Climbing Castleton Tower

Last week my friend Jeff was climbing the Fisher Towers near Moab. This reminded me of climbing Castleton Tower in 2004 with Jeff, my brother and a few other guys. Of my outdoor adventures, it's in the top 5. It was an exceptional experience. Here's the story.

Looking up at Castleton Tower from the floor of Castle Valley.

Friday, April 16th around 5 PM we drove into Castle Valley and parked at the foot of Castleton Tower. (Note: Castle Valley is what you see into from Porcupine Rim. Castleton Tower is plainly visible.) We were anxious to see what the route (North Chimney, 5.9) looked like so we hiked 1000 feet up the talus cone to the foot of the tower. There was plenty of daylight so we decided to try the first pitch. Long story short, three guys climbed to the top, mostly in the dark (they had headlamps) and arrived back at camp around 1:30 AM.

Castleton Tower from the north ridge.

Looking up the North Chimney route.

The next day we hiked up again and the rest of us began the climb, with Shane leading again (he also lead the night climb the day before). Note that this is a traditional (trad) climbing where the leader places pieces of protection (cams, nuts, chocks, slings, etc.) to prevent a long fall. Our group was Shane (lead climber), my brother Kurt and myself.

Looking down the 1st pitch.

The first pitch was good climbing, but the seam has a calcite deposit that has been polished slick by climbers over the years which adds to the difficulty. I did OK but struggled a bit on the bulge near the top.

Kurt belaying Shane up the 2nd pitch.

Me at the 2nd pitch.

Looking up the 2nd pitch.

I had a hard time getting past the bulge at the start of the second pitch. It had no real holds, just dishes and I just couldn't put the moves together. I finally made it and the rest was pretty easy climbing as we went deeper into the chimney (wide crack).

Kurt belaying Shane up the 3rd pitch.

Shane traversing across the top of the chimney on the 3rd pitch.

The third pitch was deeper inside the chimney and had some strenuous moves. My favorite move of the climb was on this pitch - at the top of the chimney you had to stem across the gap and shuffle out near the front face and then step across the chasm. It was trippy to stare down 250 feet of empty air and then step across to the safety of the ledge.

The last pitch to the summit had some really good climbing, but I was pretty tired by now so that made it more difficult. This pitch was out in the open and you could feel the exposure after the last two pitches in the safe embrace of the chimney.

When I stepped up on the summit I felt a sublime sense of exhilaration. Toiling to climb up this 400 foot tall sliver of rock put me on the summit of a viewpoint 1400 feet above the valley floor. It was a dramatic rush like I'd never felt before.

Enjoying the thrill of the summit.

Kurt on the summit.

Looking north toward the Priest, Nun and Rectory.

Looking south to Porcupine Rim. The famous mountain biking trail runs along the top of that cliff.

QuickTime VR panorama - click and drag to look around.

(If you don't see the panorama above, try this direct link.)

After savoring the summit and signing the register we rigged up the ropes for the rappel off the top. The rappel is done in two stages. Shane went down first and found the midway anchors. Kurt went down then me. I've done a lot of rappelling but this one was heady - leaning back over the edge of a 400 foot drop gets your attention. After clipping into the anchors we pulled the ropes and re-rigged for the final rappel to the ground. The only annoyance was the wind that was gusty at the summit but was now blowing stronger. Back on terra firma I felt a deep sense of satisfaction from the experience.

Kurt almost down the first half of the rappel.

Hanging out midway down the rappel off of the tower.

1 comment:

UtRider said...

I'm getting queasy just looking at those pictures. Heights are not for me!