aires butte - 6492' - led by sheep - class 5.4
I continued driving as the sun set and got dark. At 7pm I reached Hurricane Utah where I grabbed dinner and met up with Elaine who would join me for the next couple days to discuss the climbs we would do and make a rough plan. I then got a cheap motel and went to sleep.
The following morning I picked Elaine up and we drove through Springdale and into Zion about a 30 minute drive away. Our plan for the day was to climb Aires Butte via the Led By Sheep route; a straightforward 4 pitch 5.4 low angle route up Navajo Sandstone that was bolted about 15 years ago. We wanted to do something low key for first time climbing together, and also gain a summit with it so this fit the bill perfectly. With my handicripple pass I was able to get us into the park for free and we continued on highway 9 driving through the Mt. Carmel Tunnel and parked about a mile past the short tunnel just east of the big one (marked by blue line on map below). From the parking pullout we dropped a few feet into the wash just south of the road and walked under the bridge and continued north for 10 minutes until we reached a small petroglyph panel on an east facing cliff along the wash. There is a wood railing blocking people from touching it so it's easy to spot.
A few yards past that we continued to the right and ascended northeast up Kayenta slabs towards a broad 5920 foot saddle just south of Aires Butte. These slabs can be class 3-4 but with sticky approach shoes it should be pretty easy to pick a route up through them and emerge onto the lower angle Navajo and reach the saddle roughly 540 feet above where the car is. From the saddle we continued north wrapping around to the right of a cliff with a few small trees at its base and aiming for the southeast flank of the butte. We found a very large eye bolt at the base of the route right where the angle steepened and we put the harnesses on here.
Elaine led the first pitch, clipping bolts spaced roughly every 30 feet for about 50 meters of ropelength and reached the first set of chains. I opted to just leave my approach shoes on and quickly followed up what I dubbed a class 4 pitch. I then started up the second pitch, and I thought the hardest section of the whole route was the first 15 feet of the second pitch...perhaps 5.4, but a little trickier with just running shoes on while leading with no pro. The second pitch totalled about 45 meters, then Elaine led the 50 meter 3rd pitch which again had maybe one or two short 5.4 spots with class 4 most of the way. I led the 25 meter 4th pitch to the final set of chains where we left the ropes and scrambled the final 20 feet of class 2-3 to the summit plateau. This was a super cool spot to enjoy panramic views down into the valley below. I continued a short ways to the highest point, but trees blocked the view from the actual high point due to it being a summit plateau, so I walked to the north end to look down the north side which featured a substantial drop of about 400 to the key saddle, making this a ranked peak.
We had a quick snack and enjoyed the midday views, taking photos and with the calm winds and warm temperatures it was pleasant. We then rappelled the route, with the first rappel just using a single rope, but the following 3 using two ropes. Two 60m ropes are required to rappel this route, however just bring quick draws. It's bolted more than enough for its easy difficulty that all trad gear can be left at home. Once at the base we hiked back to the car and headed back. Since it was still early, I suggested Elaine lead the first trad pitch of Ashtar Command on Ataxia Tower (a route I had done back in 2013). She was stoked to climb a bit more so on the way back, we parked at the upper switchback on the west side of the Carmel tunnel and I belyed her up this great 5.7 pitch. Having already done it I opted for us to just to head back to Hirricane afterwards, get some dinner and plan for the much bigger day we would have on West Temple the next day. As we drove through Springdale, we stopped a couple times to study the route up West Temple since it was visible from town.