Tuesday, after finally tying everything off in Boulder, running "just a few" last errands, packing the car, cleaning out my room, and saying goodbye to my roommates, etc etc, I finally pull onto I-70 and point the car WEST. At 9pm. Five hours later, I struggle to keep my eyes open; I need to watch out for any stray cattle, deer, antelope, and fallen boulders on River Road. Finally I pull into camp at Castle Valley, just east of Moab, Utah. I quickly throw down a tarp and pass out. Waking the next morning, the huge sandstone towers, the namesakes of Castle Valley, greet me in brilliant sunshine.
Hiking up to the towers. The Priest is the further one on this ridge, with the prominent roof sticking out on its left side.
I've come to Castle Valley to meet up with a friend from Colorado, Josh, who has been camping and climbing out here in the desert for the past month. He's been working on a particularly hard route here, and is excited to finally have a partner so that he can try and lead it. So we hike to to the towers, try to ignore the raging wind that seems like it's trying to disassemble the towers, on grain of sand at a time. The day's objective is a route call Excommunication, on the Priest tower Since this is Josh's project, he's gonna lead all of the pitches, which is fine by me; it looks hard!
The climbing goes well, Josh had been working on the hard sections on solo top-rope, so he moves quickly through the first two 5.12 arete pitches. The third pitch is the crux at 5.13a, but Josh is worried that it might be harder, since he had broken off a fairly good hold while working on it a few days earlier. It does end up being a challenge, Josh hangs a few times before piecing together the moves, and I have a hard time following it. One more 5.11+ pitch and some sandy crack climbing takes us to the summit, surely the highlight of the climb for me. This summit, like many towers in the desert, is truly an "island in the sky" totally inaccessible except by difficult, technical climbing. There's an old ammo box bolted to the top with a summit register, it's amazing to read notes going back three decades, clearly this is an inspiring place to be!
Josh leading Pitch 2 of Excommunication
The weather in Castle Valley is very fickle, with the insane winds bringing clouds past like passing jets. One minute we're sweating in the sun, the next were being rained on. It's still early in the day, we'd have time for another climb, but the incoming clouds quickly obscure the mountains around us and we decide it's time to hike down. Reaching camp, it seems like a good time to pack the cars and head further WEST.
The fully loaded road-trip-mobile
So where are we now? Zion Canyon! I'm sitting in the county library here in the town of Springdale, we're taking a rest day on account of the weather. Spirits are high, though, check out this forecast:
Looks splitter! That was not the case, however, yesterday. It was out first day in Zion, and Josh and I wanted to get a feel for the area with a long classic 5.10: Iron Messiah. Though the weather called for 60% chance of precipitation, but we took our chances and headed up anyways. The climbing was fun, adventure style easy climbing, with plenty of chimneys and sandy rock. Nearing the top, trying to move quickly and beat the incoming clouds, we lose the race and it starts to snow. Yep, mid-april in the southern Utah desert, and we getting snowed on about 1000 feet off the deck. No matter, we've been paying attention to the pitch lengths and we know that we can safely rappel, and we are back on the ground within an hour.
Josh is skeptical of our skimpy rack
Josh following Pitch 2 of Iron Messiah
This place ain't ugly