Text and pictures © 2003-2021 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2018/10/17
"Fucking Layton Kor... God I hate Cameron Burns. I wonder how much it would hurt if I just jumped ? Why the hell would anyone climb this hunk of dirt anyway, or anything for that matter-pointless ? How long can you be dead and still be an organ donor ?" — Frank Stock's thoughts while on the Kor Route on Monster Tower.
Left: Great hand crack on the 2nd pitch of the Sunflower Tower at the Bridger Jacks Towers.
Right: Jenny on the last pitch of the Sunflower Tower.
Driving through Utah from Zion, we are back to Indian Creek without going through Moab, we start revisiting old classics: Blue Gamma cliff where I find the 5.10 harder than before and the 5.11 easier than before. Supercrack Buttress with a few lines we missed last time. The East face of Sunflower Tower, a 3 pitch route up Bridger Jack Spires where I take a short lead fall on the mantle crux. And then it starts raining. Not just a few drops, but all night. I'm getting ready to spend the entire misty day reading in the tent, but when Jenny wakes up (around 11), she complains about the stink. So off we go to Moab, looking for a shower, an Internet connection, our mail in General Delivery, McStiff's beers to refill my stock, a steak and some salad, processing our pile of recent slides, a 250$ repair on the car (direction axis that snapped off as we pulled off the campground road)...
Left: On the very soft last pitch of the Sunflower, with both Six-Shooters in the background.
Left: Climbers on the Priest as seen from the summit of the Rectory.
After 2 weeks of bad weather, finally there's a 3 day break with a beautiful sun over Moab. Unfortunately I have a cold that makes me spit my lungs out. Who of Brad, Lisa or Jason brought it to me, I don't know, but the night out drinking McStiff's beers by freezing temperature in front of an anemic campfire below Castleton Tower is probably the reason why I'm out typing this instead of climbing in the sun right now. They came over for the WE, all from different directions, and went to climb the Honeymoon Chimney on the Priest. The sky is overcast and not so bad, but the route we want to climb, Fine Jade, lies just on the corner of the big tower structure called the Rectory, facing Castleton, and there the wind maxes out and chills us to the bone. We wait near the base for more than an hour before the sun shows up. We go back to the base but the wind is still way too cold, so we move onto the west face and recon some other possibilities.
Right: Brad, Lisa and Jason ready to start on the Priest.
Without knowing what it is, we start on a thin hand crack that widens regularly into a large hand crack. Fine pitch but I only have the gear scheduled for Fine Jane and I don't have any large cams. I have to run it out a bit near the end. The next pitch starts with a dead vertical offwidth but it looks like the crack is fairly narrow after that. I place my largest cam right above the belay and run it out till I can place something else. Hmmm, it's my second largest cam. I go back down to retrieve my first cam, a process I will do 3 other times on that pitch as the crack never narrows for very long. There are plenty of harder sections and I always hesitate before starting them, afraid of running out of gear. I finally place my 2nd largest cam, barely retrieved from below, just before committing to a sandy mantle move. There's only a manky bolt at the belay, and I need to backtrack yet again to retrieve that cam for the belay. When Jenny gets there, I've had a good 10 minutes to admire the sandy offwidth in the roof above the belay. Let's see, one cam for the belay, one to protect the first move, and then... Let's go back down, if we come back it'll be with no less than four #4 and #3.5...
Left: Jenny on the rectory.
The Brandewie team is still not done with their tower, but we hear their grunting reverberate inside the chimney. There's an incredibly attractive overhanging dihedral just before the Priest. It looks hard but I hope I can jam it. At least I can use the many #2 I brought for Fine Jade. Well, not as I'd hoped: only one hand jam on the entire pitch: all the rest in layback. My back and my forearms hurt by the time I get to the belay, after many resting pauses. Jenny is bummed after she falls one meter from the belay after running up the pitch. Enough for today. We finish by taking pictures of Brad's team as they summit just before it gets dark and we wish them a happy bivy... Let's go down and start the BBQ, hoping that it won't be all charred cinders by the time they get to the camp. (it almost was).
And enough for tomorrow too: the weather looks threatening in the morning and we are all quite tired, us from what we now know was a 5.11b layback, and them from getting back to camp 5 hours after dark. So just some short pitches at Wall Street, trying not to be hit by the mine trucks and sometimes telling the tourists that, yes, it's okay if they take pictures. When it starts raining after we bag a few 5.10, we hit the road back to McStiff's and Brad's departure dinner, which he can't pay for, having just lost his wallet. The next day Lisa and Jason start for Ancient Art on a cloudy and windy day that soon turns to rain. We won't hear from them again... So it's Internet for us while my cold starts developing and some planning and scheming for the rest of the trip ahead.
Left: Two climbers on Fine Jade (5.11a), Rectory.
So, second attempt at Fine Jade, if you exclude the time we came thinking about it in June and were baked off the North Chimney at 5 in the morning by the heat. There's quite some animation at the parking lot: a group for the Kor-Ingalls, one for the Honeymoon Chimney, one for the North Chimney, one I don't know where as the guy telling of his adventures proves impossible to interrupt and finally, another group for that Fine Jade. Damn. But they are ready and start hiking long before us. Never mind, they'll probably be one pitch up when we get there...
Right: Guillaume on Fine Jade.
But they aren't. We left them an hour head start, but they are still milling around the base when we reach it. We're a bit bummed but when the leader finally starts he cruises up the impressive overhanging crack at the base. 20 minutes later he's belaying up a whimpering second. Strangely that second starts leading the next crux pitch. Seeing that the first belay is roomy, we gear up and I start up the pitch. 5 meters higher, when I reach the overhanging offwidth I can only wonder at how to override such a beast. There are rubber marks on the right side, as if some monstrously strong climbers had laybacked it ! Not for me: After resting on a piece for a few minutes I cram feet and hands inside the offwidth before extending far above to a good horizontal crack but then I have to get my feet out to... nowhere. It's as smooth as a sheet and way overhanging. I hang one handed to place a much needed cam and take a breather on it. After a hard restart, the rest of the pitch is uneventful and quite nice... until I arrive just under the belay: "Rock!" from above and a fist sized rock shatters to sand just between the belayer and my head.
Left: Jenny on pitch 2 of Fine Jade (5.11a).
Right: Jenny at the base of Fine Jade and vertical panorama of Castleton Tower.
While I belay Jenny up I have time to see the new leader fall repeatedly on the crux finger crack before finally aiding it. The start of that pitch is already hard enough and I need to go down shortly before the crux to retrieve a large cam I placed earlier and I want to reuse. At the crux I place one and then two small cams inside the thin crack. The rock that was dislodged earlier was from the horizontal crack filled with loose junk where I now have my feet. It looks hard, but once I have committed my fingers to the first jamming move the others follow quickly and I don't even add pro till I'm out of that section. A 5.11 much easier than the first 5.10 pitch, even if the final little roof with rope drag proved tricky. A impression confirmed by Jenny who cruises up the pitch.
Left: Last (5.11a) move of Fine Jade.
Right: Summit of Fine Jade, Rectory, with Castleton and LaSal Mountains in background.
The next pitch is a bit sandy at first but short and not bad at all. And then the final 5.11 pitch... I start it on the crack above the belay, but after reviewing the four bolts on the slab above, I leave my entire rack on the large ledge and go into sport climbing mode. I wander left and right a little looking for the best holds and end up surprised when I see Jenny climb straight up, right where the bolts are. The day was so nice, sunny with no wind, that I almost forgot my cold. On the very large summit we meet again with the others and enjoy the view from various sides. Only two 60 meter rappels are necessary to get back down on the route.
In the evening we move the camp to the entrance of Canyonlands, so we can get a head start for the next destination, the remote Washer Woman tower. But bad surprise in the morning, the road ahead is closed and we have to drive all the way back to Moab to take another road, adding 60 miles to the already time consuming 30 miles of rough dirt road to the tower. We aren't at the base before 11:30 and we won't start the route less than an hour later.
Left: The 2nd pitch of Washer Woman starts inside an impressive hole through the tower.
Right: Overhanging dihedral on Washer Woman.
The scenery is great, the approach wasn't too bad, but the short first pitch to the notch between Monster Tower and Washer Woman is very soft and sandy, if easy. We aren't sure where the descent will take us so we leave our boots at the notch and start the climb of In search of Suds with big blocks stuck inside a dihedral/chimney with creepy moves around them (will they fall or hold ?). The belay is impressive, located in a hole through the entire tower. The sky is covering up and the cold wind is blowing at us through the tower. The next pitch is a very soft feeling crack that goes up to a dihedral using a large fist crack. I can't figure out the last moves and finally mantle onto the ledge... on my back, grabbing on holds in the roof above. Jenny complains about the crack being too large for her hands but does a much more graceful exit than me.
Left: Last pitch (5.10) of Washer Woman.
The next pitch climbs up into a very airy overhang. I can't figure out the next part so, on a hunch, I do a short hand traverse to the right while Jenny takes a few pictures. It looks like I can reach the crack from there: I lunge to the side, with smeared feet, and reach... a completely stuck crack. I'm about to yell "falling!" when my wandering hand hits a good hold. Wheew... We are now on a horizontal ridge leading to the summit. The view is staggering. There's not a soul in sight, with the white rim below us, a few glimpse of the green Colorado river between the canyons below, the towers we recognize on the other side from our Lockart road epic last year and the LaSal mountains in the far distance. A very short 5.9 pitch and another very short 5.10 section and we are on the nice flat summit.
Right: Jenny on the summit of Washer Woman, with Monster Tower and the White Rim in the background.
Left: Jenny rappelling off the arch of Washer Woman.
But no time for the view now, it's getting late and we start the rappels down the Kor route. The second rappel goes right inside the huge arch of the tower, dangling in full space for 50 meters before reaching the hidden chains near the end of the rope. The next rap barely reaches the ground and I'm very nervous pulling the rope over the pile of garbage rock that constitutes the Kor route. One more Kor route we aren't up to, by the looks of it... I run up to the notch to get our shoes back before we hike around Monster tower and back to our car for the two hours of driving back to our camp. The next day my cold is so bad Jenny spends the day feeding me hot tea and cough pills while the weather is awesome again. But not for long: the forecast for the next evening is ominous: wind, cold, snow. In other words, the first major winter storm is about to hit Moab, just enough time for our last desert tower, maybe...
Left: The Lighthouse above Big Bend.
Jenny is beginning to exhibit the same symptoms of a cold, but we still get up and start the hike towards the lighthouse from the Big Bend area where we bouldered a few days ago with Brad and Co. She's all woozy and weak feeling but I'm a bit better than the previous day so we decide to carry on. It's very windy at the notch, but the route, being on the other side, is well sheltered. The first pitch of Lonely Vigil is a succession of boulder moves over bulges following a (mostly) hand crack. The rock is soft and the pro uneven, even if all the hard moves protect well.
Right: Jenny below the summit of the Lighthouse.
The next pitch starts with a really nice thin hand crack but then turns into a very large stem. Once I've committed to the move, I'm so stretched that my first thought is: "Can't go up, can't go down, what now ?" I struggle up a few feet, torquing my body side after side so I can inch my feet up. The left crack is closed, the right side is an offwidth which I consider laybacking in a desperate thought, but a bit higher I find some decent handholds to keep going, legs still outstretched. Finally a cam and a good stopper relieve my pounding heart before I can cross over to the ledge and finish the pitch. But at the notch it's so windy that we are beginning to doubt. I begin the 5.9 traverse but, instead of continuing up, I stop at the good belay of another route.
Left: Jenny rappelling from the Lighthouse.
It's too windy to commit to the last few summit moves so we do a single 60m rappel from there and call it quits. Back at the parking lot, I'm washing up some grapes when a grizzled old guy stops his beaten up pickup truck and asks what we've been climbing. After starting the list of towers he stops us at: "Moses! You've climbed Moses!?! I did the first ascent on my 36th birthday!" I make a strategic error saying: "Hah! You must be Ed Webster!" Not so but Eric Bjornstad is not frazzled by my ignorance. He's just disappointed that we haven't done any new first ascent to add to his huge stack of already published books. He confirms that the storm is coming, so time to head south to warmer Arizona.