During Spring Break of my senior year in college, I climbed Castleton Tower via the Kor-Ingalls route (coincidentally, Derek also climbed Castleton during his senior year Spring Break). It was my second "Fifty Classic" and I've now done more than thirty of them, but that trip also started my interest in desert towers. On the same ridge as Castleton, further to the north, is a tower known as the Priest. The easiest route on the Priest is the 5.11b Honeymoon Chimney. The technical crux isn’t the biggest barrier, though. The route starts with 120 feet of barely protectable offwidth to squeeze. I was daunted enough to put off an attempt for 38 years...
I read what I could about the route. The first pitch has a single bolt and a drilled piton. The only piece that will protect the crack is a #4 BigBro. Some recommended three of them, as you can't slide up a BigBro like you can with a large cam. I had one. I consider myself proficient on wide cracks, at least up to the modest rating of 10a. This pitch was rated 5.9 and would disabuse me of the notion that I'm good at wide cracks.
Derek and I tried to drive out Friday night, but I-70 closed down due to a couple of massive crashes (thoughts and prayers), so, after a very enjoyable dinner in Georgetown, at The Alpine, we headed back home to sleep. We left the house at 6 a.m. Saturday and were hiking up to the Priest by noon. After some procrastination, I started up the first pitch around 1:45 p.m. I squirmed up the initial offwidth section to a stance, where things got real. Some recommended liebacking the crack and I considered it and rejected it as too dangerous, as I couldn't place my one piece of protection.
I started up, left side in, and could heel-toe for a couple of meters, mostly up to the height of the bolt, but it was behind me on the other wall. At this point, I regretted my decision of going left side in. Clipping the bolt was an exercise in shoulder flexibility, of which I have almost none. Once clipped I had macrame-ed myself to the wall. Untangling myself was difficult enough, where I had Derek take me on the bolt. After some failed attempts to continue, I stepped in a sling and got high enough to get a foot on an edge out to the left (now I was right side in). I stretched back to the crack and placed my #4 BigBro. I've only used BigBros once or twice before and never weighted them. I wasn't excited to do that now because I wasn't sure how solidly I had placed it. It seemed good, but I struggled mightily to gain the ledge above via free climbing.
Once on the ledge I clipped the drilled piton and looked down at my #4 BigBro. I wished I still had that with me. But I didn't. I continued, left side in, again. The effort to move at all in this crack was so extensive that whenever I could jam myself securely enough to rest, it took many minutes for my breathing rate to decrease below hyperventilation. In the course of climbing this pitch, I nearly hurled at least twice. I squirmed up to a pinch and could reach above to place a cam. I rested for five minutes. Then I negotiated the pinch and got established in the squeeze, where I rested another five minutes, only eight feet higher than before.
The next sixty feet wasn't scary, but any progress was so physical that it took forever. The squeeze is so tight that you can't bend your legs at all. Progressive is measured in inches. Inches. And there is sixty feet of this. A few chockstones have slings on them and I clipped most of them. One sling I could clip, but I didn't have the room to clip it. By the time I made the ledge, I'd gone completely through the tower to the other side. Here were two fat bolts and a chain rappel anchor. When I first arrived, I couldn't imagine continuing. Above me, the chimney was now so wide that I wasn't sure I could stem it. Of course, there was no gear, as the only crack is the chimney and it was five feet wide. I was so thirsty. I could have downed a half-gallon of liquids. The route is four pitches long, with a 5.11 crux on the third pitch, yet I can safely say that 90% of the total calories expended in ascending this tower was spent on this first pitch.
I put Derek on belay and fully expected having to hold him on the rope. Nope. He did awesome, liebacking almost the entire offwidth. I forgot to tell him how to clean a BigBro and I think he ended up pounding it out before realizing you have to unscrew the collar before it will collapse. There was no way to lieback the last sixty feet though and Derek burned his share of calories. He's slightly smaller than I am and the smaller you are, the easier this pitch will be.
By the time Derek joined me, I had spotted a single piton 35 feet up the next pitch and decided to give it a try. Online someone called this "the scariest 5.6 you'll do." I had to admit that it looked that way, but if it really was 5.6, I figured I'd be fine. It was and I was. In fact, this pitch is super cool, super fun, and not scary at all if you are comfortable chimneying. It was a back-feet chimney and felt very secure the entire way, as it flares a bit and you can therefore climb it wherever the width is comfortable for you. Also, it gets easier after the first twenty feet when some footholds appear and make it ultra-secure. The pitch took me back out to the west side of the tower (starting on the east side). Actually, the entire Honeymoon Chimney, which starts at the ground, separates the Priest from another tower that seems to be completely separate from the Priest. You finally leave this other tower behind when, after stemming between the two, you commit to the technical crux. But that was Derek's job.
As I belayed Derek up the second pitch the wind battered me. It was windy when we started, but we were sheltered for the first two pitches. It had increased considerably and whipped our ropes and made communication nearly impossible. I had been dragging up our second rope behind me, but here I coiled it and put it on my back. Derek scampered up the pitch and enjoyed it as much as I did.
This tower really appealed to us, as a team, since it would play to each of our strengths. The wide stuff for me and the bolted, finger-pulling for Derek. Hence, Derek was psyched to take over the sharp end on pitch three, which, like the previous pitches, is wild. Derek chimneyed up relatively easy ground (5.7) until the gap increased. He placed a couple of cams and then started stemming between the two towers. He clipped a bolt, then another, and a third before he had to commit to just one side, the bolted side, the Priest.
The move to gain the other tower is a bit freaky, though well protected. There is a good foothold over there, but to get high enough to be able to stand on it, Derek had to do a full-body stem, with both hands on the Priest while he walked his feet a bit higher on the subsidiary tower. Once high enough, he switched back to a huge stem. From this position, it is possible to get two fingers into a thin crack as a Gaston. For his left hand, he crimped an insecure side pull. Now had he had to psych up for this move. A chalked hold is tantalizingly out of reach but would be within reach once he stepped over. Derek pushed hard off his right foot and then bore down with hands so hard that he grunted with effort. It was just barely enough to hold him to the tower. He got his left foot over and grabbed the chalked hold, which wasn't that great. Hanging onto that bad hold and getting hammered by the gale-force winds, he hung the draw on the next bolt and then tried to pull up the route. I short roped him. I was so ready to catch a fall and didn't want him to fall too far, that I didn't have enough slack for him. He reset and I paid out more rope, but when he went to clip the second time, the wind was too much and he grabbed the draw and clipped in. He didn't hang on it, though, and immediately let go and continued up past another bolt to the ledge at the top. He did this relatively quickly and I anticipated small, but secure holds. I was going to be very disappointed.
Derek placed a cam and moved left on a good ledge to a difficult, perplexing move off the ledge and onto a sloping shelf above. There is a piton here to protect this move, which I think was at least 5.9, but Derek was running low on slings and felt he needed them for a belay and skipped it. Yikes. Just above was the belay - a single piton backed up by a bomber #3 Camalot and another smaller cam. My turn.
I mimicked Derek's movement up to the step across. The full-body stem is nuts, but necessary unless you are extremely flexible. I got my foot on the required placement but highly doubted my ability to hold myself to the tower with the two marginal holds that Derek used. I decided to push off and dead point my right hand for the chalked hold. I did this, hit the chalked hold, realized it wasn't the secure hold I had counted on and plummeted down between the two towers. I stopped only about six feet lower, almost all due to rope stretch. I climbed back up to the same position and this time tried the two tiny holds. I grunted loudly bearing down for all I was worth and stuck to the tower. Further progress seemed unlikely. The edges I'd hoped for weren't here. Everything was either rounded or less than a quarter-inch in width. Derek thinks I was missing a hold, but there didn't seem to be any place to hide them. I pulled on a couple of draws and made the ledge and then the belay.
|Derek's belay atop the third pitch|
|Looking down on the subsidiary tower from the third-pitch belay.|
I figured I might lead through to the summit, up the final 5.8 pitch, but Derek's wasn't having any of that. I had led the first two pitches and he had to lead the last two. He cruised the last pitch, going around the corner to the left with massive exposure. He found a good crack and soon was on top. I followed and thought the last pitch was pretty hard for 5.8, as it was a tough width -- off fingers.
|Derek starting the fourth and last pitch|
We signed the register, took some photos, and readied ourselves for the descent, which turned out to be very stressful. I dropped first, with one end of one of the ropes clipped to me and the other rope whipping around. It was impossible to drop the ropes down, as they were blown right back at you. Our second rope is a 6mm static line that we specifically bought as a rappel-only rope for Patagonia. Why rappel only? Because it is so crazy stiff that managing it is a nightmare. The idea is that it is too stiff that it will not wrap around any blocks and never (or rarely) get stuck when pulling it down. So far, this has proved to be the case. But this rope is so thin that it doesn't provide much friction through an ATC rappel device and makes for a stressful rappel unless you can wrap the rope around your back. I couldn't do this because the ropes were being blown too hard in the opposite direction. We had knots in the ends of the ropes, but it was a white-knuckle descent back to the belay at the top of pitch two.
|On the summit!|
I tried to keep hold of the ropes while Derek came down but he was fighting the same issue of the rope being blown around the tower and creating a lot of friction around the corner. After he joined me, at first, we couldn't pull down the ropes at all. Nothing. I thought we might be spending the night up there. We had no cell service and no way to descend without those two ropes above us. We realized that the tension of the rope around the tower was too much and worked hard to flip it back on our side of the tower and hold it taut, but not too taut that we couldn't pull the ropes down. While Derek held the thin rope, I pulled down our other rope with body weight and hard pulling. This was the second greatest outlay of calories on the route -- getting this rope down. But down it did come. Thank goodness.
The next rappel was back down the second pitch, so entirely inside of the tower. The start was so tight that you rappelled with your body held completely vertical in order to fit through the start of the chimney. I descended back to the bolts at the top of pitch two but made the mistake of not making sure both ropes were down with me. Once at the bolts I realized that our lead rope was stuck around the corner to the south. It was just the situation that our thin, white rope was made to avoid. Now it was the lead rope, but Derek was still above and he'd have to handle it. He did, but it wasn't without some stress and struggle, as he had to wrap the rope around his leg in order to use both hands to pull himself over on the stuck rope and dislodge it. The first time he tried this he was too high and had to swing back into the chimney, unwrap the rope, rappel six more feet, and try again. I stopped him from slamming into the wall by pulling on the other ends, but the tension squeezed his leg quite painfully. On his second try, he freed the rope and was able to smear his feet on the face and avoid building up too much speed. Whew.
|The start of the second rappel|
|The end of the third and last rappel|
The last rappel was blissfully without problems. We were quite relieved to be safely back on the ground and quite excited to have bagged such a difficult tower. We packed up and drank our fill of the water we'd left at the base. The hike out went smooth, as our steps were buoyed by not carrying the crushing weight of defeat. Derek felt so light that he carried extra gear down, saving my knees from extra stress.
The day after climbing the Priest we had planned to climb the River Tower, which is a Fisher Tower, which means it's an aid tower and coated in a layer of mud. The appeal of such a tower should be obvious...if you are insane, like Jim Beyer. It's less obvious to the rational mind, but the tower is very impressive. The desire to be on top of such a feature is strong, though highly tempered once you get close enough to actually touch the rock. These are terrifying things to climb. So much so that we didn't have the mental fortitude to leave the ground. We called it a recon and vowed to come back, though I wasn't sure when.
It turned out to be just six days later, the very next weekend. Derek had previously surpassed me in the gym and even outside on sport routes, but he's now taken the reigns in the planning as well. This is a new thing. My buddy Tom nicknamed me "The Plan Man" because I'd make adventure plans for an entire year. I did this to make sure I had enough vacation days to do all the climbs I wanted and to prioritize the ones that were the most important. Now it was Derek that pushed for another trip to Utah. He does half the driving and doesn't consider it a bad drive (at least when the highway isn't closed or a snowstorm isn't raging). Nowadays I prefer a weekend at home after a road trip, but if Derek is raring to go and he wants me as his partner, I'm not turning that down. Not this weekend, not any weekend. I'm so thankful that he still considers me a worthy partner, not only in climbing ability, but as a companion for the weekend. We seem to be evolving our relationship past just father-son to true friends as well. It will always be more complicated because he's my son, but we do enjoy each other's company. We have the same attitude about movies, books, food (mostly), guerrilla camping, road trips, etc. Now that we're equal partners on the rock, my value as a rope gun is severely diminished. My time as his main partner might be limited, but I'll milk all I can out of it.
This time the Friday drive went smooth and we crashed at the Dinosaur Mountain trailhead, a bit south of the Fruita exit. The temperatures were perfect and we slept reasonably well. We were up a bit before six and after a stop at McDonald's, we were headed for the turnout just past (coming from the north) Mile Marker 23 on the River Road. We packed up at the turnout, reading the recommended rack off of Mountain Project. It said, "13 or so rivet hangers." We read that last time too, but I was hoping things would change in the six days since. Rivet hangers? We didn't have any of them. I wondered aloud why first ascensionists don't leave the hangers. Maybe they are expensive. I know the bolts are expensive. They certainly have the right to do as they please. I'm thankful for all the effort it took to place all the bolts and would never go up these walls to place them myself.
|Starting up the first pitch of The Flow|
We brought eight nuts where we could push the nut up from the end of the cable and get a loop that we could hook over the top of the hanger-less bolts. That was all that we had that could be pushed up. We figured to back-clean a bit and reuse them. Our objective was a route called The Flow, as it had a similar rating to the North Face route and someone on Mountain Project said it was the nicer route. Since it was also the recommended descent route, that sounded good to us. Except for the 13 hanger-less bolts...
We brought a double rack up to #4 Camalot and one #5 and three #3's as there was a wide crack on pitch three. With aiders and jugs, we hefted heavy packs onto our shoulders for the, now familiar, approach. We were at the base in just over 30 minutes and geared up not at the base of the route but at the base of the rappels. We did this because there is a bit of scrambling to get up to the start of the route and it is along sloping, loose ledges. We decided that the second would carry a small pack with some water, food, and our wind shells. Then we scrambled up to the base of the route, which involved a couple of 4th class moves to gain an exposed shelf, with two bolts, at least fifty feet off the ground.
|Derek hugging the first pitch of The Flow|
The rating for this route depends upon which source you use. On Mountain Project, both the Flow and the North Face are rated 5.8 C1. In Bjornstad's admittedly dated guidebook (before even the second ascent), this route was rated at 5.8, A2+ with the crux being the first pitch. The second pitch description in that guidebook says "a perfect 2-3-inch crack leads to a bolt ladder." That description doesn't do that pitch justice.
I free climbed from our stance up and right ten feet to a bolt. I clipped, grabbed it, and used it to surmount a bulge. More free climbing and bolt grabbing had me pass two more bolts. I placed a cam and tried to move right to lower-angled ground, but found it too difficult. I'd have to go higher first. I did a difficult mantle and placed a couple more cams, right next to each other, to protect my traverse to the right. I delicately moved right and up, climbing on mud with no chances for gear. Above and further right was another bolt and I made for that. Once there, I looked down at the pitch. I was worried about how Derek was going to follow that section. It would be a huge, scary, bumpy pendulum and no way to pull the cams with the rope under tension. I figured Derek would have to climb up, clean the gear, and then, somehow, reverse back down all the way to the bolt. From the bolt, he could lower out. I yelled down my concern, but turned my attention to finishing the pitch.
More mud climbing led to a crack and I placed three or four cams in the final section, free climbing most of this and pulling on gear when I felt it was solid enough. I never got out my aiders. I arrived at the super cool belay ledge (not completely flat), which was a fin that stuck out five feet from the wall. Three bolts, slings, and three rappel rings had me feeling pretty secure, but the pitch above looked daunting. I resisted saying anything about it to Derek. He had his hands full following the pitch and we'd worry about the next pitch when he arrived.
|The anchor at the top of the first pitch|
It took a bit for Derek to work out the jugs, as it has been a while since we last did any aid climbing. He had to lower out immediately from the belay and then had to turn numerous bulges where the rope laid tight against the rock and made moving up the jugs extremely difficult. At the cams before the traverse, he was able to stand in a sling on the first cam and stretch high to remove the two cams above. Then he climbed back down, using the lower cam, cleaned it, and reached down for the bolt below. He lowered out again and then jugged up to join me.
We studied the pitch above. It was 15-20 feet before the "perfect" crack started. The perfect crack looked pretty good, but it closed down to a seam in a couple of sections, though reaching by these would probably be fine. It was hard to imagine any crack feeling that perfect because all the rock was covered in at least a thin layer of mud and sometimes a thick layer of it. Evidence of the flow of this mud was everywhere. These routes change, at least somewhat, with each ascent, as the mud is worn over, and with each rain as the mud flows down the tower and over any fixed gear.
|The start of the second pitch. Not a lot of gear until that crack 20 feet up.|
Not only did it look like unprotected, dirt clod climbing to get to the crack, but, above the crack, we couldn't see a single bolt hanger, nor any drilled pitons. After climbing above the crack the only protection would be our nuts looped over the exposed studs. Yikes. It looked too serious for us. We decided to bail and set up the rappel. The start of this rappel is wild as you go straight over this fin that sticks out five feet. Just a few feet from the anchors I was hanging in free space and hung free for most of the way to the ground.
We sat at our packs, a bit discouraged. This was our second bail from this route, though we at least did one pitch this time. I tossed out some compensatory options, such as the Hindu, but we weren't too enthusiastic. I then decided that I wanted to give the North Face a try. We knew the first-pitch bolt ladder didn't have many hangers, but we'd seen some drilled pitons on our recon the week before. I figured if I didn't like things, I could retreat from one of those pitons. We packed up and started hiking up the hill.
|Derek rappelling off The Flow and a look at the wild fin which marks the first belay.|
To even get to the North Face route involves scrambling over a couple of 5th class bulges. Last week we found it quite intimidating to downclimb the most exposed bulge. It's possible that it is easier to approach this tower if approached further to the left (north) of the tower. At the base, there wasn't much to do, but reach up and hook the first stud. Derek clipped into the single bolt that is only five feet off the ground and put me on belay.
|Starting up the North Face route|
Immediately I was stumped. There was no way I was going to reach that next stud. Not even if I could top-step on this vertical wall, which I couldn't. Then I noticed a bump of mud. I scraped it with the wire of my stopper and revealed another stud underneath. This turned into a theme for the rest of the pitch. Whenever the distance seemed too great, it meant I needed to dig out a hidden stud. Most of the studs had a regular nut on them and it provided some nice security when I wedged the wire between it and the mud wall behind. Some studs had butterfly nuts on them. These seemed so out of place and better suited for light home use, but I guess it allowed for hand tightening of the nut.
Halfway up the pitch, I clipped into a drilled angle and contemplated a huge gap to a sling dangling from the next fixed piece of gear. I searched the mud for a hidden stud with no luck. The angle here was less than vertical and the groove I had been climbing was forming more and more into a legit chimney. I was able to top-step, then step on the piton itself, and finally, do one free move before I could barely clip the sling.
Besides the freaky nature of no hangers and back-cleaning pretty much all of the wires I looped over the studs, the climbing was pretty easy and straightforward. The key for me was to just not think about the quality of gear. There wasn't much point to doing that if I was set on climbing it. Looking at the bolts, I was dubious that you could even hang a picture from them, yet there I was standing on them. It took me quite a while to do this pitch and Derek had great patience.
|Derek jugging the first pitch|
The final section before the belay is devoid of fixed gear. An incipient crack appears in the dirt and I placed gear here, clipped in my aiders, and tugged on it, but I wouldn't stand in my aider. One of the cams seemed completely in dirt. I couldn't see how it would hold. But now I could free climb by chimney technique. In fact, this is the best way to climb these towers: push, push, push. Never pull, as pulling on nearly anything up here will just rip it off the wall. Stemming and pushing on the mud walls was unnerving, but better than trusting my placements. When I yelled down to Derek, out of sight to avoid the debris that rained down continuously from my scraping off the dirt and mud, that I was going to free climb, He called back up, "Do you know where you are going?" I did. I told him the belay was only fifteen feet away.
|Derek leading the second pitch|
Derek arrived and wasn't psyched with the experience. He said, "I don't like this, but I want to be on top of this tower." I passed him the rack and moved up on scary aid placements. The gear held, though, and his confidence grew. After three or four placements, he started free climbing. He discovered the need to push on everything and figuring it out. He placed a #3 deep in a slot and moved up via a squeeze through a roof. Above, he was on a loose lege. He moved up and right and found the fixed piton at the last aid move. He stepped up on a large block here and it moved. It shifted on the ledge and would surely fall, maybe while I was following the pitch and unprotected. He called down the danger. I couldn't do anything besides huddle under my overhang, but I felt safe there. Derek didn't want to leave that block above me and I'm thankful for his judgment. He decided to back down and trundle it, after making sure I was okay with that. He warned me it was large and I asked if his rope was in danger of being cut. He didn't think so. He trundled it and it was quite the visual and audible event. Large chunks streamed by me and exploded on the wall and the ground below. Awful, indeed.
Derek continued up on 5.6/7 climbing to anchors at the top of his 100-foot pitch. He fixed the rope and I followed, struggling a bit to reach the #3 Camalot with the pack on my back. I free climbed some of the pitch, pushing my jugs up the rope for protection. Once past the last aid move, Derek put me on a regular belay and I joined him soon after.
|I'm on the sub-summit here. The summit is in front of me. I'm going to rappel 35 feet into the notch between me and that summit. Over my left hand is the top-out of the 5.8 offwidth pitch.|
I led up fifty feet of 4th class to the sub-summit, where I found a static line looped around a car-sized boulder. The true summit lay to the west past a 40-foot deep notch. Here we had a decision to make. One option was to fix a rope here, tag the summit, rap back into the notch and jug back to the sub-summit and then rappel our route. The other was to rap into the notch, pull our rope, continue to the summit and then along the ridge to the top of The Flow and rappel down that route. We liked the idea of traversing the tower and seeing the upper section of The Flow, but devil you know is always less stressful than the unknown. We didn't relish going back into the mud chimney, though, and decided to roll the dice. It seemed just as we committed to the traverse the wind picked up greatly. My stress and anxiety increased along with the wind speed. I'd been there before...
|Derek on the true summit|
We rapped into the notch, pulled the ropes, and I started up the 5.8 chimney/offwidth to the summit. The chimney section went smoothly, but the vertical offwidth was tough. I placed our #4 Camalot and gave it a tug. We were aid climbing, so why not? With this cheat, I made short work of the pitch and belayed from anchors at the edge of the notch. Derek followed and then continued, planning to tag the summit and continue on the ridge to find our descent anchors. He topped the tower without trouble, but couldn't continue due to rope drag. I joined him on the summit and belayed him down steep 4th class and along the ridge to the rappel anchors. He didn't place any gear here and both ropes were whipped straight sideways, defying gravity.
I continue to be the first one down on descents. My job is to get the ropes down without tangles and find the next rappel anchor. It's very stressful, which is why I'm not ready to turn this role over to Derek. That would be worse for me. The wind was so great though, that we adopted a different strategy. Derek looped our lead rope into a sling, which I clipped to me. Derek held onto the end of the stiff, thin rope paid it out to me. This way, no ropes were whipping around in the wind as I descended. At least until Derek had to let go of the thin rope.
|Derek on the second rappel|
I inched down the vertical mud face, searching for anchors. I purposely descend down a bit to the south, as the wind blew so hard towards the north and I knew the final anchor was on the south edge of the west face. By doing this I passed the rappel station that was atop the third pitch of The Flow and not atop the second pitch. I arrived at the top of the second pitch and just found two bolts, with hangers thankfully, about 18 inches apart. But nothing else. No slings, no chains, no rappel rings. Yikes. I knew I must have made a mistake, but there was nothing I could do about it now. I clipped into both bolts and called off rappel.
Derek noticed the higher rappel anchor on his way down. I gave him a fireman's belay, just for my own peace of mind. It was such a scary place to be. I feared the ropes getting stuck, but this tower has hardly any cracks for the ropes to snare. The ropes came down fine and I rapped to the top of pitch one, where we had climbed earlier in the day. I had to tension traverse hard to my right to reach the anchors. Derek left two carabiners on the bolts and joined me. I even endured some stress on the final rope to the ground as the white rope tangled. I was once again so thankful to be back on the ground safe, reflecting on what a strange leisure pursuit climbing is. A certain mentality is required to become a climber, though I'm not sure that is a good mentality.
|Looking back at the tower on the way out|
We hugged and high-fived. Success is so sweet, especially after such stress. Both of these towers would be half as stressful if not for the descents. The relief of touching down is so great that I immediately wondered if I was done with these towers. Yet, on the drive home, I was scheming a return for The Flow and other Fisher Towers. That's just strange.
Despite carrying a liter of water up the climb and having a liter at the base, we were out ten hours from the car. On the hike out, I fantasized about the drinks I'd consume. Derek was into our cooler before he even dropped his pack. We both started with a Root Beer and then went with chocolate milk. I put down two more soft drinks, 48 total ounces before we pulled out of our parking spot. Later that night I drank most of a quart of milk as well.
We were so drained after the River Tower that we decided to head back to Fruita and climb a tower in Colorado National Monument. I picked Ahab Tower initially only because it is listed first in the areas for CNM and it has a route rated 5.9. We drove up to the Window Rock parking to check it out and organize gear. Then my motivation waned even further, as I didn't want to deal with fixing a rope down from the rim and having to jug back out. I scanned Bjornstad's guidebook and found this tower and the route Squeezebox, also rated 5.9. Despite Steve Levin's disparaging comments on Mountain Project, I was optimistic.
|Approaching the Defecating Monk|
We geared up and I took the first pitch. It started with crux-y moves on overhanging terrain with insecure holds. Quickly tiring, I maneuvered myself into a chimney position. Without the pump clock ticking, I solved the remaining problems and gained a ledge. Above was a fun, wide flare. I protected the start with a #2 Camalot and was soon at the belay, marked by a drilled angle, which I backed up with a #1 Camalot.
|Me leading the flared section on the first pitch|
|Derek squeezing through "the box" at the start of the second pitch|
At the summit, I sat down near the rap anchors and immediately started untying my knot. Derek chided me, rightfully, to clip into the anchor first. Nice to know your partner is looking out for you. I clipped in, untied, and threaded the rope. The rain started before I slid over the edge and the intensity built rapidly. I struggled with the ropes, tangled and caught down in the slot we had climbed. It only took a minute or less to sort it out, but the rain was so hard now, that I worried about Derek alone and unsheltered on the summit. At least there was no electrical activity. Derek said later that he curled up into a ball and just waited for the "Off rappel" call.
Once off rappel, I gathered all our soaked gear and sheltered it under the overhanging start of our route. By the time Derek was on the ground, the rain had pretty much stopped. It seems we cannot avoid drama on any rappel descent. At least lately.
|Hurrying to rappel off the summit before the storm|
We packed up, hiked out, and drove home, content with our two-tower weekend. The tower season is drawing to a close, but we'll try for at least one more trip.