Desert towers: getting to 100
Posted by sibylle in utah (Friday October 31, 2008 at 9:20 am)


Bridger Jack Mesa

Towers from left: Thumbelina, Sparkling Touch,  Easter Island, Sunflower Tower,  Bridger Jack Mesa

We’ve climbed about 15 towers so far, and  to reach Tristan’s goal of a hundred towers, we’ve got 85 left to go.

Note that I say “Tristan’s goal”. If I’m going to climb another 85 towers, we’d better step up the rate of four annually, which will take over 20 years, to more like 20 towers annually.

Some likely candidates:
Bridger Jack Mesa and nearby towers

Towers in Arches National Park

Tristan on the Sundial near the Fisher Towers

The big thing on the right is one of the large towers of the Fisher group, which are very crumbly and scary.

Mountain biking to the Confluence Overlook
Posted by sibylle in utah (Thursday October 30, 2008 at 10:06 am)


Biking on trail to Confluence Overlook

One cool, windy fall morning, my friend Tom suggested that maybe we could ride our mountain bikes out to the Confluence Overlook. Always enthusiastic, I agreed. I’d never been there and he painted a rosy picture of what a beautiful ride we would have. I hesitated to ride my mountain bike over potentially difficult trails for a long way, but Tom assured me it would be well within my abilities.


On trail to Confluence Overlook

We drove, with our bikes, to the Elephant Hill road to start. Not until after the ride did I see the description:

‘One of the most technical four-wheel-drive roads in Utah, Elephant Hill presents drivers with steep grades, loose rock, stair-step drops, tight turns and backing. This is also difficult mountain biking terrain.’

Confluence of Colorado and Green River

Hiking at Arches National Park
Posted by sibylle in utah (Wednesday October 29, 2008 at 9:45 am)


Landscape Arch

On a rare non-climbing day, when I still had energy to hike,  we drove to the Devils Garden Trailhead parking area in Arches National Park. This trail, with its spurs to nearby arches, allows the longest trail hike in Arches NP. From the trailhead, we took the left-hand fork toward Landscape and Double O Arches.
After about a mile, we reached Landscape Arch, which spans 306 feet, possible the world’s longest arch. Our guidebook states, “It’s likely to collapse any day.”  I considered this hyperbole, until I heard of the recent collapse of Wall Arch.


not sure which arch - maybe Wall Arch before its collapse
We passed Wall Arch and Navajo Arch on the way to Double O Arch – one arch atop another. Soon, a spur trail headed off towards Dark Angel, a tower we hope to someday climb.

For now, we continued on the Primitive Loop Trail to return to our starting point. The trail truly had some rough sections that involved a bit of scrambling, and it’s not the trail where you’d want to take elderly or infirm friends or relatives.



It’s best to photograph the arches near sunrise or sunset, but that may mean hiking in or out in the dark

Double-O Arch

Kor-Ingalls: A Tale of Two Towers
Posted by sibylle in utah (Tuesday October 28, 2008 at 1:01 am)


Castleton Tower at sunrise

Not two different towers, but two separate ascents of Castleton. I climbed it in May 2005 with Dana, also known as the ‘offwidth queen’. Unfortunately, I was ill when we climbed. When I came down with bronchitis, I decided to ignore the symptoms and climb anyway.

Wheezing and puffing, I slowly made my way up the steep trail. Maybe that’s why I thought that the trail was so bad – I was sick the first time I hiked it. The climb passed in a blur – literally – since the illness made me dizzy. Eventually Dana got us to the top, to howling winds. As my hands reached the summit, she said, “Let’s get out of here. It’s too windy.”

We rappelled down, hanging on to the rope ends so that the wind wouldn’t blow them around the corner, to irretrievably stuff them into a distant crack. After our last rappel, we stumbled around to the side, to pull our ropes down them away from the crack. Strong winds blew us over as we tried to walk along the base, so we crawled and then pulled the ropes while sitting down. It’s the first time I’ve rock climbed with winds too strong to stand up –over 80 miles per hour. After pulling our ropes, we stumbled down. Once we descended below the apex of the hill, the winds decreased to where we could walk. What a relief for the rest of our descent!

Over Thanksgiving, Tristan climbed the Kor-Ingalls with Bryan, a strong Utah climber. Tristan reports that they “ran up to the base because it was below freezing, and climbed really fast. “We didn’t stay at the top. When I got back to the base,” he told me, “My socks were frozen solid. It was hard getting the crunchy socks back onto my feet.”
I can imagine. Tristan wears thick cotton socks, and his feet would have sweated considerably on the ‘run’ up to Castleton. Left at the base in sub-freezing temperatures, the sweaty socks froze.
When they returned to the car, Bryan announced “We did that in two and a half hours, car-to car.”
That’s the fastest time of anyone I know. Florine and other speed-climbing wizards can probably climb it faster, but 2.5 hours amazes me.


Castleton Tower at sunset

Searching for Willis Tower
Posted by sibylle in utah (Monday October 27, 2008 at 9:57 am)


Hiking up to Hidden Valley on a stormy day

The next morning sprinkles on the roof woke me, which made me happy to be camping in a van, not a tent. If it starts raining while camped in a van, you can crawl toward the front seat and drive away. If camped in a tent, there’s the dreary business of crawling out of the tent to eat in the rain – cook in the rain – go somewhere else for the day (usually the local library) to wait out the rain.

As I was dreading all this, Tristan commented,
“Mom, this isn’t Canada. The rain will stop.”

And he was right. In about 15 minutes, the sprinkles ceased. We ate breakfast while keeping a nervous eye on the weather. We’d hoped to hike up to the Rectory to climb one of the adjacent towers. But watching the ominous clouds made that seem a risky plan – if it rains more, the steep hillsides turn into a watercourse. A thunderstorm last spring washed out parts of the trail.

We opted instead for an attempt on Willis Tower, a one-pitch climb reputed to be near Hidden Valley behind Moab. We followed the guidebook directions and drove to the trailhead.

We hiked up the switchbacks (a joy after the Jah-Man approach) in about half an hour to the top and entered Hidden Valley, a gem hiding from town behind a small cliff band. Here, the guidebook (Rock Climbing Desert Rock IV)
said to hike north about 10 minutes until we saw Willis tower. We hiked north for 15 minutes, then 20, then figuring we were already up here anyway, to the valley’s end for another 10 minutes. At the valley’s end, we saw no tower, so we hiked east toward the rim and looked down. Still no tower. We’d seen a photo of the tower with town in back, so we decided to head back south and east toward the rim, then hike along the rim until we found the tower.
After hiking for an hour and a half, we finally looked down to see the top of a tower below us.


Climbing down from the rim toward Willis Tower

Now all that remained was to downclimb the cliff separating us from the tower, and then the easy part – climb the tower.


Finally, climbing Willis Tower

After Jah-Man
Posted by sibylle in utah (Sunday October 26, 2008 at 9:05 am)


Tristan organizing the ‘desert rack’

Note the older Chouinard stoppers on perlon

The following morning, we indulged ourselves in sleeping late as the River Road would be closed from 7:00 a.m. until 11:00 a.m. for the “Other Half Marathon”.

This half marathon winds along the River Road beside the Colorado River, beneath many of the sandstone cliffs we climbers love to scale.

When I called Danelle to tell here I would visit Moab, she immediately responded,
“I’m running the Other Half on Sunday. Want to join me?”
I declined, excusing myself with conflicting climbing plans. However, I doubt I could keep up with Danelle, the course record holder, even after she’s had a broken pelvis held together with a plate and with a two and a half month old baby.
It would have been a nice race, with so many women running in it, but the day after Jah-Man, Crazy Little Sister, Baby Sister, and that 1.5 hour hike up the ridge, I was up for a short walk and not much more.

We couldn’t delay longer, and soon I had to face the daunting prospect of driving back down the dry wash. On the last hill up toward the road, my tires started spinning and I felt the car slide sideways. I let off the gas, and then gradually increased the power. Too my relief, the tires grabbed and I made it up the steep, sloping road.


My van wasn’t made to drive this wash . . .

On the road, we saw the last runners (or more often, walkers) finishing the half marathon.
We visited Danelle, who’d run the whole race, though still injured with a pulled tendon from childbirth. She limped to greet us,
“I ran the whole thing. I’m still a little sore,” she made little of her remarkable feat. When I’d seen her a little over a year ago, she was in a wheel chair and doctors told her she could not compete again.

Jah-Man - descent and camping
Posted by sibylle in utah (Saturday October 25, 2008 at 9:52 am)


Tristan “hiking” down a particularly steep part of the “trail”

After climbing the final tower, we headed down quickly. The specter of descending, in the dark, loose rubble bordering on a precipice warred with my fear of stumbling and flying over the edge if we went too fast. Jah-Man may be the only rock climb for which the approach and descent trail proved more intimidating than the climb. I wasn’t worried about getting hurt on the route – we had good gear and solid anchors. The trail, where ball-bearing gravel atop a narrow ledge bordering an abyss made a stumble potentially very painful if not fatal, made even Tristan nervous.

Danelle Ballengee’s fall, off another desert trail near here, resulting in a broken pelvis and helicopter evacuation after being out, alone, for 52 hours, reminded me of our remoteness. At least there were two of us in case one got hurt.

Amazingly, we saw no other people during our entire trip in to Jah-Man. We camped beside the wash both nights and saw no other climbers during the entire day we were up on Jah-Man. After hearing of climbers lining up to do this route, that solitude was a welcome surprise, especially since we counted 17 cars at the Castleton Tower parking area when we left. But the trail to Castleton, which I thought was hard before this, proved a breeze in comparison.

We reached the gentler parts of the trail at sunset and started running down the sandy trail toward the wash. I had just enough energy to run the last downhill parts and then hike along the wash in rapidly fading light to reconnoiter with our faithful van.

We’d driven it up the hill, out of the wash, that morning, so that potential flash floods wouldn’t carry it downstream. Since the weather remained dry, we drove back down from the hillside toward the flat ledge beside the wash where we parked overnight.

That night, I admired the stars. We were over 20 miles from Moab and its light pollution. With dry desert air, a moon not yet risen, and no lights anywhere, the stars sparkled across the black night in incomparable clarity. I saw frequent shooting stars, part of the 2008 Orionid meteor showers. Although some astronomers predicted that the moon would obscure the meteors, in Moab’s clear desert air, we saw a fair number or meteors before moonrise.


Our ‘camp’ beside the wash

We slept in our van, so put up no tent.

Sister superior group - Baby sister
Posted by sibylle in utah (Friday October 24, 2008 at 9:52 am)


Sunset on the Sister Superior group, from trail

We returned to the base of Jah-Man at 3:20, which left us time to quickly hike over to Baby Sister and Crazy Little Sister and  climb two more towers (Tristan is on a mission to climb 100 towers. I would be, but don’t know if that’s feasible.)

Getting to the base of the next two towers proved possible, but not quick. We walked to the ridge along the sloping, sliding shelf that passes for a trail; crossed to the shady east side of the towers, and picked our way precariously along the top or side of the ridge. A half hour of scrambling along boulders and the base of the towers got us near the end of the ridge, where the smallest towers awaited us.

We picked these two precisely because they were small and easy. We initially hoped to start the descent at 5:00 p.m., since the sun set around 6:00 p.m. and our approach took 1 1/2 hours. We soon revised our “must-leave-by” time to 5:30, since we would have some light until 7:00. Rushing to the base, we threw down our stuff and I quickly led easy crack to the summit. After a quick photo, we downclimbed and headed for the next tower, not bothering to change from climbing shoes to hiking shoes.
Tristan romped up our last tower, brought me up, and we rappelled down. Then we raced toward the other end of the ridge and our evil descent path.

“Our timing’s been right on today.” Tristan announced. “We reached the base at 10:00, got back down shortly after 3:00, and started the descent at 5:30.” We scrambled down past precipitous drop-offs as quickly as we dared, finally reaching the safer haven of the lower mesa around sunset. By the time we reached the wash, the sun had set, leaving us just enough light to stumble down the wash for another half hour to our car and to camp.

SS from BabyS.JPG

Sister Superior group from the summit of Baby Sister

Posted by sibylle in utah (Thursday October 23, 2008 at 10:33 am)


Atop pitch one of Jah-Man


Tristan leading the wonderful hand crack on  pitch four


Resting on the summit

On top: Rectory, Castleton and La Sal mountains in back


Back at the base with shredded tape

Jah-Man on Sister Superior
Posted by sibylle in utah (Thursday October 23, 2008 at 8:33 am)


This plaque marks the start of the route

We wanted to next climb Jah-Man  on nearby Sister Superior. Two routes high on climber’s objectives include Jah-Man and Fine Jade. We hoped that Jah-man might provide an easier day - we’d need only one rope, as each of the five pitches was short enough to rappel with one rope. The climb involved mostly hand cracks and no offwidth, so we could leave behind the largest (and heaviest) gear.


Negotiating the wash on the way to Jah-Man

We drove north on the River Road towards a “white bridge”. On our second try, we found the ‘bridge’ – more of a small culvert with white guardrails. We turned onto a narrow, rutted dirt track that didn’t look as though my minivan – all track, but not 4WD, and with low clearance – could negotiate. The drive up the steep, boulder-strewn wash remains  the scariest driving on which I’ve taken this car. Despite anticipating imminent disaster, we reached a flat spot where we could camp and walk the remaining mile and a half rather than risk losing my van.

We filled our water and packed all climbing gear into the packs for an early start. We hoped to climb Jah-Man, a five-pitch route, and then climb Baby Sister and Crazy Little Sister, two towers further down the same ridge. After walking all the way up, we might as well climb more towers.

Even Tristan, who rarely rises before 9 a.m., agreed to get up early and start hiking by 8:30. We reached the base by 10:00 after hiking a direct steep line along a ridge crest that bears only minimal resemblance to a trail. After negotiating short climbs and crossing above precipitous drops, I dreaded descending this trail.

At the base, a plaque of what must be ‘Jah-Man’ showed us the route’s beginning. Our short first pitch followed a thin crack to a ledge, traversed right to another short crack up to a ledge, and traversed further right to the base of an ominous squeeze chimney.

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