Three days in the desert.

Posted by: andrew

Three days in the desert. - 12/03/00 12:25 AM

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.
Posted by: Jannette

Re: Three days in the desert. - 12/03/00 06:28 AM

There is a terrific National Geographic article from a very long time ago when
Kor climbed The Titan. Reading about the condition of the rock (if you call it
rock) made me cringe. I recommend trying to dig this issue up if you can.

I visited Fischer Towers as a hiker many years ago. Incredibly beautiful
place, especially at dusk when the towers glow red with the setting sun.

Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Three days in the desert. - 12/04/00 11:47 PM

I highly recommend climbing Ancient Art. I climbed it this past May, and it was truly a spectacular experience. The final pitch involves walking out on this plank like formation that is about a foot and a half wide with something like 450 feet of exposure on both sides. The rest of the pitch is the final "sand-drip castle" like formation that you see in all the photos of the climb. When you get to the top, you can stand up on something about the size of a manhole cover. A grand, butt-puckering view!

Posted by: BobbyS

Re: Three days in the desert. - 12/14/00 11:45 PM

Wooo, Wooo. Ride the snake. I ran into a guy in Colorado that explained that if Dr. Sues smoked a lot of crack and created a climb, it would be Ancient Art. The last two pitches are excellent. After walking or crawling along the twenty foot long 6 inch wide chasm you get to climb onto the diving board which looks like a giant 4 foot tongue sticking out horizontally. THe last part is like hugging a big snake that undulates back and forth. I thought the summit was more like trying to stand atop a small pizza.

One note of caution that was omitted from previous posts is that the second pitch is pretty aweful. Might be one of the worst pitches I have ever climbed. It is a mud chimney in every sense of the Fischer Towers horror stories of loose clumps of dirt barely held together. At one point there was a one foot long section of cam tracks where someone must have fallen or waited a cam and ripped out a cam placed about a foot in the rock. Other than that the first and last two pitches were great.

I was also wondering if anyone freed the first pitch and what they thought of the 5.11- grade. I have also heard in newer guide books that the second to last pitch is now 5.10 from 5.9.


Posted by: andrew

Re: Three days in the desert. - 12/15/00 04:16 PM

Did you think the route was even rateable?

I haven't done it yet-only the climbing I did on the Kingfisher. I've now seen the second pitch of Kingfisher rated everything from 5.7 to 5.9+. Personally, I thought it was completely unrateable-just a scary, hard to protect grovel up a decomposing chimney. I can't imagine how you could fall on it, but it isn't very easy or fun to make upward progress on either.

I forget the name of the scale, but the Not Too Bad, Hard, Pretty Damn Hard, etc. scale might be more appropriate for a plce like the Fishers.


Its all A1 until you fall.
Posted by: BobbyS

Re: Three days in the desert. - 12/15/00 09:55 PM

I think the second pitch mud chimney may fall into the difficult to rate, scary category, but is probably around 5.7 as far as chimneys go. The first pitch is solid rock, face climbing on knobs and stones inlayed into the rock. I don't think I would want to fall on the angles driven right into the rock, but thought it was easier face climbing than Never Never Land. The last pitches are also a little atypical from the mud flats of the Fischer Towers. The second to last pitch is pretty solid rock too, face climbing on crystals inlayed in pretty solid mud.


Posted by: Anonymous

Re: Three days in the desert. - 12/18/00 06:20 PM

I think the guide book rated the chimney pitch at 5.8. I was happy not to be leading it, and it felt more like 5.7 as a second. The guy who led it ran out about 40 feet of rope at one point. The third pitch was rated 5.10 (a?) by the guidebook if you did not use the bolt ladder. That seemed pretty accurate to me. From a very precarious stance you have step up on a little crystal and palm the top -- no real handhold, just friction to hold you on. The final pitch was 5.9+ I think (according to the guidebook) and felt that way. Add in the incredible exposure, and it really got your heart pounding.

As usual, all these things are ridicuously subjective, and I'm not even sure I trust myself on this. I did the climb only six weeks after a hernia operation, so I wasn't in great shape.

Posted by: GunksWest

Re: Ancient Art - 12/29/00 02:03 AM

According to guidebook author (and Moab resident) Eric Bjornstad, Ancient Art is the most climbed route in the Fisher Towers (by far). It's a great route and totally safe (as long as you don't fall of course). If you haven't done it, you must!! It's great!!! The smaller spire near the parking lot is a good way to round out the day. It's a little scary at the top (bring at least a 4 camalot). It's 5.8 or 5.9.

As for Mexican Hat, bringing a cheater stick to clip the first bolt is helpful. It too is a great route/feature.

Posted by: andrew

Re: Ancient Art - 12/29/00 03:04 PM

Ah, I had forgotten to tell about the crux of Mexican Hat-thanks for reminding me.

If you don't have a cheater stick, the first move is pretty wild. Basically the belayer has to tie himself off to something and get down on hands and knees next to the edge of the mesa-maybe two hundred feet of exposure. The leader then stands on the belayer's back and attempts to clip the bolt. Dave was pretty stressed that he would lose his balance while standing on my back(or maybe that i would sneeze) and topple over the side of the mesa. I had him leave an extra daisy chain on the bolt since it is easier to reclimb the placements than jumar.

When I was in the Fishers there was actually a line on Ancient Art on Saturday. I sure wouldn't want to climb behind anybody on that rock. No one was on any other route in the whole area aside from us on Kingfisher.


Its all A1 until you fall.