The “Spearhead” is one of Zion’s lesser known tourist identifiers. This is probably due in some part to Spearhead being sandwiched by Angels Landing and Lady Mountain which absorb so much more attention. How Spearhead got my interest was that it features one of the finer free routes in Zion Canyon that takes you to the top without aid. Iron Messiah, III, 5.10c, follows a classic dihedral/chimney corner system to the top of the canyon directly across from Red Arch. Darren Cope and Jeff Rickeri freed the route in 1988. Labeled a BYM route (bring your mama) by Alex McAfee in “Zion Rock”, Iron Messiah is a must have for any free climbers visiting Zion. Although McAfee labels Iron Messiah as an 11 pitch route, it goes in 7 pitches nicely, particularly with double ropes. Access does not get any easier, just take the Grotto Shuttle stop or park at the Grotto parking lot if out of tourist season (best time to visit). There are restrooms and drinking water at this location.
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. Spearhead represents the southern merge point for Cathedral Mountain and Mount Majestic.
Route Description(s)Iron Messiah, III, 5.10c appears to be climbed as often as the much better known aid routes in Zion, i.e. Touchstone, IV, 5.9, C2. If you read the summit log on Rockclimbing.com, you can find nothing but praise for the route and a variety of opinions regarding how many pitches it takes. McAfee has it at 11, but includes a scramble pitch, he calls 5.4, but the Falcon Guide calls 3rd class. I tend to agree with the Falcon Guide on this one. From there, both guide books reference 10 pitches, but we combined 1 and 2 and 7 and 8 and recommend such with double ropes. In either instance, you won’t have but a meter left on 60m ropes. There are two crux pitches, 3 and 8. The crux of the third pitch is more of a reference to lack of pro than difficulty. The crux of the 8th pitch is towards the top, which is also the end of the dihedral. One of the most significant aspects not covered in detail in either of the before mentioned guidebooks is the shade element. I climbed Messiah in June during a 100F day and stayed reasonably cool due to the fantastic shade the corner throws and the venting from the deeper chambers of the chimneys and cracks. By “summer” afternoon, the shade expands covering much of your rappel route!
Getting ThereFrom the bridge in Zion National Park, where you either continue to the east entrance or turn left down the canyon, either drive or park and take the shuttle (during restricted months) 3.3 miles to the Grotto parking area on the right hand side. Cross the road and proceed across the pedestrian bridge to the north side of the North Fork of the Virgin River and turn left on the well maintained Kayenta Trail. Follow the river's west bank for a short distance looking for a cairned (2007) dry drainage (about your third) on your right hand side that takes you up a much less definitive trail to the base of the Messiah route which will have fixed protection (5 pins) up a varnished wall. You will not see the dihedral/corner until you reach the top of the 2nd pitch.
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 four 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 ($25 per vehicle for a day/week pass, $80 for an annual pass-2007) 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 (at times this does include Spearhead). 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 (although that is when I climbed Spearhead=need my head checked). Carry plenty of water regardless (I carried one liter=check my head again please). 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. 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 (and right across from Spearhead).
It is actually “illegal” in Zion to camp at the base of a climbing wall or in your vehicle.
External LinksThe Zion National Park website has most everything you need including trail conditions or closures, wildlife notices, weather conditions, camping permits, canyon water levels, etc.
DowClimbing.Com- Spearhead- Messiah, III, 5.10c