Owl Rock is a 120-foot sandstone tower located within the Garden of Eden area of the Arches National Park outside of Moab, Utah. It is one of many “mini towers” that make up the Garden of Eden. From afar – in fact, even from up close – the rock does not look inspiring. In appearance, it bears slight resemblance to the “solidified mud” sandstone of which the Fishers Towers are composed. As you touch the rock, however, you soon realize that the rock is much more solid than it would appear! The rock on the standard summit route (the Olevsky Route) is indeed perfectly clean and solid! With its standard (and essentially the only established) route being 1.5 pitches long (and the approach time being somewhere between 2 and 4 minutes), the tower is not a major climbing objective. Climbing The Owl generally tends to be an end-of-day activity for most people who come to Arches for technical climbing routes. It is however one of very few towers with a 5.8 route on them! If you decide to climb the tower, keep in mind that you’ll most likely be the star of many a tourist’s photograph as the formation is located a mere 100 yards from the parking lot (and clearly visible from the main road).
Summit elevation estimate provided by Scott Patterson.
DON’T SPOIL THE SOIL!
Much of the SE Utah desert including the Arches National Park is home to Cryptobiotic Soil Crust. Watch where you step as this stuff is extremely sensitive and this “stuff” is also what’s keeping erosion at bay on hillsides. The NPS recommends using established trails, sandstone slabs, and/or sandy washes for your foot travel throughout the park. For further information see the many links provided by Dr. Brian Jenkins: link 1, link 2, link 3, link 4, link 5, link 6.
While on the topic, don’t soil the soil either! Don’t be a filthy animal and pack out your solid waste!
From US 191 just north of Moab (3 minutes driving time to downtown), Utah turn into Arches National Park (on NE side of US 191) via the main park entrance (Visitors’ Center complex is right here as well). Drive the main Arches Park road for about 9 miles from US 191 until you encounter the turn off (on right) for the Windows Area (immediately past the Balanced Rock Parking Area). Make this right turn and drive up about a mile to a marked turn off (left) for the Garden of Eden. Take this paved road few hundred yards to its end. Owl Rock is the spire you see on your right 30 yards before the end of the road. Park. Hike towards the Owl (2-4 minutes from car).
The Owl is located within Arches National Park. In addition to the entrance fees (see below) the usual backcountry behavior rules of the national parks apply here (no dogs in backcountry, no power drills, tread lightly, leave no trace etc….). Backcountry camping is allowed in designated areas only and you’ll need an overnight permit (should you choose to do the 150-yard approach to and from Owl rock over a course of multiple days).
Entrance fees are as follows:
7-day pass (minimum required) is $10 per passenger vehicle. Entrance fee details can be found on the official NPS website here.
When To Climb
Given the desert (albeit high desert) environment, the rock is climbable year-round. Keep in mind that winters can be wet and chilly (see some of our photos from March) and summers are no doubt unbearably hot.
Car camping within Arches National Park will cost you $10 per night. Details of fees, reservations, regulations etc. can be found here (official NPS website). Backcountry camping information can be found here.
Unofficially, you can find very good camping at large on BLM land especially in Castle Valley. Good primitive camp sites can be found at the standard trailheads for Castleton Tower.
The NPS has a climbing page on their official park website. It gives good information about seasonal and other route and formation closures. It can be found here. For more up to date conditions, try calling the visitors center (NPS contact information can be found here) or better yet the local climbing climb shop, Pagan Mountaineering located in Moab, UT. Their number is 435-259-1117.
Vast majority of climbers reach the summit of Owl Rock via the Olevsky Route. However, according to Bjornstad’s guidebook (see Guidebooks Overview) a total of three routes (and one TR variation) have been established on this spire. These additional routes include:
(1) Ala Sinistra, 5.11 on the west face of the tower (20 feet right of Olevsky Route). Two sentence description provided by Bjornstad.
(2) Rasta Magnola, 5.11 ascends the east face of the spire (side opposite to Olevsky Route). Face in question can be seen here.
(3) TR Variation [to Olevsky Route], 5.12a climbs a crack left of the standard crack system and rejoins the Olevsky Route near top of pitch one.
All the listed guidebooks pretty much give you the same information on the Olevsky Route – how much variation can there be for a route that is 1.5 pitches long and has a 2 minute approach. However, note that (only) Bjornstad’s guidebook below gives you information on other routes on this small spire.
(1) Eric Bjornstad’s Desert Rock: Rock Climbs In The National Parks is the only guidebook to list routes on Owl Rock other than the Olevsky Route (Bjornstad refers to this route as Owl Rock One). See Routes Overview section above for those other routes.
(2) Fred Knapp’s Classic Desert Climbs guidebook lists only the Olevsky Route for the Owl (referred to as Standard Route by Knapp).
(3) Cameron Burn’s Selected Climbs In The Desert Southwest lists only the Olevsky Route. Burns makes “helpful” comments such as “The route takes hexcentric nuts better than Friends”. It seemed to take SLCD’s quite well – as well as any other climb we’ve done.
(4) Stewart Green’s Rock Climbing Utah guidebook lists only the Olevsky Route. Gives a nice topo photograph.
(5) Supertopo’s Desert Towers Select offers excellent information about this climb as well as many other classics near Moab. It is the only publication that rates the Olevsky Route (not referred to it by this name) on the Owl at 5.9.
(1) Owl Rock page on climbingmoab.com.
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