Just got back from this trip. I'll add pictures to this TR when I get my film developed.
Wednesday I was sitting around watching a movie when I got a call from my employer-I have to start work on Monday. Yuck-this calls for one last trip. Moab immediately comes to mind. Thankfully my roommate is still unemployed too, so a partner is quickly procured.
Early Thursday morning we begin the long drive to the desert. Our plan is to climb Mexican Hat-a wierd huge sombrero shaped piece of caprock sitting on a 20 foot wide pedestal on top of a mesa. We get there with a little more than an hour before dark-no problem, its an A1 5 bolt ladder to the top. It ends up taking most of that hour since it was Dave's first aid lead. The summit cairn has a grenade and a bottle of Jack Daniels filled with some clear liquid-we decided to leave it alone. We got back to the car at dark and drove 2 hours back to Moab.
Dinner and poring over the guidebook to decide what to do follows. Hmm, the Fisher Towers look cool-lets try the Kingfisher Northeast Ridge IV, 5.8 C2. It is 5 pitches, but mostly aid on incredibly loose rock so we thought it best to fix the first two pitches and then climb it the next day. I am not the world's fastest aid climber.
After a freezing night out under the stars(we woke up covered with frost), we get a good look at the Kingfisher. Holy Shit. This thing is 500 feet high, about 300 hundred feet long, 30 feet thick, and dead vertical everywhere. It is also made of red mud carved into wild shapes, so the climbing looks really interesting-or maybe frightening.
After an unpleasant approach up disintegrating low 5th class mud with heavy packs, we arrive at the base of the route. I can't believe we are actually going to climb this thing. The mud towers hundreds of feet above us and is actually overhanging most of the way-how does this tower not fall down in the wind?
The first pitch is a long A1 bolt ladder. I use the word bolt very loosely-most of the "bolts" were either star dryvens(basically a large nail pounded into a metal sleeve and at least 30 years old), crappy machine head rivets with no hangers, or angle pitons halfway sticking out of holes drilled into the mud. It looks like you could drill a hole in this rock with a spoon.
I draw the first lead, and start delicately aiding up the fixed mank. There are maybe three good bolts on the hundred foot pitch-scary. I used every rivet hanger, tie-off, and screamer I had before i clipped the anchors. The anchor is surprsingly good-about 7 "bolts" equalized with a huge mess of new looking webbing. I bounce test the anchor just to be sure-I brought the bolt kit expecting to replace a lot, but I don't have to.
A few minutes later the line is fixed, and I started hauling the bag. I also have the pleasure of yelling down jumaring instructions to Dave-damn, I thought he had jumared before. He got the hang of it pretty quickly though, and gets to the belay faster than I thought he would.
The next pitch is only 5.7, but looks like it might be the crux of the route. 70 feet of chimney/offwidth climbing in crumbling mud. I made a deal with Dave that if I lead all the aid, he will lead this pitch. I couldn't help grinning evilly when I saw it and decided that was the smartest deal I ever made.
Dave gets his revenge by kicking down a few hundred pounds of dirt and rocks at me as he climbs. No need for climbing shoes-any hold small enough to need them would fall off instantly. Dave thrashes and grunts while I try to keep from laughing and cough on the dust. This is only Dave's 4th trad lead and his hardest ever, but he is a superb athlete.
He gets to the top of the pitch and onto the start of the ridge. The exposure is stunning and the view is wild. Across the valley you can see Castleton Tower-why aren't we there on its solid rock instead of on this mud sculpture? We can at least take heart in knowing we aren't on the Titan-that thing looks more intimidating than El Cap. After an epic bag haul through the chimney we fix a rope, hang the bags and rack, and rap off.
We got a late start, so it gets dark on the way out. We got very lost and did a lot more 5th class mud before we got back to the car. Off to Moab for food and a few beers before camp, and screwing up our courage for the next day.
This night is much colder than the first-we break out the tent, sleep in our down jackets, and are still freezing in our 0 degree bags. It is very difficult to get up at 6 when it is just starting to get warm in our tent, but we must. This will be a long day.
There are actually people at the Fisher Towers parking lot today-we saw no one all day yesterday. We met a Fisher veteran at the parking lot, and get a little beta for the third pitch and arched eyebrows when we explain this is our first desert climb. We are feeling pretty badass now-the climbing really isn't that bad and this is one of the biggest formations in the area.
We have breakfast at the base after the walk in, and Dave gets ready to jug the fixed line. *THWACK* A softball-sized cobble is dislodged from the mud near the top of the first pitch, and bullseyes on the bridge of Dave's nose. Blood is spurting everywhere, and he is yelling that he can't see. Oh shit. Thankfully he was barely off the ground, and I was able to help him down jumar to the ground. He looks like hell-the helmet did nothing since he was looking up at the time.
All thoughts of climbing vanish as I try to stop the bleeding. His nose looks broken, but his eyes are ok after we clean the blood out of them. Dave is in a fair amount of pain, but says he can carry a pack and hold on until I clean the fixed lines. Dave is a really tough guy.
I jumar back up as fast as I can-totally paranoid about getting hit too. I am pelted with rocks, but I don't look up and they just bounce off my helmet and shoulders. The rock is cleaner when I get into the chimney, and I half jumar half climb that to our highpoint. I yelled down to Dave to check that he is still conscious, and he says he is ok. I pitch off the bags and rap back down as fast as I can-and I am very thankful when the ropes pull with no problem.
Dave is a bloody mess, but in strangely good spirits. He is a serious mountain biker, so I guess he is used to getting bashed up like this. We ran into the guys from the parking lot on the way out-they are going to do Ancient Art. They kindof shudder when they see Dave, and offer to help us get back to the car. The rest of the way is an OK trail, so we thank them but decline.
Back to the car finally. Dave freaks out a bunch of tourists-I guess a climber with a head injury isn't something you see every day. We clean him up, and thankfully there is lots of ice in our water bottles from last night's freezing temperatures. After we ice his nose, the swelling goes down and it doesn't look broken anymore. Good news, but we decide to play it safe and head back to Denver anyway.
On the way home we make plans to come back when the days are a little longer so we don't need fixed ropes. There are plenty of shorter towers to do in the desert in the meantime!
The desert is incredible. I can hardly wait to go back and I just got home. It is probably the most beautiful place I have ever been.
Mexican Hat is near the town of Mexican hat in southeastern Utah-it is really obvious from the road. Not much of a climb-short sinker A1, but the formation is so bizarre it is worth the drive.
The Fisher Towers are along the Colorado River 25 miles north of Moab, Utah. They are frighteningly obvious from the road. My desert guidebook says this is the worst rock in the world, and I can safely agree. However, the formations are so wild that it is totally worth it to climb. Ancient Art is the easiest popular route there-it gets 5.9 A1, but looks more like unrateable chimneys, crawling on ledges, and a bolt ladder to a wild corkscrew shaped summit. Kingfisher is the huge spire uphill from Ancient Art, and is 5.7/8 offwidth groveling and aid mostly on manky fixed gear.
Kingfisher is the tower on the left:
Castle Valley has more solid rock-including the famous Castleton Tower. Arches and Canyonlands are close, as is Indian Creek. The mountain biking is incredible on rest days.
Its all A1 until you fall.