Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Climbing Road Trip in a Pink Cadillac - Episode 4

Chris, myself, and the 'Desert Rose'

If you're following our adventures across the West, after three days in Indian Creek, climbing arguably the hardest jam cracks in the world, we decided to lick our wounds and find some new venues. Jim and Angela, Charlotte and Inga, Tim and Laura all headed to the four winds. Chris was unemployed, so I asked her if she would like to climb the Castleton Tower in Castle Valley, Utah.

The route to Castle Valley goes north from Canyonlands, past Wilson's Arch and through Moab. Hmmm! Moab, a great place to hit the KOA and find a much-needed shower. It's scorching! The shower turns red from the dust off my body, and the bumps, bruises, and abrasions start to look like they might eventually heal. We wander down to Eddie McStiffs for cold beer and a pulled-pork sandwich.

Wilson's Arch on the road to Moab

Castle Valley is just 17 miles east of Moab up Hwy 128, then up the hill into a brilliant green valley, another small Mormon farming community, now sprouting a melange of homes. Of the many folks who supposedly live here, only my friends Jay and Kitty actually reside year-round. But Jay is climbing big mountains in Alaska today, and Kitty is in Salt Lake, so Chris and I find a flat spot at the base of Castleton Tower and set up the camp next to the Caddy.

Chris with Castleton Tower in the distance.

We are up early, hoping to beat the heat on the trail up to the base of the climb. It is in the shade in the morning, but it's an hour and a half hike, so we are hoping do it all while the temperatures are cool. Castleton Tower is about 400 feet high, vertical to overhanging on all sides, and made of hard sandstone. It is a fantastic formation, stunning in its lone vigil over the valley, visible even from I-80 many miles to the north, and one of the 50 finest climbs in North America. We are stoked!

Castleton Tower, hundreds of feet of vertical sandstone.

At the base of the climb we put on our rock shoes and gear up. The route is slightly overhanging with no let-up on the difficulty. But we've just come from Indian Creek, so this should be a wonderful next step, using our crack climbing skills to make easy work of the big fissure up the north face.

Looking straight up at our route! Looks tough...

Right off the ground it is all business. I chalk my hands and 'laying a finger aside of my nose, rise up the chimney.' Well, it's not quite that easy, but I enjoyed every handhold, every crack, as my hands gripped the warm sandstone, the rubber toes of my rock shoes cammed into the cracks, and I could smell the desert below. The rope snaked up behind me, Chris encouraging me on, but likely wondering how hard this would be for her. At the first belay ledge 140' up, I hauled up the rope, secured it to my belay device to hold Chris, and called for her to begin climbing. She must be a great sport to have trusted her life to a stranger, but by now she likely knew that we would be OK. She made steady progress, telling me when she needed a tighter rope, and using all her newly honed crack-climbing skills to negotiate the first and hardest section.

I'm fixing the rope high on the route.

Since there were no on-lookers, and we were busy climbing, we took few photos of the climb. But here's a photo of me in my Sunday-go-to-meeting shirt I use in the desert, and of Chris at the belay spot looking through the giant crack out into the desert below.

Our only photo on the climb - it was a bugger! Chris looking out through the crack.

One more difficult pitch, with my feet pushing on the opposing walls of the cracks, then grabbing nubbins and cracks. At one point I veered left when I saw some old nylon slings, but it was a dead-end, with a dizzying view below. Cautiously I crept back on route, got to the final notch and brought Chris up. One more pitch up a vertical wall outside the crack and we were on the summit where many years ago, Ford made a commercial by lowering a car from a helicopter, then flying around while an actress posed on the car. However, the helicopter could not land, and she had to spend the night sleeping on the front seat of the car till morning. Not what she likely had in mind.

Chris celebrates the summit of Castleton Tower

The hike down is a killer, with temperatures on the high peak in the 80', but increasing close to 100 by the time we reach the base of the climb. We've not brought enough water and are quite dehydrated, so as we contemplate one last hill back to camp, we simultaneously jump under the first tree we see and lie down for a while to cool off. It's brutal! Even though I was born and raised in Utah, I've lived in the Arctic since 1962, so I'm totally out of my comfort zone.

Scarlet Gilia

The desert is blossoming like a rose, as the Bible says. Cinquefoil, dasies, cactus flowers, paintbrush, lupine, scarlet gilia.... it's a rainbow of tiny brilliant color pops everywhere. The shadow of Castleton Tower signals cooler times coming in the late afternoon.

The afternoon shadow of the tower on desert below

We look at the camp: my dinky cooler in the Cadillac is now about 100 degrees and it's contents look septic and sad. It's only 17 miles to Moab where another shower awaits and maybe margaritas...a Mexican dinner...ice??? We make it back to camp after dark and crawl into our bags full, tired, and satisfied with the day.

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