Day 0: Approach
Been counting down the days to our desert trip since our last desert trip. I think we live in the wrong region of the country. The truck is sitting low and the suspension squeaks under the load of gear, our dog, and the supply of 50 bottles of Oregon’s finest microbrews. Plans to leave work early on Friday fall through as both Shirley and I have some last minute bullshit to finish at work – oh well. We’re on the interstate by 4 entertained by the noises coming out of our new satellite radio. Mix of NPR and Howie keep me going…..and when Shirley falls asleep, I dare and venture into the realm of the PB channel! “So you take a frozen banana” …yes!?, “coat it in molten chocolate” Yes!! “and dip it in some peanuts…” YES!!?!…..sounds interesting. I’m bad – flying at 90 mph through the heart of this here red state listening to devil’s own word! Soon, though a fan of Ginger’s video work, I find myself falling asleep listening to her monotonous voice. OK back, to Stern.
Day 1: Devil’s Golf Ball
After a couple hours of sleep at a rest area and some more driving, we roll into Moab at 3pm. Well shit – with 2 hours of daylight left, what can we do? Quick thumbing through the guidebook and we’re driving into Kane Creek in search of the funky-looking Devil’s Golf Ball formation. The crux of this climb is getting your truck directly under the overhanging mini-tower via some ATV trails so that you can stand on the roof while trying to clip the first bolt. The book claims it’s A0 or 5.8……now that’s a sandbag as the free climbing looks like it would go at 5.12. But again, what do I know so you go get it tiger – especially since the formation looks as though it’s not long for this world! Quick up and down the reachy bolt ladder and we’re tossing down microbrews while still wearing our work clothes.
Day 2: Echo Pinnacle, Window Route
Want something that is not too long of an outing. Having seen a photo of a hippy van parked directly under the formation in the original Bjornstad guidebook, we figure that Echo Pinnacle is it. After a couple coffees in town, we make the short drive north on 191 and turn off onto some dirt roads. Couple miles in, we get our first glance of the tower from a few miles away…few but painful miles as it turns out. The recent flood of the century had turned the dirt roads into washes. The routine goes like this: I get out of the truck to scout out the next 100 feet, “F… it, let’s give it a shot”, punch the car through bottoming out repeatedly and repeat. Finally, we find ourselves driving down a sandstone staircase with 18 inch steps into a deep wash. The opposite bank proves too steep for the Tundra as the engine revs but the car just stands still. Hiking time. An hour approach brings us to the twin formations of Echo Pinnacle and Aeolian Tower. “I can’t believe this is rated 5.8!!” we agree looking up at the Cutler sandstone foundation that makes up the lower 1/3rd of both towers. Indeed – we’re looking at the incorrect side of the tower!! I’m a tool. Opposite side has a more reasonable looking line. I start up the line and find myself sweating at the quality of the rock (I don’t know if technically this is Cutler but it’s like the stuff in the Fishers w/o a cleaning job) – if there’s an opportunity to place a piece, I place three! Upper 2 pitches are infinitely better. Pitch 2 starts up a short overhanging hand crack (blue Camalots – Shirley later swore on this section) that quickly turns into a vertical hand crack in dihedral (nice!) and then “deteriorates” into tight hands (red Camalot – Shirley’s choice section) on the upper third. Hanging here sees me through to the belay. Now comes the classic pitch of the route: a bolt ladder with missing pegs that follows a weird chimney formed by edges of two pinnacles (of the same tower) separated by inches. Some chimneying and some bolt ladder terrain (including lassoing an out of reach pin with an aider) put us on the spacious summit. Scramble to highest point, photos, kisses, a double 70 meter rap and soon enough we’re driving back via the washed out road this time with the added benefit of darkness. Next.
Day 3: Indian Creek, Technicolor Wall and The Desert Crew
Wake up late in our luxurious (no joke) $28/night motel in Moab and head out for some caffeine. As we wait in line, a voice behind me says: “Radek?!”. We look back to see Brad and Paul of the famed desert crew. As it would turn out, the fellas were there for the week with some badass climbing plans. We teeter on whether to join them for their planned White Rim outing but the fact that we have a big dog with us ultimately keeps us out of Canyonlands. We head out to Eric Bjornstad’s house where Brad’s dog Ari will get a test run for a day. We meet the hero of desert climbing for the first time if briefly (we’ll be back). We say good-bye to Brad & Paul and head out to Indian Creek. We have about half a day to try and get some warm up for tomorrow’s climb. Technicolor Wall it is: Shirley leads some big hands 5.9 line and I do a 5.10 splitter next door. Not too strong either of us. We take a few more laps on the 5.10 hoping to get our bodies used to quality cracks again. We spend the evening sitting in camp chairs, sipping beers and eating pasta in front of a roaring fire in the beautiful desert under clear skies….good stuff!
Day 4: North Six Shooter, Lightning Bolt Cracks
Alarm goes off at 7am – the windows on our truck canopy are coated in ice. We make the short drive to the trailhead finding that the huge flood had actually improved this approach (4WD & high clearance required but it's a cruise!). We’re at the base by 9:30 and 15 minutes later I’m already hanging on a piece on the opening finger crack crux. OK, this is supposed to be the hardest section…bullshit – the top of the crack on P1 is a bitch ass OW that gently overhangs. Hang some more on a tipped out #5 while trying to figure things out. First semi-hanging belay and then a cool short chimney and a strenuous (if good sized) hand crack through roof …and another semi-hanging belay. Ledges do not abound on this face. Above and to the right we admire Jeff Achey’s classic “Liquid Sky” – OW to squeeze chimney – all done horizontally through a huge roof and w/o pro. I hear the lines are not that big on this one. Our next pitch up to the roof is nice and very unique – kind of a dihedral going to an easy chimney going to a weird side-ways chimneying to the lip of the roof. Pulling the roof itself as well as the terrain above are hard and I’m not looking forward to the final 40-foot squeeze chimney looming just above. Instead of resting like me, Shirley opts for the much cooler option of peeling off the upper part of this pitch…just where it starts to traverse toward the final squeeze. I hear bad, bad words like “fuck” and “shit” and recognize my wife’s feminine voice as she tries to get back onto the face from the void below. The last pitch is easier but exciting. From our full on hanging belay, fire in two Aliens, mantle into the squeeze and sling a chockstone. If squeeze chimneys are your thing, prepare for Nirvana! For fat bastards like me, much sweating begins. 30 foot sequence goes like this: exhale and scum up one foot higher on the outside with only left shoulder in, inhale to lock yourself in by the chest. Repeat. Don’t worry it’s not so bad as you’re not preoccupied by nonsense like pro on this section. After much bleeding and cursing and hanging we top out. Stellar view indeed though perhaps not as good as stuff in Castle Valley (more monotonous). The double 70 meter rap leaves me 6 feet short of the deck (should not have done fishermans…) and I have to construct a short pile of rocks for the 50% lighter Shirley to land on. In summary: the first pitch was the technical crux, the second pitch was strenuous, the third pitch was awkward AND strenuous and the last pitch was scary. Good fun – I suck. F... it.
Day 5: The Predator, Reign Of Terror
I feel so embarrassed! I have not showered in a few days and my rock shoes are rancid. I can smell my own BO lying on the gurney and I’m coated in dust and mud. Not to mention my breath reeks of beer (good Oregon beer though). Helluva Thanksgiving gift for the poor (LADY) doctor (and the LADY nurse) sewing up my slashed foot. I apologize profusely and their reaffirming silence makes things even more awkward. Shirley is there with encouragements like “LOOK at the size of that needle!!” The cut was a parting gift from our half day with Brad and Paul climbing the Predator – not big just bloody. The tower itself and the company were first rate even if I started up the wrong side. It was my own damn stupidity that led me to bleed a pint. “Why don’t you put your shoes back on” said Shirley after the stream crossing….”Nahhh…I got it”.
“OOOuuch – SHIT!”
Day 6: Rest Day (Feeling Like Shit) & Meeting The LegendWe spent the previous night hanging out with Brad and Paul and their friend Ian who arrived in town. In the morning, the fellas head out for the White Rim while we’re supposed to do something small with the dogs (including Brad’s). We’re feeling lazy and the throbbing sole of my foot along with a cloudy sky provide a nice excuse. We hang out in town. We scout out some trailheads. We eat Turkey. Time to drop Ari off at Eric Bjornstad’s place. I’ve been looking forward to this and I’m not disappointed. One cannot think of desert climbing without thinking about the pioneers and near the top of that distinguished list is the name “Bjornstad”. Eric graciously invites us into his house and shows us around. Bits of climbing gear from various decades are scattered around. Eric shows us some of his climbing photos – candid shots with the likes of Beckey. A shot of Fred napping in a meadow sticks in my mind. He tells us of his days running coffee shops around the US and having to commute back to Moab for FA’s. He shows us his glass etching art. The man led an incredible life to say the least and I look forward to reading his climbing memoirs. I feel privileged and grateful for this opportunity! This is something that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.
Day 7: King Fisher, Northeast Ridge & The BASE Crew
We wake up next morning planning on an aid climb. We head out to the Fishers to find lines fixed two pitches up the Northeast Ridge of Kingfisher. We start up the bolt ladder when the owners arrive. I combine the ladder with the chimney above and hang out at the notch to let these guys pass. They’re BASE jumpers as it turns out. They go first, and we climb behind them. We get to talk a lot with Taylor (BASE jumper) and Brandon (the climber in their midst) at belays. Two parties on a route is slow but we have a good time talking with these guys. Brandon’s done lots of stuff in the Fishers and I milk him for beta. The second pitch (third per guidebooks) is the money pitch – nothing terribly scary but exciting C2 stuff for sure. I wonder what will catch me if that red Alien in a shallow pocket blows. It holds and Shirley backaids all the pitches. The rock is actually pretty clean on this popular line. The next pitch is a long bolt ladder. I decide to bypass the hanging belay below the cap rock roof and link the next pitch. Things are awkward C1 through the roof but the exposure is butt clenching – as I look down, all I see is our dog and packs 400 feet below. I can’t believe these guys are into jumping this stuff. One reachy move, some manky fixed stuff and I’m on a huge ledge 50 feet shy of the summit. In the meantime more jumpers have started up the fixed ropes on the side of the tower and one by one they begin to arrive. There’s a moment of excitement as one of the fixed lines nearly sews itself on a round shaped but sharp rock. Shirley comes up and I finish the line to the summit via a 5.8 squeeze chimney. We hear the guys leave the sub-summit ledge via the afternoon, downward bound express. The canopies open up with explosive concussions – one after another. By the time we rap back down to the large sub-summit ledge, we’re by ourselves rigging the double rope raps in the dark. But wait, three hundred feet below we pick up another jumper who did not make the top before darkness. He raps with us and we hike out together. We watch their helmet cam video of the jump (crazy shit!) and drink beers. Later over pizza, the guys suggest that we try their rope jump tomorrow – a Dan Osman style 180-foot dive on a climbing rope suspended on a Tyrolean line. We best leave town first thing in the morning - especially since there’s snow storms reported in the PNW (yeah that’s it!).