A few weeks ago we were sitting around SLC cooking Cuban Sandwiches and Butter Beans. Before too long we’d devoured the delicious eats and we’re indulging in some of our favorite Rye whiskeys. Dwyer was getting his pun on and repeatedly hammering our statements like, “You butter bean be cooking slow cooked pork for that Cuban Sandwich.”
The whiskey kept flowing and the topics of Birthday’s came up, and all of the sudden everyone realized that my Birthday was coming up in a few weeks. Anderson and Peters started brainstorming the best place for celebration. When out of the blue, both of these hardcore rock grapplers simultaneously shouted out, “We should have it on top of Castleton!” Plied with excess whiskey and a stomach full tender pork, I said, that sounds like a fantastic idea.
Little did I know exactly what I might be getting into.
We pulled into the parking lot for Castleton Tower in the Castle Valley a touch North-East of Moab, UT.
The sun was setting, and in a few short hours we’d be headed up this guy.
It was my first good look at the tower. I could hardly believe that we were seriously considering climbing this stone spire. What was I thinking? My words stuck in my throat and I could barely think about doing this.
Andy spoke up, “Jack, you can’t believe the view we’re going to have on top of this guy.”
“Are you sure we can get up there?”
Andy, “Of course we can, we’ll cruise right up it.”
“Alright,” I thought, “I’ll believe it when I’m back on the ground tomorrow.”
Our plan to go to the desert was taking shape.
(sidebar: How do you know the difference between desert and dessert? I always remember that dessert has two S’s because I always want seconds).
We had an all star crew, comprised and the fearless lead climbing couple Andy and Kim in one car. And myself, Colleen and Carly in the second. We headed out of Salt Lake City on a Friday afternoon with Andy and my truck loaded to the gills with grillable meats, coors original, sleeping bags and loads of climbing gear.
We had our sights set on Indian Creek, a crack climbing mecca on the road into the Southern access point to Canyonlands National Park. Our drive took us down I15 through what we’ve nicknamed “The Gauntlet” a stretch of highway perpetually under construction between SLC and Provo. It’s tight and chock full of Friday afternoon commuters. Midway through this serious stretch of road Andy’s truck starts having some gas hiccups. It makes it to the offramp where it proceeds to cease up and refuse to start.
Being the enterprising gents that we are, we had it attached to my truck via a heavy duty tow strap and some locking carabiners and we were giving it the old school tow to Jiffy Lube in no time. After a quick consultation with the mechanic, he told us we were shit out of luck, this trucks going to need a tow.
We got on the phone to AAA and had a tow truck in no time. Andy and Kim took off to SLC in the tow truck, leaving Andy’s truck with the mechanic, and picking up Kim’s Subaru. This put them a few hours behind schedule, but they swore they’d meet us in Indian Creek later that evening.
We drove through the nights and got to the desert dirt bag camping capital of the world. And what do you know, on a Friday night at nearly midnight, it was just about full. We found some nice Albertan’s in the mid 50s that had a larger then average site, and we posted up on a postcard sized portion of their site. We made some midnight hamburgers in the cast iron and went to bed!
Sometime in the middle of the night Andy and Kim arrived, and we all awoke early in the morning to red rocks and blue skys. HELLO desert, fancy meeting you here.
We put the breakfast burrito machine on overdrive and got to cooking. Colleen and Carly took care of the heavy lifting.
Andy and Kim rolled out of their Subaru and their stoke was on high. They were ready to do some climbing.
We jumped in the cars after seeking claim of a larger camp site and throwing our chairs around it so someone else couldn’t post up on it without our permission! Pulling into the lot, I realized I was in for a whole new kind of climbing, that I wasn’t quite ready for.
This isn’t the kind of climbing where you grab onto things and pull your way up the wall. This is the kind of climbing that grabs onto you, and you hope you can hang on. Literally, the wall is almost dead smooth, and full of cracks. The only way to make upwards progress is to jam your hands and feet into these cracks, and make them as big as possible once they’re inside the rock. By adding extra friction of expanding your hands you create enough force that you can pull up on the rock.
Pretty simple, rinse and repeat, before you know it you’re going to be at the top. Andy queued up the first route, the Key Hole.
It’s hand jammin’ central.
And you better be ready to get in there and get after it, or you aren’t going to make it very far. Andy put up the route in a matter of seconds, I was a little blown away. How in the hell did he get up there so fast?
If he could run up it that easy, I’m sure I could get up there too.
He came down, and I said, “OK my turn.”
He looked at me sideways, “You sure, this isn’t exactly an easy one to start on.”
“Damn right I’m sure,” even if I certainly wasn’t. I got up on the route, and got a little ways along, and before you know it I was screaming, “TAKE!!!”
I made it up to the top. But I did a lot more taking, then giving. I came back down, and looked at my hands, arms, feet. They were all cut and bruised. I quickly came to the understanding that this was going to be a lot harder then I’d originally imagined.
Kim quickly got on the same route, and just like Andy, she screamed right up to the top.
We got on a handful of other routes that day, including the oft referred to SUPER CRACK.
It amazed me how smooth the sandstone walls were. If you couldn’t jam yourself into one of the cracks you weren’t getting very far! After an entire day on the rock, we got back to the cars and posted up in the shade to enjoy some of Adolf Coors tastiest treats – The Banquet beer.
I was beat, abused, bruised and thirsty. But I was sure happy. Towards the end of the day the technique started to click and everyone was getting stoked on crack climbing. We couldn’t stop recounting the fun things we’d done that day, looking back towards the wall.
The drive back to camp was a glorious one. The sun was setting over Indian Creek and lighting up the desert plateaus.
The sun was making easy work of picture taking, and lighting up every last feature in the valley.
Day 2 dawned much the same as Day 1.
More Indian Creek climbing on tap before we headed out for the main objective. We positioned ourselves into a beautiful spot for some warm up routes early in the morning.
Andy started off the day, and up he went – the angle getting ever steeper on each route we clipped into.
We had a killer day on the rock. Everyone was getting the crack climbing technique down pat. We were ready to get it going to the next level.
On the walk back to the car, we were treated to an early evening moon rise.
Read about the author: Porter Haney