| The Desert Marathon
The desert presents some sweet climbing. You create memories that you never forget there. The summits on the towers are so unreal. When I planned this trip to Utah, I planned it with two other friends of mine. We planned to climb Castleton Tower on a Saturday and Indian Creek on Sunday. I needed a partner so I invited my good friends Danny and Shawn along. As far as Castleton Tower went, Danny and I wanted to do the North Face, a classic line. One thing though, I didn't have the rack for it. (6 #3 cams needed!) Danny ended up bailing due to some issues so it was me and Shawn. We both didn't know if we could get a triple set of cams up to a #3 for the North Chimney on Castleton so we created backup plans. First, it was the King Fisher in the Fisher Towers, one of the easier aid lines there up the second tallest tower. Then it was on to the next and next idea. Nothing seemed final.
It ended up where we got a hold of an extra set of cams. (Thanks Brian Crimm!) We made the final plan for day #1. We would go climb Independence Monument by the Otto's Route and then head to the Fisher Towers the same day for the Cobra.
Independence Monument via Otto's Route (5.9-, 4 pitches)
Thursday came and we were finally off. We got to campsite quite late and didn't get to bed until 2 in the morning. When we woke up, it was hot and clear. The approach to the Monument is 2.5 miles. It seemed longer with the hot sun but soon we passed many tourists and were at the base of the route. We geared up and Shawn took the first pitch. Otto made the first ascent of the route and tower in 1911! He placed steel pipes in the rock to make what seemed a staircase. What are left today are pockets on many parts of the climb from it.
The first pitch was not bad at all but I wouldn't call it 5.4. It went up a ramp with vertical cracks along the way. Shawn gratefully gave me the second lead, an overhanging offwidth crack. Sweet! It was 5.7-5.8 but I felt it to be a little harder, mainly because some of the pockets were slopers.
Trying to get into the offwidth overhang. It was awkward but the gear was good at the crux. We scrambled threw the time tunnel, a not so wide tunnel. Shawn took the third pitch up a face. It was mostly sport. But we felt it to be easier then 5.8 as listed, more like 5.6.
Shawn leading the Third Pitch
He then gave me the crux lead which was rated only 5.8+ or so. It was an awesome lead! You go up an unprotected low 5th class ramp to get to the slightly overhanging crux which was protected by 3 pins. The crux is really only one or two moves and there not bad at all.
On lead at the crux I belayed Shawn up and he cruised up it to the belay.
Shawn getting closer to the crux We got on the summit. What an amazing tower by a moderate route! We made two double rope rappels to the bottom and were soon heading out. I also want to note, I was quite surprised at how sandy the rock was.
Shawn and I on the summit
The Cobra (5.11b R)
The route goes up to the first ledge on the right, then on to the next ledge above it. This is where the overhanging crux starts.
We then ate and headed straight to the Fisher Towers. About an hour or so away from Grand Junction in Utah. The Fisher Towers are amazing. Many climbers don't like that area due to the dirty rock but I find it to be so amazing. The towers are out of this world, literally.
Fisher Towers When we got there it was about 5 in the afternoon. I wanted to bag this climb before it got dark. The Cobra is only 70 feet tall and looks like ET or a Cobra. It's suffering from an eating disorder. The neck of it is really skinny while the top of it is fat. On top of that the rock on top is tilted at a 30-40 degree angle. How does it not slide off? Or how does the whole thing not fall down? I don't know. Before it does, I wanted to get on it.
I was a little nervous about this climb and here's why. The protection is scary and bad. The only bolt on the route that protected the crux at the top is hanging halfway out on mud rock. Clipping that old pin is pretty difficult. You can sling the neck or the skinny part which provided the most trustworthy piece of gear. Either way, you don't want to fall. Decking would not be fun on this route.
Anyways, this climb is awesome. I think it's a must do!
I started up with minimal gear and was intimidated. I made some mid fifth class moves and placed a .75 cam in a flaring crack about 10 feet up. Why even place it? I continued on to the first ledge. Now it was getting harder. A belly flop to the next ledge gets you to the start of the crux. The belly flop felt 5.9ish.
About to do a weird mantle I tied off the neck with a sling which was not easy. I looked up at the pin. Crap I thought to myself. I kept trying to work a few moves to get to the pin and then I would go back down to the ledge. I just wanted to clip the pin! I looked at Shawn and he could tell my eyes were wide open. I finally committed and made a couple 5.10 moves. The stance I was at was not great at all. I couldn't see the pin since it was around the corner. I grabbed a quickdraw in hope that I could reach it from where I was. I swung it around precariously and asked Shawn to help me out. He said "up" and then "right" and finally I got it clipped! I climbed back down to the ledge to get ready for the crux. I got back up and encountered some spicy moves before reaching the crack before the roof.
Me just after the crux about to make the final move to the top I pulled up my feet and swung my left hand around to the jug on the lip. It was the "thank God" jug! I clipped the anchors on top and mantled. I screamed in excitement that the terrifying lead was over.
I then sat on there watching the sunset while Shawn too pictures. I would rather be no where else. I got lowered. Close your eyes! This thing seemed like it was about to fall apart. I got on the ground and was quite happy. I thanked Shawn for the belay.
On the Cobra at sunset
The Cobra summit
Castleton Tower via the North Chimney (5.9 4 pitches)
Castleton Tower. The North Chimney is on the left side of the tower in this picture
We tried to find campsites but all of them were full. In the matter of fact, this is the busiest Moab has ever seemed to be! Or maybe that's the usual. We went to the trailhead of Castleton Tower and I laid out my sleeping bag and went to sleep excited for Castleton Tower. The crowds were crazy at the Trailhead. Shawn and I both wanted to just head somewhere else. I am not a fan of crowds what so ever. We decided to leave at 12 in the afternoon to avoid the crowds, hoping everyone else would go in the morning. We then met up with John and his partner in the morning and started up. The whole time you're caught staring at the tower. It's such a cool place. It's just so unique. The approach is actually miserable. We were under the heat of the day.
Once we got to the base we were very sad. There was one party on the first pitch with another party waiting. There were four other guys that told me they had made it 10 feet off the ground before they bailed. We all laughed. I stared at the route. As amazing as it looked, it was actually intimidating too. The route is all vertical to slightly overhanging. The pitches are all about 140 feet long. I was excited.
Looking up the first pitch and the rest of the route
Two and a half hours later the second party is just finishing the first pitch. No way are we getting on it. It was too late. Climbing/Rappelling in the dark would not be fun let alone the hike down which is even a little hard to follow during the descent in the day. Due to safety, we headed down, all very depressed. This was also John's second time on the route and not succeeding! We got to camp and were all in a sorry mood. It's part of climbing right? We went to the Moab Brewery to grab a bite to eat and soon were visiting with two friends of Johns in Moab. We went to there house with a camp fire all in hope of Castleton the next day. Would it happen though?
Me and Shawn woke up at 6:30 in the morning and started up while John and his partner slept in a bit. Shawn and I wanted it bad. A party started up just before us. Then the weather……Shawn was getting really worried about it. At the base he didn't want to commit to the route with the weather looking like it was. Rightly so! I agreed. This thing is a lightning rod. To me, I didn't see any rain or lightning but the clouds did look a little dark. I agreed we should not commit to the route but to wait. What I saw west of those couple clouds was bright sunny sky. I knew it would blow over and bring hardly if any rain. Plus there was no wind. I respected Shawn's decision completely! He started heading down and left me the rope while I stayed at the base. We were both very pissed at each other and had our fight before he headed down. I don't think we understood each other right. My plan was to now head up with John and his partner. I had to wait though. I waited for four hours walking around the tower, bouldering cracks, and climbing a mud pile or mini desert towers between the Rectory and Castleton. I stared at Castleton, so envious of the couple going up. I heard them grunting up higher.
Soon I saw John. Yes! Wait where is his pack? And why does he only have a water bottle. Ends up his $160 climbing shoes fell out of his pack yesterday and he was trying to find them. I helped him search, no luck. He was pissed but I would be too. He asked me what I was going to do. I stated that I would try to find another party that was going up and join as a third or climb another tower with a couple others I met yesterday. He looked at me and said good luck. He told me he was heading home. No climbing shoes meant no climbing for him. A whole weekend without climbing and driving all the way here, three failed attempts now, no climbing shoes, car problems, wow. I felt so sorry for him. I spent another two hours on the West side of Castleton tower and soon talked to the couple that just got on the ground from the route. They stated I should have let them know and they would have let me tagged along. That made it even worse but it was very kind of them!
I sat depressed. Two days in a row? I don't come here to just hike everyday I thought to myself. Finally I heard someone shouting my name. It was Shawn? I scrambled over and he yelled at me," put on your harness man, let's go!"
Shawn ended up going down after our argument and heard three other's plan at the TH later. John told them I was looking for a partner and the guy shouted," Well he better be off the route by the time we get there!" Shawn got pissed about these it and started up. Basically running! I have no respect for climbers like these. Totally do not get along with them.
I threw on everything, got the gear. He put me on belay. We didn't talk to each other. I looked up the first pitch and was just excited. I lead up the pitch. Every move from the ground up felt like 5.8-5.9. Even though you had good jams for your feet, it was slightly overhanging giving you a good pump. This was awesome. I back cleaned the start to avoid drag. Right after I pulled the 5.9 crux 130 feet up, the party of three were there. The main guy shouted," are you done yet?" I ignored him.
Leading the first pitch
I got off belay and was still breathing heavily. I belayed Shawn up and he cruised up. He's a good friend of mine and is 43! I was proud of him for what he was doing at his age.
Shawn in the Chimney When he got to the belay he was breathing really heavily. I asked him if he wanted the next lead. The look he gave me was like are you crazy? Right then the guy shouted," are you guys done with the second pitch yet?" I started off on the crux of the route. I plugged in my #5 next to the manky star drive that was hanging halfway out. The 5.9 offwidth was hard but I soon was above it thinking it was all a cake walk from there. I then found myself at an overhanging chimney move or two. I forgot to grab the much needed undercling and my feet blew sending me down into space. The .5 cam held and I got back up to the belay of the second pitch. Another pretty cool 140 feet lead.
During that lead that guy came up while Shawn was belaying telling him how many times he has done the tower and how his brother can muscle his way up anything even though he has not climbed much, and his sister can climb anything. He asked Shawn," Are you guys going to bail?" Shawn was very mad at this guy.
The Third Pitch
I belayed Shawn up. He was breathing heavily but did not have a problem. I then took the next lead telling him this all will be easy for now to the top. (I was laughing and being sarcastic) I continued to chimney and soon stepped out of the chimney and climbed a couple chock stone overhangs until I was at the notch.
getting ready to exit the chimney I belayed Shawn up. One more short pitch! I continued on a sweet exposed pitch.
Shawn on the last pitch I belayed Shawn up and we were soon on the summit.
On the summit
We were both just so happy. It ended up that the party of three bailed. Shawn was telling me the other two could not make it past the crux of the bulge on Pitch 1. We saw them when we looked over the North Face. The guy saw us and told us," These two losers could not make it up." I looked at Shawn and was just mad that he would even say that about his brother and wife!
We went down the Kor-Ingalls route in 4 raps. We only used one 60m rope. Beware of the rope eating cracks. We were at the base and slapped hands and headed down. We were so excited that we stayed the night again and woke up to rain. Shawn asked," Is this a dream?" I laughed and stated I hope it wasn't!
On the Summit
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