I have been frequenting the desert of southern Utah for over a decade, concentrating mostly on the obscure and wide cracks. Texas Tower had always been on my list, as it is one of the proudest towers in the Southwest, but it was a challenge for which I wanted to feel fully prepared. Located in a remote canyon outside Blanding, Texas Tower is 800 feet tall, and its only free passage involves difficult offwidth and chimney climbing for nearly the entire route. This spring I finally felt ready—this is what I had been working toward since my brother and I first climbed the famous wide cracks of Castleton Tower’s Kor-Ingalls route on our first trip to the desert 13 years earlier.
I drove to Moabon a Friday evening in late May to meet my friend Jackson Marvell and the photographer Parker Cross. We camped near Blanding and headed into Texas Canyon the following morning. We met two other friends, Trevor Bowman and Emily Reinsel, and proceeded to the canyon rim, where we rapped in and hiked to the tower for a day of recon on the classic south face route (5.11+, Toula-Zaiser, 1987)
After a longer approach than expected, the south face was cooking in the sun. Looking for other nearby options, we decided to check out the east face, an aid route first climbed by Jeff Pheasant and Paul Ross in 2002. As it turns out, the east face route is the analog crack to the south face, has just as much offwidth climbing, and had never seen a free ascent.
Trevor and Emily also wanted to climb the east face and suggested fixing a couple of pitches that day to save time. I offered the first lead to Jackson, and he stepped up to the plate. Beginning with a sparsely protected crux traverse with ledge-fall potential, Jackson linked the first two original pitches (5.9 C2) and (5.9 C1) into a 55-meter free pitch, onsight at 5.11+ R. He fixed the rope, cleaned the pitch, and we raced toward the rim in the dying light.
Having done the enormous approach from the rim and back to camp once, we decided to drive down the 4WD trail when we returned. We left camp the next day, May 29, at 5 a.m., and after a fair bit of gnarly jeep trail we were rewarded with a fairly flat and quick walk to the base of the tower.
As Jackson and I waited at the base for shade, Trevor and Emily jugged our rope and proceeded to aid the route, staying a few pitches ahead of us. Jackson and I then jugged our rope and climbed a 5.8+ chimney to access the offwidth splitter on the tower’s headwall. As Jackson had led the bottom half of the tower, the rest was now mine to attempt. The original fourth pitch (5.9 C2 started with two bolts that led to a crux traverse into a finger crack and crimping section above a very poor single piece (5.12a R). A fall would not have been pleasant here. The pitch then eased into 5.10+ offwidth to the anchor.
The next pitch (5.10 C2) was the final question mark, but thankfully looked to be all offwidth and wider, making a free ascent feel more probable. Tunneling inward to avoid two large roofs, I found the feature to be even tighter than the infamous Liquid Sky chimney on North Six Shooter. After 140 feet of strenuous offwidth and squeeze chimney (5.11+), I made a belay in the middle of Texas Tower—a spot we dubbed the Heart of Texas.
The final marathon chimney pitch (5.9 X) was shared with the south face. After a last boulder problem, we were on the summit with our friends, with a first free ascent under our belts. Every pitch was led onsight, and no fixed gear was added to the route.Jackson followed every pitch free, but I neglected to follow the first lead, opting to ascend the fixed line to save energy for the upper half.
This is a spectacular route on an amazing tower in an absolutely beautiful setting. I feel more than blessed to have had such an adventure and snag one of the coolest offwidth tower routes I have ever experienced, with some truly great people.
– Patrick Kingsbury