American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Desert Climbing

  • Feature Article
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1987

Desert Climbing

Eric Bjørnstad

IN 1986 THERE was a surge of climbing on the southwest desert that exceeded any year since the initiation of technical desert ascents with the climbing of Shiprock in 1939. Several dozen first ascents and new routes were done in the Moab, Utah area alone. The increased activity is dramatically illustrated by the fact that the 825th ascent of Castleton Tower was recorded by the end of 1986, the last 200 ascents having been done within the previous 12 months.

Much of the popularity of desert climbing is no doubt due to the numerous magazine and journal articles that have been written over the years. John Harlin’s inclusion of a Canyonlands section in Volume II of The Climber’s Guide to North America has sparked considerable interest in the area, but perhaps the most far reaching exposure has been the inclusion of three desert routes in the rigorously pursued Steck and Roper’s Fifty Classic Climbs of North America. Increased published mention and media coverage of desert climbing, coupled with advances in equipment which have made these standards of climbing possible and relatively safe, have all contributed to the astonishing growth. Let us hope clean climbing and an ecologically sound approach to desert moutaineering will continue also to grow.

Four new sandstone routes have been established in Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction, Colorado. Details on approach, equipment, etc. may be obtained by asking to see the loose-leaf binder of climbs kept at the front desk of the visitor’s center.

The northeast face of Independence Monument was climbed by Ed Webster and Pete Athens (III, 5.11, A-l). Medicine Man was put up on Sentinel Spire (Watusi Tower) in the spring by Andy Petefish and Tom Bratton (IV, 5.10, A-2, 4 pitches). Special Verdict was climbed by Steve Johnson and Tom Blake (I, 5.8+). In April Steve Kolarik and David Kozak climbed Hairboatin’ (I, 5.10b).

Primal Yawn was put up on Pope Tower in April by Todd Gordon and Dave Evans (III, 5.10, A-3+, 5 pitches). The route is on the south southwest side of the tower which is located near Chinle Spire in northeastern Arizona by the small Navajo towns of Rock Point, Lukachukai and Many Farms.

In Canyonlands National Park Chuck Grossman and Kent Wheeler climbed the west face of Traracian Knightmare in April (III, 5.11, 3 pitches). The first ascent, via the north face, was made in 1983 by Ron Olevsky solo (III, 5.8, A-3, 3 pitches). The tower is directly west of Moses. Chris Begue, Kent Wheeler and Chuck Grossman climbed Seven-Up Crack (I, 5.10 —) in April. The route is on the right wall just inside the first canyon branching to the left (north) from Taylor Canyon on the way to Moses and Zeus from the Green River approach.

Jim Dunn and Maureen Gallagher climbed Sorcerer’s Apprentice Left July 21 (III, 5.11c, 3 pitches), located opposite the 1-Mile Marker on the River Road (State Highway 128) near Moab, Utah.

March Hare Flare was climbed by Bill Robins and Kirsten Davis in Negro Bill Canyon just past Mile Marker 3 on the River Road (1,5.11—). The route is identified by rappel slings ½ mile up the canyon on the left.

In the River Road Dihedrals area Oxygen Debt was climbed September 30 by Paul Gagner and Rich Perch (I, 5.11, A-0). The route is four crack systems right of The Molar at the entrance to Sheep Canyon just before Mile Marker 3.

December 18-20, 1985, Rasta Wall was climbed by Jim Beyer solo siege (IV, 5.7, A-4). It is on the southwest comer of River Tower located east of Mile Marker 22, one mile beyond (east of the Fisher Towers turn off. On the same tower Jim Beyer soloed Savage Master September 30 (III, 5.8, A-5). The route is on the north face.

Dark Spire was climbed December 22, 1985 from the north solo by Jim Beyer (II, 5.7, A-4). Dark Spire is the farthest right (south) tower in an amphitheater east of the River Road Mile Marker 23.

Raven’s Delight was put up on Barney Rumble Tower across the river from Mile Marker 4 on the River Road on November 28 by Bego Gerhart, Jeff Widen and Tony Valdes (II, 5.9 +) from the east.

For better than a decade routes have been turned into climbing magazines and journals and articles written where climbs were described as being done on the Nuns. These routes were in fact located on the Rectory, the mesa north of Castleton Tower and south of the true Nuns formation. This landform was named by Harvey T. Carter and Cleve McCarthy when they made the first ascent in 1962. Ironically the Nuns had not been climbed until December 28, 1986 when a route was put up by Charlie Fowler, Jim Dunn, Maureen Gallagher (I, 5.11). The route ascends the left crack that divides the two Nuns on the west side of the formation.

On November 15 Jeff Widen made the first solo ascent of The Priest located just north of the Nuns. (This was not the first ascent of the tower; the other solos mentioned are also first ascents.)

In the Fisher Towers The Jagged Edge on King Fisher Tower was climbed October 28-30 in a solo siege by Jim Beyer (V, 5.9, A-4, 8 pitches) via the southest ridge. On Echo Tower Phantom Sprint was established on February 25-26 by Jim Beyer solo. The route is 60 feet left of the original north-face chimney route (IV, 5.9, A-3). Also on Echo Tower Jim Beyer (perhaps not reported before) had soloed a major line on the south face. Run Amok was rated V, 5.9, A-4 and established March, 1979.

Ron Olevsky, Dave Mondeau and Dan McGee climbed a new route on Merrimac Butte in May. Merrymaker (II, A-3) is the first crack system left of the Hyper-Crack Route on the east side of the landform.

On the Monitor Butte southeast of the Merrimac Butte, Ron Olevsky and Dave Mondeau made the first ascent in May when they climbed a right-facing comer on the south side of the southwest buttress (II, 5.7, A-3).

Funnel Arch was soloed by Lin Ottinger in October. It is above Kane Springs Canyon between Pritchett and Hunter Canyons south of Moab.

Charlie Fowler and Sue Wint climbed the Toco Bender in November (I, 5.9). It is located at the 2.5-Mile Mark on Highway 279 (the Potash Mine road), a few miles west of Moab.

Jeff Widen and Tony Valdes climbed Song of the Canyon Wren on November 27 (I, 5.11a, A-O). This is an hour’s drive from Moab via Little Canyon and then the Dry Fork of Bull Canyon. The route faces south on a prominent head-wall. Rappel slings are visible from the ground.

In Arches National Park, 22 new routes were established in the spring and fall of 1986 including first ascents on the three remaining unclimbed major towers in the park: Sheep Rock, Tower of Babel and Organ Tower. The location and equipment list etc. may be obtained from the loose-leaf binder of climbs kept at the front desk of the visitor’s center. Many of the restrictions imposed on climbing in the park in the past have been lifted, but registration before climbing is requested.

Stronger Than Dirt was climbed by Charlie Fowler and Chris Goplerud in November (I, 5.12). Libbis Maximus was climbed on September 14 by Tony Valdes, Sonja Paspal and Bob Milton with the second pitch being done in November by Tony Valdes and Jeff Widen (I, 5.10d). The Dumpster by Charlie Fowler was belayed by Eric Bjørnstad (I, 5.11). Cinnamon Rose was climbed by Charlie Fowler solo (I, 5.9). Sand Tears was climbed by Charlie Fowler belayed by Eric Bjørnstad (I, 5.11). Dusty Shadows was climbed in November by Charlie Fowler and Dan Grandusky (III, A-2+). Sand Bag was climbed by Kyle Copeland and Sue Kemp. (I, 5.10b). On the Candelabrum Tower Hall of Flame was climbed by Kyle Copeland and Alison Sheets (I, 5.11c). Soft Parade was climbed by Charlie Fowler and Sue Wint in November (I, 5.10+, A-4).

The Organ Tower was climbed in March by Pete Gallagher and Steve Sommers. The route was named Death By Hands and is on the southwest tower (III, 5.11, A-2, 7 pitches). In April Dune was established by Duane Raleigh solo on the southwest tower (III, 5.10, A-3+, 5 pitches). Raleigh’s night descent from the 500-foot tower turned into an epic when he became disconnected from the rope while on the second rappel. He free-fell about 160 feet. Miraculously his 9mm haul line, which was clipped to an equipment sling, jammed in a crack during the fall and brought him to a tenuous arrest. The impact bent a carabiner and badly damaged the rope. Steve Swanke, the park’s climbing ranger, assisted by lighting the way for the remaining descent. A jammed carabiner gate is the probable cause of Duane’s fall which, had it not checked itself, would have continued another 200 feet to the ground. In October Pete Gallagher and John Gatto made the first ascent of the northeast tower of Organ Tower. The route, Gates of Hell, is rated IV, 5.10, A-3.

The Tower of Babel was climbed by Charlie Fowler on October 14-17. Eric Bjørnstad worked on four of the six pitches of the 550-foot monolith. Lin Ot-tinger prusiked the entire tower. The route was named Zenyatta Entrada and was IV, 5.4, A-4.

Sheep Rock, 440 feet high, was climbed by the west face on October 2 by Charlie Fowler and Kyle Copeland via the west face. The route was named Buggers Banquet (III, 5.7, A-3, 5 pitches). Virgin Wool was put up in November by Jim Bodenhamer and Sandy Fleming on the east face of Sheep Rock (III, 5.7, A-3). The first pitch of Buggers Banquet had been climbed by Layton Kor in the early 1960s. At that time his ascent was curtailed by the Arches National Monument park rangers. All climbs done in 1986 in the park were sanctioned by the park authorities. They do, however, request climbers to register at the visitors center.

The Lamb Tower was climbed by Charlie Fowler solo. The route was named The Sheepish Grin (I, 5.10). In the fall Charlie Fowler soloed Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing on the Lamb Tower (I, 5.10).

The Hideout was soloed by Charlie Fowler (I, 5.9), and Chinese Eyes was climbed by Charlie Fowler and Dan Grandusky (I, 5.10).

Industrial Disease was put up by Scott Reynolds and Max Kendall in October (I, 5.11).

Queen Victoria Rock was climbed by Charlie Fowler and Alison Sheets. The route, Queen For A Day, was rated (I, A-2).

In the remote Klondike Bluffs area of the park, Cuddlebunny Tower was climbed by Charlie Fowler, Rob Slater and Geoff Tabin. The route was dubbed Givin’ The Dog A Bone (I, 5.11).

On January 1, 1987 Terrel Lashier and Steve Swanke climbed The Fledgling (I, 5.4). The route is in Arches National Park, two formations left of the Doll route.

All routes done in Arches National Park are composed of Entrada Sandstone.

Our readers may well be interested in subscribing to MOUNTAIN, the foremost bi-monthly mountaineering magazine published in England on climbing in all parts of the world, including the USA. There are six issues each year and a subscription costs $17.50. Send to MOUNTAIN MAGAZINE LTD., P.O. Box 184, Sheffield S11 9DL, England.

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.