In 1776, the Franciscan friars Dominguez and Escalante obtained funding from the Spanish Crown to seek out a new northern route from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to the new colony of Monterey, California. \u00a0However, once they were in the wilderness of the\u00a0Colorado Plateau, they focused more on converting Indians and seeking out new mission possibilities, rather than finding a quick route across the Great Basin. \u00a0This had actually been their main objective all along. \u00a0Kind of like when a climber gets invited to come give a historical lecture in Zion National Park, when his main objective is climbing Moonlight Buttress.\r\n\r\nYup, I went there in my talk, and the climbers in the audience laughed, all knowing full well that 24 hours earlier this bespectacled nerd spouting off historical facts and theories had been groveling up 1000 feet of sandstone finger cracks. \u00a0And while I want to emphasize that I would have made the trip to talk about my book\u00a0Wrecks of Human Ambition\u00a0even if climbing had not been on the table, I\u2019m not going to lie\u2013 the prospect of getting a paid trip to the red rock country to do my two favorite things, climb and talk about history, was a dream come true. \u00a0Thanks Zion Canyon Field Institute!\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nMoonlight Buttress (10-ish pitches, 5.12ish) has hovered in my consciousness since shortly after I first started climbing in the late 1990s. \u00a0I first heard about it when one of our Utah State University climbing community members aid soloed it over spring break. \u00a0We all thought it was a big deal that he was \u201csoloing a 5.13 big wall!\u201d (I didn\u2019t know the difference between aid and free climbing at the time). \u00a0A few years later, a friend of mine, also aiding it, nearly died. \u00a0She rapped off the end of her rope while bailing off of the fifth pitch, and was only saved when a tangle\u00a0of slings self-arrested her mid-fall (yeah, it\u2019s complicated).\r\n\r\nAs my years as a climber progressed, several of my friends and partners from Indian Creek began getting on the route as a sort of final exam in the crack techniques that the Creek fostered. \u00a0I wanted to get on it, but found great reasons to put it off. \u00a0My multi-pitch resume was pretty thin. \u00a0I wasn\u2019t a solid 12+\/13- crack climber. \u00a0Then I moved to the humid East, first to Texas, then Ohio, then West Virginia, and desert crack climbing faded back into distant memory, even as I matured and improved\u00a0as an overall climber.\r\n\r\nThen, this past winter, I got back to the Southwest, mostly for long, moderate routes in Red Rocks. \u00a0It was nice to be back in the desert. \u00a0Although I love my current home at the New River Gorge, and stand by my hyperbolic statements about its Nuttal Sandstone being the best medium for rock climbing ever, the desert southwest will always be my first love, and true home.\r\n\r\nIt was during this time that I also finally made the acquaintance of Dan \u201cClimbing Trash\u201d Snyder, whom I\u2019ve known through various rock climbing websites for damn near a decade. \u00a0We\u2019ve got a few commonalities in our backgrounds\u2013 we\u2019re both cultural \u201cJack Mormons,\u201d we both have chosen to live in small town hubs of outdoor recreation, and we\u2019ve both spent way too much time dragging tourists through canyons, over trails, and down rivers as backcountry guides. \u00a0In addition to letting me crash at his house in Virgin, UT (where gun ownership is legally mandated), Dan also hooked me up with some folks he knew who worked for the Zion Canyon Field Institute. \u00a0It turns out that they were psyched on having me come out in April and give a talk on the history of humans doing stupid stuff in the desert. \u00a0And of course, the first thing that came to mind was, \u201cWhoa, I\u2019ve GOT to climb Moonlight Buttress!\u201d.\r\n\r\nFast forward to the week of April 22 (Earth Day!). \u00a0I flew into Salt Lake City, rented a small compact car, and made the obligatory 12 hour visit to family in northern Utah before driving south on I-15. \u00a0I\u2019m accustomed to being a dirtbag, driving across the country and spending months living out of my truck, so this new method of travel with flights, car rentals, motels, and travel receipts felt strange. \u00a0I hadn\u2019t even packed a sleeping bag!\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nIt was also strange to come back to an area where I\u2019d spent so much time as a child. \u00a0My grandfather, the late, brilliant landscape artist Harrison Groutage, was the first person to instill a love of the desert into me. \u00a0He\u2019d built and lived in a beautiful vacation home just south of Zion through the 80s and 90s, painting countless views of the West Temple, Kolob Terrace, and Smithsonian Butte from his north-facing studio window. \u00a0Although I\u2019d never climbed in Zion when I\u2019d spend time at his house, it nonetheless felt like I was coming home.\r\n\r\nAnyway, enough of this sentimental reflection. \u00a0I rolled into Virgin around dark on Monday night. \u00a0Climb Tuesday, book lecture on Wednesday, maybe climb again Thursday. \u00a0I knocked back a few Knob Creek-Dr. Pepper cocktails with Dan (the guy loves his sugar), and discussed the upcoming climb for the next day.\r\n\r\nI had not had luck finding a partner whom I was confident getting on such a big, hard climb with. \u00a0Ideally, a perfect partner would have been someone who could swing leads, and was solid on the grinding, sometimes painful nature of long, desert cracks. \u00a0But although I sent out a wide-ranging message to my \u201cdream list\u201d of partners who I knew might be in the area around then, nothing came through.\r\n\r\nFinally, less than a week before my trip, Dan simply offered to jug the route. \u00a0This offer blew my mind. \u00a0Contrary to what a lot of people assume, jugging is hard work, in some ways just as exhausting as free climbing. \u00a0Dan had been either guiding\u00a0or working as a\u00a0brickmason for several weeks with no days off, and I wondered if he knew what he was getting into with this offer to jug and carry the pack on a \u201crest day.\u201d \u00a0However, he\u2019s tough, has been climbing for decades, and most importantly stays positive\u00a0even in exhausting situations. \u00a0I\u2019ve bailed off of big walls before\u00a0because partners became negative and complaining, but I knew that Dan would not do this.\r\n\r\nStill, this offer of jugging brought its own challenges. \u00a0I\u2019d be leading every pitch, and the impetus to get up the route rested solely on me. \u00a0This would be a change from all other long, hard routes that I\u2019d done, such as Red Rocks\u2019\u00a0Rainbow Wall or Potrero Chico\u2019s\u00a0Sendero Luminoso, in which I was climbing with partners who were much better than I was. \u00a0The pressure was on!\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nAlthough I\u2019d been training hard in the months leading up to this climb, and was in very good shape as far as endurance goes, there were plenty of things I could have done better in preparation for Moonlight. \u00a0I could have scheduled a longer trip to brush up on my neglected desert crack technique. \u00a0I could have climbed more pitches of trad back at the New River Gorge (I think I led one pitch of 5.11 gear that\u00a0entire spring).\r\n\r\nShoulda, woulda, coulda. \u00a0I didn\u2019t know what my exact goal for Moonlight was. \u00a0I knew that I wanted to give it a very good attempt at onsighting (actually, more like flashing, since I\u2019ve watched so many videos and talked to so many \u00a0people about it), but was pretty sure that I would get bouted. \u00a0I thought that maybe, if I didn\u2019t completely get my ass handed to me and did it with just a couple mistakes, I might try to get back on the route on Thursday.\r\n\r\nAnyway, we\u00a0got up at 5:30am the next morning; I had no appetite, but put away two cups of black coffee and two peanut butter\/banana burritos. \u00a0We packed food, water, and cigarettes for Dan. \u00a0One 70 meter rope, one gri gri, ascenders, and a shit ton of cams, none larger than a red camalot. \u00a0I was particularly wary about the half dozen purple camalots we had, since that is by far my weakest size of crack (a couple millimeters bigger than a fingerlock). \u00a0We drove through Zion Canyon\u00a0as the sun rose, feeling extra special with the VIP pass that we\u2019d gotten from a ranger, which allowed us to drive into the shuttle bus-only section of the canyon. \u00a0The approach was chill; easy river crossing, easy scramble to the base of the route.\r\n\r\nOn the first four pitches, which are basically the approach to the six-pitch 5.12 splitter and corner finger cracks, I got off route a couple times, but felt great. \u00a0At the base of the 5.12 section, a ledge 350 feet up called the \u201crocker block\u201d we converged with two other parties:\u00a0a pair of free climbers, and a very fast-moving aid climber who also had his own jug\/support sherpa. \u00a0Both groups were very chill; we sat on the ledge, bantered about mutual acquaintances and beta, and watched as another group made its way up from the base of the route.\r\n\r\nGazing up the imposing corner, I could make out fixed anchors, plenty of tickmarks, and even some chalk scrawlings on the wall that said \u201cB\u201d and \u201cY\u201d\u2013 I realized later that some goober was reminding himself where to put blue and yellow cams. \u00a0Oh well, this was not a wilderness route, it was not even an adventure route; it was just hundreds of feet of glorious finger crack.\r\n\r\nThe corner pitches\u2013 the first (pitch 5 of the entire route) is a hard v5-ish boulder problem to a 5.11 fingercrack, and the second (pitch 6) is a wild layback\/stemming affair\u2013 went smoothly. \u00a0The 5.12+ \u201ccrux\u201d layback sixth pitch has probably gotten a bit wider over the years, because I got tips jams the whole way.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nPitch 7 was the one which I had heard the most about being awkwardly hard, and it definitely took a lot out of me: a physical squeeze chimney up to a point where you reach WAY back into a corner for a flared ringlock, and then have to make a 180 degree rotation from facing left to facing right. \u00a0I must have accidently read this the right way, because I managed to get the rotation, and even flexed my fat hips to get a no-hands position in the hardest part! \u00a0Unfortunately, in the enduro off-fingers layback above, the pump finally caught up with me, and I took a little fall. \u00a0Booo! \u00a0We made it up to a really nice ledge at the base of pitch 8 (a beautiful 12a finger splitter, best climbing on the route), where we ate, drank, and lounged around, waiting for the aid party to get further\u00a0ahead of us.\r\n\r\nI fell once more that day, on pitch 9, which I thought was the hardest of the route, with 30 feet of off-fingers splitter. \u00a0After this point, the route turned into really cool, but kind of scary face and pinscar climbing. \u00a0Pitch 10, a 12a called the \u201cNutter\u201d pitch, was a struggle; I was digging pretty deep into the reserves, and there was one moment where I stopped, 15 feet above a tiny tcu in soft rock, and thought, \u201choly shit, if this was a single pitch route at the NRG, it would be the day\u2019s highpoint if I onsighted it! \u00a0I\u2019d go home and start drinking!\u201d \u00a0But in the context of this huge route, it was just another challenge that I had to bang out almost mindlessly.\r\n\r\nOne more pitch of 5.10+ handcrack over a little roof, then some juggy slabbaineering and we were at the top. \u00a0Even with the other parties on the wall and the leisurely pace, we managed to do the route in about nine\u00a0hours. \u00a0After a quick jaunt down the West Rim trail and a few conversations with tourists, we were drinking margaritas in Springdale. \u00a0Damn good day.\r\n\r\nI was pretty happy with how we did on Moonlight Buttress. \u00a0No epics, no all-out ass kickings, just good, tired fun. \u00a0Who knows, maybe if I had been swinging leads, instead of leading every pitch, I would have had a better shot of onsighting it, but I was psyched to have done the thing in good time, with just a couple falls. \u00a0Unfortunately, however, my body was so wrecked, and my fingers so sore from the endless fingerlocks that I knew there was no way I could go back on Thursday to redpoint the pitches I had fallen on. \u00a0We went cragging, and I barely made it up a single-pitch 5.11. \u00a0Three weeks later, and my fingers STILL hurt.\r\n\r\nIn terms of the training I did, I was happy with my approach, and the constant mileage of steep sport and gym routes was key to building my endurance. \u00a0But again, who knows, maybe if I had been able to go cragging for a couple days in Zion or Indian Creek, again I maybe, just maybe would have had a shot at actually onsighting the route. \u00a0But I can\u2019t be disappointed at all; this was a fairly\u00a0\u201coff-the-couch\u201d desert climbing experience for me (in terms of the rock type, not fitness).\r\n\r\nThree days later, I was back at the New River Gorge, climbing single pitch, bombproof sandstone in 80% humidity. \u00a0The contrast could not be greater. \u00a0My fitness, which I had been training by periodization to peak for Zion, predictably plateaued out by late April as well. \u00a0Now, as the Appalachian Spring is gradually giving way to summer, my body and fingers have still not yet fully recovered from Zion, and I can tell that I desperately need a break from climbing for a month or so. \u00a0Fortunately, whitewater season is just around the corner.\r\n\r\nWithout a doubt, this was one of the best climbing trips I\u2019ve had, despite its brevity. \u00a0Although I did not send (hopefully I\u2019ll get to return to finish the route off), I identified a \u201cdream route\u201d that I\u2019ve wanted to do for over a decade, trained specifically for it, and gave it a great go. \u00a0The fact that I was able to incorporate this into my literary and intellectual life only added more to the experience. \u00a0Climbing, history, and landscape have always been intertwined for me, whether in humid Appalachia or the arid Southwest.