Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Desert Tower Tour - The beginning of the season

Photo Sara Rouvinen

I always look forward to this time of year.  The days are longer and temps have warmed.  While I love skiing, snow and wintry activities, by mid-march I start to look forward to rock climbing season.  I get antsy to stick my hands into desert cracks, grab sharp crimpers, get high off the ground and soak up that spring time sunshine.

What better way to start the climbing season than a trip to Moab to climb some desert towers with a couple of psyched friends.  After working a couple night shifts, Sara picked me up and drove us down to the desert. I was in and out of a light sleep the entire ride but before I knew it we were making the familiar turn down highway 191 for the last leg of the drive.  While my energy was sub-par after a restless 4 hour nap, it was hard to say no to a couple pitches on Potash road as a warm up for the week to come.  We climbed a couple mellow routes and then found a campsite down the road.

There is nothing quite like sleeping out under the stars in the desert.  The temps are pleasant and the sky is clear from haze.  There is no cell phone service and its easy to clear the mind from the stresses of everyday life.  This is exactly what I needed.  We built a rack for our first objective: Jah Man on Sister Superior.  Darkness came and a wonderful sleep followed.

Twelve hours later, I started to feel like myself again.  We began the long hike into Jah Man.  It was about a two hour walk, half of it on a flat road-type feature and the other half ascended a steep talus slope.  Two years ago, I walked to the base of this route but was turned around by weather.  Today was different. We were in T-shirts and there wasn't a cloud in the sky.

All smiles on pitch 3.  Photo Sara Rouvinen.

Sara lead up the first 2 pitches, a short 5.9 pitch and then a slightly awkward but then fun 5.8 chimney. I lead the reminder of the route, climbing through some excellent 5.10 hand cracks and face climbing.  On the summit we hung out for a while and took in the views of that beautiful southwest landscape.

The following day we met up with my friend Doris and introduced her to crack climbing at the ice cream parlor in preparation for a climb up Castleton.

The next day, we woke up to cold and windy conditions....


The sky was grey and rain was threatening.  Everyone was till psyched to continue and we drove to the base of Castleton for  a climb of the uber classic Kor-Ingals.  I remembered climbing this tower back in 2004 when climbing was still so fresh.  I had followed the crux off-width pitch and remembered being really happy that I wasn't leading it.  Well, today was my day to conquer my fear of wide cracks.  Lets just stay that it still felt just as strenuous as a grunted my way up the pitch.  At one point I took off my helmet ....

Photo Sara Rouvinen

On the summit, the sun came up and we laughed and jumped for joy on one of the most iconic of all desert towers.

I finished the trip with an ascent of The Lighthouse Tower via the Lonely Vigil.  This is a four pitch tower off the River Road with a very memorable and tiny summit! The tower starts with two excellent pitches of 5.10 that range from a little off-width to hand cracks to some truly desperate stemming on the second pitch.  I literally thought my legs were going to split apart during those moves!  The summit is reached by pulling an overhanging 5.8 mantle move to a tiny little pinnacle.  The exciting part is that there are no rap rings on top.  The 5.8 mantle move must be down climbed and the final piece of gear is rather far away.  Now I worked myself up for this move expecting to be terrified. It wasn't quite as bad as I expected and was totally worth getting up to that tiny point.

Lighthouse tower is the corkscrew looking tower in the center of the picture. Photo Doris Oberlander.

After we got back to the car, Doris and I drove back to Salt Lake City as reality needed to be faced.  But what a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the daily grind.

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