Among the temples in the Grand Canyon, Zoroaster is undoubtably the king of the technical rock climbs. This is probably mostly due to the 32 miles of round trip hiking or the 20,000 feet of elevation gain and loss from the rim that it takes to reach the top of Zoro. Whatever the reason, a wide variety of climbers have traveled to the Big Ditch to have a go at Zoro.
Approach and Route description:
Phantom Ranch to Redwall Notch:
From Phantom Ranch, hike up North Kaibab Trail a short distance to turnoff to Clear Creek Trail. Hike east on Clear Creek Trail. A good campsite (no water) is less than 2 miles from Phantom Ranch along this trail, just past the two large cairns on opposite sides of the trail. For camping reservations, this campsite is within the Clear Creek Use Area. The Clear Creek trail crosses a fork of Sumner Wash which originates at the notch in the Redwall. If you have a GPS mark this as a waypoint since the Clear Creek Trail was hard to spot in the dark upon return. Hike up the wash to notch in Redwall. We scrambled over and around rocks in the wash to get to the notch. However, on the way down from the notch we did pick up a faint trail that was very occasionally marked by cairns which made its way down the alluvial fans next to the wash and was much easier traveling. Keep an eye out for this trail as it will make life easier in both directions.
As you approach the steep chimney in the Redwall you will see a fixed line. As soon as this line is in sight, stop and look to the immediate right for a cairn that points to a route (Class 3/4) that climbs up the broken face outside and to the right of the chimney. There are several cairns along this short route as you scramble up short broken rock shelves. This route leads you back to the chimney at or slightly above the anchor for the fixed line. I know of two other climbing parties that climbed the chimney by the fixed rope, using the fixed rope for a self belay, and I was told it went at 5.7.
Above the fixed rope, move to the left side of the notch and climb the left side (Class 4) past the steep chimney with the chockstone at the top. Note the rap anchors on climber’s right above this Class 4 section if you don’t want to down climb it on the way back to camp. Continue up inside notch through loose dirt and rocks for a couple hundred feet to the top of the notch. When we descended, we rappelled down the Class 4 section and the fixed line.
Lower Supai Cliff Bands:
Hike up talus slope to base of lower Supai cliff bands. You will pass through a number of short and tall cliff bands. The trick is to find the climbable routes (Class 3/4) through the tallest cliff bands. We followed a strategy advised to us: start at the left end of each tall cliff band and walk to the right along the base of it until you find a climbable route up. Repeat for the each of the tall cliff bands. At the top of these climbs we found cairns marking the descent. The last tall cliff band in this set is easy to get through as it has a notch you can walk up. When we descended, we rappelled down the lowest tall cliff band because we found a pinch point with slings and had trouble finding the down climb.
Traverse to Upper Supai Cliff Band:
After getting up the lower Supai cliff bands, there is a long ridge-top traverse (with a great view) to the large upper Supai cliff band. Along the way you will scrabble up some short cliff bands. When you arrive at the base of this cliff band, walk left along base of cliff (NW side) for about 1/3 mile. There is a faint trail with occasional cairns. Be mindful to keep your footing, as you are traversing along a scree/dirt slope with a cliff drop-off to your left. Some cairns will direct you up towards a terraced section in the cliff band. You'll finally reach a fixed rope up a slab--batman up this rope. Work your way up and right to the next fixed line (knotted rope), with another batman up another slab. Make your way up to another fixed line, where you have a choice to batman up a knotted rope on vertical rock, or (to the right of this) batman up a slab, then a traverse left along the fixed rope. We chose the latter, but the traverse was a little awkward. In the vicinity of this last fixed line there is a rappel sling around a tree for descent. Note your location again, as this is difficult to find if it is dark.
Upper Supai Cliff Band to NE Arete:
Climb up the steep dirt/scree slope to the base of the Coconino formation. We saw some cairns but could not consistently stay on a trail. Walk left along the base of the Coconino until you arrive at the NE arete of the formation which is in line with the saddle between Zoroaster and Brahma Temples. The approach, from the campsite mentioned above, took us 4.5 hours at a comfortable pace.
NE Arete Climb:
“Rock Climbing Arizona” by Stewart Green has a route description (6 pitches) and a route drawing. Both are not accurate in our opinion so we have added some more route beta here. For more information there is also a good trip report at: www.supertopo.com/climbing/thread.html?topic_id=46503>>>>>
We used 60 m double ropes and linked the first two pitches from “Rock Climbing Arizona” which resulted in a total of 5 pitches. There are no bolts at the belay stations except for one bolt at the top of pitch 4 (“horn belay”). There are no rappel chains, only slings.
Pitch 1: There are no aid moves on this pitch as indicated in “Rock Climbing Arizona”. Climb up and right to the rock scar and set a cam (see above link for photo looking up the climb). Climb over small roof on either side using the cracks. Continue up and right following crack system past one or two small trees with rappel slings. You are heading for a small tree in the crack system that has rappel slings just before the crack becomes more like a seam. The small tree of interest also has a smaller tree/bush 2 feet to climber’s right, both are used for the anchor for this rappel station. Beyond these trees the crack system thins out as it angles more to the right. Note that this is the fourth and final rap station you will use on descent. This pitch moves up and to the right, but the drawing in “Rock Climbing Arizona” shows the route as more straight up than its actual path. (5.7)
Pitch 2: There used to be a “Needles Eye” chimney on this pitch but the associated pinnacle fell off. This pitch is now the crux at least technically and mentally. Follow crack/seam to the right and get a big cam (e.g. Camalot #3) in the final pod before the crack/seam disappears. Climb up face, using crimpers (climber’s right) on the fresh rock scar from the missing pinnacle. Beware of the loose rock block on climber’s right. Now you are 10 to 15 feet above and right of your cam and you’re on sandy rock and no immediate pro options. Now is not the time to think about how far from camp you are, let alone civilization. A stretch to climber’s left is a small horizontal crack long enough to fit a small cam (e.g. TCU #3) and your fingers. Stretch left and get the cam in! Sink your fingers and pull left to get your feet onto a low angle slab. Move left on slab and then chose from one of the two vertical cracks to climb up about 15 feet to the next belay stance (we climbed the left one). There is a bushy tree on the ledge that you will have to make your way around when you get there. This tree has rappel slings on it and is the third rappel station for the descent. This ledge is about 10 feet deep and 15 feet wide. The second climber should clean the small cam in the horizontal crack after they have traversed to the lower angle slab to avoid a large pendulum if they fall. (5.9+)
Pitch 3: Move to climber’s right along the ledge to the left-facing corner with the crack system. Looking up, you will see a large roof up and to climber’s left that you will climb up to. Climb this crack system for a long pitch. The crack system actually turns into two cracks (we climbed the right most and larger crack). This pitch ends at the awesome “horn belay” that you can straddle like a horse and take in the view as you belay your partner. This is the second rappel station for your descent. (5.8)
Pitch 4: Down-climb below the horn on climber’s right to a short and wide low angle slab for your feet and traverse to climber’s right to the large chimney. As you arrive at the chimney there is a bolt, below head level, with a bent aluminum plate with a hole in it for a hanger. When you find it, you will be amazed at how invisible it is until you are next to it. The hole in the hanger is small and I’ve read that you need a carabiner without a gate tab to clip into it. I used a Petzel “Classic Straight Gate Carabiner” and it fit. Clip the bolt and make your next choice. Above about 20 feet and to the right, in the chimney, is a hole in the rock with slings. This is your next pro. You can climb the face above you on small holds (5.8R) or get into the chimney and chimney up to the slings (5.8). We did the chimney route which had an exciting entrance into the chimney which is protected by the bolt. Get a crimp with the left hand and stretch out across the chimney with your right leg for a foothold. Look down and checkout the view. Chimney up to slings and clip a runner to them. Mantle onto the ledge at climber’s right and traverse under a block. Climb up block to ledge and walk left to crack and build your belay anchor. (5.8)
Pitch 5: The off-width crack pitch. This pitch has plenty of protection opportunities with cams (e.g. Camalots #1-#4) and is not R-rated as stated in “Rock Climbing Arizona”. You will burn some calories on this pitch but the short off-width section does have some fist and hand jams deep inside the crack. As you reach the top of the crack have your belayer move under the small roof near the base of the pitch (for protection against any falling rocks) because the last part of this pitch has loose rocks at the bottom of the now gaping and low-angle crack that you will climb up through. Belay from small tree above and back away from the crack. The first descent rappel station is on a rock block at or just below your level, out of sight, and to the NE of your position. (5.9)
Toroweap Summit Cap:
Once the technical climbing is done, there is still the summit cap to negotiate. Walk to the right along the base of the formation and walk/scramble up an easy notch to the top. What an incredible summit! What an adventure! Photo document, sign the register, take in the view, and get the hell out of there before the sun sets!
Bring a pretty full rack from 1/2" up to #4 Camalot. Two ropes, a helmet, and lots of water!
|By Bill Wright|
Feb 8, 2006
The Keyhole Flake that used to be on pitch two of this route is now gone and the 2nd pitch is the crux of the route now, at probably 5.10a/b and a bit scary. You can climb with route with a single set of cams from green Alien to #3 Camalot and maybe a set of stoppers and be well protected.
Most seem to do this route over 2-3 days, but it has been done, south-rim-to-south-rim in 18 hours and probably less. A great adventure day.
|By JJ Schlick|
From: Flagstaff, AZ
Jul 20, 2006
A couple years ago we had six people on the summit. South rim to summit to south rim in 26 hours. I was deffinately seeing shit by the time we got back to the car, and it wasn't the moonshine. If you are thinking about doing Zoroaster, just do it. It is one long day I will never forget.
Nov 14, 2007
rating: 5.9+ 5c 17 VI 17 E1 5a
I didn't find the new second pitch to be any harder than the original crux, maybe 5.9 tops. It is definitely headier though, with suspect rock and the knowledge that the original pitch recently fell off. The crux of this route is still the approach & descent.
Zoro is one of the most beautiful summits I've ever been on.
From: Lafayette CO
Oct 28, 2009
Did the approach to Zoroaster and the first 200 feet of the route Oct 24. 3rd fixed line on the right side only has 2 inner braids of the core left--super sketch! First pitch requires a number 2 camalot at the top of the rock slide behind a large refrigerator size block that appears to be detached, then you have to layback up it. sketch?
Lower Supai Band has some mandatory low 5th class climbing to get through the first 40 foot tall cliff band. Downclimbing this would be pretty sketchy given the rock quality. Found the pinch point in the description on the descent, webbing needs replacing-a couple hundred yards west of upclimb... all told, given the gnarliness and length and routefinding of approach from sumner wash, the very poor quality coconino sandstone (and all the other layers of rock you pass through) this is a very serious endeavor.
25 hours of often super hairball approach/descent for 3 to 5 hours of roped climbing on chossy rock...
|By Paul Davidson|
Oct 29, 2009
Somehow a bunch of fixed tat in the big ditch seems very wrong.
|By Paul Davidson|
Oct 30, 2009
Grade III in the same sense the NIAD is a Grade III.
Jan 30, 2010
Pitch 5 has three cracks to chose from, as I recall. The standard one is the left one which goes straight up from the belay. We were running late due to waiting for the rain to stop. When I followed up the 4th pitch it was suggested that to save time I keep going on the lead using one of the right hand cracks (to avoid having to climb over the two guys on the belay). There was a pin or two in the one I chose (I do not remmber whether it was the far right one or the middle one). After placing a few cams, the crack pinched off and I had to go out on crimpers to the right about 10 or 15 feet from the top. I placed a cam before I did the move and gave it a yank to test it. It pulled right out because the crack has soft sandstaone inside it. I then realized that the other cams I placed were probably not good either. A fall would have resulted in hitting the ledge below from 50 feet or more. The point is I would avoid the right two cracks if I did it again.
|By Claire Rasmussen|
From: Bozeman, MT
Mar 30, 2010
It's definitely grade IV from Phantom. The route finding is just crazy. We camped up clear creek a ways (2 miles from Phantom, maybe) for lack of space at BA campground. I'm not sure if this was better or worse. We had a little less hiking on the day of the climb, but also a dry campsite.
Jun 10, 2010
I was lucky enough to climb Zoro several years ago thought I would add some thoughts that might help...
The Red Wall Chimney should not require any significant sections of class 4. Make the effort to find easiest route and you will save both yourself and time.
When I climbed it back in 2004 (maybe 2005), we were 99% sure that we were the the first party to attempt the route after the rock fall that peeled off the flake on the second pitch. A backcountry ranger told us that he heard the rock fall, saw the scar and hadn't heard of anyone being on the route. This was possibly the most intense single pitch of climbing that I have done. SUPER loose SUPER dirty. Walking on a ledge with 6-8 inches of dinner plate sized chunks of sandstone. After my friend stepped around the corner to start leading the second pitch, language not fit to repeat came pouring forth.
PLEASE take note of the route description above regarding the final pitch. Large rocks can fall in the crack and be dislodged by the rope running in the crack. I am typing this now because my helmet took the business end of a 10 pound chunk of sandstone which fell about 40 feet square on my head. Wear your helmet and try and keep the rope out of the crack for the second.
On our trip we camped up on the supai just west of Zoro and climbed Brahma (class 4) on the same trip...one of those "since we are here" deals.
It was one of the most memorable climbing experiences I have had.
|By James Garrett|
Apr 21, 2011
Just climbed it with two from the South Tirol (Dolomites), one Bavarian, and one Swiss (Bernese). Grand (long!) adventure by all accounts. One day to Sumner Wash via South Kaibab, cached some gear below the approach chimney above camp, one day for the climb and back to sleep in Sumner, and then a long day hiking back via Bright Angel trail.
We beefed up the anchors in a few spots as suggested by a Ranger, but otherwise found the existing fixed hardware to be in good shape. Awesome desert tower/mountain/Grand Canyon views!
|By Olaf Olsen|
Apr 26, 2011
Did the route on Easter. We found fixed ropes on all the cliff bands, two in the Redwall Notch, and two going up the slabs. Made the descent a lot faster than it would have been. Most of these ropes seemed okay, although two of them squeaked when loaded.
Route was a bit bigger than I expected. Maybe around 600 feet of climbing. Was unable to find the summit register on top of the Toroweap Formation.
If you have doubts about doing it in a day, don't worry 'bout it. It ain't no thang.
Apr 27, 2011
rating: 5.9+ 5c 17 VI 17 E1 5a
Hey Olaf. While it is certainly do-able in a day, I wouldn't describe it as "ain't no thang" either. Maybe I'm just weak. Regardless of how you do it, it is a great adventure climb and a spectacular summit!
|By Zoom Loco|
Nov 18, 2011
It's an amazing summit and spectacular area. Do it how however you can. If you're in very fit running/ hiking shape and 5.9 is not near your limit, I think single push is a good challenge and the way to go. Our c2c TR is here. You can link pitches with a 60m and do it in 3 long ones. 3 (double rope) 60m raps as well using the same belay stations as your climb.
Dec 2, 2011
Building on what ZoomLoco said. This peak is beautiful and definitely a good (but doable) challenge to do in a day. I should mention though that stretching it out into 3 long pitches required a bit of simulclimbing on the first pitch. (15 ft or so)
|By jeffrey c gibson|
From: pheonix az
Feb 11, 2012
rating: 5.10b/c 6b 20 VII 20 E2 5b
This one isn't to be taken lightly, and the 600ft of "technical"climbing is nothing compared to the miles, and layers of steep terrain you'll have to navigate before roping up.I spent the night on the top band a couple nights ago.this route is in the shade most of the year,so if there is snow on the south rim...you do the math. I think the snowy belay ledges made for an interesting day,and navigating the bands can be impossible at night.prepare for the worst, and plan on sleeping up there.also as of this weekend every rope held me, and all the webbing seemed ok.If you have a skull bucket....bring it.
|By Kenny P|
From: Woodland Park
Apr 16, 2012
Gave this one all the stars in the book- not for the climbing though! This is a great adventure route; did this in 2001 with Ty Mack in 17hrs- vision quest! Although the summit register wasn't obvious it wasn't too difficult to find at that time. I was so tired at the end, sat on a bench on the South Rim (after coming up the never ending S. Kaibab Trail) and left the camera on the bench... DOAH! Upset about that one! Said I'd never go back in for an "Under 24hr push"... and one week later was back with Josh Zimmerman and James Q. Martin for a Brahma assault! Like JJ said: "I will never forget!"
|By Ryan Z|
May 7, 2013
New Fixed Lines Installed May 2013- All of the fixed lines on the slabs have been replaced with new static line. 1 of 2 rappels in the lower supai band has also been replaced. The other rope is ok, but squeaks and pops when you rappel it. If you want to replace this one bring a 25 foot piece of line, I recommend that you do. There are 2 rappels in the redwall notch. The longer one has been fixed with a static line that just barely gets you down, easy 5ft down climb (sorry that is all the rope we had). The shorter one you can either rappel and pull or bring another 25 foot piece of line to leave.
|By Xander! Wyckoff|
From: Durango, CO
Nov 12, 2013
We really appreciated the fixed lines for the approach and the shiny new rap anchors on Zoro and would like to thank those responsible for the time and effort they expended providing for the safety of their fellow climbers.
|By Nick Smolinske|
Dec 31, 2013
Headed out there this fall with some friends and camped out for 4 nights. Packs weighed 70 lbs heading up out of Phantom. A questionable decision for sure. But a great time. I think camping at Phantom is the most sensible option to climb this. Bring a pink tricam for the new pitch on the NE Arete.
Paul: I put my hands on some of that fixed tat in the Supai. It felt so wrong, and yet so right. Ooh, baby.
Olaf: Although we did it over several days instead of one, I can assure you that it was, indeed, a thing.
The route author: You should see if you can stick the word "batman" into the upper supai approach a few more times.