The River Road climbing area of Moab refers to the incredible stretch of Utah Highway 128 that runs from Moab, up the Colorado River, to Castleton Valley. For anyone who is familiar with this stretch of road, the climbing potential is no doubt endless. If these walls were located most anywhere else in North America, they would be fully developed. But since Moab offers an endless array of climbing objectives, from Indian Creek to Canyonlands, to Castleton Valley to Fisher Towers, only a handful of routes have been developed along River Road.
The walls on both sides of the Colorado River themselves are quite towering, however, there are two distinctive towers located at the big bend in the river to the southeast, Dolomite and Lighthouse Towers. Dolomite resembles a “mini Castleton” on the left. Lighthouse narrows towards the summit as though the very summit would resemble the rotating light of a lighthouse. Only three routes as of 2009 have been established on Lighthouse: Iron Maiden, 5.12a R, four to five pitches; Poseidon Adventure, 5.9+, four to five pitches and Lonely Vigil, 5.10a, four pitches. The position of Lighthouse and Dolomite Towers overlooking the big bend in the Colorado River makes for a fantastic scenic adventure, albeit, not near the remote experience that Canyonlands National Park, Fisher Towers or Castleton Valley objectives offer.
Lonely Vigil is the only route on the backside (east) of the Lighthouse Tower. It requires scrambling or climbing up a short 5.7 section of rock to reach the small col on the south end of the tower. The first two pitches up the east face are really good and long 5.10a pitches that contain the majority of the climbing up the tower. The stem box in the 2nd pitch offers one of the better pitches of tower climbing for the grade. The 3rd and 4th pitches are short mud pitches reminiscent of climbing the last two pitches of Ancient Art at the Fisher Towers, kind of run out and scary, but not hard. The summit is just a tad larger than the summit of Ancient Art. The main difference is that there is not an anchor on the summit of Lighthouse Tower, requiring you to down climb back to the fixed anchors at the top of the third pitch. This is a great route to combine with cragging at River Road Dihedrals to make for a full day.
Head out on River Road (Utah 128) from Moab and park at a turn off on the left side right at the big bend in the Colorado River (7.5 miles). Lighthouse is the smaller of the two towers up and to the right overlooking the bend. Locate a decent trail that makes switchbacks up to the base of the tower. In the morning you get good shade on this approach and therefore the sun hits the same area in the afternoon. Climb or solo up to the notch on the right side. There is a fixed belay at the top of the notch. Circumvent the tower to the left looking for the crack leading up to an obvious hanging roof above which forms the stem box of pitch 2.
Route Description350’+/-, 4 Pitches, 5.10a
1st Pitch- 120’- 5.10a/The first pitch offers a pleasant hand crack following corners to the base of the stem box area. The crux is about a third of the way up, pulling over a bulge/roof with good jams. The entire pitch protects easy to a good ledge where it is easy to build a belay. You can continue to a semi hanging fixed belay below the crux stem moves of the second pitch, but the lower gear belay makes a lot more sense in terms of protecting the above crux.
2nd Pitch- 140’- 5.10a/I believe this to be one of the better pitches at the grade in or around the desert towers of Moab. Continue up great cracks on the left side until easier terrain forces you right. Eventually stem out, even before you get to the horizontal break on the right side which narrows the box. Stem boxes like this always looks wider than they really are. Small wires are the pro of choice through this section. You will also find one bolt (2009) on the left side. Eventually make a mantle move out left to a fixed belay on a comfortable ledge that gives you a river view to boot.
3rd Pitch- 40’- 5.9/ The published grade for this pitch is 5.9, but I am not sure where that comes from. This pitch is more of a run out 5th class walk and scramble to position yourself in a better position to tackle the delicate summit block. Walk out on a ledge to the left to a bolt (2009). This bolt does not really protect you from busting an ankle, but rather gives a directional to the belay. It could have been better placed. (ignore the belay station out left, different route) Climb up easy, but weak, sandstone at a right angle mantling up on a flake to the next ledge above with a fixed belay to the right base of the summit block.
4th Pitch- 30’- 5.8/ This pitch has quite a bit of notoriety on the internet. There is no summit anchor on Lighthouse Tower; therefore, each climber will have to down climb this precarious summit block to return to the top of pitch 3. The summit block is somewhat like Ancient Art’s summit minus the rappel.
Head left from the belay. In contrast to what some say, you can protect via a few horizontal cracks as you climb the short vertical 5.8 eastern face of the summit block. As you near the top, you can get your hands and arms up over the top. It is important that you try to reach across the summit to the other edge versus weighting loose sandstone plates. Take your time on the down climb; placing your feet in the right spots, and it will go smoother than it looks. The first climber can leave the gear and thus be somewhat top roped on descent and therefore the 2nd will be top roped for the first portion of the his/her climb as well. By the time the 2nd takes out a TCU that protects fairly well on the down climb, he/she should have their hands on a good jug and feet on an intermediate ledge.