Man on the Moon (4-pitch 5.10b Sport Climb) – Upper Solitude Canyon, Mount Elden

Looking south towards Flagstaff from a spire on the Apollo Pitch.

Looking south towards Flagstaff from a spire on the Apollo Pitch.

Man on the Moon is a 4-pitch sport climb located in Upper Solitude Canyon on Mount Elden, northern Arizona. The trailhead can be found in a residential cul-de-sac at the end of Paradise Road on the outskirts of Flagstaff. The steep 45-minute approach leads up and through the fantastic realm of Solitude Canyon. The route itself ascends steep, high-quality dacite for a total of four adventurous and distinct pitches.

The first pitch (the Liftoff Pitch) is an overhung and sustained pitch of 5.10b with a definite crux section. The second pitch is a 5.7 technical slab traverse known as the Spacewalk Pitch. The third pitch (the Apollo Pitch) is a simple class-4 ledge traverse. The fourth and final pitch is an exciting 5.8 dihedral known as the Moonwalk Pitch.


SUMMARY: I climbed Man on the Moon with Giselle in mid-September of the year 2015. It was a Monday and we both finished work a couple hours early, so we frantically packed our gear for the late-day ascent. We drove ten minutes to the trailhead cul-de-sac, hiked 45 minutes to the base of Upper Solitude Wall, and started the route just past 5:00pm. The sun had nearly set by the time we reached the top of the first pitch, but we continued under headlamp up the final three pitches. In full darkness, we rappelled off the wall and descended back down Solitude Canyon to the trailhead.


21 SEPTEMBER 2015

It’s 3:30pm when Giselle and I arrive to the trailhead for Solitude Canyon, which is actually a residential cul-de-sac at the end of Paradise Road. We pack our rucksacks with sport-climbing gear and set off in the direction of Mount Elden, weaving through a network of mountain-bike trails.

Hiking northeast toward the southwest slopes of Mount Elden.

Hiking northeast toward the southwest slopes of Mount Elden.

Our instinct guides us into the mouth of Solitude Canyon; immediately we understand the name. We’re practically a stone’s throw from Flagstaff city limits, but it feels like we are in the midst of a remote forest far from civilization. We follow a faint climber’s trail into the heart of Solitude Canyon, passing Lower Solitude Wall (featuring a multitude of expert sport-climbing routes) and ascending onto the shoulder of Middle Solitude Wall. From this shoulder we are able to peer over the Lower Solitude Wall and see the city of Flagstaff protruding from the Ponderosa woods.

Looking back south down Solitude Canyon from the mid-section of the canyon.

Looking back south down Solitude Canyon from the mid-section of the canyon. The city of Flagstaff is visible in the distance.

We reach the base of Upper Solitude Wall just before 5:00pm. Given that the sun is programmed to set at 6:30pm, we know that we have our work cut out for us. If we can simply surmount the first crux pitch before sunset, we should be able to complete the climb in the dark.

The first pitch of Man on the Moon is called the Liftoff Pitch, and is the undisputed highlight of the route. The lower section features fun and interesting 5.9 moves with ample protection. Around the midway point, the wall steepens significantly and the grade increases to 5.10a. The crux of the pitch (and of the entire route) is a daunting roof section with outrageous exposure. Highly athletic moves on overhung rock are required to surmount the roof. Beyond the crux roof, the pitch continues for 30 feet on a near-vertical slab with excellent handholds.

The author leading the Liftoff Pitch (5.10b).

The author leading the Liftoff Pitch (5.10b).

Looking back down the Liftoff Pitch - almost 100 vertical feet of fun 5.10 climbing.

Looking back down the Liftoff Pitch from just above the crux roof – almost 100 vertical feet of fun 5.10 climbing.

The author at The Orbit Ledge above the first pitch.

The author pausing to take a photo on the upper slab section of the first pitch.

Giselle climbing the slabs above the crux roof on the Liftoff Pitch.

Giselle climbing the slabs above the crux roof on the Liftoff Pitch.

Giselle climbing the slabs above the crux roof on the Liftoff Pitch.

Giselle climbing the slabs above the crux roof on the Liftoff Pitch.

The Liftoff Pitch terminates at a bolted belay station known as the Orbit Ledge, so named because it makes for a semi-hanging belay. It’s not as freaky as other anchor stations on Upper Solitude Wall, and has the benefit of an exceptional view of the sun setting over the volcanic highlands west of Flagstaff.

Enjoying the sunset from the Orbit Ledge at the top of the Liftoff Pitch.

Enjoying the sunset from the Orbit Ledge at the top of the Liftoff Pitch.

With orange alpenglow dappled on the featured dacite slab, we begin the Spacewalk Pitch. This pitch makes a diagonal traverse away from the sun on an interesting lichen-covered face. The wall appears blank, but is easily negotiated with good balance and slab-climbing technique.

The author starting the traverse on the Spacewalk Pitch (5.7).

The author starting the traverse on the Spacewalk Pitch (5.7).

Looking back down along the Spacewalk 5.7 traverse at Giselle hanging from the Orbit Ledge.

Looking back down along the Spacewalk 5.7 traverse at Giselle hanging from the Orbit Ledge.

The Spacewalk Pitch ends at the Space Station, a wide ledge with plenty of space to set an anchor and enjoy the last bit of daylight.

The third pitch is called the Apollo Pitch, and is really just a simple class-4 traverse across a wide, vegetated ledge. The climbing is very easy, but the vantage point is spectacular: the lights of Flagstaff gradually illuminate a low ceiling of clouds. We solo-climb this pitch without using the rope for the sake of maximizing speed.

Looking south towards Flagstaff from a spire on the Apollo Pitch.

Looking south towards Flagstaff from a spire on the Apollo Pitch.

By the time we reach the Lunar Ledge at the base of the fourth and final pitch, the landscape is in pure darkness. This climbing on this 5.8 pitch is phenomenal, albeit a tad short at only 50 feet. It ascends a featured dihedral to a prominent lip at the crest of Upper Solitude Wall. We rely on headlamps to carefully select our holds.

The author's silhouette leading the Moonwalk Pitch, a short 5.8 dihedral section.

The author’s silhouette leading the Moonwalk Pitch, a short 5.8 dihedral section.

Looking down at Giselle climbing the Moonwalk Pitch, a short 5.8 dihedral section.

Looking down at Giselle climbing the Moonwalk Pitch, a short 5.8 dihedral section.

Looking down at Giselle nearing the top of the Moonwalk Pitch, a short 5.8 dihedral section.

Looking down at Giselle nearing the top of the Moonwalk Pitch, a short 5.8 dihedral section.

The familiar sense of sweet mountain victory washes over us upon cresting the lip of Upper Solitude Wall. We turn off our headlamps for a few moments in order to fully appreciate our nocturnal surroundings. The lights of Flagstaff lie in a tight cluster 2,000 vertical feet below us, with nothing but eery forest around.

Looking south at the lights of Flagstaff from the top of Upper Solitude Wall.

Looking south at the lights of Flagstaff from the top of Upper Solitude Wall.

The descent of Upper Solitude Wall takes two rappel pitches. From the top anchors of Man on the Moon, we abseil 80 feet down to the anchor station for Whiplash, a severely-overhung 5.11 route. The anchors are bolted to a small roof, meaning that we are left hanging in mid-air between rappels. It’s an outrageous feeling to be dangling 100 feet off the ground with nothing but pitch darkness all around.

Our eyes cannot even make out the floor of the canyon; on the second rappel, we lower from the roof and enjoy a 100-foot free-hanging abseil into the black abyss.

Hanging from a pair of midway anchor chains 100 feet up on Upper Solitude Wall in the dark of night.

Hanging from a pair of midway anchor chains 100 feet up on Upper Solitude Wall in the dark of night.

The author making a free-hanging rappel from Upper Solitude Wall in the dark of night.

The author making a free-hanging rappel from Upper Solitude Wall in the dark of night.

It’s past 7:30pm when we touch solid ground on the bottom of Solitude Canyon. As if on cue, a light rainstorm ensues for a period of twenty minutes, which is basically the entirety of our descent back to the car. Back comfortable at home in Flagstaff before 8:30pm, and feeling accomplished!

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