West Temple (official name The West Temple, also referred to as The Steamboat back in the day) is the highest objective in Zion National Park at 7810’. 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. West Temple was first climbed in 1933 and named by John Wesley Powell. West Temple is a classic landmark in Zion, if not for its towering size, then for its horse head feature that can be seen from the south side of the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel.
West Temple sports one of the most committing routes in the park, “Getting Mo Western”, VI, 5.11+ put up by Darren Cope and Brad Quinn in 1990. This huge headwall faces Springdale and thus has been discussed around more than a few cups of joe. The descent used for this route is actually an Alpine III, 5.8 ridge route that was highlighted in an article done for Climbing Magazine by Fritz Cahall, “Earth, Wind, and Rubble”, February, 2007. Of course once my friends saw this article, I was no doubt destined to be conned into these “desert alpine” ridge routes (as Cahall was by James Martin).
I had climbed Cowboy Ridge the week prior and anyone sane might have had enough cacti and loose sandstone to last a while. But I am use to tagging 40+ mountain summits in the Canadian Rockies every year and needed a diversion from the more technical climbing in and around Zion and St. George. The only technical portion of the southwest ridge of Mount Temple is the final pitch of the ridge rated at 5.8, but felt more like 5.6 and included three bolts to anchor believe it or not!
AccessWe used Serendipity Road in Springdale. This is a privately maintained residential road and there are access issues. I know one of the residents on this road and thus did not have to investigate optional access. The other options I am aware of are a trailhead located south of Serendipity and Black Canyon Road which takes you back to an amphitheater. The Black Canyon Road is definitely the access you want for the 5.11+ face route. But for the ridge, I believe it is best to start further south west.
Red TapeYou will not need a climbing permit nor do you need to enter the park by car and thus pay a National Park fee to access the park. However, I always purchase an annual pass to US and Canadian National Parks. If you are going to make more than 4 visits per year, I advise this option. No bears to worry about, but rattlers have been spotted up on this ridge. I almost stepped on a striped whipsnake up on the ridge.
Zion National Park will have manned kiosks on Highway 9 and you will be required to pay a US National Park fee ($20 per vehicle for a day/week pass, $50 for an annual pass-2006) 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. 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. Carry plenty of water regardless. 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. I climbed West Temple in April, 2007. 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.
It is actually “illegal” in Zion to camp at the base of a climbing wall or in your vehicle.