The SE Chimney Route of the Organ in Zion National Park is a rather obscure objective, for good reason. It is mostly a sandy and chossy route with a few cacti thrown in to make it a full on Zion “beach party”. That being said, if you like chimneys and are looking for an easy as well as scenic way up the Organ, then no doubt the SE Chimney Route fits the bill. My partner this day,himself king of obscure desert routes, scrounged up beta on this route from 1978 (Jim Beyer and Courtney Simpkins) and 1979 (Gary Colgan and Steve Giddings). Sure enough, the 1979 ascent team referred to the 1978 beta as being hard to follow and of course we thought both versions were somewhat lacking. But once it gets going, it turns out to be a real simple day with the crux being the river crossing during the winter months.
As before mentioned, crossing the river can be brutal on the feet during winter time. One would have to do some of the deeper canyoneering routes in Zion to understand just how cold the river can be. At least we were rewarded this day with a beautiful blue heron taking flight where we crossed. As you stand on the road directly across from the route, (below the Weeping Rock wall routes behind you) which runs up the right side of the huge cleft plastered on the center of the SE face of the Organ, look down river slightly to the east for a natural diagonal rock damn (2008) spreading out the volume of the river making the river crossing quite tolerable. Once across the river, start ascending the hill towards the Organ via several different deer trails that cut through the brush. The 1978 and 1979 route descriptions mention a dead pine tree which of course is no longer in existence. Instead, aim for a tall and deep chimney to the left of the objective. Scramble back right at the base of this chimney into a huge flake/chimney that has detached from the southeast face. Scramble east through this chimney and up some soft rock until you reach a significant bushy ledge. Look for another deep chimney (right facing) to your left, just east of the top of this scramble portion. This is the start of the route.
All of the pitches involve 5.6 move(s), but none are sustained. You will not want to carry a pack on this route.
- 1st Pitch- (90’) 5.6/ Climb the left outside face of this chimney on easy, but soft, ground to a flat ledge above. Move the rope over to the left and gain access to a short, but steep and sandy chimney. This “true” little chimney climb can be harder than 5.6 based on the sandy elements, how narrow it is and how undependable any facial features are. I found no protection for any of this first pitch and thought it more secure to truly use clean 5.9ish chimney technique to overcome this first short and steep chimney. You can do a tree belay at the next ledge above (there will be no fixed protection anywhere on this route- 2008).
- 2nd Pitch- (80’) 5.6/ The main deep chimney section looms above featuring several large chock stones and a roof cap. This chimney section is best broken up at the chock stones which make for a comfortable gear belay. Squiggle into the chimney and start your ascent wherever, but keep in mind you want to go underneath and up through the chock stones at the end. The further in the chimney, results in more of a squeeze, but more facial features to assist with the climb. Further out requires easier chimney technique, but less features.
- 3rd Pitch- (70’) 5.6/ To finish the chimney, continue back into the upper depths on easy ground and climb your way up as you come back out, so go in and climb as you work your way back out. Beware to those carrying a few extra pounds. You have to pull the roof above, but it is pretty easy, just soft rock again that is hard if not impossible to protect. I placed no gear on the first three pitches. Once out of the roof, traverse back right to a solid sandy ledge and good gear belay into a crack.
- 4th Pitch- (120’) 5.6/ Squeeze under some brush and rock to your right (east) until you are into the main easy angled corner. Climb several short corners/chimneys until you reach a large comfortable ledge to the left into the sun with a solid gear belay into cracks. You can protect the short, but steep, moves on this pitch.
- 5th Pitch- (40’) 5.6/ Scramble up to the base of a large under cling flake. Layback up this flake until you can top it out onto another large ledge. It would take a “big bro” to protect this short crux. This is the finish of the technical climbing section. Some bad angles would exist (rope drag), but you can combine these last two pitches.
Scramble up 4th class approximately 600’ in length to the summit, working your way right. There is a little exposure as soon as you gain the west ridge right below the summit. There is a bolted hanger on the summit??? so you can tie in and soak up the rays I guess. Joe French and crew must have put the current summit register up on the Organ. They were the only ones who had signed it and did so in 2006.
DescentScramble back down the south face the way you came and start angling to the right before you actually reach the top of the last pitch again. Look for a batch of trees to the right that allow you to make a clean single rope rappel down to a large vegetated ledge.. Continue scrambling down south at a rightward angle until again you come across several trees, one of which we left tat on in 2008. This tree involves a two rope “clean” rappel down to the base of the Organ. Our set up extends out and over the lip of a ledge, thus would not be for the meek who are the least bit afraid of rappelling. There is a walk off from here, but it involves one exposed 5th class move. Traverse due right from the rappel tree along a narrow ledge and make an airy step over to a ramp that will continue west all the way to the ground via 4th class descent.
- The Many Free Routes in Zion National Park
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