I first met David on Summitpost when I asked him for beta on a climb. We have shared the common interest of desert climbing along with peak bagging. Over the last year, we have discussed many times what to organize for a trip. The two climbs I wanted to do were also the two climbs he wanted to do. Those were Primrose Dihedrals on Moses Tower and the Regular and just about only route on Standing Rock.
Standing Rock showing how it will be falling down soon. All 350 feet of it.
We originally planned the trip in March but I didn't have the money for it as I blew all my "tax" money on gear and Canada so we pushed it off until May. I prepared with a ton of sport climbing and some trad. I probably should have trained the other way? A week before I left, I went up a moderate trad line in Clear Creek Canyon and was quite scared. I was upset with myself. I had a hard time transitioning from the "ice climbing mind" to the "trad" mind. For me, I'm fine with falling on gear on rock as long as the factors work out to make it safe.
On top near sunset after climbing the Bastille Crack In Eldorado Canyon
We planned Standing Rock first as it's only 3 or 4 pitches and a short approach, so we thought!
I met David by Moab on Thursday night. I went straight to bed in my car. Turns out, I'm too tall, and have to scrunch up in a ball to fit in it! I'd rather sleep outside except the car noises stopped that thought. We woke up, got food and headed off to the Canyonlands. The drive is only 30 miles to the climb but it takes 5 hours from Moab due to it all being steep and 4WD. It's remote and the climb we were going to rarely gets climbed.
The start of the long 4WD road. 40 or so miles to the start of the approach.
STOKED. "Before shot" ("Before" I know what I'm getting myself into)
I love desert climbing! You get to see things many people dont get to see in there lifetime.
Standing rock inspires fear. It's on the front page of many books including Stephen Venables "First Ascent" book along with Layton Kor's "Beyond the Vertical." Layton Kor and Huntley lngalls put up the first ascent of this gem. Kor stated ,"Not because it's there, but because it might not be there much longer." This tower is one of the oddest out there. It stands 50 feet in diameter at the base and about 6 feet in diameter on the summit. Also include that it's overhanging and top heavy on the top and that it is almost 350 feet tall! This rock isn’t granite. It's more like mud rock sandstone. Kind of what you find in the Fisher Towers in Utah where you can take a hold off with little effort because it's so rotten. It was described as "layers of rye-krisp sandwiched between layers of kitty litter." Layton described it as his “scariest” climb. Considering he helped put up a new route on the Eiger North Face along with the Diamond in the winter and the Titan, it was no underestimate. It is an A4 climb meaning hard scary aid. Also include that by 1988 it had only seen 8 ascents. The first free ascent went in 1993 at 5.11. Impressive! Especially since nailing is illegal in Canyonlands, it has to be clean now.
Standing Rock with Pitches 2 and 3 on that face.
Spot standing rock. Hint: It's the skinny tower
Okay, so maybe now your thinking I’m insane but this climb has gotten cleaned up a little. I’ve heard it’s a tad spicy but pretty good protection. While the climb gets a rating of 5.11c/d, the first two pitches offer solid 5.10 climbing up to 5.10d. The last pitch (crux) is simply a one move boulder problem with one of the only beefy nice bolts at your waist. My thought was that I’ll just go for it and see how it is. No real beta or information. I had to figure it out myself which we both enjoyed.
Spot David for the scale of this tower
At the White Rim staring down Standing Rock
When we got to the White Rim where we could see the rock, we were extremely excited. It’s one of the coolest things out there. It’s almost like you’re on Mars. The rock is in the center of the basin surrounded by cliffs all the way around. We looked at it from all angles and took many pictures. You are supposed to rappel and fix a rope into the basin as it’s cliffed out on every side. We spent hours looking but could not find anything. Eventually we went to Plan B and found the 4rth class descent gully. (not so easy) It added a couple more miles but at least we didn’t have to fix a rope. David got to the base first while I followed right after.
First Ascent nearby the approach! I named it Noah's Tower and rated it 5.0. Woohoo!
In another world heading down into Mars
We encountered semi sketchy downclimbing on the way with mud loose rock
More interesting downclimbing
Twenty minutes later with not a word said to each other,” Um dude, my first pitch does not look well protected.” I touched the rock and it was not super solid. We were both excited but at the same time quite scared. Could we really do this? Was this seriously in our ability? Could the gear be trusted in this rock? It looks runout?
Umm.......looks scary (Route follows dihedral to roof then traverses out over a small roof, then up the face)
Near the end of the approach
I was scared. We packed our sleeping bags beforehand and decided to sleep in the basin right by Standing Rock. We took many pictures. After a bit more of time, I relaxed and stopped thinking about it. David and I discussed for 30 minutes which way it would fall over if it did. It would be on top of us which made sleeping interesting. I don’t know how long this thing will stay up for. I was woken up occasionally by a lizard squirming by my head. Hey, as long as it was not something else. It was a full moon with all the stars out making the rock look daunting. How would this go? I went through the first pitch and third pitch and got ready mentally.
Standing Rock from where I slept
What the desert holds everyday
The sun came up and we’re out of bed. We ate something fast and rack up! I tied into the rope kind of nervous but excited. Up to the roof on the first pitch is moderate 5.10 (still a challenge) and then the crux is the traverse and mantel above the roof at 5.10b/c. I placed a .75 C4 Black Diamond Cam and started the traverse. I placed a tiny piece of gear in the rotten rock in the roof. I did not want to fall on it as I kind of knew it would fail. I sketched my way across the roof to an ok hold where I finally got a #5 cam in. Rope drag was bad even though I extended every piece. With a bit of 5.7 climbing, I’m at the anchors 120 vertical to overhanging feet above the ground. Exposed!
Getting racked and ready for a fight
At the crux on lead of pitch 1
Exposed at the top of P1. Getting steeper
Mentally I was happy to have David lead this next pitch and give me a break as following does not include much mental strength. David led the opening 5.7 traverse moves and started up the pitch. Every move of this pitch included hard climbing up to a few moves of 5.10d. It was very sustained and runout in spots. David got 30 feet up when an overhanging crack bulge gave him trouble. He whipped and fell taking the nut out. The cam held and kept him at a 20 foot fall. He was scared and I could tell as I have been in that situation. I encouraged him to keep going but he was not in it mentally. After 30 minutes, something had to be done. He asked if I wanted to give it a go. I looked up and the 5.10d crux was overhanging and below it looked runout. I eventually grew a pear and lowered him down to me. We exchanged roles and soon I started off on lead. This was going to be hard.
David 30 feet below the fall on the 5.7+ start of the pitch
We could have bailed easily but I wanted this bad. I got up to where he left off and squirmed my way through the boulder problem with bad feet. Okay, now to the 5.10b wide crack overhanging bulge thing. I had a mild run out on this. (10 or 15 feet) I then placed a piece and went up through awkward 5.10 moves. Up farther I went but there is no protection. The moves get harder and I continue to calm my mind down. I made sure I had the moves down before committing as I did not want to be sent off on a 40+ foot fall. Finally, one of the two bolts on the whole climb was staring at me in the face. I clipped it fast and then got lowered down to clean some pieces to reduce rope drag. It was a hefty runout on not “great” rock but it obviously holds. I ran it out again above the bolt 10 or 15 feet to the crux where I placed a number 3 that just didn’t sit well in the crack due to the weirdness of the crack. Pulling the crux moves was strenuous and a bit overhanging. I got to the ledge at the belay and was relieved that I did not fall! A fall would have been fine but in some spots it would have been quite huge and interesting.
looking down pitch 2. Overhanging and exposed!
David stated he owed me dinner. He flew up and soon was at the belay. When he arrived, I handed him the rack and draws. The “crux” pitch which is really just a bolt and couple of pitons is also spicy. The first bolt is 20 feet above the belay with no gear in between and not easy climbing to it. I was done running it out today and I really thought David needed to lead as I thought he might regret not leading later. He got up to it and clipped it and aided up the moves. He soon pulled around 5.6 sandbagged moves to the summit and screamed in excitement. I honestly thought we were going to bail. At no point did I think we would make it, until we did.
David putting away the crux and looking down at me. Only 60 or so feet of sandbagged 5.6 to the summit!
WOW I made it!
He soon sounded scared and just yelled “static.” With 14ers in Colorado, static only means one thing, lightning! Clouds formed above us while he was on the last pitch. There was no rain, no lightning, but there might soon be! David touched his karabiners and got shocked. He down climbed to be off the highest point. I couldn’t lower him down as there was not enough rope. I had the trail rope so our only option was to bring me up as soon as possible and get off with two ropes. I had no choice but to french free the crux section. It looked really good and fun but safety was first and aiding was way faster. I got to him in about 5 minutes. The clouds went away though and then it was sunny with no threat. We stayed on the summit for an hour or two just laughing, tossing rocks off, yelling, and enjoying the remote tower. We rappelled and were soon on the ground, never forgetting our climb of Standing Rock.
Look for me! I'm rapping to the ground
Only about 100 ascents have been done on this. The number does not count though. What matters is the partnership, experience, adventure, and challenge. That’s what counts and that’s what makes a memory never to forget.
When we got back to the Jeep we drove for 5 hours back to Moab. Kor and Ingalls did do the first ascent but Castleton Tower it isn’t.
We ended the trip the next day at the Arches with Owl Rock, a nice moderate 5.8 lead to the top. After, we celebrated. Primrose Dihedrals on Moses Tower, one of the more classic lines around, will have to wait for another day as I simply was beat after Standing Rock. It didn’t help they closed down the road due to flooding causing a 6 mile approach variation. Sorry, legs, not today.
Owl Rock (5.8+)
Life is good!