Touchstone is an excellent adventure and one of the greatest big walls of all time. Angel's Landing looms across the canyon and makes a scenic back drop. What the route lacks in height it makes up for in wonderful aid and free climbing. Bivy ledges atop pitch 5 and on the summit make this an excellent first wall since no portaledge is necessary. Don't forget that a bivy permit is required for all overnight routes! This route was one of the earlier big wall routes done in Zion and was put up by the prolific desert rat Ron Olevsky.
The route goes all clean and has good anchors, so leave the pins, hammers and drilling equipment at home. Credit for the fact it can be climbed with only nuts and cams goes to the vision of Ron Olevsky who realized early on that in order to preserve the classic walls of Zion they needed some fixed gear and some constructive scaring. (I guess that makes this a chipped route?) Otherwise, the route would have become a mess of unclimbable pin scars.
Unfortunately, even when done all clean, the route can still be trashed by the careless cleaning. So, when trying to decide whether or not to leave a $4.95 nut or whether to get it out with all means necessary, think twice and do the right thing. And it goes without saying, leave all fixed pins in place.
P1 (5.6 C2 or C1, 35m) Unlike other Zion big walls there are no nasty pitches getting to the good rock. However, there are two choices for the start. Climb the tree to some fixed pins and interesting free climbing and belay on a nice ledge or climb the bolt ladder on the left which requires some top-stepping. The tree start is very interesting and was the original start. It also requires a little 5.6 traverse to start pitch 2. The bolt ladder start is easier and more straight forward.
P2 (C2, 41m) This is possibly the crux of the route. Climb some fixed gear up to the roof and traverse left under a roof. The traverse culminates in hanging on a fixed Rurp. Exciting! It's probably better to use the ease-on-to-it method of testing rather than bounce testing, which will inevitably loosen the fixed gear. Continue by aiding through the C2 roof. A creatively-placed 0.5 tricam works nicely here.
After the roof, start cruising up the beautiful crack that splits the walls. This crack eats nuts. Ignore the first set of anchors on the right. Belay at chains on the right side of the crack. This pitch is very exciting to clean since it traverses. The haul bag will probably get stuck on the roof, so have the second wait there and flip the bag over the roof (Big Wall Tip #23).
P3 (C1, 42m) This is what it's all about. A beautiful crack on a beautiful wall with good exposure. Aid climbing never gets any better than this! Put stuff in the crack and cruise. Pass the midway belay station and continue to a nice ledge. This pitch goes free at 5.11-.
P4 (5.10, 35m) Get out the cams and climb a sandy crack. This can be aided or free climbed at 5.10. End at Halfway Ledge which is not a good place to bivy.
P5 (5.8+, 25m) Choose the best off width climber and get out the phat cams. Climb the four inch crack and be mindful of a loose block before the Virgin Berth Bivy Ledge. There's room for two people here. Next, eat all the Chef Boyardee.
P6 (5.9, 27m) This makes an interesting wake up call after the bivy. Climb a 5.9 crack on the left then choose either a 5.6 crack on the left or a sweet 5.8 hand crack on the right. This section can be french freed if necessary.
P7 (5.9, 26m) Climb a weird, wavy and wide fist crack up into a short squeeze. Leap frog gear as necessary. Belay at a very large tree.
P8 (5.9, 26m) The original route rated this pitch T4, as in climb the tree and swing on to the juggy wall to the left. Luckily, a variation exists that climbs excellent jugs up the steep wall with fixed pins. Pumpy! Belay near the lip at a manzanita bush, fixed pin, and crack where you can make an anchor. A nice bivy can be had on the Summit Prow.
P9 (5.6) To get to the summit, a little free climbing is necessary. This last, little pitch is nasty to haul. It might be possible to do this as part of pitch 8, but the summit prow is very cool to hang out on.
Free Version This route has been freed. That's something to think about while happily hanging in the aiders.
Answer 1: Standard Clean Big Wall Rack.
Answer 2: Olevsky's original recommendation - 25 wired nuts 1/4 inch to 3/4 inch. 25 to 35 nuts and Friends to 5 inches.
Answer 3: A more exact rack:
- Three sets rocks, mostly medium, no RPs (extra #5). HB Offsets work very well in Zion.
- Two sets TCUs #1, 2, 3 (no #0)
- Two #4 Camalots (or just one if you're not afraid)
What goes up, must come down. The established descent goes over the summit and then begins rappelling down the hanging canyon which is to the climber's right of the route and forms the right side of the Cerebus Gendarme formation. The last couple of rappel anchors can be seen while climbing up the route. This is a lengthy canyoneering adventure that involves lots of rappelling and scrambling. Experience says: it's not fun in the dark! There are lots of bushes, sand and the potential for the rope to get stuck. By the end of this, the haul bag will not be your friend. Have fun!
Here's the descent beta based on Olevsky's original topo that used to be available in the visitor's center: From the true summit, walk north along of the top of the Gendarme (about 500 feet) and then look to the right for two bolts with slings. From this anchor, do a short rap to the NE notch. Scramble 10m south (that will be to the rappeller's left). Rap 35m. Rap 35m from a large tree. (Sorry, but I can't remember if I'm repeating myself or if there're two raps.) Scramble 40 meters down the gully. Rap 30 meters from smaller tree to ledge with two bolts. Rap 35 meters. Scramble 100 meters down hanging canyon to an abrupt drop off. Make two 35 meter raps down and left. Two ropes are needed for the last two raps. Kiss the ground, it's over! Go to the Bit and Spur.
BTW, another means of descent that involves rappelling can be employed if no one is on the route.
|Comments on Touchstone Wall
|By George Bell|
From: Boulder, CO
Sep 27, 2002
If you're a reasonably experienced aid climber, this route can be done in one day with no fixed lines. Problem is the route is very popular and usually festooned with multiple fixed lines and beginner aid climbers moving slower than molasses. Some parties rap off when the free climbing starts, for fear of getting benighted.
The OW on pitch 5 is no big deal with one #4 Camalot, this is one of the easiest pitches on the route and no actual offwifth technique is needed. It is in fact a realtively low angle hand/fist crack that opens up to 4" in a few sections (several face holds also make this easy). The pitch after that (pitch 6) I found quite scary. It starts with a flaring, unprotected 5.9 chimney. I think you can also go up a thin crack left of this which may be the way you describe.
Just when you reach the big tree and think the route is over, there is the final bizarre pitch to deal with. Be careful here! There are some long runouts and traverses on this pitch, a tired leader or even follower could slip and go for quite a tumble.
I don't quite understand why many of your rap distances are listed as 35m. We were able to do all the upper raps with a single 50m rope, so I don't think any of the upper raps are more than 25m. I would recommend doing single rope raps even if you have 2 ropes as there are tons of bushes and trees to snarl your ropes.
For our last rap the guys ahead of us let us use their ropes and double 60's just reached the ground. I believe there was at least one intermediate anchor for those with shorter ropes.
|By Anonymous Coward|
Oct 24, 2003
this route is great in the winter because it gets early sun that sticks around most of the day. I did this route in seven and a half hours and I am no speed climber.
|By Will Cobb|
From: Flagstaff, AZ
Mar 22, 2004
Once beyond the little aid roof on this climb there seem to be many bolted anchors to choose from. Where are the most popular stopping points/best belay spots? I have been as far as the first left hand anchor after the roof. Which pitches run together well?
Thanks for the info.
|By Anonymous Coward|
May 7, 2004
as of 5.1.04 the c2 fixed rurp on the pitch 2 roof is not necessary (though it is fun to look at as you reach by it). there are fixed pins traversing under the roof to a c1 reach through the roof to a tied off fixed angle. the eye of the pin is broke, though it is tied of flush w/ the rock. imo, the route is no longer c2 but probably c1/c1+. the crack above the roof is probably c1+ for about 8-10' w/ somewhat blown out placements. bring the micros and step up for a long reach to a red (#5 i think) tcu placement in a flaring pod. note: this route (as others in zion) seem to be in a constant state of flux in relation to placements, fixed gear, etc. for example, a shallow, flaring placement one day may "suddenly" become a deeper, bomber placement the next (this through no action of my own, i should add), or vice versa. also, concerning linking belays, w/ a 60m rope, one can climb from the anchors at the top of the first pitch, through the roof, past the first anchors out right, past the first anchors on the left, to the second set of anchors on the left. that would be the third set of anchors reached from the chains on pitch 1. another option, though maybe not the best, is to skip the first set of anchors, climb through the once c2 roof, to the chains on the right above the roof.additonal info: from the third set of chains found on the route (the second set on the left of the crack), a single 60m rope can be fixed to the ground.also, as of 5.1.04, all of the route appears to have been freed except for the traversing slab on p1. have fun
|By Will Cobb|
From: Flagstaff, AZ
May 14, 2004
Some of this will echo AC's comments above.
My pard and I climbed Touchstone on 5/7/04. This route ranks as one of the very best I have ever climbed. (Moonlight still being a little better.) To make the day even better, Ron Olevsky, Jeff Lowe, and Megan (didn't catch last name) were filming a "how to aid climb" video on the upper pitches. Ron, Megan and Jeff gave us water, food, encouragement, and were far more concerned with our ascent than with their own filming. It was pretty cool to meet two climbing icons (and one up and coming icon in Megan) and find out that their hearts were huge and egos small.
Ron mentioned that he had "done some work" on the route, but we didn't talk about specifics as to what work he had done. I assumed this ment the fixed gear under the aid roof along with a couple of new bolts at belays, but that doesn't mean that I am correct. Ron has the best beta on the route and contacting him regarding the new fixed gear would give you the most accurate information.
Speaking of beta, Ron gave us some in regards to the last pitch. He suggested finishing the little sport pitch at the two pin anchor located on the summit prow. At this point instead of going up the 5.6/5.7 slab to move left, step over a little exposed spot (with a belay) and run up the gully that cuts into the summit. We took his beta and had a nice, fun, adventure scramble to the summit.
The descent down the canyon right of the route is fun and straight forward. We thought that it added the "cherry on top" to our ascent. As mentioned above, do not try and run any of the rappels together as it will probably result in a stuck rope. This descent only took us about 45min. We counted 8 rappels total:
1. short rap from two drilled angles to saddle, scramble south on worn path2. 80' rap from two drilled angles into drainage, scramble down drainage a few feet to next anchor3. 80' rap from strange tree further down drainage, scramble south a little ways to next anchor4. 80' rap from small tree to ledge with one drilled angle and an old star drive (a nice public service would be to replace this star drive)5. 40' rap from angle/star drive into main streambed6. 80' rap down streambed from tree7. very short rappel from thread anchor, scramble down streambed8. 205' rap from bolts and chains down face right of Coconut Corner
The only other suggestion I would make is throw in 4 x .75 camalots. I ran out on the 4th pitch and lowered back down to back clean a couple of cams. But, .75 camalot is my worst crack size.
Have fun on this classic.
|By Mark J. Nelson|
Mar 20, 2005
Clarification of A/C's post on 5/27/2004: the fixed RURP is still there, complete with faded shoestring. As A/C pointed out, it can be skipped entirely with a pretty easy reach from a fixed angle below the roof to the fixed angle above the roof. BUT: it's not completely obvious from below and right of that second pin that the eye is broken, and it won't necessarily be tied off already when you get there.
I had a pretty stressful moment when I made the reach, transitioned to the angle, took a step up in my aiders, and then looked down to see the eye broken and the head of the pin flexing dramatically under my (pretty small) body weight.
Morals o' the story: Don't be like me; take a hero loop with you, pay attention to the condition of the fixed gear, and read climbingmoab ahead of time instead of after you get home. :)
|By Anonymous Coward|
May 9, 2005
I am thinking about heading to Zion from 5/14 to 5/19 and was wondering if this would be a good aid solo, or if the free climbing at the top would be akward with rack,rope, and a grigri self belay. Any help with this would be greatly appreciated.
|By Will Cobb|
From: Flagstaff, AZ
May 31, 2005
Well, I am a little late, with this but what the heck.
Touchstone would probably be a great solo. I have soloed most of the aid (and 5.11-) climbing and it was no problem. A few of the upper pitches would be akward to aid, but if you can be in french free mode you would be fine.
I really enjoyed this climb, and once through the little roof on the second pitch, it goes very quickly.
|By Andrew Klein|
May 31, 2005
I did this as my first wall solo back in early spring 2002 with haul bag, portaledge, and the whole nine yards. The most memorable pitches for me was 5 or 6 where I got my bag stuck under a roof and ended up jumaring inch by inch with the haul bag on my back and the last pitch where I was doing a 5.7ish move about 40 feet up a super sandy slab, no pro, only 5 feet from the top and my right handhold broke off in my hand (Incidently I met Ron Olevsky in the parking lot the next day and he told me that the last pitch actually goes up and left,right on the edge, and on to the summit, instead of the inviting sand slab above the Pitch 8 traverse). All in all, a great little wall to learn to aid solo as it is all straightforward, no major traverses, all clean, lots of crowds though. Have at it, you will probably have the wall all to yourself for the next 3 months. Cheers, AK!
|By Doug Hemken|
Mar 20, 2006
rating: 5.10 6b 20 VII- E2 5b C1
Stays dry even under melting snow. We really enjoyed this route. The fixed pin on p2 continues to make the roof pretty easy. From there you can practice top-stepped with every move! We scrambled to the summit, scrambled back to the final anchor, and rapped the route.
|By Mark Regier|
From: Salt Lake City, UT
Nov 27, 2006
As of 11/26/06, there is a drilled angle missing from the first pitch of touchstone. Pretty close to the ground-- maybe the fifth or sixth angle is now an incut hole. A talon provided an easy passage for me, but any hook would do. I'm concerned that many hookers will eventually make this thing a big, nasty flared hole, and a scar on a great route. If any of y'all know how to place a good (bigger, now) drilled angle, go get to it! I must reiterate--I have never asked for anyone to place fixed gear on somebody else's route, but I don't see how anything short of a speedy repair will save the hole. Humbly yours.
From: Laramie, WY
Nov 28, 2006
Just a few quick question, My partner and I are thinking about doing Touchstone in March and I was wondering
1. How crowded will this route be and what might be a good alternative. Length is not an issue, but probably not much harder than 11+ and c2+. Have done a lot of bigger free stuff, Shunes,Iron Messiah etc, but just looking for something mellow and fun with some good aid climbing.
2. How big is the ledge at the top of the fifth pitch in real peoples terms. Never bivied except at the top a few unexpected times and we just want to give it a go and have a good time. No stressful do as many pitches as we can in a day climbing. Mellow spring break.
3. Any other suggestions or comments on Touchstone would be awesome.
4. What will the weather be like beginning to the middle of March.
|By Michael Schneiter|
From: Glenwood Springs, CO
Nov 30, 2006
Touchstone can be crowded, particuarly due to the fact that people like to practice aid climbing on the first few pitches. A great alternative, from the sound of your experience in Zion, would be Sheer Lunacy, if you've done the trade routes (Spaceshot, Moonlight, and Prodigal). Also, there's a bunch of excellent free routes in a kind of "second-tier" of classic climbs in Zion. Routes like Sunlight Buttress (which could be aided), Voice from the Dust, Bits and Pieces, Wigs in Space, Made to be Broken, and Equinox are all great routes to consider. Just check out the topos at the Visitor Center and go have yourself an adventure.
I remember the ledge at the top of pitch 5 being good size but slopey. Touchstone is a perfect wall to do as a fix and blast. 2-3 pitches of aid at the beginning and then 5.10 and under free climbing to the top. You can fix the first three pitches with two ropes and blast the next day.
The final pitch gives some people issues. You "sport" climb on drilled angles to a large ledge and then do the infamous sandy slab mantle that is poorly protected (you wouldn't want to fall here). It seems to have become popular to rap the route and it's easy enough to do so. There's a fixed anchor at the large ledge on the last pitch so if you want you can bail from there instead of doing the last slab.
Middle of March can be beautiful, sunny days or it can be cold, wet, and snowy. Just depends on the weather. Usually when it does get nasty it clears off and gets nice again shortly thereafter. But, a couple years ago I spent 22 days in Zion in March/April and was only able to do a few routes (long day routes) due to bad weather.
From: Laramie, WY
Nov 30, 2006
Thanks for the beta. I will definately consider some of those other routes. I have not really done any of the trade routes you mentioned, mainly just free routes that looked good at the time. Anyways we have no solid plans and i might get there and get all revved up about monkeyfinger again and see how many falls i can take in a two hour period. I got my ass kicked last time. thanks again
From: Joshua Tree, CA
Mar 23, 2007
FYI: Yesterday, 3/22/07, I popped on a piece above the roof (in the C2 section) and the 'broken-piton' clipped with a screamer caught me. The screamer activated and took the brunt of the force. Clipping it made me nervous, but in the end, I was relieved it was there. Great route, long day, lots of fun. I vote for the gully descent.
Nov 7, 2007
Better climbing than spaceshot. Also can link pitches 1&2 easily with a 70 m with minimal rope drag. skip first set of chains on right 20 ft after the roof and go to first set of anchors on left.
Feb 27, 2008
Great description, Craig. Thanks!
|By Michael Schneiter|
From: Glenwood Springs, CO
Dec 13, 2008
Free at .13b. For the first pitch they climbed the variation to the right. For the second pitch they climbed a new variation above the first belay. From there, it's 5.9 to 5.11 climbing to the top. Check out the link to the old news piece about Anderson and Pizem freeing it.
Mar 31, 2009
We got shut down on this last week, but made it through the crux just above the roof cleanly. I found a good spot for a purple mastercam.
For a fledgling big waller, the keys to success in my opinion are having your rope management down and the traffic gods smiling on you. Neither of which were going our way.
Great route and a good but attainable challenge for a novice. I will be back.
From: Cottonwood Heights, UT
Aug 10, 2009
if you were climbing this on saturday august 8, 2009; i have some pics of you if you want them...
From: ventura, ca
Mar 9, 2010
rating: 5.9 5c 17 VI HVS 5a C2
Climbed this solo the first weekend in March and felt like I had the whole canyon to myself. Did it the fix and fire method which seemed to work pretty well, however I was pretty slow so I'm glad no one else was lining up to climb it. I think i got way off route on Pitch 5 and ended up doing some sparsely protected face climbing off to the left and came back right to the bivy ledge. (not recommended) Overall a great climb. I think the free climbing up higher would have been a little more enjoyable for me if I was climbing with a partner. Two efficient climbers could probably do this route in one longer day. Rapping the route is pretty easy.
|By Andy Laakmann|
From: Bend, OR
Apr 8, 2010
rating: 5.9 5c 17 VI HVS 5a C2
Great route. I found the free climbing pretty burly for the grade (esp. with the full aid regatta) and there was an abundance of french freeing going on. YMMV. We fixed the first 3p and fired it the next day.
Here's the recommended rack:
- 2 sets of offset nuts (no really small ones required)
- 1 set of finger sized offset aliens (OR an extra set of normal finger sized cams). Offsets weren't required, but they were nice
- 1 set of TCUs/C3s/Mastercams
- I had one red link cam, which was handy but not required
P4 is the gear hog. It is LONG (160-180 feet) and it will take as many #0.75-#1 camalots as you can throw at it. The beta above included hexes instead of more camalots, but C4 camalots actually weight less than hexes, so don't bother with the hexes if you have C4s.
I was pretty happy to have 3 x #3 camalots for P7, and also happy to have the #3.5 camalot. But I like to leave the occasional cam while leap frogging.... :)
Definitely take care on the moves after the first bolt on the "sport" pitch. A fall by leader or follower would be a big tumble on the ledge.
After the sport pitch, we scrambled around left rather than do the "scary" mantle.
We descended the gully, and some of the rap anchors are getting pretty sketch. We didn't have a haul bag, and I was glad for it! Never had to do more than a one rope rap - and the SuperTopo beta is spot on. The last rap JUST made it with my 60m, so be careful. There was one move in the 3rd/4th class section above the last two raps that was sandy and required some attention..... I belayed my wife down the move.
|By Perin Blanchard|
From: Orem, UT
May 16, 2010
From my experience, I mostly second Andy's rack comments. I jugged through pitches one and two and climbed the rest free so I can't speak to the gear required for the first two pitches, or to what additional gear you might want to aid other pitches.
I had a rack quite similar to what Andy recommends with not quite as many C4s and a few DMM 4CUs making up the difference
I took two sets of DMM alloy offset nuts and never used a piece from the second set. One set would have been sufficient for me (if you were aiding the third pitch you might like the extra set).
I also had shiny new yellow and orange Metolius Mastercams (1 each) and I placed one or the other or both on every pitch (except pitch eight, which I didn't lead, and is all fixed protection anyway). I also placed a blue Mastercam once. I placed red and yellow C3s several times, but no smaller C3s.
I, like Andy, was very happy to have three #3 C4s for pitch seven. I was even happier to have two #4 C4s for that pitch. I was also happy to have both #4s on pitch five. It may be 5.8, but after pushing up a cam for a while I start thinking about what would happen if that single cam should blow.
The descent was straightforward; as Andy says, the Zion Climbing: Free and Clean descent topo describes it perfectly. We did the rap down the final, steep wall in one go with two 60m ropes (the prose description of the descent in the guide says it takes two raps even with two 60's—it's wrong, but put knots in the ends because it might be close depending on how close to 60 meters your ropes actually are).
A hint for getting established on the rap above the steep, final wall: There is a small ledge just over the left side of the large ledge with the rap anchor. Step down onto it and then around to the canyon side; much better than a reverse belly flop (doing which, in addition to being a bit dangerous, terrifies me).
|By Richard Shore|
Mar 14, 2011
rating: 5.10- 6a 18 VI+ E1 5a C2
tricams were the ticket in the blown-out scars on the lower aid pitches. A brown #1.5 or blue #2 (cant remember which) fit perfectly in the pod above the 'broken pin' at the C2 roof crux.
A note about the summit topout on the route described here as P9; as part of P8 in Supertopo ("5.7R scary mantle") - it is scary indeed. 30' of unprotected, extremely sandy slab above a huge ankle crushing ledge followed by a crux mantle over the lip of the roof. The extra weight of all the aid gear adds to the drama. Make sure the leader carries only the necessary 7 quickdraws and minimal anchor materials for this pitch.
From: at large
Apr 21, 2011
rating: 5.10 6b 20 VII- E2 5b C1+
As of April 2011 the fixed angle just above the roof on pitch two is in pretty sorry shape. One of the two eyes is completely gone and the other is cracked through and flexing hard. Tying off the pin (above the eye) seemed to be a good way to prevent the remaining eye from breaking.
The better top out is to traverse straight across the ledge at the top of the "sport" pitch. Make an exciting step-across then scramble up (4th class) to the summit ridge.
Apr 27, 2011
My GF and I both thought the 1st half of the 5.11 pitch was rediculously sandbagged even for zion (though stellar). Way harder than Intruder. The 2nd half felt 5.11-
|By Greg G|
From: SLC, UT
Oct 17, 2011
rating: 5.8 5b 16 VI- HVS 4c C1+
This route while technically harder than Moonlight it is much easier imo. We slept in till 9, and still finished the route in a day. While not climbing fast we were climbed efficiently as to not waste that much time. We carried no tricams, but instead had 2 sets up offset mastercams which proved indespensible. No need for hooks at all either so leave those babies on the ground. We carried 4x finger sizes, and 3x in hands with only 2 #4 camalots (bumped them when necessary). Used zero stoppers on the entire route as our offset mastercams were more than sufficient. Either descent is involved, and can create rope snag issues.
Oct 29, 2011
how is anybody supposed to onsite with all this beta flying around?
|By John McNamee|
From: Littleton, CO
Mar 22, 2012
Really nice vid of Touchstone by a couple of Brits.
|By BJ Sbarra|
From: Carbondale, CO
Mar 4, 2013
Fun route. Was surprised by the marginally adequate state of some of the anchors in the descent gully. Added webbing to several of the stations, would have added some bolts if we'd had a drill kit. Particularly the rap off the pin and star drive, and then the one that is two star drives and a rusty quarter incher. Also, if you are planning on rapping the route any time soon, bring a bunch of webbing (or chain) as the tat on the anchors above pitch three is looking pretty old and worn. Also, there's a stuck 5 Camalot on pitch 5, I have your quickdraw if it's yours and you want it back. The cam will probably come out too if you have some time to spend fiddling with it.