It is a 3800’+/- net elevation day and 4400’+/- total gain regarding “up and down” elevation according to my altimeter. After Climbing Magazine did a spread (Earth, Wind and Rubble) on the alpine ridge climbs of Zion, I was contacted almost immediately by several friends and partners who wanted to jump on these “anything but alpine” ridges. West Temple is most easily viewed from downtown Springdale, UT, Zion National Park, as it dominates the western skyline along with Cowboy Ridge, III, 5.7. Both of these ridges are long and loose with little technical climbing along the way.
As with most objectives in Zion, on approach you have the distinct advantage of being able to view and study your objective compared to true alpine environs, but you will pay a price if you are not watching your step. There is no distinct trail to the start of West Temple’s southwest ridge and the cacti are quite tenacious and abundant. You no doubt won’t be packing an alpine axe, crampons, etc, but instead will be lugging a minimum of three liters of water.
We followed the same approach for Cowboy Ridge. Once above the obvious lower rock band, start branching out right looking for a long bush covered ramp that enters a “V” notch in West Temple’s southwest ridge. Avoid following the wrong rubble ridge up to the start of this ramp to avoid having to lose elevation via intersecting gullies. In other words, take the time to study your approach.
Once in the ramp, continue along steep walls to your left until an obvious chimney break and access the notch from there, all relatively easy ground with little if any technical difficulty.
West Temple’s southwest ridge is definitely shorter than Cowboy Ridge. You enter the ridge above 6000’. Start out left from the notch to gain the ridge and climb it direct, sometimes hiking, sometimes scrambling. I almost stepped on a striped whipsnake on this section of the ridge. Eventually you will find yourself descending to another deep notch. This descent goes right and utilizes a tall mature tree for the final step or two to the ground (photo). Regain lost ground to the left of the ridge. Again you will find a ridge that goes from scrambling to hiking back to scrambling and forms a staircase of sorts to the base of the red colored sandstone and crux of the route.
You come to a very cool (if still standing) white sandstone feature directly on the ridge (photo). There is a small face to ascend to continue. There is also a long chimney on the left side of the ridge that you can traverse into. I believe it safer and quicker to rope up and climb the small face which sports a crack allowing you to place a piece of protection or two. It is best to coil the rope after this for the continuation along the ridge to the base of the 5.8 pitch. Ascend to the base of this technical section from the right side of the ridge. It is the red colored top section of the ridge.
This last 50’ to the top of the ridge (not the actual summit) is not very aesthetic from a climbing perspective. It is sort of a chimney with a flake sticking out in the middle. Few if any of the moves were 5.8 as the route is “officially” rated. Move up and place a piece or two if you want on the side of the flake, then angle back right over one angle bolt and then two more bolts take you to the belay/rappel station. Bring up the 2nd before you top out to avoid rope drag, dropping sand onto the 2nd.
Once at the top, the true summit will come into full view to the northeast. The views to the northwest are incredible by Zion standards giving you a truly remote feel. The true summit is a typical square top that can be accessed by dropping down into a broad flat bushy plateau and maneuvering your way through the sharp and hard brush to the other side where you can hike up some loose scree to a summit cairn with a register in 2007. You can continue on to the communications tower shelter for better views down into Zion Canyon and the Three Marys. Return the same. We only made one rappel (the 5.8 pitch).
Essential GearOne 60 meter double rope that you can double for the ascent and use all 60m of it for the rappel. This little trick saves quite a bit on weight. The crux is bolted, I personally would not take a rack, but a few small-medium pieces might make you feel more comfortable. Maybe a set of lightweight hexes might do the trick. Half dozen slings, plenty of water, approach shoes you are comfortable climbing the crux in, sun screen and sun glasses…..just think tons of sun!
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West Temple, Zion National Park
Thomas Brereton, author of "Zion National Park: Off-Trail Routes" reportedly died in 1979 on the SW ridge of The West Temple when a large boulder he was stepping onto shifted and fell. Supposedly the sandstone was wet. Heed the warning.