Fantasia: The Oracle
The Oracle is one of the major Fisher Towers, along with Echo Tower, Kingfisher, Cottontail Tower, The Titan, and
Ancient Art. The first ascent in 1970 by Harvey Carter and Steve Kentz produced the route Fantasia (5.10- C2 R). Since then there have been two other routes put up on the formation, Beaking in Tongues, and Beak to the Future, both of which involve very hard aid. Though Fantasia is the easiest route up The Oracle, it is not a route for the faint of heart, and as of spring 2013, had only seen approximately 11 ascents since 1970. The Oracle was to be Noah and Brian's fourth major Fisher Tower to be climbed. I was invited to come join in on the fun as the third member of the party.
View of the Oracle from the Trail. The route begins in the notch down on the right and follows just behind the right arete for the first 3 pitches, then follows the ridge.
Me at the bottom of the first pitch on our first attempt. Psyched.
In Mid March, Brian, Noah, and I hiked to the base of the route and began climbing Fantasia. I climbed the first pitch: a muddy, sandy, and steep offwidth in a corner. The wide crack led to a right-ward traverse, which was rated 5.9 on our topo. Luckily I found it to be much easier than that, perhaps only 5.7 or 5.8. After some more chimney moves, I ascended the 4 bolt ladder to the first pitch belay ledge. After fixing the rope, Noah jugged and cleaned pitch one and got started leading the second pitch. This consisted of a 10 bolt or so ladder over sandy and flaky rock. A few sections in between bolts required 5.8 climbing. Noah reached the roomy ledge on the top of the second pitch, fixed the rope, and I jugged and cleaned. While I was doing that, Brian jugged the first pitch and smashed his finger pretty bad. When he arrived at the top of pitch 2, his finger was swollen and bruised, no condition to lead the third pitch. But, we wouldn't have been able to continue anyway, as the winds were kicking up very quickly. The wind had been whipping Noah's etriers up into his face as he was leading the second pitch. We decided to fix to the ground and see what the winds would do the next day, though we weren't very optimistic because the forecast called for even stronger winds the next day. We returned to camp and sat around the campfire sharing stories with climbing legends.
View down the first pitch.
Noah aiding the pitch 2 bolt ladder.
The next morning we decided conditions were way too bad to continue climbing. We decided to come back in a couple weeks and finish the route. We still hiked back to the base that morning to switch out the rope on pitch one and securely (or so we thought) attach the rope to the base of the cliff to prevent it from blowing away. We spent the rest of the day climbing a couple small towers
near the parking lot. We felt confident that upon our next arrival, with better weather, we would be able to finish the climb. The aid climbing so far had not been too difficult, and the free climbing ratings harder than they actually were.
Back for Business
About 15 days after fixing the first 2 pitches, there we were once again, sorting gear in the parking lot. We already knew that our fixed rope on the first pitch and blown off the ground and was tangled in the anchor. This information came to us via Noah's buddy Jason, who had been on the route a week earlier in an attempt to free climb it. This discouraging news meant that we had to re-lead the first pitch. We decided to bivy at the base in order to save time from hiking the lengthy approach back and fourth. So on Tuesday morning we started hiking with 60 or 70 pound packs loaded with gear, ropes, food, water, beer, sleeping bags and pads. We made it to the base in about 2 hours, and Brian started leading the first pitch. Happy to see that our rope wasn't too terribly tangled in the anchor, he fixed it again so I could jug and clean. Noah jugged the (luckily) still secured rope up the second pitch to inspect the rope for damage from sitting on the wall for 2 weeks. By this time it had began to hail and rain, so we all came down and sat in a cave and drank beer. Within 2 hours the precipitation stopped. A little tipsy, we decided it would be a good idea to get back up on the wall and try and fix the third pitch. Noah and I jugged back to the top of the second pitch and I blasted off up the third pitch, which started with a bolt ladder that lead to a loose traverse to the right on horns and sandy edges. This put me at the base of the long crack. After clipping a bolt, I made a couple of mandatory free moves up the dirty crack to get to my first placement, and almost fell when a dirt clod hold I was grasping in my left hand ripped. Now that all the alcohol induced courage had been scared out of me, it allowed the adrenaline powered focus to set in and I spent the next hour "in the zone" aiding up a very enjoyable, straight-forward C1+ crack. I reached the belay ledge at the top of the pitch minutes before sunset, fixed the rope, rapped and cleaned.
This was the view from our drinking cave as the rains came down.
Fixed gear on pitch 3. This was the only fixed piece on any of the lower pitches (besides bolts).
The three of us settled in for a cold, fitful night of sleep at the notch in between the Oracle and the Titan. We marveled at what all the towers looked like in the dark shadows of night, similar to as when one imagines the shapes of clouds. The Titan eerily looked like a 900 foot-tall Devil with his canine companion by his side. We were nervous for what was in store for us the next day.
Noah jugging the start of pitch 3, in the early morning on summit day.
Noah at the start of the fourth pitch, still in his pajamas.
We awoke at pre-dawn, and got to jugging. The three of us arrived at the third belay just as the sun began to bathe the wall in the early morning warm light (I dubbed these kinds of sun rays "crazy rays" a few years back). Noah got to work on the fourth pitch, an initially confusing pitch that involved aid trickery off the belay and strange route-finding. After cursing up a storm, he found the unprotected 5.7 traverse on sandy sloping holds and chimney that lead to the "Hourglass Belay", a small belay ledge next to a couple holes that went straight through the thin ridge. This was where the exposure started getting to our heads. After some discussion, I took to leading the messed up fifth pitch. After some easy traversing on more sloped, sandy ledges, I came to a small chimney in between two gendarmes that put me on a small ledge with a bolt. This was where route finding got the best of me. I looked above me; nothing. I tension traversed out to the right, looked around the corner, and again saw nothing. I downclimbed the chimney, traversed further still along the ridge and came to the base of an ugly looking crack that topped out where I wasn't even sure I needed to be. Determined to get somewhere on the pitch, I started aiding up this dirty crack, but backed off three pieces up into it. The crack was flaring and choked full of mud, way harder than the C1 crack as described on the topo for this pitch. I reversed back to the ledge above the chimney with the bolt and belayed the others over. At this point, Noah and I were mentally donezo. Brian took over and valiantly led the rest of the pitch. He pendulum-ed off the belay bolt back to the crack I had initially tried to lead, and was able to top step on a shaky tricam placed in mud to get to the next bomber number 6 cam placement. After Noah and I followed, it was just a matter of moving the belay 25 feet along the 3rd class ridge to the rappel station. That ended the sketchy ridge traversing section of this wacky climb.
Noah at the top of the rappel that leads into the notch. The infamous seventh pitch is visible above our shadows. Brian is in the notch below, which is also the start of the rappels atop the GI (gastrointenstinal) chimney that leads to the ground.
From the rappel, Noah studied the ominous 5.10- R pitch. It looked certainly run-out, but doable. Being only about 50 feet long, he brilliantly lead it in about 5 minutes. He even got bonus points for pulling the wild, "Cliffhanger style" dyno over the 600 foot void to the hidden jug on the side of the pitch. I rapped down to the notch as Brian jugged up, then I jugged up, and we were all sitting beneath the massive summit pitch.
Looking down the last pitch and one of the steepest, tallest walls in the desert; just a few feet below the summit.
I was coaxed into leading the summit pitch. Excuses from my partners included "It's just a bolt ladder" and "This is your first major Fisher Tower, you need to be the first to get to the top". Famous last words...The pitch started with major trickery: lassoing the tag line over a 10 foot tall horn. I tried just plain throwing it about 6 or 7 times and didn't even come close. Then I busted out the stick clip and finagled the rope over the damn thing. Noah tensioned one side of the rope, and I, counter-weighted on the other side of the horn, jugged to the top of it. Once atop the horn, the bolt ladder started. At about the fourth bolt, a mandatory, hard-looking free move had to be executed in order to reach the next bolt. As much as I would have liked to have freed the move, I was too plain scared. I pulled out the stick clip and batmaned up the rope. I repeated this process for a couple more of the reachy bolts I encountered on this exposed pitch. I eventually pulled up onto the summit ledge, fixed the ropes, and collapsed on the flat summit area. I was so happy to be finally done with being scared. I tried not to think about the rappels. Noah and Brian joined me on the summit and we all celebrated by drinking water and reading the register. We were the alleged 16th ascent party up the Oracle. By this time it was 6:15 pm. We decided to make like the sun and go down. A long, airy rappel took us down to the top of the seventh pitch, and a short rappel into the notch. From there we had to rappel a full rope length down the Gastrointestinal Chimney of Doom. After backing up the rap anchor, we rappelled to the ground in the last usable daylight. I was very relieved. The climb was type 2 fun I suppose, but I would never do the route again. It was frightening, challenging, and grueling. Brian and Noah said that it was the hardest route that they had done in the Fishers to date. That gives me hope though, for the routes up some of the other towers shouldn't be quite as hard as this one.
My partners arriving on the summit.
Looking down(!) on King Fisher and Echo from the summit of the Oracle.
Noah on the summit.
Cool view of the Titan, from the summit of The Oracle.
We spent that evening drinking beer at our bivy spot and reliving the climb in each other's words, pitch by pitch, which was a lot of fun. I slept pretty good that night. The next morning we hiked all our gear out in one push, with 70 ish pound packs .
It was a fun adventure. It's difficult for me to elaborate more on how this climb made me feel and what my thoughts are after the fact, but all I know that it has changed me not only as a climber, but as a person as well. Never had I been so scared on a climb. Maybe it might be time for some sport climbing. Then again, Noah and Brian are planning Cottontail Tower soon, and they need a partner...