Flowfold Ambassador Jon Coppi's Solo Ascent in Zion

May 17, 2018

Flowfold Ambassador Jon Coppi's Solo Ascent in Zion

It's a good morning when you open your email and find one from Flowfold ambassador Jon Coppi. We're a small team at Flowfold, and we all get really excited when one of our ambassadors shares an adventure with us, especially Jon. Jon lives in Utah where he works with Black Diamond and spends his free time skiing, climbing, and mountain biking. He's one of the friendliest, most down to earth guys I've ever met. I opened the email from Jon. It read:
Did a little big wall aid solo mission this past weekend in Zion. Might be one of the more exhausting activities I have partaken in. Hoofed 80-90 lbs worth of stuff up 600 vertical ft of loose, sandy, bushwhacking Zion desert and then ascended 800 ft of vertical rock for 400 feet of gain (You essentially have to ascend each pitch twice). Unfortunately I only had enough time to make it halfway up the route, but anyway it was kinda fun...
I had to hear more. I hit reply and asked for the full story. A few hours and cups of coffee later, he emailed me back some photos, and a rundown of the experience.
The whole thing was pretty last minute as I couldn't find a climbing partner for the weekend. I have done some big wall climbing before but this was my first foray into doing it alone. The only way to access Zion this time of year is via the shuttle system that doesn't start running until 7:00 A.M., and you need a permit for staying on a wall overnight. It was a busy day for tourists so by the time I got my permit, got on the shuttle and got to the right drop off point it was 8:30 A.M. The approach, man that approach sucked. I never usually weigh my packs but I would venture to say that pack i was carrying was 80-90 lbs. Two 60 m ropes, a portaledge, a ridiculous amount of rock protection, 2 gallons of water, food, and sleeping gear filled up my 145L haul bag. It was a solid hour and a half of steep, loose, sandy, cactus strewn, bushy gnar with no real trail to follow to gain 400 feet of elevation to the base of the climb. To be honest, I underestimated how much the approach was going to beat me down. By the time I was going vertical it was about 11:00 A.M. The typical order of operations for solo aid climbing is as follow: Aid the pitch (depending on the difficulty this can take an hour or so), fix your lines, rappel the pitch to clean all the protection you used, jug back up your fixed line, haul up your bag full of stuff, fix everything to the anchor, and get ready for the next pitch. So you're essentially climbing each pitch twice.
For the most part, everything went smoothly until the fourth pitch. It's 110 feet and it was some of the easier climbing of the day, but about 20 feet from the top one of my lines got stuck at the anchor at the bottom. So I had to make an anchor mid pitch, rappel down to fix my ropes, jug back up, finish the pitch, rappel to clean, jug back up, and finally haul. At this point it was getting dark so I busted out the headlamp and setup the portaledge at the hanging belay, which is like assembling an erector set while hanging in a harness 400 ft off the ground. Got all that situated and couldn't really gather up the motivation to eat the dinner I brought (1 can of Stag Chili), so I curled into my sleeping bag and called it a day. I don't know anyone that actually sleeps well on a portaledge. It's kind of this weird state where you're incredibly exhausted but you can't put your mind to rest, so you go in and out of half sleep for the whole night. When I did get get up on Sunday, I made the call to begin the process of descending. To continue up would have been silly given that the rest of the climb goes free at a moderate grade and would have made getting back to the valley in time to catch the shuttle out of the canyon nearly impossible.
However, I will say that I am extremely confident that going back up to that climb with a competent partner, I have no doubt we could knock that whole thing out in a day. All in all it was a pretty silly adventure looking back on it, but I think i got what I wanted out of it which was to gain confidence in my systems and experience in the self-reliance of being alone on a wall.
Thanks for sharing, Jon! This woke us up better than the coffee did.

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