Friday, July 11, 2008

Climbing Castleton Tower - Castle Valley, UT

Lafayette, CO - Hot damn it's mid-July already...hard to believe. I keep trying to figure out where the time has gone (house renovations and mountain biking pretty much covers it). I keep thinking I'm going to get caught up on these posts, but alas, I'm forever behind. Anyway, here is a post from a trip we took way back on the weekend of May 10th.

A few days before the weekend, Suwei and Jackie met up for an evening of girl chat over beers and came back with a plan to climb the North Chimney route (4 pitch, 5.9) of Castleton Tower, so that Jackie could BASE jump off of it. Castleton Tower is one of the most distinct desert towers in the Moab area. It's a 400foot tall sandstone monolith sticking out of a massive talus cone on the east side of Castle Valley. I was a wee bit nervous about the 5.9 rating as Suwei & I had done very little climbing since we returned from our travels & Jackie had been doing a lot more jumping off things than climbing up them. But, after reading about the route I felt better. The guide book talked about the route being mostly a 5.8 with a 5.9 crux on the first pitch. I figured if we got past that, we had it made.

Well, it turned out the climb was a bit of a challenge for us. Here is Jackie's account of the event:
Castleton Tower
A Tale of Terror, Pack-Mulery and the Ankle Ninja

Flash Forward to Saturday night. I’m huffing up the trail in the ever growing darkness, yelling at the tower. Suwei! Are you OK? Suwei! Was that a headlight? No, only stars. Did they decide to bivy at the top? Madness! Did they choose to descend the other side? Have they been swallowed up into an alternate universe, leaving me to wonder, panting like a fat kid crossing a playground, alone at the base of this once benign, now dreadful tower.

Two headlamps peak over the Castleton summit. All I can do is croak encouraging words as the lamps descend, connected to the heads of my friends, in the methodical slow manner by which one rappels a route they have never been on in darkness. The topo of North Face lights up in my mind’s eye as I see each belay station, illuminated by the tiniest of lights. I strain to hear the calorie depleted dialogue between my two friends, patient and concerned, as they make their way to terra firma.

Suwei & Jackie talking tactics at the trailhead

We had started some hours earlier, at 2pm. We considered this to be a logical start time, given the weather, particularly, the wind conditions. My idea was that, once we submitted, I would BASE jump away from the tower, leaving my two friends (did I mention they were engaged?) to shag on the summit. We hiked the talus cone to the base and found ourselves behind a party of three. They, like us, decided not to simul-second. We were a slow party behind a slow party. No matter! This was 5.8, how hard could it be? Suwei took the lead on the first pitch. She hiked it until the last 15 feet. Upon reaching the crux, she took several valiant whippers, the second one wrecking her ankle. She gained the belay and Karl commenced to ascend. Once Karl reached his honey, I peed and tied in. It would be the last piss I would take for the next 18 hours. I slung my BASE rig on and started in. Holy Mother of God. My personal goal of refraining from profanity was broken immediately. You whore cunt bloody son-of-a-dog-snatch! You fucking cock! This was how the first 15 feet went down. The rig was positively ripping me off this otherwise aesthetic twin set of splitter cracks. It only got worse from there. With a “cunt slut bitch shit”, Suwei hauled my heaving carcass over to the cozy belay. Any by cozy, I mean having my ass in poor Karl’s face while oozing up onto Suwei. Were it not for the serious climbing, this may have been considered soft porn.

Suwei on the approach

Ok, now I was up to bat. Karl, in his infinite kindness (or was he just weary of the profaning?), offered to take the BASE rig. Little did he know that the swears would not abate. As I led up the off-width section, the rude words would be mixed spoken introspections, pertaining mostly to fear and inadequacy. “I’m so scared, I’m just so scared. This piece of pro here? This is dog shit, see. It won’t hold shit. Gawd, I am just so fucking scared”. And so went the first 15 feet. Karl hollers up, “how’s it lookin’ up there?”

“I’d rather not say”. Ah-hah, keep them in dark as to what’s to come. They don’t need to know how this offwidth/chimney makes one look deep inside their soul, to the remote corners where folks prefer not to look. Progress was measured in geologic time. Inching ever upwards, skidding on calcite and cursing Moab, the Mormons, Layton Kor in particular, climbing in general, and that whore Mother Earth who made this lovely and awful tower which I so wanted to climb and jump from. But humorous too, that the suffering was not enough to slacken my desire to still do so. This was, how they say, fun. And I was with friends. And misery loves company. And Karl and Suwei get to boogie down on the summit while I had myself a good BASE jump. Things didn’t look so bad. I gained the belay on the heels of the last fellow from the party before us. “Someone has a potty mouth” he observed. “Her, it was her, the Asian!” Damn fucking Mormons.

The view from the base of the tower

Karl made his way to the belay, miraculously, with the anvil of a BASE rig clinging to him like an overbearing toddler, insistent on a piggy back ride. Suwei too, appeared. Lady warrior smiling through the pain. We had no idea how bad that ankle had gotten. We decided I should take the rest of the leads as I was the fastest of the three toed sloths. If you can’t be fast, you have to be tenacious! Honestly, I would go on an arctic expedition with this team, and be honored to be eaten by them. If we ate Suwei, we’d be hungry an hour later anyway. But I digress...

Suwei leading the first pitch of North Chimney, Castleton Tower

The third pitch was supposed to be cakewalk. I am yet to be on a cakewalk involving profound self deprecation to such an audible level. Suwei and Karl at this point had earned their honorary psychology degrees listening to the endless dribble that spewed out of my dry gaping maw. Lordy, a step across the void to gain the notch. Was I a good person? Would the Gods smile on me? Did it matter? Was all my swearing negating any good intention I had? Were the Mormons right all along? No, the notch cannot lead to yet another off-width. I professed to Karl that I needed to bring them up. But wait, there is was, sparkling in front of me, the 5.7 final pitch. I had been eying the wrong line. What remained was a fun calcite face climb, leading to the summit. Dispensing with the final pitch, I notice the sun departing in the west. As Karl came into view, I realized I had to pull the ultimate asshole move and grab my gear from him and go. I was running out of daylight.

I got geared up as Karl belayed Suwei. Knowing I was too dry to spit over the edge to test the winds, I uprooted a small bunch of grass. I headed out to the edge and dropped the wad, watching it float out and away from the wall. “Karl, I can’t wait any longer, I gotta go!” No wind. The sun was almost gone.


This was my first jump alone. I took a breath and pushed off…I threw out my pilot chute and looked up to see my wings. I looked down to see my shadow racing along the talus cone. I stayed in full flight, wanting to out fly the cone. I was able to make a gentle right turn and land on the dirt road. My canopy got a bit snagged in a juniper tree but otherwise, all was well. One of the dudes from the team in front of us came up the road to see if I had turned an ankle. We walked back toward the breakaway trail leading up to the tower. I bid him goodbye, stashed my gear and headed up the path to find my friends. I had seen Suwei’s headlamp in the notch and was hoping to catch them on their way down. I was saddened to learn that no shagging had occurred on the summit.

Suwei on the summit of Castleton Tower

We made our way down to the car slowly. We would later find out that Suwei had fractured her foot, then climbed 3 additional pitches, rapped the face, and hiked down the intense talus cone. We reached the car at 2:30AM.

Back at camp, we scarfed a bit of food and managed one beer apiece before turning in and sleeping the sleep of the dead. The sick, weird thing is that this trip was really fun. We accomplished a lot. We stood on top of a unique piece of earth and had gone through a hell of a lot to do it. I want to express my deepest thanks to Karl and Suwei for their selfless actions without which my jump would not have been possible. Perhaps I can convince them to do a second trip in the Fall (sans rig!) so that they might get that summit shag.

- Jackie

Since that weekend things have been a bit more mellow for Suwei & I. She started physical therapy a week after they x-rayed the foot. She was on crutches for a little over a week, then she started hobbling with a stiff boot. By week 3 she was limping along just fine. A little over a week ago she finished her physical therapy and has started doing some short runs. She also seems to do just fine on the mountain bike. A tough little sucker, that one.

Anyway...I don't have a hell of a lot of photos but there are few of the tower, the approach and a good bit of the first pitch. Click here for the slide show:

Castleton Tower, UT

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