Escalante to Indian Creek
I returned from my first tour in Iraq in March of 2005, and made a bee line for Canyon Country for my leave. After spending about a week in and around Escalante, the Kiaparowitz Plateau, Glenn Canyon, and Boulder, it was time to meet my brother in Indian Creek for some easy tower climbs. The drive from Escalante to Moab and down to Indian Creek was incredible. From the badlands east of Boulder, to the vistas of the Henry Mountains, Capitol Reef National Park, and all things in between.
Indian Creek and the Sixshooters
Our first destination was Indian Creek. Driving through Indian Creek makes you want to be a better climber. Unfortunately, 99% of Indian Creek is beyond my meager climbing ability, so we aimed for South Sixshooter Peak's South Face which checks in at 5.6 and three pitches.
The first views of Indian Creek proper come after an uneventful drive down Highway 211. As the walls to the left and right rise, the first stop is Newspaper Rock, an incredible collection of petroglyphs carved into a soot encrusted rock. Immediately across the road is Newspaper Campground. It fills up quick, and is pleasant during the summer months. During the winter months it's often 5-10 degrees colder than the camping around the Sixshooters. After passing Newspaper Rock, the cliffs come one after the other: Friction Slab (not really a cliff), Battle of the Bulge, Blue Gamma, Supercrack Buttress, Donnelly Canyon, and many more.
The closer you get to the Sixshooters, the more the "canyon" opens up. South and North Sixshooters are unmistakable, dominating the surrounding plains from atop their talus towers. There is also good access to Davis Canyon and Canyonlands National Park.
The Sixshooters Area
South Sixshooter, South Face Route
The summit of the South Sixshooter is one of the easiest towers in the desert, and as such is quite popular. It is a three-pitch 5.6. We lucked out and shared the tower with only one other set of climbers who chose another route to the second tower. The views from the summit are first rate - North Sixshooter, Canyonlands, and views back up Indian Creek will make the drive, approach, and climb all worthwhile.
The crux of the South Face route is definitely the approach. We parked under the mesa as you approached from our camp site the night before. Work your way up through the breaks in the cliff bands (the last one on our chosen route required a little scrambling) to the top of the mesa. From here, hike towards the south side of the talus cone and join the steep trail that takes you to the back of the rock. The mesa and cone are each about 500 feet high. The climb starts on the far left side of the face, where the ground starts to slope down and there is an Anasazi petroglyph up on the face.
Pitch 1: Climb over broken cracks on easy rock to a chimney. Climb up through the chimney (easy) to a ledge behind the triangular shaped block (the topo in the book is a little misleading). We belayed here because of rope drag and communications, but you could easily continue a little farther.
Pitch 2: Not really much of a pitch. Continue a long the "ridge" to a point below a shallow dihedral with a fun looking crack. There is a set of slings not far from here to rap off, but disregard these - they require two ropes and the drag looks bad.
Pitch 3: Climb up through the dihedral (felt a little harder than the 5.6 rating) to easier rock and continue around the south side of the first summit. Work up the summit and clip a well placed thank you bolt. Mantle up to the summit and find the anchors.
To desend, rap from the top of the tower and angle right to a set of slings under the right tower. From these slings, it's one fun rap to the ground with a single rope. Long approach, but well worth it.
Castle Valley and the Fisher Towers
After rapping off South Sixshooter peak and making our way back down the talus cone, we drove back out Highway 211 through Indian Creek and back up to Moab for dinner at Eddie McStiff's. This was back when they still brewed their best beer - Jalapano Wheat, served with a small cup of fresh jalapanos to top it off. Unfortunately last time we visited in 2007 they had stopped brewing some of their better beers.
We stocked up at the local grocery store, and then made out way up Castle Canyon towards the Fisher Towers. Camping was scarce - there was no room in the small campground below the Fishers or on the west side of 128 opposite the Fisher Towers Road, so we ended up driving way back up Onion Creek Canyon and opted for a spot along side the road.
After a cold and uncomfortable night beside Onion Creek Road (my brother opted to spend the night in his Jeep Wrangler) and a late morning start, we made our way back to Highway 128, and over to the Fisher Towers Road. The views of the Fisher Towers never grow old, and this morning was no different. We descended down the path and made our way to the base of Ancient Arts to take up our place in line for Stolen Chimney.
The Stolen Chimney on Ancient Arts is without a doubt one of the best and definitely the wildest route I have ever climbed. Absolutely incredible exposure and views. The rock is the typical mud-rock (Coulter Sandstone) found in the Fishers, but it really wasn't all that bad. Because this is another easy tower in the desert, and because of it's status as one of North America's top 50 climbs, we ended up being the 6th party on the route that day. At one point there was a party rapping the route, two climbing, one gearing up, another waiting in front of us, and behind us the last party was heading up the trail. Don't let the crowds deter you, though - this is a climb not to be missed.
Pitch 1: The easiest feature to identify on Stolen Chimney is the chimney itself. Start just below and a little to the right of the chimney. Scramble up and over broken and rounded "blocks" to what almost looks like a water groove. Climb/aid past the four bolts in the groove to a shelf with some bolts for a belay. We used the usual aide moves to lower the difficulty to 5.8 A0.
Pitch 2: Fun pitch that climbs up through the chimney to a spacious platform on top. The chimney wasn't bad, and wasn't as dirty as I thought it would be. I placed quite a bit of pro and remember doing quite a few different moves as I climbed. There is an intermediate belay half way up, but a 60 meter lets you take it to the top (recommended because the intermediate belay consists of a couple of 1/4 inch star bolts worthy of any museum). Belay on a large ledge at the top with bolts.
Pitch 3: The third pitch climbs the headwall above and left of the belay ledge. I think there are three bolts. The top of the pitch is even with the Sidewalk, belay at the bolts on top.
Pitch 4: Quite possibly the wildest pitch around. Walk or shimmy across the Sidewalk with absolutely incredible exposure on each side. Clip a bolt on the spire just above the Diving Board. Surmount the Diving Board anyway you can (mantle, jump, hump, or climb to the left and use the spire itself). Once on the Diving Board, continue up the spire past three more bolts to the top. The crux is at the third or fourth bolt. The summit is incredible. Take time to enjoy it and don't forget camera management.
To descend, rap off the summit using slings back to the Sidewalk and traverse to the top of pitch three. Make a short rappel to the top of pitch two. From here, two 60 meter ropes over the side will get you to the base of route. With one sixty meter rope, rap back down the chimney to the first belay, and then a single rap gets you to the ground. Both of these raps are long for the rope. Absolutely fantastic climb!