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Moonlight Buttress
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The Moonlight Buttress (Free) 

YDS: 5.12d French: 7c Ewbanks: 28 UIAA: IX ZA: 28 British: E6 6b

   
Type:  Trad, 10 pitches, 1200'
Consensus:  YDS: 5.12+ French: 7c Ewbanks: 28 UIAA: IX ZA: 27 British: E6 6b [details]
FA: FA: Jeff Lowe & Mike Weiss - October, 1971
FFA: Peter Croft & Johnny Woodward - April, 1992
Page Views: 30,830
Submitted By: Josh Janes on Apr 9, 2008

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Top of P1 or P2... Photo courtesy Scott Bennett.
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Description 

The Moonlight Buttress, as it is most commonly referred to, is one of the most popular aid climbs in Zion, and, as a free climb, is perhaps the most spectacular, and arguably longest and hardest, sandstone climb in the world. This stunning route tackles the namesake feature, a proud prow of rock that juts out from the wall behind it, via a singular, peerless crack that extends for 1000 feet from base to summit and never widens to more than an inch or two... the Moonlight Buttress is a feature of unparalleled, parallel perfection.

Ed. Note: It should be noted that the route already exists in the Mountain Project database here, described at a 5.8 C1 climb, but due to a lot of requests for free climbing beta, I'm submitting this description of the route as well.

First freed in 1992 by Peter Croft & Johnny Woodward, the route was originally rated 5.13b. That rating has since settled to 5.12d, but even this reflects the overall effort of the climb and not the single hardest moves on the route. This has been evidenced by a number of onsights over the past few years, and most recently, Alex Honnold's free solo of the route in an astonishing 1 hour and 23 minutes.

The Moonlight Buttress is a sustained journey up nearly flawless rock for it's entire length. It has pitch after pitch of difficult Indian Creek style splitters and corners, a few enjoyable face climbing sections, fantastic exposure, and great belay ledges. What follows is a detailed description of my experience on the route that may provide more beta than you're after. If this is the case, refer to the free SuperTopo description that is floating around on the web, or one of many guidebook descriptions.

Approach: Drive into Zion to a bend in the road and park in the lot on the left (Angel’s Landing parking lot), or, continue on for 500’ to a paved pullout on the right. The Moonlight Buttress is obvious. Continue on foot up the road, drop down to the river, and cross near a huge boulder on the far side. Pick up a great climber’s trail to the base of the route. Begin the route well to the left by scrambling up a 4th class passage to the first belay. The approach takes about 30 minutes.

P1: 5.8, 130’. Gear: Mostly full rack, slings & draws.
Climb a long, sandy left-facing, right-leaning corner. Near the top move right and ascend a hand crack to an obvious tree on the belay ledge. Yuck, this route sucks, just rap off now.

P2: 5.10+, 100’. Gear: 3 of each cam, slings & draws.
Runout, easy climbing up ledgey terrain to the right. Pull a roof (10+) on the right (use long slings), and continue up an awkward lieback crack (10-) to the belay.

P3: 5.11c, 50’. Gear: 4 draws & a #1 Camalot.
Traverse right and slightly down. The hardest moves, a step-down/stand-up sequence, come quickly on the pitch. A bit frightening for the second. The bolts on this pitch could use updating. Continue to a bolted belay on a ledge.

P4: 5.10-, 90’. Gear: 3 of each cam, slings & draws.
Head up and right on a thin flake, then traverse back left below a roof to a corner. A difficult move here (easier if you're tall) leads to a stance below a bolt. Above the bolt, step left to easy terrain (straight up is 10+). Runner gear well on this pitch as it wanders significantly. A bolted belay is above on terraced ledges and the Rocker Block.

P5: 5.12, 100’. Gear: Full rack less the 0.75 Camalot. Slings & draws.
This is perhaps the single hardest move on the climb: A 12b boulder problem off the Rocker Block. My solution was to hang draws on the first bolt or two and carry only one extra draw on my harness, do the moves, then lower a loop of rope to bring up the rest of the rack. In any case, leap sideways off the Rocker Block for the obvious hold up and right. Match, and throw right to a good hold, clip, toe in on the lower handhold, and mantle up to a decent stance. One more hard move leads to a good rest at the base of the long, left-facing corner. Lieback like mad to the anchor – a two bolts out right at a stance.

P6: 5.12+, 100’. Gear: Full rack less the #1 Camalot. At least one sling.
The enduro pitch. The crux of the route is absolutely hanging around placing gear on this sucker. Lieback to a handcrack pod. Place high and continue to lieback through a very thin section to a flare. Some jessery may be possible here, but inevitably, jam upwards, clipping the aid anchor out left along the way (or not), switch cracks to a system on the right and continue to lieback on easier ground up to the roof and a bolted anchor out right. The semi-hanging belay here under the chimney is the only uncomfortable one on the route.

P7: 5.12-, 100’. Gear: Green Alien w/ draw, draw for the bolt, 0.75 Camalot, all 0.5 & 0.4 Camalots. No wires.
This is a great, wild pitch. It is also much harder than the rating would indicate. Place a Green Alien to protect getting into the chimney, and then pull into it and continue up left side in past a bolt. Moving up reminded me of the moves getting into the Harding Slot, more sustained albeit much easier. Eventually the chimney begins to open up into a right angle corner and the knee bars start feeling less and less bomber. A 0.75 Camalot in a pod here protects a strenuous move switching from a knee bar into a jam and then into a lieback. Once liebacking, one can motor up a long 0.5 Camalot section. 0.4’s can be placed higher. Rack on the left side. Climb to the Bivy Ledge and a bolted belay. Crazy exposure!

P8: 5.12-, 80’. Gear: 0.3 Camalots and up, no small pieces or wires.
Splitter rattley fingers. The tough stuff is only about 15'. Bolted belay on a ledge.

P9: 5.12b/c, 110’. Gear: Full rack (including wires) less the #1 Camalot and two of the smallest cams. One or two draws.
Splitter rattley fingers to sit-down rest. The tough stuff is only about 20'. After the rest, a thin crack & pin scars (cool move switching cracks) lead to a bolted belay on a narrow ledge out right.

P10: 5.12a, 190’. Gear: Full rack (including wires).
The Nutting Pitch. Tricky face climbing up the zig-zagging cracks past wedged blocks leads to cruxy, sandy locks to a no-hands knee bar rest. This whole pitch is pretty awesome, and after all the pure jamming/liebacking, the 5.12 face climbing almost feels easy. Almost. Skip the anchor and continue through a sandy 5.10+ roof and on up cracks and knobs to lower angle top out.

Descent: Walk off via the Angel’s Landing trail. This is 2 miles of paved trail to the Grotto Picnic Area which is 1.5 miles down the road from Angel’s Landing. Alternatively, rap (see below). Walking off is much faster.

Miscellaneous notes: The route gets sun at around 9 AM and goes into the shade late in the afternoon. The route can be rapped entirely with a 70m rope except for the second-to-last rappel directly down the face (not following the route). Some creativity here might allow rappel with a 70m rope. Regarding ASCA work: Most of the anchors on this route have been replaced/updated. The route currently needs: the Rocker Block to be re-secured, and for the second-to-last rap station on the face to be relocated downwards by 30 feet or so (to allow rappel with a single 70m cord).


Protection 

3 each Blue Aliens (equivalent to #0 TCU's)
5 each Green Aliens (equivalent to #1 TCU's)
5 each 0.4 Camalots
6 each 0.5 Camalots
1 each 0.75 Camalot and #1 Camalot (crucial for the 5.11 traverse)
A half set of medium wires (offsets handy)
3 draws and 3 slings
70m rope (if rapping)



Photos of The Moonlight Buttress (Free) Slideshow Add Photo
Nearing the top of the crux pitch
Nearing the top of the crux pitch
Pitch 4 traverse .11c
Pitch 4 traverse .11c
Following the last part of the nutting pitch with 1000+ feet of air beneath.
Following the last part of the nutting pitch with ...
Leading the crux pitch, somewhere near the pod, April 2003.
Leading the crux pitch, somewhere near the pod, Ap...
Killer 12a splitter above the Slot Pitch.
Killer 12a splitter above the Slot Pitch.
Greg Troutman climbing the splitter perfect fingers on P4
Greg Troutman climbing the splitter perfect finger...
the bolted face traverse
the bolted face traverse
the best pitch of the route the splitter .12a above the slot
the best pitch of the route the splitter .12a abov...
Looking up the nutting pitch
Looking up the nutting pitch
Greg Troutman finishing up P7
Greg Troutman finishing up P7
Comments on The Moonlight Buttress (Free) Add Comment
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Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated Oct 6, 2013
By Brian in SLC
Apr 9, 2008

"The semi-hanging belay here under the chimney is the only uncomfortable one on the route."

Really depends on your tolerance for hanging in your harness on this anchor. Rest of it seems to be nice.

By bsmoot
Apr 9, 2008

"certainly longest and hardest, sandstone climb in the world."

I'm thinking there are a few free routes in the park that are at least as hard if not harder than Moonlight. Timbertop in Kolob comes to mind.

Thanks for posting up. Free climbing beta is certainly helpful.

By Evan Stevens
Apr 20, 2008
rating: 5.12c 7b+ 27 IX- 27 E6 6b

In my opinion, he is missing a bit of gear on the rack beta...definitely want at least 2 .75 camalots, and at least (1) 2 camalot. I can't remember if you want a 3, but it would only be on the last 5.10 pitch, and you just styled so many 5.12 pitches, so be the hardman/woman that you just became and run it out - but that pitch feels hard at the end of the day! It is easy to stop the nutting pitch after 90' and belay at the bolted anchor and do a short half rope length top out pitch if you are tired...then you can carry less gear on the nutting pitch! He has listed 6 sets of finger gear, which is good, but you could probably do it with 5. The crux pitch is no harder than 12c, and I have huge fingers - which makes the rest of the route easier.

By SAL
From: broomdigiddy
May 20, 2008

I would say the 5.10 variation straight up from where over nighters position their haul is much better then the 5.8 to the left. It is more straight forward and takes much better gear then the sandy traditional start. Would be much easier to aid through as well since it actually takes gear the whole way.
Cheers

By Michael Schneiter
From: Glenwood Springs, CO
May 23, 2008

The 5.10 variation is where the overnighters will haul for Sheer Lunacy and Lunar Ecstasy. It's better for Moonlight Buttress overnighters to haul in two pitches to the Rocker Block. There is a midway belay station on the face below the Rocker Block. Most will find this a preferable option than hauling the first three diagonal pitches of Moonlight.

Also, the 5.10 variation is a good free climbing option.

By bheller
From: SL UT
Nov 10, 2008
rating: 5.12c 7b+ 27 IX- 27 E6 6b

We also had a 3 camalot walk and fix itself above the bolt in the flared chimney on pitch 7. It seemed to be really welded, so it will probably stay put. Fixed gear! Yeah!

An imperfect topo, but nice looking:

www.supertopo.com/topos/obscurities/MoonlightButt_topo1.pdf

By Jay Brown
From: Aspen, Colorado
Jan 28, 2010

such an awesome route...please dont use cam hooks!

By Scott Bennett
Nov 3, 2010
rating: 5.12 7b+ 27 VIII+ 26 E6 6b

Big thanks to Josh for all the beta, I climbed it with him the other day and he definitely knows the route. His rack is right on, although maybe a bit heavy on the Blue and Green Alien size. Definitely didn't need anything bigger.

Since people seem really interested in rapping, I'll say this:
The anchors low on the route, below the 5.11 face traverse pitch, seem to have been recently updated. There are two more anchors below the one at the end of the traverse with nice new bolts. Thanks to whoever replaced these.

The only problem is that it doesn't seem like you can rap from here with a single 70m rope. From the traverse, the first rap is only ~15m, but the next one is 40+m. From there to the ground is another ~15m. Luckily for us, just as we were realizing this and thinking of what to do, another party above us rapped past with 2 ropes and so we caught a ride.

Anyways, the anchor positioning makes no sense to me. If the first anchor below the traverse were ~10m lower, everything would be fine and you could rap easily with one rope. Maybe there's some logic to this, but I can't see it. Has it always been this way, or were the anchors moved when the bolts were replaced?

Either way, it's not a big deal, since the walk-off is so easy. I think next time I'll bring a single 50m rope, pitch the route out, and then waltz down in flip flops.

-Scott

By Monty
From: Golden, CO
Apr 4, 2011

Huge thanks to who ever replaced the bolts, did some anchor upkeep through out the route, and added an anchor at the top of the wall. You even used glue in's :) You Rock!

I second the not rapping the route. Waltzing down in flops was most excellent!

By Jay Brown
From: Aspen, Colorado
Apr 24, 2011

nice, the whole route has chains now and new bolts!

By Scott Bennett
Oct 29, 2011
rating: 5.12 7b+ 27 VIII+ 26 E6 6b

Not trying to be too provocative, but I just climbed this again the other day, and I'm surprised that this route continues to get a 12+ rating. I think the crux pitch has opened up significantly over the years (though I've only personally climbed it in the last year). Even with my sausage fingers, the crux layback pitch offered good finger locks the whole way. I can only imagine that the constant clean aid and free climbing reinforces and enlarges the existing pin/cam scars.

I don't think that any of the individual pitches would merit even a solid 5.12 grade at the Creek. So sure, maybe the length and sustained nature deserves an inflated "experience grade". I'd be interested to hear, though, from anyone who's climbed it lately what they thought of the crux pitch and the overall difficulty.

Again, I don't want to sandbag anyone or denigrate historic ascents (I'm sure that corner was THIN when Croft and Woodward did it!), but I do want to encourage anyone that feels good on IC 12's to get after it. No matter the grade, it's a stellar
route!

By Josh Janes
Nov 5, 2011

Odd... but maybe I'm not understanding it correctly. John, it seems like you're downrating the route (calling all the 5.12 5.11), but then saying that all those 5.12 Indian Creek pitches are easier? Would that make them all 5.10? I think almost every one of the IC pitches mentioned are harder than the stuff on Moonlight (although, with the exception of Pistol Whipped, those pitches aren't really a good comparison in terms of sizes/style of climbing). Maybe your technique is really good but endurance is lacking? I don't have 0.5 Camalot-sized fingers, and I still find Moonlight to be much easier than 10 pitches in-a-day at the Creek (of equivalent sizes and ratings - and that's including the fact that at the Creek I can return to my cushy puffy jacket and yummy food between each pitch).

My theoretical Moonlight training day at the Creek:

In the morning drive to Broken Tooth and climb Heat Searcher, Inflictor, Polygrip, and Unbelievable. Then in the afternoon head over to the Cat Wall and climb Johnny Cat twice, Kool Cat, and Wild Cat twice. If you survive, you stand a great shot at Moonlight. If you can somehow fit in a redpoint of End of the Line at 2nd Meat on top of all of this, you will most certainly send Moonlight.

By Scott Bennett
Dec 3, 2011
rating: 5.12 7b+ 27 VIII+ 26 E6 6b

Good comments John and Josh, if anyone knows their desert cracks, it's you guys!

Bottom line, this is a stellar route with great gear and continuous climbing, solid at the 12a-12b grade, but enduro rather than cruxy. I think there are a lot of folks you would not hesitate to jump on these pitches at the crag, and they should be even more stoked to get on Moonlight.

Maybe what I'm ultimately aiming to do is shift the perception of MB from a trade/aid route and super-elite free climb, to one that invites more free climbing traffic and ground-up attempts. On this rock, even "clean" aid alters the rock. I'm not saying that no one should aid this route, just as someone could go aid Astroman or the Rostrum if they wanted. But if it could be seen as a do-able free climb for more folks, maybe it would shift clean aid traffic to other routes.

By heppnerd
Feb 14, 2012
rating: 5.12c/d 7c 28 IX 28 E6 6b

I thought the 13- grade was if you climbed from the rocker block to the base of the slot non-stop in one 215 ft pitch.

By Josh Higgins
Apr 8, 2012
rating: 5.12d 7c 28 IX 28 E6 6b

I'd like to say that ticking this route is poor form. I was just up there, and the crux dihedral lieback went as far as to have annotations like "R" and "L". Someone was literally taking notes on the rock. If this thing is that far out of your ability, please stay off the route. The last hard ring lock pitch was pretty ticked out as well with 6" lines marking the pin scars. It's 40' and the scars are obvious. Without tick marks I can see every foot placement and plan out where I'll place gear, before I even start.

Great route, to say the least. I'm still working on the redpoint. That chimney to lieback pitch is the only one that really gives me trouble at this point. It's ridiculously physical and by far the hardest pitch on the climb in my opinion.

By melonhead
Nov 15, 2012

Friends of mine who have done the route on numerous occasions over the years tell me that the crack in the crux corner has widened substantially from use. Back in 1992, on the thinnest part, there was a 15' section where I could just force the first pinky knuckle of my right hand into the crack and the rest was nothing more than a tiny bit of first joint flesh and fingernail. My hands are those of an average male.
It is an indication of just how we affect these sandstone routes of the desert SW simply by being on them, and the methods we use for our ascents have various levels of impact on this soft rock. We usually make these choices of our own free will and thus each one of us determines the long-term outcome of the routes over time. Without intending to pass judgement I must make the following observation .... with a paved descent trail coming within 100' of the top of the climb, choosing to rappel the route is one of those high-impact decisions.

jw
SLC

By Eric D
From: Gnarnia
Jan 14, 2013

Thanks for the beta. Though, MB is no longer the hardest/longest sandstone route in the world. Many new Venezuelan Tepui climbs are harder and longer.

By Casserly
Feb 26, 2013

I'm thinking about a fall trip out for this rig. What are the prime times to free it? I prefer the chillier side of things but it's nice to know the ideal temp range and the corresponding months. Thanks!

By Scotty Nelson
From: Boulder
Apr 1, 2013
rating: 5.12 7b+ 27 VIII+ 26 E6 6b

Can anyone comment on what time the route goes into the shade in April?

By Steve Levin
From: Boulder, CO
Oct 6, 2013

Climbed this in 1996 with Alan Lester and thought it was .12d.
Could barely fit my fingers in back then. Curious how much wider the crux corner finger jams have gotten.