Arch Canyon, Mud Shark, How Big a Boy are You; and The Fortress, The Poop Chute. Arch Canyon, one of the most isolated canyons in southern Utah, has had my attention for years. Home to one of the state’s finest towers, Texas Tower, Arch Canyon holds an abundance of adventure and new-route potential—if one is willing to drive the ever-worsening 4x4 road, spend countless hours cursing the soft Cedar Mesa Sandstone, and confront wide cracks. Most parties repeating routes in the canyon rappel in, climb, then jug back out in a day—a long day.
Justin Carter and I, after repeating a few of the classics, turned our attention to an unclimbed tower at the junction of Arch and Texas canyons. The 600’ tower, later dubbed the “Mud Shark,” juts out from the canyon floor like a shark fin. Our route—How Big a Boy are You (IV 5.10+R C2)—climbs the northwest face in four long pitches. Consisting of bold offwidth climbing and a few points of clean aid (bring some big Friends and tubes), with a crux (5.10 C2) second pitch that overhangs in its entirety, it’s freeable to someone willing to take on the 12-inch crack. After the third pitch we traversed around to the east on a spacious ledge to a sandy slab (5.10+R), reaching the summit on May 19, 2000. We descended the north face via three 200-foot raps. One hole was drilled on the last pitch for pro; rap stations are also equipped with bolts. How big a boy are ya?
After we stopped shaking, Justin and I returned to climb what seemed to us the largest free-standing formation in the canyon, the 750-foot Fortress. We thought for sure such a gem had to have had an ascent, till we discovered all crack lines either petered out or ended up turning into a horribly steep and wide nightmare. We chose what we thought would be the sanest route on the southwest face. We first tried The Fortress in March 2001, following a thin aid crack for almost 500 feet, using mostly beaks, knife blades, and Lost Arrows. We then traversed to the left (west) for 30 feet into another thin crack system, which brought us to a large ledge. Here we got our first good look at the “liquid sky trainer”—180 feet of overhanging and seemingly unprotectable squeeze chimney. After about 50 feet of thrashing I was maxed, could barely fit in the crack, could not make upward progress, and we bailed. More than a month passed before we could get back to The Fortress. During that time I discussed technique possibilities with my friend Brad Jackson, and he suggested I try what he did on the second ascent of the Levitator pitch on Scorched Earth in Yosemite: climb sideways. So there I was back at my high point, horizontal, my head barely sticking out from the depths of hell. One arm held me while my other pushed me upward, my feet scrambling for any sort of purchase. It worked! After 110 feet we found ourselves deep inside the yawning gap that splits the upper portion of The Fortress. One more short, cool pitch up a rare featured face inside the chimney landed us on the summit on April 10. We called our route The Poop Chute (V 5.11R A3+). Six protection bolts where placed, and all raps have bolted stations.