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best of cc.com [TR] I Love the Desert - 4/28/2008

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Trip: I Love the Desert


Date: 4/28/2008


Trip Report:

This spring I was fortunate to make a really fun desert Southwest tour with my wife Michelle and a few other friends. We visited Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. During the trip I climbed 32 desert towers and a half dozen other routes.


First stop was Colorado National Monument. It was pretty cold, but we managed to climb Independence Monument, Otto's Route (III, 5.9).


Colorado National Monument, with Independence Monument on the right:



A close up:



The route was pretty "cool" with snow all over the ledges,



But fun none-the-less. Love the history of the route with all the manufactured holds and staircases. You can see one of the staircases in the pic below, and Michelle is grabbing on to an old pipe hole:



With temps dipping down to 10-degrees, we decided to head farther south to the Moab area.


We did a quick climb of South Six Shooter, South Face (II, 5.8). On South Six Shooter Peak, with North Six Shooter in the distance.



It snowed on us, so dreaming of warmer weather we decided to head farther south into Arizona. We had long wanted to climb in the Superstition Mountains outside of Phoenix.


The Superstitions. The Hand, the Tower, and the Prong are the first three towers on the lower left. The larger Grandfather Hobgoblin Spire is on the right, but blends in a little with the cliff behind:



The rock at the "Supes" is really interesting, some kind of crazy conglomerate. The protection is often sparse, and when there are bolts, well...



One of those plant towers:



The first day we did a collection of towers on the northwest side of the range. We climbed The Hand (5.6), The Tower (5.8 R), The Pickle (5.4), The Periscope (5.4R), and The Prong (5.6). All of them were unique little climbs and summits. Very cool.


The Hand:



Here is Michelle at a small belay on The Hand. The 3-pitch route we climbed was called the Razor's Edge and the climbing was on a 3-foot wide, steep ridge crest:



The Tower had 25-feet of unprotected, overhanging 5.8 climbing to start the route, then a long and thoughtful 5.7R pitch above that. It felt good to get on top of that sucker.



The Pickle was fun - it looks steep and hard from the base but it really is only 5.4. The climbing is on huge cemented together conglomerate rocks.


Michelle rapping off the Pickle.



The next day we woke up for two more climbs of Grandfather Hobgoblin (III, 5.9), and the really fun North Buttress, Spider Walk (III, 5.6).


Here is Grandfather Hobgoblin, the 4-pitch route climbs up to the notch on the left, then right up to the summit:



Looking down at Michelle atop the first pitch:



View from the summit out towards the suburban sprawl:



After rapping down we went directly over to the North Buttress. Spider Walk takes an improbable looking line (for 5.6), meandering up 4 pitches of run-out slabs, with hard to find bolts, then up a chimney/crack system up a very cool feature.


Here's a shot of the North Buttress. The route starts on the left side, then works its way up to the chimney near the top:



Michelle following the second pitch:



At the end of the route, you can scramble up to a high spire that overlooks everything.



A final sunset:



Next stop was Red Rocks, Nevada.



We spent a few days climbing Dark Shadows (5.8), Frogland (III, 5.8), Sour Mash (III, 5.10a), then met with our good friends Chin and Raleigh and climbed Eagle Dance (III, 5.10c A0) and then a twisted variation of The Gobbler and Yellow Brick Road (III, 5.10c) on Black Velvet Wall (this to bypass the cluster on Dream of Wild Turkey's and other routes).


Hiking up to Eagle wall:



Me leading the second pitch of The Gobbler, with Raleigh belaying:



Michelle following Sour Mash:



All in all we had a great week in Red Rocks, with splitter weather and pretty moderate crowds.


Next stop: Zion. I really love Zion, and this is partly why:


We only had a chance to spend two days here. The first day was a bit of a lazy day. We rode up canyon in the shuttle and climbed The Pulpit, Original Route (5.9, C1) - a cool little spire at the end of the road.


Here's Michelle following the one and only pitch:



Day 2 we climbed the Iron Messiah (III, 5.10) a 10-pitch route on the Spearhead. You gotta love chimneys to like this route:



High on the route (see Michelle at bottom of crack and shuttle bus below), the second to the last pitch was a stellar 200-foot corner.



It had been a few years since visiting Zion and I was really psyched to climb there again if only for a couple days. Michelle had to head back home and my buddy Jim flew down to meet me for some climbing around Moab.


Our first stop was the Bridger Jack Towers in Indian Creek. In two days we climbed Sparkling Touch Tower (5.11-), Thumbelina Tower (5.11), Sunflower Tower, East Face (III, 5.10), Easter Island Tower (5.10), and King of Pain, Vision Quest (III, 5.10+).


Shadow of the Bridger Jacks on the desert floor:



Jim's picture of me leading Thumbelina, a great single pitch of 5.11, and a cool spire to boot!



Jim's picture of me leading the first pitch of Sparkling Touch:



The King of Pain. Vision Quest climbs the split between the two towers:



Here's Jim in the 5.10 slot on Vision Quest. After this pitch, I won't disagree with the guidebook description calling the route "burly".



Jim taking the lead on the last pitch of Sunflower Tower. South and North Sixshooter can be seen in the distance.



I was psyched to finally climb on these towers. The ease of access, quality rock and routes, and relaxing atmosphere made for a great couple of days (and a great warm up for Jim!)


Next we headed into Canyonlands National Park. We stopped by the ranger station and got a permit to camp down on the White Rim for a couple days, then later that afternoon we climbed Washer Woman, In Search of Suds (III, 5.10+). The route was super-classic just like everyone said it would be. Gotta be one of the most unique looking towers in the desert. Can't wait to see what it looks like when that chock stone falls out!


Washer Woman and Monster Tower:



Looking down from the last pitch, with Monster Tower behind:



Jim's pic of me leading the final summit block:



Gotta love that rappel!



Next we headed into Monument Basin.



Our first objective was the ultra-classic Standing Rock, Kor Route (III, 5.11). You can tell this route gets climbed a ton because there is no loose rock or mud typical of the area to speak of. I can only imagine what it must have been like on the first ascent.



Jim's pic of me leading the great roof (way easier than it looks from below):



Jim following the second pitch:



That afternoon we climbed the Shark’s Fin, Fetish Arête (III, 5.10c R). This route doesn't seem to get as much traffic and one gets a taste for some more authentic Monument Basin climbing. This picture was taken from Island in the Sky. The route follows the lower angled right side for 5 fun pitches:



Jim's pic of me starting up the first pitch:



I thought the 1st and 3rd pitches were more R rated than the 5.10b R second pitch according to the guidebooks.


Jim rappelling off of Shark's Fin - awesome rock striations:





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A big rain storm ruined our shot at Monster Tower so we headed back out to Moab to reconnoiter. Our final objective was going to be the Titan in the Fisher Towers, but thoughts of wet mud made us cringe so we headed to Castle Valley instead. Neither of us had climbed the Priest, so it seemed like a worthy objective. We started on The Priest, Honeymoon Chimney (III, 5.11).


The route follows the ow/chimney in the middle of the picture:



Does this look like an Alien/Predator head to anyone else?



Entering the Alien's layer - looking up the upper chimney:



The classic shot of the second pitch:



That afternoon I decided to give a shot at The Nuns, Bad Habit (II, 5.11c). The first pitch was strenuous and I wished I had (a lot) more #1 Camalots!



Jim had to fly back home and I had a few days before my next partner was going to show up. I really wanted to climb in the Fishers on this trip (especially the Titan), so I decided to give The Titan, Finger of Fate (IV, 5.9 A2) a try solo. It went amazingly well and I was able to complete the climb in 8 hours 53 minutes (10:04 base to base).


The Titan, looking up the route:



Of course, pictures of soloing are pretty boring cause it's hard to get a person in the pic, but anyways, here's the belayer at the top of the second to the last pitch:



I hauled a ton of crap up the route, not knowing exactly what I would need. The hardest parts for me were the small bits of mandatory free climbing. Because of the wandering nature of the climb, I couldn’t tag gear, so I started up each pitch with pretty much all the gear I had and the entire lead line in a rope bag off my harness. It made for a few interesting moments, but overall I enjoyed really quality climbing and a superb summit.


My friend Stoney showed up for some final tower antics. We warmed up in Arches National Park on some fine Entrada sandstone (which I think is way more ass-kicker than Cutler). Our first stop was The Three Gossips, West Face (III, 5.11) - a splitter crack system, followed by a cool chimney pitch up the split summit block.



Later that day we got on Argon Tower, West Face (II, 5.11). What a great route for the grade, climbing some authentic Arches “sand”.


View to the south with Argon Tower in the center:



Rappelling off Argon Tower with the Three Gossips in the distance:



The next day we headed out to Tusher and Mill Canyons. There we climbed The House of Putterman, Walden’s Room (II, 5.10+), our first Putt-route. This is a desert classic with probably the easiest approach in the entire region.


The House of Putterman:



Later that day we climbed Echo Pinnacle, Window Route (III, 5.11a).


Echo Pinnacle. The route ascends a system just right of the sun/shade line. The left side is detached, forming a series of windows to look through to the other side:



Stoney leading the first pitch (gotta love a tower that is composed of Entrada on top of Dewey Bridge!)



The next day it was back to Canyonlands again where we went right for Monster Tower, Kor Route (IV, 5.10 C2).


Monster Tower and Washer Woman at Sunset



Another shot of Monster Tower, Washer Woman, and the Sandcastle from up canyon:



It was a neat route as it cork-screwed around the tower, starting on the northeast side and finishing on the northwest. Stoney leading around the 4th pitch:



The next objective was Chip Tower and Dale Tower. We started with Chip Tower, Stuffin’ Nuts (III, 5.8 C1).


Chip Tower and his big brother Dale Tower. The route on Chip Tower ascents the other (south) side, while the route on Dale Tower climbs the large chimney system on the right, then bumps over and climbs a pitch of off-widths to the summit.



Stoney leading the 2nd pitch of Chip Tower:



Later that day we climbed Dale Tower, Boy’s Night Out (III, 5.9 C1). Another fun and "wide" tower.


Stoney's pic of me on top of Dale Tower after a long happy day:



We went down into Monument Basin for some more, uh, fun. First up - the Meemohive (III, 5.9 C2). We both really enjoyed this tower - the climbing was moderate but classically Monument-esque. The route climbs up the right-side chimney, traverses left on the ledge near the top, then takes a steep hand-crack through a roof up the central crack system to the top.



Stoney leading the second mud chimney:



and following the 3rd pitch ledge traverse:



On top of the Meemohive, we looked over and saw something terrible:



The Enigmatic Syringe... If the name alone wasn't enticing enough...



So I had a go at the Enigmatic Syringe, Altered Sanity (III, C3). I was able to do both pitches clean, bypassing some of the really bad sections with free climbing.


Stoney's pic of me leading pitch one of two:



and, me hoping not to deck on pitch two:



It was super-windy all day and it gusted up to 40+mph. We are obviously noobs to this kind of climbing because we didn't bring any goggles in the kit. Next time...


We had time for one more while on the White Rim and decided to try out Blocktop, Original Route (IV, 5.10 C2), just cause it looks really, really cool.


Islet in the Sky and Blocktop. The route on Blocktop goes right up the crack that splits the tower literally in half:



Stoney's pic of me leading the hand/fist/ow/squeeze/chimney pitch:



Looking down that same pitch from one of the best belays in the desert:



Yep, it was as cool as it looked.


Finally with one day of climbing left, neither of us had climbed North Six Shooter, Lightning Bolt Cracks (III, 5.11a), so we made the drive down to Indian Creek to give it a go.


Looking down the first half of the last pitch (I linked this all the way to the top) from the obvious picture taking stance:



The route was definitely as classic as could be, though a bit disappointingly short.



All in all, another amazing adventure in the great lands of the desert Southwest.




I love the desert!


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Truly awesome Joe. Hell, just getting the TR to show up in Firefox was an epic, and worth every moment. Truly the War and Peace of TRs (I happen to think that is a great book). Thanks for posting!

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Porter: you might want to enable the "6 stars" rating option on this one... WOW Joe! Awesome TR!


How long were you on the road for this one?

Do you think the Phoenix, AZ climbs are still good to go or are they getting too hot already?

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Porter: you might want to enable the "6 stars" rating option on this one...

+1 :tup: Absolutely, Porter - enable that option!


Way to uncage your soul, Joe! Simply crazy!

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I saw this one over on Supertopo and was hoping we'd get our own copy. Truly delicious TR with fantasy projects for all levels of climbers. Six stars indeed.

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I'm so jealous of you getting to do all of those awesome climbs. I have definitely added some of those to my "to do" list now. Thanks!

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Seeing those pictures made me more stoked about checking out those areas than I have ever been. Nice.

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holy cow Joe, that's a marathon of mud!


That bolt looks like a Banditos hanger... ?


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That is an amazing trip. How many days were you down there? I just got back from 4 days in the Moab area--we managed two or three one pitch routes, a backpack, and some mountain biking--I am in awe of your accomplishment. Next time I go I am bringing a serious number of cams.


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I believe that is a Banditos hanger - there were quite a few of them. Luckily the one at the crux of Grandfather Hobgoblin had been replaced. Let's just call that one old-skewl 5.9. I was down there for most of March and part of April - had to fly back in the middle to do the slide show at Feathered Friends...

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