American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Harold Walton, 1912-2002

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2003

Fisher Towers, The Titan, Sundevil Chimney, first free ascent. The Fisher Towers represent a Daliesque dream barely metamorphosed into rock. The highest tower, the Titan, is the highest free-standing tower in the U.S. and, in my opinion, is unique in the world for its haunting majesty. Because of the soft nature of the Cutler Sandstone and the dangerous nature of the climbing, artificial techniques have predominated. Many of these aid routes are dangerous and technically taxing, but the continual piton use is eroding the cracks. This is beneficial in only one way: it has led to the possibility of free climbing some of these magnificent routes! Over the last 12 years Laurence Gouault and I have visited these towers, sometimes to just stand and stare, and sometimes to slip and slide on their sandy skin.

In the spring we spent an extended period of time on Sundevil Chimney, using wire brushes and toothbrushes to clean cracks and ledges. We experienced many falls on sometimes run-out pitches of bad or sandy rock—it cannot be described as simple climbing. The climb had previously been aided clean by Andy Donson, who free-climbed the penultimate pitch and who gave me the nod. The Sundevil was originally done at A3+ by H.T. Carter and friends in 1971, when it was primarily a mud climb, but is now clean enough to be free-climbed by people who enjoy the challenge of fearful odds. The first pitch is a brilliant combination of crack and face climbing on yellowish rock. Be careful to belay at two bolts where you can balance with your hands off the rock and not at the original belay higher. The next pitch is long and one of the best crack pitches in the desert; it ends just short of the Mud Chimney. These first two pitches can be looked at as the cream of the route. They are clean and well-protected, except for one section of the first pitch where you could take a big one (I took three). The climbing may be easy 5.13, but it is hard to tell when you are not relaxed. The next section, in the chimney, provides perhaps three pitches of 5.12, but again it is hard to tell, as the hard bits are either insecure, wide, or both—good luck. You then arrive at the first place to sit. (I took a nap.) The next pitch is dirty and wide, with a nasty twisting fall before you get to the wide section. The last pitch is a 5.7 chimney, but if you are lucky, you will top out at sunset, as we did, and have to rappel at night without a head torch. Clean-aid or free-climbing these routes represents a less destructive method of climbing, which seems in keeping with the times. For people with more ability than us, the Sundevil might just be a brilliant climb. For us it was much more.

Stevie Haston, France

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