Jul 27, 2013


Marvelous view on Castleton Tower from Castleton Valley

Written by Sandra 

 It is 6 o' clock in the morning when we wake up from the sound of the alarm clock. We have to get up. Today is THE day, and Karl is waiting for us. After taking a shower and a quick breakfast we receive a text message from Karl, the other climber in our party. He says he has good news and bad news. The good news is that we are already wide awake and ready to go, which would have been nearly impossible for the two of us if we weren't supposed to meet up with him.... And the bad news is he can't join us today. His climbing partner has bailed out. A bit bummed out since Karl is also the one who knows the climb and has done it many times before, we head out towards the famous Castleton Tower in Castleton Valley, Moab. This will be our first desert tower!

 The approach is very steep. Although it is still very early, it is already starting to get hot. After one hour we reach the bottom of the climb. Looking up we are very impressed with this huge pinnacle rising up from the desert. Castleton Tower is 105 meters high, and standing straight up from the desert. It has been the setting of numerous music videos, commercials and movies. Film crews have even lowered cars on the top with a helicopter. One day a model had to spend the night there in a car because the wind had become so strong the helicopter could not land anymore! I guess it can be very windy on top of a desert tower.

 Marcel tells me the start of the climb should be somewhere around the left corner. I'm getting pretty nervous about the whole expedition as i look towards the left side where loose rocks sit above a immense abyss. "Are you sure? Are you really really sure?" i ask Marcel. He just smiles, grabes the gear and rope and wanders off around the corner. I'm having serious doubts now and with a huge stone in my stomach i'm trying to convince myself that Marcel would be really happy for us if we did the climb. So, i follow him.

 After getting our gear sorted out, Marcel starts to climb. The first moves look quite hard and for a moment I hope I will be able to even start the route. Climbing cracks has made me an absolute beginner again. The grading and the moves are so different from sport climbing, it is a totally different technique.

Halfway the second pitch
When Marcel went up, i saw it looked harder than i hoped it was. After he reaches the first belay, I start to climb. There are no holds, only a crack and a huge boulder blocking my way. It takes me a long time before I figure out how to balance myself off the ground. "This is probably the hardest part of the route!" Marcel shouts from above. I pray to God that he is right. Instead of holding on to small holds and standing on small edges the idea with crack climbing is that you stick your hand in a crack and turn it somehow so it jams in the rock. As footholds you put your foot in the crack and turn it, pinky tow down. This hurts a lot! It all feels pretty unsure and unstable. The first pitch is really long too, which makes communication hard. Luckily there is no wind, that would have made talking even worse.

The second pitch starts with an 5.9 offwidth section. Offwidth is the crack size where the width is too big to fit your fist, yet too small to squeeze your body in. You have to use two fists stacked together, two hands stacked on top ('butterfly') or a combination of these two techniques. In other words... Offwidth is the weirdest and most difficult crack size to climb!

Marcel places the only #4 Camalot we have, in the crack, just past a very old and rusty looking piton. Karl has borrowed us the #4, saying we really need this piece of gear. We are happy that he did. Falling on the very old piton is not an option, and for a while there is no other gear to be placed. Marcel is making weird noises while he struggles up this section. He says it feels more like a wrestling match. After my own long struggle with the rock we are both finally at the second belay. We take many pictures because the scenery is pretty spectacular. The third pitch is a lot easier and actually has some good holds, giving me a small break from crack climbing. When we are at the final belay before the top Marcel offers me to lead the last pitch to the top. Although I think it is really scary, I start the lead.... only to bail out after just five moves. Not this time! The fear of falling and making a weird pendulum at a height of almost a hundred meters is too scary for me. So Marcel leads again and somewhere around late afternoon we are standing together on the top of the tower. The view is incredible. The golden light of the descending sun is making everything look even better. We smile and look around us. We did it! On the top there is a so called 'top box' with some small notebooks in it. This is very common for long multipitch routes. In the books all the people who stood at the top wrote something in it. Some of the texts are from 20 years ago. Of course we also leave our mark by writing something in it.

Awesome view on The Convent, The Nuns and The Priest

Yes we did it :)

Then it is time for the descent..

It is probably the most scariest descent i have ever done. The drop is more then hundred meters as you step over the edge. When Marcel throws both the 70m ropes over the edge to start the rappel, the wind blows the ropes almost horizontal. While he descents the rope disappears around the corner. I can see he's nervous, hoping his rope won't get stuck on the way down. This does not really help me in wanting to do this rappel too. But I know the only way I will get off this mountain is like this, I have no choice but to follow. Thank God Marcel is holding my rope so at least it won't get stuck around the corner by the wind when i am dangling on it. The wind is getting really strong now and after two more rappels I am very happy we are finally back on the ground. But we still have to walk back. As we run off the mountain the sun is setting and it is getting dark. We lose the path but quickly find it back again. We are almost at the parking lot when we lose the path again. It takes us another 45 minutes to finally find it back again. It is crazy how the color of a path can be so clear on daylight and so invisible by the light of an iphone. I make a mental note: Never forget your headlights on a multi pitch!

The blue dot is me rappelling down!

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