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North America, United States, Arizona, Eagle Rock Spire, Monument Valley

Eagle Rock Spire, Monument Valley. It had been a number of years since Fred Beckey and I had together accepted the challenge of sandstone climbing. This year our efforts were directed toward Eagle Rock Mesa and the 450-foot leaning needle to the west. In stirrups we reached the col between the spire and the mesa. Here we outlined our attack, acquainted ourselves with the density of the rock and rappelled into the night. Three days passed before the morning sky gave promise of another acceptable day. Apprehensively we regained our wind-battered lines. From our high point Fred led across giant loose blocks of cemented sand. Up the underbelly of bulging sandstone, he placed an upside-down line of bolts, a lead that would have taxed the endurance of any other climber. Exhausted from watching and encouraging, I followed on Jümars. From Fred’s hanging belay, I led up a rotten diagonal catwalk overhanging the citadel below. Rockfall was a constant threat. I was shaken to discover that the hand-jams I was using to secure my way were disjoining my airy perch from the wall. Moving out on the shifting traverse I worked around the southwest edge of Eagle Rock. The precarious lead was secured with a double-bolt anchor on a comfortable belay stance. Across the vastness of the great Colorado plateau I could see the San Juan Mountains saturated in sunlight. Rock wrens darted about the mesa above, and far below a Navajo herded sheep toward a waterhole. The Indian’s eyes were to follow us with great curiosity throughout the climb. As I brought Fred up and across the belay rope carved a four-inch groove in the soft sandstone as it dragged around the edge: an omen of what awaited above. Disheartened, we rappelled into the shadows below. April snow fell in the Navajo Mountains to the west and brought winter’s last winds across the valley. At length the squalls diminished. Sunrise over the cold, rain-swept sand was overwhelming! Determined but cautious, we moved up our wind-battered ropes. One perlon was whipped beyond recognition, another stripped of its protective sheath in a number of places. In the morning our cold, gloved hands moved slowly. The afternoon sun parched our skin until it threatened to blister and our shaded eyes shed tears from the glare. Exchanging leads, we worked our way up the upper reaches of the formidable leaning spire, placing 3/8-inch bolts in 5/16-inch holes. Sixteen days of waiting and work, 50 bolts, 50 pitons, and the climb was over. NCCS IV.

Eric Bjørnstad