The Praying Monk

The Praying Monk 2,034′

Total Time: 4:45

Roundtrip Mileage: 1.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 800′

Crux: 5.6

Trailhead: Echo Canyon, full services

Companions: Holly, Emily, Alex Wallace

The Praying Monk is a rite of passage for Phoenix rock climbers. Sitting on the northwest slopes of Camelback Mountain in central Phoenix, this free standing tower is named for its’ likeness to a Monk hunched in prayer when viewed in profile from the east or west. Aside from the fact that it is a Phoenix icon, the climb is also of some historical significance. First climbed in December 26, 1951 by Phoenix Mayor Gary Driggs, it was one of the very first climbing routes in the Phoenix area, and has served as an initiation to outdoor climbing in the Valley of the Sun for decades. Needless to say, it’s a climb I’ve been planning on for a while, but all previous attempts were thwarted by partner scheduling, sickness and never having enough time to get outside in general. But with everyone off on New Year’s Day, we made time to finally climb the historic East Face. Given the short approach, Holly and I met Alex and Emily at the Echo Canyon trailhead at 10:30 AM, having to circle for parking a few times for a spot with many starting their New Year’s Resolutions with a hike up Phoenix’s highest peak.

The Praying Monk in mid-morning shade.

We decided to bring one rope and 9 draws, with plans to throw the rope down to the next person rather than lug up two more ropes than we needed. Starting up the trail, the Monk stood on the plateau above, looking a little less Monk-like from this angle. After about a quarter mile, we left the trail and headed up an obvious use trail near a “Danger, Bees” sign, making it to the bottom of the approach pitch about 100′ from the turn off.

Base of the ‘Walk Up.’

Rated fourth class, the approach pitch (ironically named the Walk Up) climbs 70′ up a steep cobbled gully with about 5 fresh bolts to clip on the ascent. Thanks to a nagging toe injury, Alex gave me the honors of leading. So after putting on our harnesses and situating our gear, I started up the route. The route was a bit longer than it looked from below, continuing past the first broad ledge further up the gully to a two bolt anchor on the opposite wall. The bolts were back just far enough to create some rope drag, so I built a quick anchor with some cord on a Palo Verde Tree and stepped down a ledge to see the others below. Holly came up second cleaning the route, and made it up fairly quickly, enjoying the blocky holds of Camelback over the crimps in the McDowells and Toms Thumb, which we had climbed the day before. She sat on a boulder and untied, and I began to coil the rope to toss down to Alex and Emily.

Looking down the Walk Up.
Paradise Valley from the top of the approach pitch.
Holly at the top of the pitch.
Belaying up the others.

It was a difficult toss with a Palo Verde tree in the way and a few ledges to get beyond, and it took me two tries and a lost pair of sunglasses mid throw to get it down to the base. Once we were all at the top of the approach pitch, I coiled the rope over my shoulders and we scrambled up the rest of the gully to the climbers trail to the base of the Monk. I was surprised to find we were the only ones on the popular route, although there were a number of other parties climbing routes on Gargoyle Wall including Chimera 5.9 and Hart Route 5.3.

Appraoching the Monk.

The original East Face route scrambles into the nearby cave to a ledge that allows you to step around on to the East Face. A more direct start on the SE corner ascends the arete directly, adding about 20′ of 5.7 climbing with a single bolt halfway up. Since the East Face would be both the longest (120′) and hardest (5.6) pitch I’ve led, I didn’t want to risk wearing myself out too early, and I wasn’t exactly going to for style points. So after tying in, I scrambled up into the cave and reached around to clip the first bolt before stepping out onto a ledge at the corner.

Heading into the cave.
Reaching around to clip the first bolt.

After a moment of hesitation with planning of my opening moves, I started up the face. The rock was basically cemented ancient mud with pebbles and rock sticking out making for excellent holds, most of the loose stuff having broke off over the years. I got into a rhythm fairly quickly and aside from one spot about 3/4 of the way up, the holds were consistent the entire climb to the top.

Starting up the East Face.
About halfway up.

The summit was a bit larger than I had expected and could uncomfortably hold at least 10 people, but would be plenty room for the four of us. I used the giant eyebolts as anchor and after bringing up the slack, started to bring up Holly. She opted for the cave start as well, and began working up the not quite vertical rock, her helmet popping into view about halfway up. She was pretty excited topping out, remarking that it was her favorite rock climb to date, preferring the large holds of the Camelback area climbs to the skin tearing crimps in the McDowells. The rope toss down to Alex and Emily was far easier with the route being more vertical, and Emily started on her way up after tying in. She made short work of the 120′ pitch and joined us on the top, her first technical outdoor summit ever!

Emily nearing the top.

One final toss of the rope made it down to Alex, who opted for the direct start from the base and came up almost faster than I could bring up the slack, joining the three of us on the small summit. We took a well earned break to enjoy the views across Phoenix and watch other climbers on routes up Gargoyle Wall.

View north to Mummy Mountain, the McDowells in the distance.
Northwest towards Piestewa.
Cheeseball summit selfie.

When we heard the next group making their way, it was our signal that it was time for our descent. Both Holly and Emily preferred to be lowered over rappelling themselves, and I slowly lowered down Emily followed by Holly, neither loving the free hanging portion of the descent. The doubled 60 meter rope easily made it for the rappel down, and I met the girls at the base with Alex following behind.

Alex starting the rappel.
Halfway down the free-hang over the Monk’s chin.

We gathered our gear, apologized to the other climbers for taking too long, then headed back down the climbers trail to the top of the approach pitch. We took a branch to the left to the top of the commonly used rappel gully to a large eyebolt anchor. This rappel was much shorter, and after feeding the rope through, I lowered Holly to the base. Emily wanted to try and rappel this last pitch, and I set her up with an autoblock and extender while Alex provided a fireman’s belay from below.

Emily on her first rappel.

She (of course) made it down without incident, and I rapped down last joining the others at the trail. The hike out was short and we kept our harnesses on hiking back to the parking lot, hitting our cars at about 3:30 PM. It had been a fantastic way to start 2018, and we were already deciding on what Phoenix classics we should tick off next…

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