Castleton Tower, Kor-Ingalls route, 5.9+
The morning had been a great success already with an early start and climb of Ancient Art's Stolen Chimney route in the Fisher Tower area. We had gotten up at 4:30am and climbed Ancient Art by 8:00am. Some coffee and breakfast sandwiches back at our car camp at the Fisher Tower trailhead had us fueled and ready for more. We climbed the 60 foot Entry Fee route, 5.9R, on Lizard Rock at the Fisher Tower trailhead and then decided we had plenty of time and energy to drive over to Castle Valley and climb Castleton Tower. We'd make a decision to climb either the classic Kor-Ingalls route or the North Chimney route depending on crowds and heat once we got to the base of the tower. At the Castleton Tower trailhead we were the only car there so crowds weren't going to be an issue. It was also a bit breezy and didn't feel too warm so I was thinking we'd have a good chance of climbing the Kor-Ingalls route. We each carried a single 9mm rope so we could climb with doubles and make the long rappels down the north face of the tower to descend. The approach follows a nice trail created by the American Mountain Foundation? for a steep 1.5 miles to the base of the tower. It took us just a little over an hour to reach the base of the tower on the north side. We weren't quite sure how to access the Kor-Ingalls route so we followed a faint trail up towards the base of the North Chimney wondering if we could go around the tower on the east side. No dice! But we did get a good view of the North Chimney route and the rappel route so this side excursion wasn't all bad.
Early afternoon approach on the nice trail to Castleton's base.
We back-tracked down the slick side trail to the main trail and went around the tower on the west side on good trail up to the base of the Kor-Ingalls. It was a sunny day but with a slight breeze it wasn't too hot so we decided it was a go. I racked up while looking up the intimidating-looking corner system deciding what gear to take. I took one set of medium to large nuts and too many cams up to a BD #3.5. I had a BD #5 in the pack but everything I had read indicated the #5 would just be a pain in the ass and not useful despite the fact that some of the crack/chimney I could see from the ground looked like it would take it. Oh well-I left it in the pack. We started climbing at 1:00pm exactly. The first pitch started off with an awesome hand crack but that only lasted for about ten feet.
Looking down the first ten feet of pitch one.
After some easier ground I was staring up what must be the 5.7ish squeeze chimney. I got up into it and starting the grunting to get my 6'5" frame and too-big rack through the chimney. It was awkward for sure but at least I felt very secure totally jammed in the thing. As I went through, I thought of Allison trying to come through it with our small pack containing water, some food and webbing. I knew it would be a pain through there so I purposely didn't clip the pink rope into any protection so that we could haul the pack through on that rope ahead of Allison.
The view down through the squeeze chimney on pitch 1.
I reached the bolted belay on a small platform. Allison sure made the squeeze chimney look a lot better than I did and climbed the pitch quickly. Looking up at the second pitch I could see the crack on the right that is the correct 5.8 crack to take. Other reports warned of getting suckered into the crack on the left and ending up in 5.10 terrain. Climbing this crack was good climbing with decent protection and nice holds on the outside of the crack as well as an ultra-secure foot jam that I had to work at a bit to get out! It was steep climbing for sure but enjoyable compared to the squeezing we just did and certainly compared to what was to come on the third pitch! I reached the bolted belay at a nice ledge and brought Allison up. Again she cruised the pitch. Looking up the third pitch I knew we were about to get into the real business. The climbing at the start of the third pitch was good with nice positive features on the calcite on the left side passing a bolt and a slung chockstone for protection.
The best climbing on the third pitch comes before the crux off-width above.
But then it was real off-width climbing time. Rather than get into the chimney initially, I was able to lie back off the edge on the right and found this to be pretty good. I saw another bolt on the right face and was happy to clip it despite the fact that I had to hand-tighten the nut with about three full rotations to make the hanger tight. Above this bolt people had reported a decent cam placement way back in the chimney but I was not thrilled about going back in there so I did my best to just struggle through the moves and utilizing a partial stem off a good ledge well behind me on the left. My 6'5" height was paying off! I stopped to catch my breath and uncomfortably ponder the fact that I was now 20' feet above my last pro which happened to be the hand tightened bolt on the right face. I didn't think about for very long and pushed my way up to the top of the chimney and placed an instant-relief-giving, small alien cam in a crack on the left before making the final moves to the nice ledge atop the third pitch. I felt guilty for what Allison was about to have to do as I put her on belay but at least she'd be on top-rope!
Ah, lovely off-width crux sections!
And yet again, despite some heavy breathing, she made the pitch look a lot better than I had utilizing more on the right face than I did. When she reached the top of the pitch she proclaimed she was ready to be on top and done with this chimney stuff. I told her I was too and assured her the next pitch involved some supposed great face climbing. Thankfully, the awesome face climbing did materialize and the fourth pitch, while short, was super fun. I reached the anchors just below the summit a little after 3:00pm.
Allison climbing along the really enjoyable face climbing on the final pitch just below the summit.
Allison joined me at the belay in short order and we hopped up to the summit to enjoy the view and some food and water! The summit was a very unique position and it was awesome to consider the location of this platform high up in the air with vertical walls all around. It's so very unique and a place that a relative few will ever get to visit.
Taking in the view of Castleton Valley.
After some lounging we cracked into the ammo can summit register box to find the notebook full. I had brought up a small notebook just in case so we marked it as the supplemental summit register and signed it stating that we weren't quite sure we're off-width climbers! Then it was time to descend. We rappelled the north face from super beefy chains placed on top. I wasn't quite sure how many double-rope rappels we needed to do so when I saw some metolius rap anchors just a short distance down I moved to those. I don't like passing up anchors! So ultimately we ended up doing four rappels with no stuck ropes!
Clean rappelling down the heavily calcite-clad north face.
The hike back out took us only about 45 minutes and we arrived back at the car at 5:45pm. Plenty of time to get into Moab for a well-deserved dinner and beer at the Moab Brewery!
Written by Jason Halladay on 30 May 2007 for TheMountainInstitute.com.