North America, United States, Utah, Capitol Reef National Park, Factory Butte, Clarification

Publication Year: 1998.

Factory Butte, Clarification. I was a interpretive park ranger at Capitol Reef National Park from June, 1992, through October, 1994. During my time there, I set my sights on a prominent monolith called Factory Butte.

Rumors among the locals were that it had not been climbed, which I doubted because of its prominence and because of the famous climbers who got their start in the Torrey area. The approach and the base of Factory Butte are made of the clay/silt mudstone of the Mancos rock type, which erodes into sharp rills, deep gullies and badland-type rock (fine-grained clay/mud). Mancos rock makes up 70 percent of the monolith. The crown of the Butte is Mesa Verde sandstone, which erodes into sheer vertical cliffs. The Butte is long and thin; the long sides faces east and west, while the thin faces run north and south. On the west and north side, the erosion is at its worst. The east and south sides also are extremely steep, with angles increasing from 35 to 50° in the Mancos to vertical in the Mesa Verde. The Butte itself rises about 2,000 feet above its base; at the contact point between the Mancos and the Mesa Verde rock types, the Butte goes vertical for 200 to 350 feet.

I made four to five planning trips to the area from 1992 through 1994, first to find a route through the Mancos rills and gullies. To stabilize myself on the steep siltstone, I began using my old McKinley wood ice axe and my old crampons. I found one potential route in 1992 on the east face near a huge slab of fallen Mesa Verde rock that can be seen from a distance. The gully directly in front of the slab was passable and probably the easiest gully on the east side. Two small ledges allowed me to zig-zag up the Mesa Verde face into a crack, which led to within 50 to 75 feet of the tabletop summit. I was unable to finish the route due to time, heat (it was the middle of July) and lack of aid gear.

On my next trip, I totally circumnavigated the Butte at the base of the Mesa Verde (again using ice axe and crampons, the only way to approach the steepest areas of the Mancos safely), working my way across the large arm that extends west from the south Butte area. After crossing the arm, I moved over a series of gullies, beyond an area of sheer Mancos in the southwestern corner, to the next series of gullies. I then climbed the Mancos to the base of the Mesa Verde. At the corner area, a series of angled, tilted ledges on the Mesa Verde allowed me to work my way up to a rock-filled gully, which took me south to the corner’s interior. From there, I entered the crux area, an extended overhang, about 15 feet wide, with fun exposure. I topped the overhang by moving directly across the nose with some good hand holds and friction, but with little for my legs or feet. At the south side of the crux, I entered another rock-filled gully that led directly to the south tabletop area. At this point, there are many cracks that can be chimneyed to the summit on the southernmost point of the Butte.

This route was done solo and free of any aid except the ice tool and crampons. I climbed it twice (winter, 1993, and November, 1994). I found an arrow from one of the 1950 movies filmed in the area, plus a small cairn on the south summit. I placed a small note to my parents, who both had died just before this climb, underneath this cairn.

I later would show my route to a person whom I thought was my friend. This person would share my route information and the ice axe-crampon technique with a third party, who later would make a claim of a first ascent of Factory Butte almost a month after my last climb. This individual can claim a possible new route, but not a first ascent. Nor can I; but I will name my route Flo and Al’s.

John Fleming