Over a year prior, Courtney had mentioned a whitish and slabby sandstone run out, route on the backside (southeast) of the Great White Throne. While sipping beers at Oscars one night, no doubt after some obscure and dirty route we just completed in the canyon, Zach overheard us discussing this backside route on the Great White Throne. He had done the route, known as the South Face Diagonal. Zach gave it a thumbs down due to its run out nature and being true to its name, a huge diagonal, thus I crossed it off my mind. Courtney is persistent though, and banking on my short memory, convinced me in 2009 to give it a go. I had just completed some long hard climbs and was in the mood for more of an alpine type adventure one in which you can “smell the roses” so to speak. This route fit the bill, we were not disappointed.
The South Face Diagonal route was put in by Jonathan and Brian Smoot in 2003. Due to the long approach and rather loose and run out climbing, this route will never gain much in popularity. However, the climbing was never difficult and the 5.8 rating would barely apply to any of the moves. The A0 move Brian references on his topo was short and easy to maneuver. The most trad gear anyone could place would be a 2” and that is just one time. The bolts are spread out and the leader would suffer serious consequences on the numerous pendulum swing opportunities. The most likely injury would be a slow skinning process one would suffer if he/she fell down the low-angled, sandy face. The crux for me was really just getting through that first traverse with two bolts protecting 150+/-. The second pitch is also a little unnerving with one bolt (not two as per Brian’s topo-2009) protecting about the same distance. Both pitches are easy climbing though, at about 5.6, but the leader is mostly soloing the ground. The traverses after that are not quite as extreme and bit more protected, albeit the whole route is run out in the 5.5-5.7 range. The topo, prepared by the FA’s themselves, references seven pitches, but we felt the 3rd class scrambling really starts after the end of the 6th pitch. Most all the stations and bolts were in good shape in 2009 with one missing on the 2nd pitch. You can rap the route in six raps. You might wonder about the raps due to the diagonal nature of the route, but it is so low angled and mostly all slab, so it works.
The hike in is fantastic, running along a trail for more than half the distance with huge ant hills alongside it, meaning horny toad lizard territory (photo). During the first part of the journey you pass a really cool spring on your left, which was golden to soak our feet in at the end of the day. We took a paved road north just past the east Zion National Park entrance and followed it all the way to the Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort. We drove through the resort on gravel roads to a gate. Open the gate and park at the trailhead just meters ahead which puts you back into Zion National Park from the east.
From there, pick up the trail heading west. Take a left at the T junction and take a right at the next Y junction, both fairly immediate. There are a ton of deer at this elevation in the park. Follow this trail for quite some distance, gaining elevation to approximately 6700’+/- as I recall which is the height of the Great White Throne itself, so you will be losing all the elevation you will be climbing up the southeast face before you reach the base of the route.
This trail rises to a grassy plateau, then starts to descend into the Hidden Canyon valley. When you can look down into the valley below, turn right and leave the trail making aim for the Great White Throne to the northwest. Bushwhack your way right in an attempt to catch the easy access into a slick rock gully that loses elevation to the base of the south face. Bushwhack again through some large trees and turn right at the base of the Great White Throne to find the route which is more on the east face than south face. Look for a bolt straight up and right from a large tree on an apex of sand. There are not many, if any, large trees to the right of where you need to be, so you are basically looking to reach the last large tree of this group of trees to the right.
1000’+/-, 6 Pitches, 5.8 A0
1st Pitch- 150’- 5.6/Most of these pitch descriptions are going to include the same language, “diagonal”, “run out”, “slab”. This first pitch is probably the crux of the route due to just getting use to traversing sandy slab looking for the next bolt, which can be few and far between. This pitch, as most of them, actually traverses more aggressively to the right than Brian shows on his rugged topo. And as with most of these pitches, it is best never to climb too high too early on any terrain you suspect harder than 5.6. Just keep following the easy stuff out right whenever it shows up. Your shoes will stay dirty with sand. This sandstone is about the weakest that you will ever see anyone put a route on.
2nd Pitch- 150’- 5.6/This pitch is missing its first bolt (per the topo) as I recall and is therefore quite run out (1 bolt total). It traverses about as aggressively to the right as the first pitch did.
3rd Pitch- 150’- 5.8/This pitch is probably the shortest on the route, but I put them all to average about 150’. I never felt like the climbing was more difficult than 5.7. The crux is not where they placed four or five bolts running straight up, but the sketchy unprotected traverse out right to the next station. Definitely place a double runner on that last bolt to avoid rope drag, particularly since you are traversing on loose sandy slab.
4th Pitch- 150’- 5.8/Don’t see the 5.8 here really. Clip a bolt, sling a tree and keep moving out right to a small corner. This is where you can place that 2” piece, in a slot hole as you follow the corner.
5th Pitch- 150’- 5.7/ Suppose one could say the 5.7-8 grade involves the aid move at the bolt out right on a short piece of blank wall. Throw a shoulder length sling on the bolt and step in it and then make the balanced traverse, no hands, to the foot rail up and right. Keep moving at a drastic diagonal out right past at least three bolts total to some bushes and climb up from there to the next fixed belay.
6th Pitch- 150’- 5.7/Little better rock on this last pitch past a couple bolts to yet another station. Not so drastic of an diagonal on this pitch.
100’- 3rd-5th/Brian calls this a pitch, but felt like 3rd class at most to us. Just move out right and up to a great shade tree in which to have lunch and change shoes.
Summit: I changed shoes. Scramble up a 3rd-4th class short wall to your right which lands you on the summit plateau of the Great White Throne. The highest summit features are at the other end of the plateau. They were pretty shady mini sand towers that I do not recommend climbing on much. We saw three healthy rams on top in May along with a ton of bees.
DescentJust rap the route. Yes, it feels weird having to pendulum all the time, but it is so low angled and not many features to snag your ropes on, so you should be set. Can do it with 50m or 60m doubles, six raps.
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