<-- Map of summer 2014
(click to enlarge)
4 Days & 5 Climbs
Climb 1: CASTLETON TOWER North Chimney (5.9, 3-4p)
Climb 2: MOSES Dunn Route (5.11-, 4-5p)
Climb 3: TOP OF THE WORLD OVERLOOK Cooler than Jesus (5.10, 3p)
Climb 4: THREE PENGUINS Right Chimney (5.10+, 2p)
Climb 5: RIVER ROAD CRAGS El Segundo (5.9+, 2p)
Climbing desert towers and cliffs: A little desert dessert to cap off a full summer of climbing!
It had been nearly three months since I packed my Subaru full of climbing and photography gear and drove south out of Bellingham. My first destination had been City of Rocks in Idaho, and I had no plans after that other than to find good rock, good partners, and good weather. And hopefully make a good summer out of it. It turned out to be a spectacular summer. Over the course of three months, I strung together a series of climbing adventures: from the City of Rocks I drove down to Salt Lake City to climb for a few days in Lone Peak Cirque, then it was back up to Idaho for a week at Elephant's Perch, then to wild Wyoming for a week in the Cirque of the Towers followed by a few days at Devil's Tower, then an impromptu trip to Colorado to climb in Rocky Mountain National Park and Eldorado Canyon, then back to Wyoming to climb some harder routes in the Cirque of the Towers, and finally in invitation by my Cirque climbing partner Dow to come down to his place in southwest Utah and climb "locally" with him, mostly in Zion and also a couple of days at Red Rocks. Time flew by, and soon it was a week into September, and I needed to be home soon to start preparing my lecture materials for the upcoming Fall Quarter of teaching. I put the bug in Dow's ear about climbing some desert towers near Moab on my way home....
I had been compelled in particular by the desert towers, which are hauntingly beautiful and have unique and interesting routes to their tops. I'd never climbed a desert tower. So Dow and I made plans to climb for four days (Sept 9-12) in the Moab area before I continued my long drive back home to Washington. However, the day before we planned on beginning our Moab climbing trip, a wide-spread thundershower system passed through the West, dumping record-breaking 1-3 inches of rain in some areas and also causing flash flooding in several locations (a 50 mile stretch of I-15 north of Las Vegas sustained enough flood damage to be closed for days). Plus, the storms saturated the sandstone all over the state. We would have to wait a couple of days until the sandstone dried enough to climb. I was under a tight schedule to get home soon, so this reduced our climbing window to two days (Sept 11-12), or potentially two and a half days if I made the 20+ hour drive home in one shot instead of spread over two days. We'd just have to make good use of our two and a half days.
By the time the thundershowers started, I had actually already arrived in Moab, and the plan had been to regroup with Dow the following evening. But since we were now delayed by the rain, I had an extra couple of days in the area, which I planned to spend working away the (very nice) library in Moab. But when the rain stopped on the morning of the 9th, I got progressively antsy to be out climbing, despite the wet rock. I made a partner post on MountainProject looking for a partner for the 10th.
Local climber Karl Kelley responded to my post. Karl and his wife own the Desert Bistro in Moab, and he had recently published a guidebook for the area "High On Moab." In addition to this, Karl is a really nice guy. So Karl was a great partner for my first climb in the area. We climbed the North Chimney (3-4p, 375', 5.9) route on Castleton, a quintessential desert tower climb located in Castle Valley. (Amazingly, the route wasn't even wet despite the fact that that side of the tower does not get a whole lot of sun.) Over the course of the morning, I picked Karl's brain for beta on other climbs in the area, and by the end of the morning I had a tick-list of climbs several times longer than Dow and I could accomplish in the next two and a half days....
Dow arrived in Moab that evening and we proceeded to climb the next two and a half days. The first day, we drove out to Island in the Sky in the northern reaches of Canyonlands National Park and climbed the Dunn Route (4-5p, 600', 5.11-) on Moses, which is a 600' tower that looks remarkably like its namesake. It was such a wild and remote area to climb, accessible only by a couple of hours of driving along rough 4WD roads. The second day, Dow and I climbed another wild route: Cooler than Jesus (3p, 300', 5.10) on the Top of the World Overlook, accessed by driving for a few hours on an even rougher road than the day before and rappelling off the edge of the cliff into a gaping abyss and then climbing back up on some pretty steep and committing terrain. The third and final day, I could only climb the morning, so Dow and I climbed two short and fun roadside routes in Arches National Park: the Right Chimney (2p, 150', 5.10+) on The Three Penguins and the nearby El Segundo (2p, 150', 5.9+) near the canyon entrance of River Road.
This page provides a trip report for my four fun days of climbing near Moab—a little desert dessert to cap off a full summer of climbing. Thanks Karl and Dow for some great desert climbing memories.
in the Sky,
Island in the Sky is a 6000’ high mesa in the northern sector of Canyonlands National Park west of the town of Moab. Resting on sheer sandstone cliffs over 1,000 feet above the Green and Colorado Rivers, this mesa is one of the most breath-taking places on Earth. Island in the Sky offers adventure climbing in its purest sense on some of the most impressive towers anywhere in the desert. Unlike the easy access to Castle Valley or the River Road Towers, the classic tower climbs located in Island in the Sky are quite remote, most requiring a 4x4 and a considerable amount of time to reach.
Island in the Sky is home to the most infamous of desert towers, the most notable of which are Moses, Zeus, Washer Woman, Monster Tower, Standing Rock and the Witch. These towers are composed of Wingate Sandstone and offer some fantastic crack climbing. In general, the free routes here are 5.10 or harder. Even cooler is the fact that these towers actually look like their namesakes. We climbed Moses, the tallest of the towers in Canyonlands NP. This towering figure really does resemble an old man wearing a long robe slightly hunched over as he gazes down upon the Thracian Mare (which is a man eating horse in Greek mythology, best I can tell from my wikipedia research) in front of him.
Climb 2 - Sept 11
Taylor Canyon, Island in the Sky, Canyonlands NP
Trad, 4-5 pitches, 600', 5.11-
• This route is less known than Primrose Dihedrals on the south side of Moses, but nevertheless is a worthy adventure. It is the easiest free route up Moses and consists mostly of 5.9 and 10- climbing with one short but burly crux 5.11- pitch. The route is on the northwest face of Moses, so it is generally shady. The climb follows a weakness straight up Moses' right side, goes left of his chin and onto his shoulder, and reaches the top via the backside of his head. There is a unique tunnel-through a narrow chimney to get onto Moses' shoulder. This is a really unique climb in an utterly spectacular location. Plus the two hour 4WD approach over rocky road and washes was really quite fun in Dow's Toyota FJ Cruiser. What a memorable day!
• Note on the descent: The descent can be done with 5 single-rope rappels down the north face (Pale Face route). (As of 2014, most beta for Moses made it seem as if double ropes were needed for the descent. However, we discovered that a single 70m rope will get you down with five rappels off bolted stations. A 60m rope would also work, but a couple of the rappels were around 95', and involved a slight traverse to clip an anchor on a vertical wall, which would feel pretty dicy with only 5' of tail.)
• Note on large gear for the crux pitch: We found that three #3 and three #4 was a comfortable amount of large gear for the crux pitch on this route. A #5 might be handy for the OW on the first pitch, but this is the only place it is really needed, so we opted to not bring a #5 and run this 15-ft OW section out.
• Click here to go to Dow's excellent description for the Dunn Route on summitpost.org.
of the World
Top of the World is a 7000-ft viewpoint on the cliff edge of the Warning Mesa above Fisher Valley and Onion Creek, just east of the Fisher Towers area east of Moab. This is one of the most dramatic overlooks in the Moab area. On a clear day you can look out over the valley to Fisher Towers, the La Sal Mountains, the Priest and Nuns rock formations in Castle Valley, Arches National Park, and western Colorado. Getting here is one tough 4wd climb through slickrock, rock shelves, slickrock steps, and rocks.
The Overlook is more of an off-roading and hiking destination, but there is one climb out here, accessed by rappelling off of the edge of the Overlook and climbing back up. Called Cooler than Jesus, this climb sounded like a cool adventure. And Dow and I enjoy a good adventure climb.
Climb 3 - Sept 12
TOP OF THE WORLD Overlook
Cooler than Jesus
Top of the World
Trad, 3 pitches, 300', 5.10
• The climb doesn't live up to its moniker (what could?), but it is a very cool climb nonetheless. The coolness comes not from the quality of the climbing (the second pitch is the only really stellar climbing on the route), but from the route's remoteness, commitment level (once you rap down there you have no choice but to come up), unique access (4wd to top and rappel into the void to start), amazing top-of-the-world views, and runout chimney finish. You do two double-rope raps to access the climb. From the Top of the World Overlook, walk about 15 yards to the left (east). Here there is a deep cleft in the rock that goes from the edge way back and way down into the depths of the cliff. This is the chimney you'll climb out on pitch 3. Rap from a squat but sturdy juniper that is about 10 feet from the cliff face.
• Note on the start of the route: The beta we had was pretty ambiguous for the start of the route. It is best to have the first person down go with the gear and rappel directly to the base of the chimney and set an anchor there. The anchor is somewhat hanging. Don't do what we did (i.e. don't rap to the base of the cliff or rap to the ledge 10' to the left of the chimney—see description below for details).
• Note on large gear: We placed the most large gear on the first pitch. We felt that two #3 and two #4 is sufficient for this route. The chimney of Pitch 3 is too wide to protect with a #5 or #6 so these wouldn't be useful. A big bro could be useful. Dow master-of-the-chimney just ran it out.
• Click here to go to Dow's excellent description of Cooler Than Jesus on summitpost.org.
Arches National Park just north of Moab is a 70,000+ acre wonderland of eroded sandstone fins, towers, ribs, gargoyles, hoodoos, balanced rocks, and exquisite arches. There are countless unique, airy summits that are accessible by interesting climbing. Routes in Arches are usually only a few hundred feet from the road so the approaches are casual. The climbing is challenging, though, since the Entrada sandstone tends to be sandy, rounded, hard-to-protect, and unforgiving.
Several of the rock formations in Arches NP are named because they look like their namesake: The Three Penguins, The Three Gossips, Devil's Golf Ball, The Phallus, The Pickle, The Wishbone, The Organ, etc. I thought it would be fun to climb one of these, as it would make for a fun route overlay. The Three Penguins huddling above the south entrance to the park had compelled me ever since I had first driven into Arches a week previous. Dow had climbed the Right Chimney route in 2010, and it had been good enough he was happy to climb it again. The Right Chimney is the most popular route on the formation.
The climb of Three Penguins went quickly (after all the formation is only 150' tall) and we still had time for another short climb. So we jumped back in the car and drove 5 minutes over to the entrance to the River Road Canyon and climbed El Segundo, a great single-pitch 5.9+ corner that I had spotted as I paged through my new guidebook. Although accessed from River Road, this climb is actually within the park boundary.
Climb 4 - Sept 13
South Entrance, Arches NP
Trad, 2 pitches, 150', 5.10+
• It is no wonder this route is popular, with its short approach, great views, and single long pitch (or two short pitches) of quality 5.10 climbing. The route climbs the crack system on the SE side between the middle and north (right) penguins, topping out on the middle penguin's head. The first two thirds of the route basically starts at fingers and works its way to fists—the crux being getting over the obvious bulge. The last third of the route is a delightful struggle up a flaring off-width—the definite crux of the route for me. "Chimney" is a misnomer for this route, since there is not a chimney move on the route, besides maybe a single move getting from the middle penguin's head to the north penguin's head. The rock on the entire route is solid and takes great gear. But typical of Entrada sandstone, the rock is soft so the edges of the cracks are rounded and the footholds are sandy slopes, making the climbing insecure and strenuous.
• Note on wide gear: We found that a double rack up to #4 and a single #5 (to protect the final moves) was a comfortable amount to climb the route in a single pitch.
Climb 5 - Sept 13
RIVER ROAD CRAGS
Arches NP River Road Access
Trad, 2 pitches, 150', 5.9+
• This is the striking, obvious right-facing corner seen from the bridge while driving north across the Colorado River bridge from Moab toward Arches. You can park right below the climb on the dirt road just north of the bridge, but to get to the actual climb involves hiking along the highway (on the bike path) towards the entrance of Courthouse Wash, where you gain the ramping bench on the right and backtrack to the climb (and pass some beautiful pictographs and petroglyphs on the way). The first pitch involves a short 5th class traverse to gain the shelf below the corner. The second pitch climbs the flakes and crack in the corner, with pretty good hand jams the whole way up. 5.9+ crack climbing fun. The descent completes the loop trip by rappelling twice (a single 70m rope will do) to the hillside just above where you parked. This climb is a worthy adventure if you've got an extra hour or two.
• Click here to go to Dow's excellent description for El Segundo on summitpost.org.
Other random photos from my time in the Moab area....
a. I stayed at the Lazy Lizard Hostel at the south end of Moab. $10 for a bed, open kitchen, shower, plug, and wi-fi (the last two being the most important of course)— hard to beat that!
b-d. The heavy rains that delayed the beginning of the climbing part of the trip had caused flooding over the road to Delicate Arch. The road was closed, which meant it was a great time (i.e. no crowds!!) to hike to Delicate Arch and also to check out the petroglyphs near the trailhead. It was only an extra 1.2 miles each way. Plus it was pretty cool to see the mud over the road.
e-j. There are some petroglyphs near the Delicate Arch trailhead. The stylized horse and rider surrounded by bighorn sheep and dog-like animals is typical of Ute rock art. These were carved sometime between AD 1650 and 1850 (horses weren't reintroduced into North America until the Spanish brought them in the 1500s, so the rock art was done after that).
g. There's a sheep (or something else?) that is behind the main group and headed in the opposite direction. The rogue sheep that escaped from the main herd?
k. On my drive through Arches NP before Dow arrived, I was oogling at all the cool features to be climbed. One route I'd like to climb is the West Face of the Three Gossips. The Three Gossips (on the left in the photo) really do look like three gossips. (Dow and I had planned on climbing this route, but lost a day due to the rain and did not have time to climb it.)