Charlie Porter, Nov. 1972
Notes on the route:
The Zodiac is one of the best routes for any aspiring wall rat to test their mettle. It's steep, it's clean, it's moderate, and if things go wrong, rest assured that another party will be crawling all over you in less than 20 minutes. Yes, it is extremely popular, but also a mandatory tick on any wall climbers hit list. Most parties will take about 3 or 4 nights to top out. Some persistent, yet slow, parties have taken weeks to top out, while others have soloed it in less than 24 hours. Go figure. Winter ascents are fairly common as this part of the wall catches far less weather than some other routes, and the steepness gives an added comfort. Two approaches are used: the long and easy way via the trail that winds from the base of the Nose all the way along the wall to the Zodiac, or the quick and direct route up the Zodiac Talus. Both are fairly well defined and take between 45 minutes and two days depending on the size of your haul bags. Plan on a good hour either way. Bivying at the base is not such a good idea as entire pitches have fallen off of routes near this area. For added fun, watch for snakes in the talus during the summer.
The Nuts and Bolts:
The first pitch has been a buzz kill for many parties. It all starts well enough, and then right near the top of the crack, it gets thin. POP! Better take a head or two.
On the second pitch, try to spare your follower by placing pieces fairly close together. The cleaner should clip-clean this roof section. From the top of pitch two, one rope gets you back on the ground. Most parties fix at least these two pitches.
From the top of pitch 3, it take two ropes to get back to the ground. It is usually best to fix from here, and then haul on your blast off day up to this station. This belay will catch water from the summit runoff, so don't plan on staying here overnight if the summit is wet. I did, in the winter, and got sealed inside my ledge with a coating of ice by morning.
Pitch 5 and 6 can be done in one real long pitch. Be sure to backclean the bolt ladder that leads off to nowhere and then returns to the route. If you blow it, and stop short or mix up the pitches it is possible to set up a crappy belay on the top of the Black Tower using some double runners and a big Friend. Getting off the Black Tower is a case of looking for some rusty RURP's and following that line.
Pitch 8 puts you into the "Circle" a great location. Follow the pin scars and stay away from the anchor way out left. It's the wrong one. The bivy at the top of pitch 8 is superb.
Pitch 9 is the real deal. Perfect rock, perfect location, and eats up the pro......until the top. Get out some heads or something thin.
Pitch 10, or the "NIpple" starts out simple enough and just beats you up. Bring all the gear you've got and then some. This is where the #5 cam comes into play. Watch out for rope drag as you mount the Nipple, and then ride it like a granite pony. The crack above is usually filled with a fine assortment of junk and leads to another great bivy spot.
Pitch 11, or the "Zorro Roof" is a dark menace just waiting to pitch you outta' there on some old fixed heads. Be careful and watch the edges.
Pitch 12, the "Block Pitch" used to be the crux a few hundred years ago. Things have stabilized out as far as the loose blocks and such, and a #3 friend at mid-pitch or so really declaws this masterpiece. As you start to move right, look for some drilled hook holes. The hooking into the station is A0 and will make you feel like a hero. Bring some big hooks for this last part.
Backclean all the wiggly stuff on pitch 13 and start lobbing stoppers into the ramp/crack that leads to the belay. It's rated 5.11 but it sure felt like A1. The belay ledge is SUPER, and a great place for lunch.
Pitch 14 was the classic wide necky pitch. When I did the route there was still some 2x4's wedged into the widest sections. Walking the two #4 Friends for the entire pitch was a real eye opener. Some idiot drilled a ton of bolts on the wall for pro a few years back, making it a flaccid Friend walk with bolt protection. Ho-Hum, but it is still a good pitch. At the top of this pitch you move onto the slab to belay and haul. The edge that makes up this big corner is way sharp and will chop your rope. When we were hauling our bags the wind was blowing them in a 40 foot arc, and with each swing the sheath on the haul line opened up for another core shot. We were lucky not to lose the whole load. Be careful and plan ahead with some edge protection or haul from under the roof, using the slab anchors as a back-up.
Pitch 15 is another wanderer. Move left on hooks, free a bit, aid some, watch the rope drag and then move right to the station on some easy 5th class.
The last pitch is short and kinda' funky. Free out to some hooks, then follow the fixed and sketchy junk to some more hooks. Right at the top you can go left (A2) or up and over the off-width made by the summit boulders (one move) or move right from the OW to some bolts that were placed right on the rim for a long forgotten rescue. Hauling this last pitch is pain, but at least you are on top and the bags should be light.
Info provided by: Russ Walling, Greg Byrne and others.