Towers, Trails and Heat

Oh the desert.  Every time I personally travel here, I remember its enchantment.  The desert is still raw, extreme and wild.  If you are not careful, the desert will take you with its heat, cold or flash floods.

We knew we would be traveling through the desert at a time when the daytime temps would be hitting nearly 100+ degrees.  We, as residents of 10,000 ft. elevation, are not used to the desert…so, we plan accordingly.  Climb early in the shade.  Run and bike in the morning.  Escape to a coffee shop with the dogs in the afternoon.

Eric looking out into Long Canyon at the crag.

However, while the days scorched, we still had plenty of fun.  Our first day in the area consisted of exploring the Long Canyon crags.  Long Canyon is located off of Potash Road, just north of Moab.  The place is barren, but beautiful.  Utah is full of geologic formations that contain billions of years’ worth of history, and we are constantly reminded of that as we climb the state’s rock.  In Long Canyon, we sought out shade, knocked out a few laps on an easy crack line and slowly made our way down the harrowing approach.  Hot.

Our second day in the area prompted our biggest adventure yet.  The night prior, we set up camp at the Castleton Tower trail head, where the tower loomed over us as we ate dinner, drank a beer and settled in for the night.  Castleton Tower is iconic in the climbing world, supposedly being the first desert tower to ever be climbed (1961).  It is a classic climb to tick off.  So, we rose at 5:30 AM, packed our bags, and made our way up the relatively strenuous approach (climbers do not switchback their way to a route…they go straight up the hill!).

View from our campsite at the Castleton Tower trail head.
Eric’s photo from the top of the first pitch, looking down at me.

The approach was beautiful in itself.  We slowly crept closer and closer to the tower.  As we did so, it grew.  The rising sun casted the tower’s shadow so long, it overtook fields and houses to the west.  It was a motivating sight.  Unfortunately, we were beat out by a guide and his guided that were only a few minutes ahead.  We waited at the base of the tower for almost an hour for them to make it up and past the first of three pitches.  The route we chose was the North Chimney route – named after the five foot deep chimney feature we would climb on the second and third pitch.  Once we jumped on the rock, we worked straight into hand and toe jams on pitch one, the most traditional crack climb on the route.  Then came the chimney!  Eric, who led these pitches, has a bit of distaste for chimneys (and despite the distaste, rocked the leads).  I, however, loved it.   Balance, stemming and jamming inside a beautiful red rock feature that kept us cool as the sun rose the temp to 90 degrees outside?  Who can complain?!

View from the second pitch, inside the chimney.

We made it to the top of the ~400 foot tower in approximately two and a half hours.  We took in the view, now again in the sun, on top of one of the tallest rock features around.  Next, came the descent on the northern shady side of the rock.  What a lot of non-climbers do not realize is that, while we make it to the top of something… that is only half the work.  We still had a 400 foot face to rappel down.  Eric and I had climbed the route with two twin, 70 meter ropes.  The reasoning behind this was to make the descent quicker by cutting the number of rappels in half.  So, we headed down the first of two rappels by tying the two ropes together with a figure eight knot, rolled over itself.  Eric went first, I second.  Unfortunately, and oddly enough, one of the twin ropes was coiling so much that it caused a repetitive twist on top of the knot we had tied.  So, as we attempted to pull the rope down the ledge we had anchored into, the twist got tighter and almost impossible to pull.  We were in quite the predicament.  We had three options to consider as we sat stuck on a two foot ledge, hundreds of feet in the air:

  1. Wait for a third party to reach the top (they had started about an hour behind us), hope they decide to rappel the same route as us and then help untangle the twist from up high.
  2. Cut the rope and hope the remaining length would get us to the bottom.
  3. Ascend the existing rope (essentially, self-belaying and climbing up the rope) and attempt to untwist the kink.

We chose the third option.  Eric ascended the rope and, luckily, there was a sport bolt in the rock he could use to anchor himself in and work the knot.  Thankfully, after this hour long process, the rope untangled, Eric used a bail carabiner to descend back to the ledge where I was, and rappel back to the ground.  By the time Eric returned to the rock ledge for the final descent, I was shivering uncontrollably from the wind and being immobile in the shade.  Who would have thought you could be shivering in the desert when, in the sun, it was over 90 degrees?

We rapped down for the last time on of the most gorgeous rock faces I have rappelled face-to-face with.  Feet on the ground, we downed some much needed water and carefully made our way back down to the campervan.  My shivers quickly stopped.  We sweat immediately.  And, it was hot.

On the hike down from the tower, all we could talk about were margaritas and burgers.  We were hungry.  A bit tired.  But psyched about the day, despite the rope debacle…which could have kept us on the wall overnight if we had not known what to do in that situation!  Most of all, we learned a lot about how we work together as a team.  In a situation that could have been stressful, scary and overwhelming, we stayed calm, thought through our options, and supported each other as we worked through the obstacle.   Eric always quotes, “The problem is not the problem.  The problem is your attitude towards the problem.”  Because we stayed calm and focused on the best possible solution, we were able to make it down the tower safely with smiles on our faces.

Margaritas, burgers and a good night’ s sleep in the Willow Springs campground (just north of Moab…and it is free!), recharged us for the next day.

Toby enjoying Kens Lake.

We did not mean to be in the Moab area this long (almost four days).  Finally, FINALLY our new struts for the campervan pop-up  arrived and we installed them ourselves in about an hour.  We had to borrow a ratchet from a neighboring camper to get the job done.  A few curse words later, we had a pop up that stood up on its own, despite the mountaineering gear in the cargo box on top of it.  When we returned the ratchet to its owners, they asked, “Well, did it work?”  Eric responded, “Yeah, but it definitely wasn’t as easy as it looked in the YouTube video!”  They replied, “F***ing never is!”

Oh, and it is still hot.

The week winded down, but the heat did not.  On Friday afternoon, after spending some time at Ken’s Lake just south of Moab to cool off, we headed to the famous Indian Creek area where lots of crack climbing and almost no people awaited us.  Indian Creek’s story and more is for our next blog post.  But, in the meantime, know we are getting after it (six days straight of climbing, running and biking so far!), safe and pretty dang happy.  We are starting to get our set up and tear down routine in place and the dogs are loving their freedom.  They cannot stop smiling…and either can we.

As the trip goes on, you may view more pictures on our ‘Photo Highlights’ page.  Enjoy!

One Comment on “Towers, Trails and Heat

  1. That is another story that a mother should not hear!! Ha..ha….But I’m glad all went well….sounds fantastic and breathtaking…ENJOY!!


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