A little over a week ago winter started in Utah with a storm that dumped 40" of snow on Powder Mountain near Ogden but the past week has warmed up and given us a few more days of glorious climbing weather. With all of Saturday free to go climbing, I decided to go do something special. A few of our customers from the Salt Lake City area had mentioned that Arm and Hammer (5.11c or 5.10a A0) in Bells Canyon was their favorite route and after looking at some pictures I was convinced to give it a try. My ever ready partner Buddy was game so he picked me up this morning at 9:00 am and we headed towards the parking lot.
Bells Canyon is just south of Little Cottonwood Canyon but much quieter since there isn't a road running up it. The trail head for Bells is just off Little Cottonwood Road just east of it's southern intersection with Wasatch Blvd. The trailhead parking was pretty full and as we hiked we encountered lots of folks out for a hike, taking pictures of the sun rising over the valley and a guy who had been fishing in the reservoir about a mile up trail. After passing the reservoir we only saw a few others on the trail as we headed up canyon through the trees.
Bells Canyon is named after the rock formations on the north side of the canyon that look a bit like bells. We were aiming for the Middle Bell and after an hour and a half of hiking we found ourselves directly across from it. The climbers trail is pretty obvious as it splits from the hiking trail and heads down to the creek. After scrambling through the boulder field, we found a flat spot below the base of the route and racked up.
To get on Arm and Hammer, you must climb the first pitch of Ellsworth-McQuarrie Route (5.7). The pitch climbs a corner system out a couple roofs and through a short awkward chimney section. I had to slip off my summit pack and drag it below me as I slowly made my way up. A bolt 20 feet up the chimney was a welcome sight since the .75 that I'd managed to place was a bit shallow. Coming out of the chimney I cruised past an anchor for a very thin face route and onto a second set where I set up a belay.
When Buddy got to the anchors we discussed our options for the second pitch and quickly agreed that the 5.11c slab traverse looked impossible so we opted for the "tension traverse". Neither of us had done such a thing before but the webbing hanging from a bolt gave us an idea of what to do. Buddy down climbed the angling crack until he could get a small foot and work his way onto the face. A bad left sidepull let him set up and then lung for the sling. After clipping the bolt and a little more dangling from the webbing he traversed left to a crack and scappered up it plugging in three C3's and wishing he had grabbed the nuts. Following the pitch required the same balancy lung for the webbing and I found the bolt for the direct variation to make a great foot hold. After the crack the pitch climbs a subtle arete on thin holds. Another lung was required to get to a good edge and then cruise to the anchors where the curtain awaited me.
Undoubtedly the most memorably and interesting feature of Head and Shoulders is the Zion Curtain. The curtain is a thin detatched flake that runs for 50 or 60 feet up the face. From the top of the third pitch you traverse left and slightly down until you can step up and clip a bolt. From there you can either apply some Van der Walls forces to do the 11c traverse or get lowered a few feet and run across the face to obtain the flake. I decide to swing for it and on the second go I grabbed the flake and scrambled up to another bolt that allows the second to pendulum to the lower part of the flake. Safe at a bolt, Buddy busted his camera out and took some shots while I contemplated how sane climbing such a thin flake was.
I plugged some #1 and .75 Camalots as I went up the crack but I suspect they would blow out the flake if I fell on them. Luckily the climbing is pretty easy as the flake is so positive and it didn't break under body weight. I got to the anchors and brought Buddy up, watching him grin the whole way up.
The forth pitch starts up a dirty pillar of sorts with poor protection and then gains a great hand to finger crack before turning a small roof. Buddy cruised it and I was pleasantly surprised by the crack after the unenjoyable start. I wandered up from the belay to find a way to the summit and, after a long down climb, went up a gravely crack and belayed Buddy up off a tree. We went down the backside of the formation and then around to it's east side where a steep gully descent through scrub oak and 2 foot deep piles of leaves brought us back to our packs. We quickly packed up our gear and half hiked, half jogged to the car so Buddy could make his dinner plans in time. A great day and a great adventure.