Sunday, March 16, 2014

Otto's Long Dong and Medicine Man

Independence Monument, the jewel of the park 

Desert towers become somewhat of an addiction after having summited a few. Just ask Steve "Crusher" Bartlett who compiled a book full of them ironically entitled, "Desert Towers", and who has topped out on well over 100+. They range from classic crack routes like Fine Jade(loved that one) to obscure aid nightmares like Death of American Democracy(have not nor ever will do this one). Most of the time towers require a unique blend of skills you may not have developed at your neighborhood gym. Squeeze chimneys, sandy rock, poor anchors, runout face climbing, offwidth, complex routefinding, and a large quantity of cams and adventure usually accompany such climbing. After months without a desert tower summit, depression starts to set in despite what cool ski lines have been tagged during the winter months.

Annie and I, joined by Court, Pete, and the Lindsays, set out to explore Colorado National Monument, a more off the radar tower destination with nearby Moab being the epicenter. Court and I set out to climb 3 towers in one day, which would be a new record for us mortals. The towers and routes in order were:

1. Medicine Man on the Sentinel, 4 pitches, 12b
2. Long Dong Wall on Kissing Couple, 5 pitches, 11a
3. Ottos route on Independence Monument, 4 pitches, 5.8

Tower 1. Sentinel Spire. Medicine Man goes straight up the face

We rapped in off a tree near the Book Cliffs Viewpoint and hiked down to the base of tower 1.

The big daddy was Medicine Man, with two 5.10 pitches, one 11+ pitch, and one 5.12 pitch. I led the first fun 5.10 pitch which was funky juggy face climbing to a nice handcrack. Court took the 11+ 2nd pitch which involved hard .75 liebacking to a flared chimney thing, to a finger bulge. He almost sent but slipped out near the top. I took the 12b thin hands pitch which sucked up 6 reds, 1 yellow, and 1 blue cam. It was sustained and strenuous, but overall a 5 star pitch. Unfortunately I could not enjoy my onsight afterward since my mental strength is that of a tortured war prisoner and I proceeded to have a hyperventilation meltdown. It was kind of scary, but after a few minutes I was able to relax. Court followed clean and sent the next pitch in good style despite another tricky roof traverse with fingers above.

Pitch 1, fun hand crack

Pitch 2, hard .75 liebacking to chimney flare thing

The "best thin hands splitter in the desert". Excuse Station and Pente got nothin on this pitch
Fun 4th pitch. Funky fingers and hands

We met Pete and Steve on top who had climbed the 5.10 Fast Draw on the North Face. We rapped and headed over to Kissing Couple while Pete and Steve jugged out to retrieve Steve's family.
The boys on the summit!

Steve and Pete on Fast Draw

Tower 2. Kissing Couple

Annie met up with us for Long Dong Wall on Kissing Couple. Court sent the sustained pitch 1 with fingers to hands to a hard face traverse we all aided through. I took pitch 2, a fun easy chimney. Pitch 3 was a chossy 4th class pitch. Court did pitch 4, supposably "the best 5.8 pitch in the desert". I contend the first pitch of North Chimney on Castleton is far better, but it was pretty wild chimneying up between the gash in the towers. The final pitch was one of the weirder ones I've ever led. Hard 5.10 slopey face climbing with tons of bird crap everywhere proceeded stemming up between the two towers to a final mantle through a hole to the top. It was one of the more memorable pitches I've done in the desert.

Court following Pitch 2 
fun chimney on pitch 2

Court leading Pitch 4, heading up between the towers

See all that white stuff? Thats bird crap. Annie traversing across the fat ledge covered in it. 
Squeezing up through the hole onto the top
Me congratulating  my 6 month pregnant wife on summitting another tower

We rapped and raced over to Independence Monument to do what is likely the most popular desert tower route in the country, Castleton included. This thing has got to get climbed 500+ times a year, with likely 20+ ascents on July 4th alone. The history behind the route is interesting as the FA predates(1911) any kind of ethical issues associated with modern climbing like cutting holds, hammering in pitons, and full on rebar Half Dome style to ascend the rock. Good Ol' Otto was ahead of his time back in the day, but would now be shunned violently if he employed those methods today.

Basically we followed a pretty easy and manufactured route to the summit, with a short OW section and the final drilled pocket topout being the highlights. We rapped just as the sun was setting and enjoyed a long hike back out to the car in the dark.
Pete enjoying the OW section of Otto's

Annie on top of Independence as the sun sets
Everyone summited at least one tower with most summiting two!
Anna: only 3 years old, not quite ready for towers yet
Izzy: Ottos route
Pete/Steve: Sentinel/Otto's
Annie: Kissing Couple/Otto's
Spence/Court: Sentinel/Kissing Couple/Ottos

Saturday half of us ran a nice 13 mile run from the VC up along the Black Hills trail and then continued onto the Liberty Cap trail, which was fun but not very scenic until the final switchbacks down from Liberty Cap to the Wildwood TH. A much better run would be in the canyon proper but we had seen most of that the day before. It was really cold and windy, so we decided to head home early. Another fun weekend courtesy of the NPS.

Court enjoying some nice trail 

Izzy has become a regular crusher runner 

The best section of the Liberty Cap trail