This past fall I had the opportunity to climb three of my favorite desert rock climbs with Dr. Andrea Koenig. Andrea has an extensive climbing background and I couldn’t have asked for a better client for these objectives.
Part 1: The Titan
The Titan from the Southeast
The Titan is an iconic tower located in the Fisher Towers near Moab Utah. At 900 feet this tower is the largest freestanding tower in the United States and the tallest sandstone tower in the world! The Finger of Fate route (5.8 A3 Grade V) is the standard route and has a great history. First climbed by Layton Kor, Huntley Ingalls, and George Hurley in May of 1962, this was a visionary ascent of an enormous objective. This history and the nature of the climb made it part of the book “Fifty Classic Climbs of North America” written by Steve Roper and Alan Steck, alongside other classic routes such as the Nose of El Capitan and the Cassin Ridge of Denali.
Andrea Nearing the Top of the First Pitch
Due to short days and to increase the likelyhood of an ascent we chose to tackle the climb over two days. The first four pitches climb to the base of the ‘Finger of Fate’ and involve the most difficult aid climbing. At this point we were able to leave our gear at the anchor and fix lines that we were able to ascend early the following day.
The Duck Formation
Andrea at the Belay
Cottontail Tower (Left) Echo Tower (Right)
Once you venture past the finger the exposure of the climb increases dramatically. Views of Castle Valley and the Fisher Towers makes this one of the most aesthetic rock routes in the desert. The nature of this form of sandstone allows for unique rock formations such as ‘The Duck” located on the sixth pitch, and the overall ‘drip castle’ form seen in the Fisher Towers.
Final Pitch of The Titan
The final pitch of the route takes you through a museum of ancient gear, most of which was placed by the 6’6″ Layton Kor. Top stepping, free climbing, and even lassoing pins are all techniques encountered on this wildly exposed pitch. We topped out at a comfortable hour and were able to spend time enjoying the views and accomplishment of conquering this iconic tower.
Andrea and I on the Summit
Sunset on Castle Valley
Part 2: Fine Jade and The Priest
Within a few weeks of our ascent of The Titan I recieved an e-mail from Andrea that she would like to do some more desert towers. The two she had in mind share the same talus cone as the iconic Castleton tower. While not technically a tower climb the route Fine Jade (5.11) ascends the south face of the rectory (seen above as the buttress to the right of Castleton tower). This route is the quintessential splitter multi-pitch climb of the desert. and involves every type of climbing ranging from finger cracks, hand cracks, off-widths, and even a pitch of face climbing.
Andrea on the Saddle Leading to Fine Jade
When we made it to the base of the climb the air was still cold and the rock even colder. Prepared for the weather we began the climb. The climb starts hard from the ground with a thin hands crack leading into a short overhanging off-width section. Once past this you encounter an immaculate finger-crack leading to the top of the first pitch.
Sinking the Lock
Next up is the crux pitch, a finger-crack through a bulge providing excellent locks and powerful climbing.
The Finger Bulge Crux
From here the climbing remains superb all the way to the enormous summit of the Rectory. The top is so enormous in fact that Jon Bon Jovi and the group Heaven have filmed music videos up here…
The Summit of Fine Jade
With our back to back climbing strategy we were able to stash all of our climbing gear at the top allowing a much easier hike down and back up the following morning. We arrived back at camp in time to watch the sun set on Castleton tower and cook dinner in the light.
The next morning we got another early start to climb the Honeymon Chimney (5.11) of the Priest. This climb was put up the day after the Kor-Engalls route of Castleton and was named after the newly married Harvey and Annie Carter.
The Priest taken from the Rectory on a Previous Trip
The Honeymoon Chimney route starts by ascending 200’ in a chimney system of varied widths. The first 100’ are a squeeze chimney that is so narrow in some places that you cannot turn your head.
The Honeymoon Chimney
Once out of the chimney the climber must commit to lunging to a 5.11 bolted face climb that takes the climber within 30’ of the summit. Unfortunately compared to the previous day the wind was much stronger and amplified by the wind tunnel effect created by the chimney. The wind was blowing so strong in fact that the detached block behind me was rocking in the wind!
Reaching for the Bolted Face
The next short pitch took us to the impressively small summit where a large boulder provided an excellent wind break allowing us to enjoy the summit and the views.
Andrea on the Summit
Preparing for the Rapels
As we returned to camp I noticed that my car was missing. As we got closer I found that it had been replaced by a large hole in the ground! Confused I turned to look around the parking lot and found it on the other side of the lot with a note from Sam Lightner Jr. stating only “It was me!” with a phone number. When I returned to cell service I gave him a call and found that the hole was part of a pit toilet they were building, in addition to other renovations of this campground. This incredible project will reduce the impact of the thousands of climbers that use this free campground all year. A big thanks to the Friends of Indian Creek, The Access Fund, Utah Open Lands, and Planet Granite for making this possible!
Now its time to enjoy the winter and attempt to stay in shape for the climbing season of 2012!
Cheers and have a great winter!