the best single pitches at the Sand Dune area. The 2nd pitch is a 5.8 Friction slab through five pins to chains. The 3rd is 5.8 slopers through six pins to chains below large ledge. The 4th is one pin to “intersection ledge” with two pin anchor. Climb chimney to south of ledge and make three single rope raps to ground.
- Battle of Wills – 5.9RX/ Nasty, unprotectable route in my opinion. Rarely climbed, thus dirty and untested varnish. I ran the route out only to have a piece give way (fully expected) and I fell a considerable distance ripping apart one of our double ropes on the sharp sandstone flake (photo). Very aesthetic, thus why I gave it a go. Up this large body consuming flake, then a tough move out left onto the hollow structure to run up a thin crack to the sloping finish. Don’t recommend trying it.
- Prestidigitator – 5.10a – 5 Pitches/
- Thousand Pints of Lite – 5.7 – 3 Pitches/ Thousand Pints of Lite is really just a long single pitch extension (70m rope) of Stepping Out, 5.9. Some reason Ron Olevsky broke up several of his early routes like this. He put in a belay on Thousand Pints of Lite at 50’, 50’ and 80’ from Intersection Ledge.
- Gratitude – 5.10c – 4 Pitches/ Gratitude is a four pitch sport route located at the 2nd tier of the Sand Dunes area wall on Island in the Sky, Snow Canyon State Park. We combined Rat Race, 5.9X’s two pitches, of which one is a trad, with Gratitude’s four sport pitches for a short winter day out in the canyon. You do not have to climb Rat Race to access the 2nd tier, you can scramble left of the Sand Dunes area wall routes past Twist and Shout, 5.7, and then traverse back right to the base of the 2nd tier routes. Any of these south facing upper tier routes on Island in the Sky are the best winter routes in Snow Canyon. Although we found the rating soft on all four pitches, as is consistent with most Todd Goss routes, the 3rd pitch offered fun climbing to be sure.
- Leopard Skin – 5.7 – 4 Pitches/ Move up the friction slab with the crux move coming early on a short traverse right. Clip two pins on your way to the crack above. Use a medium cam in the crack and proceed to a ledge above with anchor. (5.7, 50’) Do a lengthy horizontal traverse right past four pins and up to a two pin anchor. (5.7, 65’). Take the varnish slab holds straight up past seven pins to a three pin anchor (5.6, 70’). More of the same past seven pins to a sling anchor (5.6, 70’).
- Stranger Than Friction – 5.8/ Kind of a weird route really. Just to the left of What's New Pussycat. Basically, as the name implies, sandy slab to chains past five pins. After four pins, you can't see the next one. Crux move right on sort of a ramp, then pin is above you on next level. Whole route is a little funky really.
- What’s New Pussycat – 5.10a – 2 Pitches/ fairly true to grade, 5.10a for the crux moves on the first pitch (pretty much off the deck) to a really nice 5.8 second, slightly traversing, pitch over nicely varnished ground above.
Red TapeSnow Canyon State Park hours are 6:00am to 10:00pm. A day visit pass is $5.00 and camping spots are $15.00 to $18.00 (2007). Wildlife seasonal closures as of 2007 include all Hackberry Wash routes from March 31 to June 1 and all West Canyon routes from February 1 to June 1. The sandstone rock at Snow Canyon State Park is not as solid as the lava influenced Black Rocks. As with most of the climbing in and around St. George, you should avoid climbing for at least 24 hours after any rain. My favorite place for dinner is the sushi bar at Samurai, 245 Red Cliffs Drive. The Outdoor Outlet is one of my favorite independent climbing stores anywhere. They know the climbing area well and have a great selection of gear at competitive prices. Jazzy Java offers a decent cup, good sack lunches and free internet.
When to ClimbThe climbing is good all year round with the exception of daytime during the summer months. If you are climbing anywhere in southwestern Utah during the summer months, you more than likely better get up early and finish your climb early. The walls get brutally hot. That being said, Snow Canyon is at a higher elevation than other immediate Saint George climbing areas (Utah Hills being the exception). In the dead of winter, the warmer climbing is limited to Island in the Sky. The Sands Dune area routes gets solid afternoon sun.
CampingNo climbing is allowed on the rocks behind the campground. Quiet hours are 10:00 p.m. - 8:00 a.m. Generator hours are 12 noon to 4:00 p.m. Shower hours are 4:30 p.m. to 11:OO a.m. Check out time is 2:00 p.m. You are to renew your site permit by 10:00 a.m. Maximum length of stay is 5 nights. Pets are permitted only on West Canyon and Whiptail Trails and must be on leash at all times. Do not dump gray water at sites, use the dump station by the restroom. Tents on tent pads only. Bikes on pavement only. NO FIRES June 1- Sept. 15. Fires in grills/fire rings only. Firewood gathering is prohibited. They have a volleyball court which is pretty cool. The restrooms are first rate. Sites 1, 2, 9, 10, 20, 21, 24, 26, & 27 cannot be reserved. Sites 1 - 14 are hookups with water and electric. Prices are $15.00 - non-hookups and $18.00 -water & electric. For reservations call 800-322-3770.
External LinksOther useful sites beside the Snow Canyon State Park website include Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, the weather forecast.
Sands Dune Area, Snow Canyon State Park