Zoroaster Temple – Grand Canyon – AZ (Day 1) – 11.3.17

Zoroaster Temple & Brahma Temple

I stood there, palms sweaty, weighed down by the gear on my climbing harness, looking up at the start of a climb that took us 15 miles to approach, countless hours of training, and almost 2 years of dreaming to bring me face to face with the start of the route. My hoody was zipped up, and I could feel the chilled wind on my legs whipping by on the North face of Zoroaster Temple, deep in the belly of the Grand Canyon. I had plunged my hand into my chalk bag and took my first step towards a climb of a lifetime, and it all became real when Kari called out “Climb On!”

North East Arete: 6 pitches – 5.9+ Trad (click to enlarge)

I started this climbing thing after setting my eyes on the Grand Canyon summit Zoroaster Temple. Its  a magnificent formation that stands tall, guarding the Colorado River, just northeast of Phantom Ranch. All I knew at the time was that it was a technical climb. As my climbing experience increased, I found out that summiting came at the price of 6 pitches of 5.9+ trad climb; that was nothing to shake a stick at. In the Grand Canyon it’s the king of the back country rock climbs, in that to get to the top the easiest route up (NE Arete) boasts this stiff ante. After talking about this thing at nauseam to my friends for almost 2 years, finally my climbing partner Kari was available, my training seemed right, and the weather window opened for a summit attempt. This is my account of our summit attempt:

Day 1:

Kari and I pulled ourselves from the van, groggy and disoriented from the long drive the night before, the short sleep, and the frantic packing, before the bus came hissing to a stop just in front of the Bright Angel Lodge. We scrambled on board, and we were off! After the short bus ride to the trailhead we were finally feet on trail looking down South Kaibab trail and across the canyon to the base of the beast.

Ohh Ahh Point!
The Grandest of Canyons!

Even from Ohh Ahh point Zoroaster stood proud and bold just tempting anyone to attempt a summit bid. We kept on trekking down towards the bottom of the canyon chatting with people and taking in the views as we went. Before we knew it, 8 miles later and 4500 ft of elevation drop, we found ourselves at the doorstop of Phantom Ranch. We threw our heavy packs onto the picnic tables and headed inside to grab some postcards to send home. After a quick rest we loaded up on the 5 liters of water that would last us through the night and the entire next day.

  • Kari, leading the charge, O'Nielle Butte in view, Zoro looming
Just above the Colorado on South Kaibab, gorgeous views

Our packs were heavier than ever, weighing in at a bolstering 53lbs each. The rope, trad rack, camping gear, food, clothes, and finally water was a tough but necessary in order to pull off our goal. We headed up the trail wincing at the weight as it cut into our shoulders. About ½ mile north of Phantom Ranch the Clear Creek trail took off right, east towards Sumner Wash where the “real adventure” began!

53 lbs? Think I need a diet!

We pushed up and on as the two grueling miles gained 1500 feet towards the wash, Kari seemed un-phased by the weight. For some reason that day, it weighed heavy on me. I am not sure if I had met a weight limit that stunted my push, or if I hadn’t trained my legs enough, but I was definitely feeling it as we pressed on. Finally we reached Sumner Wash and diverged from Clear Creek trail. We headed north for the Redwall Notch which gave us access to the Lower Supai Layer and Zoroaster’s arm.

The inner gorge from Clear Creek trail
  • Popping out to see the Colorado after some nice gain on Clear Creek trail
Ascending towards the red wall notch

We grunted on finally reaching the base of the notch and threw packs down for a quick break. We each dropped a liter of water and stashed a little food in a tree to save weight. Soon we were on our feet again, racing against the sun, and heading out climbers right to a nice exposed class 4 climb that would circumvent a 5.7 technical climb (aint nobody got time for that!). We ascended carefully on the sharp rock, looking for the path of least resistance. Soon standing high over a sketchy down climb we looked at our options. There wasn’t much time for debate, so we de-packed and I down climbed as Kari got the packs ready to be handed down by rope.

  • Grinding on! (photo credit Kari Hreinsson)

Soon after some questionable exposure we were both safe past the obstacle. We looked up the notch to see our next class 4 obstacle to navigate past. Sweaty palms, and labored backs, we carefully ascended a crack, going behind a short stubby bush, and finally taking an airy step across a death defying drop to safety. Whew! We both made it and were definite ready for safe ground. We continued up the class 3 notch towards the top out which was surprisingly tame.

Camp baby!
The sun set as we finished setting up and cooking food, an early bedtime was most definitely warranted!

Finally we popped out and eyeballed a juniper tree with a large flat spot for a nice camp spot. We had made it safely to camp!!! I dropped my pack that had been cutting into my shoulders, with a gasp of relief! We began to set up the tent and looked south to enjoy the beautiful sunset over the Grand Canyon. Zoroaster stared down at us, and we stared back knowing the next day would hold some of the hardest trad climbing (well my limit at least) with no true promise of a summit in sight. Our work was cut out for us and we tucked into bed, trying to get as much rest as possible.

Goodnight old friend



  • Weather: Hi 60s, Low 40s, Sunny
  • Water: 2.5 liters (5 liters packed in addition)
  • Food: 1 Cliff Builder bar, 1 protein bar, 1 Nature Valley granola bar, bag of salt & vinegar, beef jerky, bag of pizza Pringles, gummy worms, orange, chicken and mashed potato MountainHouse
  • Time: (Day 1) 10 hours
  • Distance: (Day 1) 12 miles
  • Accumulated Gain: (Day 1) 3,000 feet
  • Climbing Rating: 5.9+ Trad
  • Number of Pitches: 6


  • Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 tent
  • Big Agnes QCORE SLX sleeping pad
  • Cosmic Down Kelty Sleeping Bag (rated to 20 deg F)
  • Jet Boil – Sol
  • Black Diamond trekking poles
  • SPOT Gen3 Tracker
  • Sawyer Squeeze – Water Filter
  • 58 liter exos osprey backpack
  • Black Diamond Helmet
  • Petzl Corax Climbing Harness
  • 2 Black Diamond screw carabiner
  • 4 Phantom DMM screw carabiner
  • 6mm Accessory Chord – Anchor
  • Black Diamond Camelot X4+C4 Cams – Double Rack – (2x), 0.1, 0.2, 0.4, 0.5, 0.75, 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Black Diamond Standard Nut Set
  • 12 Alpha Trad DMM quickdraws – Alpine draws
  • Black Diaimond ATC Guide
  • 70 meter 9.8mm Rope (Orange Slice)
  • Webbing/7mmCord for personal anchor
  • 20′ Flat webbing to leave for anchors
  • Arc’teryx Chalk Bag


  • Smartwool 195 weight long sleeve
  • Arc’teryx Hoody
  • Cotton Handkerchief
  • Nike shorts
  • Patagonia Pants
  • Darn Tough Medium Wool Sox
  • Merrell Mid Moab Hiking Boots
  • La Sortiva TC Pro Climbing Shoes