Saturday, March 26, 2011

Indian Creek: The Last Days

Our last day at the Creek began with packing the vehicle which proved to an adventure of it's own. After futile attempts to remove the sand from our gear we spent over an hour stuffing our gear into every crevice of our vehicle and was relieved that it fit.

 The Crew packing up from our abode...

We spent our last days on the Battle of the Bulge Buttress. There to my delight I found many larger cracks befitting of my hand size. It was time for me to put up lead rather than mooching off the ascents of others. After some pondering I took to a route entitled "Pigs In Space" rated at 5.10c. The route looked unique in that it was more varied than the typical Indian Creek splitter. I took some deep breaths, slapped some chalk on my hands, and began climbing. Shortly off the deck I found a tough section of off-hands splitter crack that got my breathing  hard. I placed a cam high centered my focus and plugged my hands in slowly making my way past the section. From there the crack began to flare but opened into a comfortable size that allow me relatively stress free climbing. When I nearly reached the top the route proved difficult again as the crack narrowed a difficult width in a flared roof. Within sight I could see my goal where the crack opened up again I could again get a comfortable hand jam. Placing a piece high I set about the puzzle and got myself a foot higher and placed another piece for assurances. It turned out to be necessary, as I stepped out onto the exposed face I found myself fighting tremendous rope drag as the rope was catching in the narrow crack. I made a desperate reach for a solid jam but found my strength waning and the inevitability became apparent to me. I let go wanting a controlled fall and swung down only 3 feet and heard a loud POP! My gear held but as I looked up my last cam was holding on by a single lobe and gave me the impetus to quickly begin climbing again. After much fidgeting I could not replace the cam in a more secure position and knew I would have to make this move knowing my gear would likely not hold another fall. Climbing again, I reached high with a better knowledge of what the cracks asked of me. With grunting and explicatives, I made made my way past the moves and shortly clipped the anchors in triumph and relief.

We would each make several more ascent before saying goodbye to our friends from Cali and the sandstone of Indian Creek. We reluctantly turned our backs to the wall and hiked down. We sped  Northward through Moab reaching it's borders as night began to descend. After a quick poaching of the local hotel hot tub we again took to the road seeking our destination.... the base camp of Castleton Tower!

Castleton Tower

Castleton Tower is listed as one of North America's 50 classic climbs. Steeped in a rich history, since it's first ascent in the 70's it has captured the attention of climbers throughout the years. The 400 foot pillar of sandstone majestically reaches into the desert horizon. It's sight inspires awe and the contemplation of it's evolution. We arrived at base camp in the cover of night and yet could make out the shadowed specter of the towers presence amongst the starlight horizon. Unwilling to unpack the car we decided we would sleep under the stars and each sought shelter amongst the desert Junipers. We awoke in the early morning dusk to a layer of frost on the ground and could hear the familiar chime of climbing gear. Given the towers popularity it often requires a early start so as to beat other parties to the climb and waiting in line to ascend. We began the day under motivated and questioned whether we would climb at all. But suddenly a spark of motivation lit within the group and we lept into action. In less than 20 mins we had racked up and found ourselves making our way up the long approach.

Weaving our way to the base of Caslteton

Arriving at the base of the tower the crisp morning air refrigerated the rock before us. We each made our final preparations before harnessing ourselves and racking up gear for battle. We had decided to climb the popular Kor-Ingalls route which rated at 5.9+ and we surmised would be smooth cruise to the summit. The despite easier rating the route's 4 pitches were laden with mostly off-width climbing and chimney (which are wide cracks in which you can fit your entire body or a whole leg into), which is well known to make for strenuous and awkward climbing.... and more importantly, difficult to bring gear wide enough to protect falls.

As Sevve took to the route as a part of our first team I began my mental preparations as I would soon lead the second team. The guide book surprising did not call for much in the order of big gear despite my impression of the climbing ahead of me. However, I trusted the guide book and left behind the wider and heavier pieces. Matt and Sevve had finished the first pitch and I began my ascent. After climbing some easy scrambling the route transitioned into the shadows of a narrow and nasty squeeze chimney (meaning it is only wide enough for your body sideways but not width wise) of 20 ft in height .

Matt peaks out from the chimney of Pitch 1

It became immediately clear that the difficulty rating for this route were in the old school methods. You see in the old days the hardest routes ever climbed were considered 5.10 and would not go higher. So as climbers began to push the limits of difficulty the 5.10 became more and more difficult and thus the lower ratings as well. Yet in modern times the ratings were expanded to go from 5.10 to 5.15 and ratings at the lower levels have generally eased. Given that the route was first climbed in the 70s this 5.9+ was going to feel far more difficult than a modern 5.9. As I belayed my partner up, I watched Sevve pick his way up the second pitch. However, about halfway up he appeared to run into some difficult climbing. After he and Matt had attained the top of the second pitch, I took to climbing again knowing fully that this may be a difficult pitch.

 Sevve picks his way up the second pitch

However I was completely unprepared for what lay ahead of me. The route opened into a difficult mix of off width and exposed face climbing. What's more is that I quickly discovered that I did not have adequate gear. I was finding few smaller placements and I had only one piece large enough. Before long I found myself with a unsteady foot cam and foot smear for feet and a single elbow lock meanwhile 10ft below me lay my only #4 cam and 200 ft of open space. I had little choice but breathing steadily from the exertion and stress.
Myself perplexed and desperately looking for gear placements on Pitch 2

For the first time in the trip I was happy to see the crack before me narrow to of hands as I plugged in a piece with relief. Clipping into anchors completed the pitch I was feeling feeling shaken by the stress of the last route.

Above me Sevve took to the crux pitch. He was sailing along as he usually does, however I could see that it was not easy by any stretch. My thoughts drifted to my gear and how badly I wanted the three bigger pieces I had left at the base camp. After a hard decision, I decided I would have Sevve's partner Matt trail our rope behind him and belay me up on top rope. I felt I was no longer in the mental position to climb the next pitch especially given my gear situation and the fatigue after the last pitch.

 Atop the 3rd pitch I await my lead of the final pitch

After climbing the 3rd pitch on top rope I was highly relieved that I hadn't lead it.... a hail of unabashed explicatives the entire length of the pitch was indicative of the frustrating nature of the pitch.

 Matt taking on the final pitch...

Looking upward only one short pitch remained to the summit of Caslteton Tower. It proved straight forward as we quickly made the summit. Smiles beamed from each of us as we stood enraptured by the landscape as the desert sandstone made it's desperate reaches to grasp the marbled grey sky.

 The Minnesota boys atop Castleton Tower!

There we stood 400 feet closer to the heavens having climbed a metaphor so keenly representative of the human journey. We tied our ropes and began or rappel of the Northern face of Castleton, I slipped over the edge of the first pitch and began the descent into the open space upon the strands of our trusted ropes. Reaching the desert sands below us we hurried to our vehicle with hunger tugging at our insides.

Matt on his first multi-pitch rappel

Sevve devours with Castleton in the background...

We again repacked for the long journey home to the North Country. We drove into the eastern horizon reluctantly leaving behind us the desert beauty and carrying with us the gifts of priceless memories still wrapped in the freshness of their evocation.

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