Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Which Desert Tower Should Be My First?

Desert towers are among the most unique formations climbers can lay their hands on. These beautiful and surreal gems can be intimidating, but tower climbing comes in all shapes and sizes. Many experienced climbers will recommend easing into desert climbing so here are a few classics that are more amicable for tower initiates. Disclaimer: None of these towers should be considered "safe" and should not be attempted without requisite experience and/or seek qualified instruction/guidance.

Climbers enjoy the summit of South Sixshooter

West Crack, The Owl (1 pitch, 5.8)
Arches National Park is a beautiful place to visit, and even moreso a beautiful place to climb. The Owl is about as friendly as desert tower climbing gets (which is indeed all relative) with a 2 minute approach and 1 pitch of 5.8 crack climbing with a beautiful tower summit. Chances are you'll also get a fair share of hikers and tourists taking photos of your climb from the road.

South Face, South Sixshooter (3 pitches, 5.7-.8)
South Sixshooter is a classic climb with a much longer approach than The Owl, but far more serene. This tower is located in the crack climbing mecca of Indian Creek and gifts three pitches of climbing to another beautiful summit. The last pitch has a poorly protected mantle before clipping a bolt and enjoying a few airy face moves before the summit. The rating of this tower is a bit debatable depending on who you talk to, confident 5.8 trad leaders will feel more comfortable with the last pitch. Again, if in doubt- find an alternative tower route.

Climbers approach the South Face of South Sixshooter (3 pitches, 5.7/8)
Stolen Chimney, Ancient Art (4 pitches, 5.8 A0 or 5.10+)
This is one of the most photographed summits in the desert (and in American rock climbing for that matter). Expect crowds on this classic route and consider an early or a late start. The rock in this area (Fisher Towers) is questionable at best but this route offers relatively better rock for the area and better gear. Two short bolt ladders can easily be aided (just draw-pulling) or freed at 5.10+. The short final pitch is truly unique!

North Chimney, Castleton (4 pitches, 5.9)
Many will choose the famed Kor-Ingalls as their first tower route but it involves "old school" wider climbing that may feel sandbagged and bakes in the sun (I haven't heard many moderate climbers that were "pleased" with their first climb being on Kor-Ingalls). On the opposite side of Castleton, The North Chimney is still stout but many find it to be more amicable. For any route, Castleton is a serious tower and should be treated as such!

From Left to Right: The Rectory, The Nuns/Priest, and Castleton

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