Text and pictures © 2002-2020 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2019/06/11
"There's something ever egotistical in mountain tops and towers, and all things grand and lofty." — Herman Melville, Moby Dick.
I find that doing 5.9 stuff in Utah feels usually way harder than the same thing in Colorado, so I'm not too keen on pushing it on hard routes. After Jenny decided that we'd be doing Moses, I gathered all the route descriptions I could find (and that's a lot considered I don't usually bother reading the descriptions before being at the base of the routes). A few words caught my attention: "Devious traverse", "5.9 on funky rock", "struggled to place the #5 Camalot", "5.11+ offwidth layback on 30 year old drilled angles", "5.11 squeeze", "A BigBro #3 can protect above the crux"...
So we started piling up on gear. I got a cheater stick from the garden's just frozen tomato plants in case one of the old bolts was gone. I hit Brad for his set of large cams. I fished out the never used #4 BigBro we got as a gift last year (Jon's REI dividend he couldn't put to good use due to a baby's arrival). We trained with Hand Jammies instead of tape. I had my shoes modified with rubber on top to get better toe jams (promptly imitated by Jenny). In other words, all the wimps tricks, as Brad said before rushing to the store to buy a pair of hand Jammies for himself.
Left: Autumn above the Colorado river, with the Fisher towers and the LaSal mountains in the background.
Right: Dawn on Sister Superior (the highest tower on the right).
So off to Moab we go, with a little extra: my parents, visiting the US for the week, in the back of the car where my father acts as the worst backseat driver ever for the entire 6 hour drive ("slow down... don't pass that truck... don't shake us in the curves... let me drive... watch for cops... change the radio... the exhaust must be busted... don't shift so hard..."). At least this time, instead of letting us sleep out in the desert, we'll all be in a more comfortable motel. The saturday will be spent relearning back sandstone on Sister Superior while the parents are hiking the Fisher Towers and Arches NP. Their comment sent some shivers through my spine in the evening: "There were lots of climbers on Ancient Art, the Naja, the Titan and more. The rock looks good !"
Left: Arches National Park seen in the sunset.
Left: The base of Sister Superior. Jah Man is on the right side.
Right: Removing my helmet in the 5.8 squeeze chimney of the 2nd pitch of Jah Man.
So early in the morning, after spending 20 minutes to liberate the car from its stranded position partway up a big rock, we leave the car to my folks hoping that they can manage the drive back and hit the trail leading to the Sister Superior tower. No one in sight, not a sound, amazing view of the rectory and Castleton. The tower looks small for 5 pitches, and indeed the first one is barely more than a boulder move and can be easily combined with the second pitch. The relation said not to bother bringing stoppers. Good thing I won't leave without them: it's the first thing I place. Same for the next pitch denominated '5.8 not-so-bad squeeze chimney' in the relation. The squeeze is only to get inside the chimney itself. I whip out my #4 BigBro... which still misses 5cm at full extension... So much for advanced gear, but yeah, it's not so bad once you are inside.
Left: Third pitch of Jah Man, 5.10 move with feet on a loose flake.
Right: Me arriving on the summit of Jah Man.
Minor trouble start on the next pitch, the 5.10 start right above the belay, both hands on a loose flake with no feet, trying to place a red DMM as high as possible. The climbing is tricky and pumpy for 5 meters and then very easy. The next pitch is nicer and my stack of #.75 Camalot is useless, I use mainly #1. Jenny happily leads the final pitch to the summit. All those pitches were very short and two rappels bring us back down while another party is just starting, having placed an identical stopper on the first pitch. I don't have much more to say about that route as the next day wiped our memory entirely; something like forgetting about the appetizer pistachio by the end of the 7 course meal...
Above: 360 panorama showing Sister Superior, the Rectory and Castleton; Utah.
Although a largish quantity of wine was involved in the dinner, we manage to wake my parents up at 6am when we load the car in front of the motel. They'll go get lost today, biking some trail among SUVs. 90 minutes later we arrive at the end of the road in Taylor Canyon where a few bikers are not quite ready to start their day yet, looking cold around their breakfast. A couple sunrise pictures and we hit the trail with larger than usual day packs: more than two sets cams and a full set of large cams as extra just in case the route is taken and we decide to do the Dunn route. We still haven't decided between 3 options: the 5.11 start, Jenny leading the 5.8 traverse or me leading it. As we get to the base I'm thinking that we've forgotten the cheater stick...
Right: Base of Moses tower. Primrose dihedral is on the right side. Zeus is visible behind.
The traverse looks long and, yes, devious while the 5.11 boulder move looks pretty short and a stuck stopper is already protecting it. There's chalk all over, very visible on this red rock. As I start, the summit looks much farther away than yesterday. 30 seconds later, I'm already hanging on a large cam placed in the flared overhanging inverted 'V'. The next hold is way out of reach and there aren't no damn feet. I knew I was going to aid the 5th pitch, so I'm not too hurt in my pride to pull on gear here... We belay slightly lower than the normal belay so I can start the next pitch straight up.
Left: That's me shamelessly hanging on the first 5.11 pitch.
The second one proves to be my preferred pitch on the route: lots of far inducing stemming and thin hand jams with good foot rest every once in a while. The pitch is very long and although I have just the right amount of gear, a quick look at the description brings the shadow of a doubt: they said take 3 sets of cams, not 2 like I read yesterday ! The roof is so beautiful I'd call it only a '5.8 power move' that goes like this: from a stem position under the roof, move right and layback the crack in the roof, reach above to great hand jam, place a violet DMM, reach for a two hand jug, place feet on edge of roof with great exposure, reach for hidden crack on left, reach for final jug. It's like a perfect boulder problem. At the end I reach a very awkward belay: right around the corner, one stuck cam, one old piton and an old rotten rope hanging from above. The stance is not too comfortable either. A not completely awake Jenny has a harder time on this pitch than on the next ones and we have to fight for room at the belay.
Then it's rope management time: she belays me down so I can traverse to the next crack on the left. As I'm way below her I need to place pro both ways, for up and down pulls. Double rope helps for that. As I'm climbing back up to her same height, the view is so fantastic that I hang on one arm for a while to take pictures of her and the other towers in the background. This short enjoyable 5.10 pitch take me to the next belay, barely higher than where she's standing. She then does a self descent passing a loop of the rope through the belay and finishes the pitch normally.
Right: Jenny at the end of the 2nd pitch of the Primrose Dihedral.
Left: Jenny on the second belay up the Primrose Dihedral.
Right: And that's how I took the picture on the left, hanging by one arm on the 5.10 move...
Hmmm: "Loose flake above the belay, don't protect" is not something you want to read in a description too often. The dihedral offers no holds except for the back side of this 3 meter flake. It sounds hollow but not too bad. I jam the back of it and stem my way higher so I can grab its top which is quite good. As I'm holding like that looking for the proper cam to place in the crack above I press my shoulder against the flake which move a good 10cm. I almost shit my pants in surprise and hang onto the crack for dear life while the flake lazily moves back into position, ready for its next victim. It won't be Jenny: she refuses to touch it and stems the dihedral with hands and feet.
The pitch continues up on a clone copy of Indian Creek's "Incredible Hand Crack". I size up the crack and count a meager 4 cams at the right size (blue and grey DMM). The old piton planted right into the rock next to a good cam placement make me hesitate: run out of cams or fall on rotten pro ? Although I chose the latter, I run out of gear anyway: near the end of the pitch I try several times to place a #3.5 Camalot that refuses to enter even a little. Having walked my last cam quite some way up I finally have a global ball deflation and get lowered off to recover another cam farther down. I finish the pitch without additional trouble. I hear Jenny coming up pretty fast on this pitch, with sounds of: "Great hand jams! Great hand jams!"; up to: "Oooops, too large! Take...!".
Left: The incredible hand crack of the fourth pitch.
Right: Jenny finishing the jamming of the fourth pitch.
And now we are below the 'Ear' which looks more like a scary chainsaw to me ! Jenny's been carrying the large Camalots and BigBro so far and I can really feel the weight difference now that they are hanging from my butt. The first part of the pitch is a funky 5.9 irregular crack with loose stuff and sand in it. It has good moves although it doesn't protect too well but I have my attention focused on the Ear above and hardly notice it, even the 5.9+ layback move that take me right below the Ear. A quick look tells me that all the bolts are accounted for, particularly the last protruding one. They aren't too far apart and a single foot sling is enough to go from one to the next. I don't even think about trying to free climb it, the beginning looks like a way too hard layback, but above that there are some footholds.
At the penultimate bolt I decide to give free climbing a go, clip a screamer on the last bolt, power up my way above it and... place my foot on it since it's so inviting, protruding like that a good 5cm. I just try not to imagine that it means it's placed only one centimeter inside the rock... From there I weight my options: SuperTopo says to squeeze right side in. I fish out the Big Bro: the crack is too narrow, it won't fit ! I fish out the #5 Camalot: the crack is too large, it won't fit ! Rage, despair, money back guaranteed ! I jam the left calf sideways inside, half pinch and half layback the lip and abandon that good foot bolt for a layback with the other foot. As soon as I notice the crack getting larger I fish out the BigBro again: just right ! Now, how does this work again ? Press the white side against the rock and press the trigger... which is right under my left pinky, not the strongest finger; I can't change position or use my other hand due to my awkward position. That weakling of a finger presses and presses but nothing happens until I get really pissed off and it pops out. Wrong side. I push it back in, turn it over, release it again, still with my pinky. It now presses against its own webbing. Click. Clack. OK, now it look alright. I lock it, clip the rope to it and want to pull on it to take a breather. It falls off. A bad case of Elvis leg kicks in.
Left: Start of the funky 5.9 pitch below the 'Ear'.
Right: Jenny laying back the Ear (5.11+).
Upon looking up I see a flared crack just above me. An offset alien goes right in and I try to forget the whole BigBro episode while finishing the last few moves. Except for the first bolt, Jenny frees the pitch and arrives in tears, sand in her eyes. I don't fancy any more chimneying, so we do the very short 5.10 variation finish (one good bolt) and combine it with the next pitch directly to the summit. Jenny who wanted to lead the last pitch is not too bummed up upon seeing how much of a joke the last two bolts protecting the 5.8 summit move are. While filling the summit register on the perfectly flat summit we regret not having brought a sleeping bag up (and some wine and cheese and...) From the summit we see our car alone in the canyon; there's no wind and except for our own whining we haven't heard a sound of the day. But Zeus is now in the shadow of Moses so it's getting late: the 3 rappels down the very steep north face are inviting. I run down with the pack to the car to get to my telephoto lens a couple seconds before the sun sets.
So where was the crux on Moses ? Well, the hardest move was on the first pitch. But the 2nd pitch required most continuity. The 3rd pitch most ingenuity to not end up with a ropefuck. The first move on the 4th pitch was the most scary with its moving boulder. Then the Ear was the harshest. But then the next moves on slab to go above the belay were the most exposed... Hard to tell...
Back to Moab 3 minutes before the scheduled time to hear my parents' own trip report above a fine smoked steak about getting lost, eating dust, bitching at the SUVs, passing bikers half their age in fluorescent clothing and otherwise enjoying the scenery.
Left: Jenny on the summit of Moses tower.
Above: Jenny putting the summit log back in place on the summit of Moses.