OverviewThe Priest is a prominent 400-foot sandstone tower located in Castle Valley just east of Moab, Utah. It lies at the far northern terminus of the ridge joining Castleton Tower (at the south end) and The Rectory. The formation’s name comes from its distinctive shape resembling the silhouette of a robed monk. Although it is separated by no more than two hundred horizontal feet from its larger neighbor, The Rectory (or the The Nuns which adjoin The Rectory near its northern end), the tower is very much a separate entity. The rock on the formation seems to be mostly solid and resembles the calcite-coated sandstone seen on Castleton Tower (Wingate sandstone).
Note that the listed summit elevation of 6500 feet is a guesstimate. If you have a better number I can change it. Thanks to hgrapid for providing the lat/lon coordinates.
Castle Valley Preservation Initiative:
This pristine and one-of-a-kind chunk of land is not safe from development. Read more here and more importantly donate to the cause if you value your climbing in Castle Valley.
DON’T SPOIL THE SOIL!
Much of the SE Utah desert 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. 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!
Getting ThereThe Priest is located in Castle Valley on the far northern edge of a ridge joining the bases of Castleton Tower and The Rectory.
From West (Moab, UT): Just beyond the northern outskirts of Moab along US 191, make right (northeast) onto highway UT 128 (a.k.a. River Road). Follow this highway for about 15.7 miles for a marked turnoff for Castle Valley Road. Make right onto this road and follow it for about 4.4 – 4.6 miles (depending on your odometer). Make left onto an unmarked (and not overly obvious esp. in the dark) dirt road. Follow road for a few hundred yards until you run into boulders blocking further passage (there’s also a sign board). Park the car. Note that this trailhead makes for the shortest approach to Castleton, Rectory, and The Priest. Note that these directions were taken from Supertopo’s Desert Towers Select and have been verified first hand (Supertopo does NOT list any routes on the Priest however). Driving time is approx. 30 minutes from Moab.
From East (Colorado): From I70, take exit 212 (in Utah) and turn right onto frontage road. Follow this road SW through ghost town of Cisco (c. 5.7 miles from exit) and until you reach UT 128 (River Road) at 8.3 miles. Turn left onto River Road and follow it to Castle Valley Road at 28 miles from exit. See directions above from here. Note that these directions were copied from C. M. Burns’ Selected Climbs In The Desert Southwest – Colorado and Utah and have NOT been tested first hand.
From the trailhead, hike past the small-boulder barricade and enter a small canyon. Follow a trail which stays mostly near the bottom of the canyon. There are a few class 2 rock steps in the trail. As you top out on a minor hill (several hundred yards from the trailhead), you’ll be looking at the base of the talus cone of Castleton Tower. Take your time here and spot the climbers trail heading up and toward the talus cone (fairly well-beaten and generally marked with cairns). Cross a perimeter dirt road (which partially encircles the base of the cone) and pick up the climbers trail.
The trail passes the lower rock band of the talus cone via an easy notch (class 1-2). Above, it soon reaches the base of the second rock band beneath Castleton Tower (see here). Just beneath the rock band (literally next to the base of the band), turn left toward Castleton-Rectory saddle on a faint climbers trail. The trail follows this upper rock band at about constant elevation. It then cuts left beneath the base of the NW corner of Castleton and heads for the very scenic Castleton-Rectory saddle. Hike the saddle towards the south edge of Rectory atop the crest. As you approach the southern prow of the Rectory, skirt the Rectory on its left (west) side. Easy boulder hopping and trail hiking brings you to the SW base of The Priest in a few hundred yards. Honeymoon Chimney starts at the obvious OW/dihedral on the SW face of The Priest. To access other faces of the tower, hike further north and around the tower (there does not seem to be a direct hiking route through the Priest-Nuns/Rectory “opening”). Approach time from trailhead is about 1.5 hours.
Red TapeThe Priest (as well as Castleton Tower and The Rectory) lie on BLM land. There are currently no permits or fees required to hike in the area or park at the trailheads. Dogs are allowed in the backcountry here (pick up their turds!). Please practice zero-impact backcountry use.
When To ClimbThe relatively dry climate of Castle Valley and the surrounding area allows for year-round climbing. Note however that summers are no doubt oppressively hot and occasional snow/rain storms roll through during winter time. The desert towers, including the Priest, are also a very poor choice of locale during an electrical storm.
Also check: Moab Climate Summary Page.
CampingCamping at large is (most likely) allowed in the area. There are no water sources in the backcountry however. Good (primitive) campsites are available off of the dirt road near the trailhead. However, best campsites can be found along the second dirt road – i.e. from Castle Valley Road, pass the trailhead turn off road at 4.6 miles and take the second dirt road (also on left) few hundred yards further. Several hundred yards from Castle Valley Road look for campsites. Note that you can also begin your approach hike here.
Mountain ConditionsLocal climbing information can be obtained from the friendly folks in the local climb shop, Pagan Mountaineering located in Moab, UT. Their number is 435-259-1117.
Moab area web-cam.
Routes OverviewThe vast majority of the masses that reach the summit do so via Honeymoon Chimney (III 5.11b or 5.9A0) – the easiest summit route (see route description page for details). The Priest however has other established routes, including:
(1) Excommunication (III 5.13b). FA by Gred Child in 2002. Route reaches the summit via 5 pitches of mostly bolted climbing. See Guidebooks section below for where to find more beta. Based on a photo I saw somewhere, this route I think climbs the light/shade arete in this photo here.
(2) Kor-Beckey Variation (III 5.9 A2). Short and vague description (no topo) given in Eric Bjornstad's Desert Rock III: Moab to Colorado National Monument. West face of tower, left of Honeymoon Chimney.
(3) East Face (III 5.11). Climbs the crack then chimney (this photo) on opposite side of the attached block forming P1 and P2 of Honeymoon Chimney. Shares P3 and P4 with Honeymoon Chimney. Note that we saw fixed pitons on what would be the P1 OW crack of this route.
GuidebooksHoneymoon Chimney route is included in many desert tower guidebooks. These include:
(1) Selected Desert Climbs In The Southwest by Cameron M. Burns. Accurate directions and topo. Honest route and gear description (rated III 5.11- or 5.9 C1).
(2) Classic Desert Climbs, 2nd ed. by Fred Knapp. One page description with topo. Rated III 5.11b.
(3) Rock Climbing Utah by Stewart M. Green. Decent description and topo. Don’t rely on their gear list too much. Green also describes the direct finish (final pitch) variation to Honeymoon Chimney route on his topo.
Other routes besides Honeymoon Chimney are listed in the following guides:
(4) Rock And Ice Issue 140, March 2005 provides a two-sentence news brief regarding a new route on The Priest: Excommunication (see Routes Overview section above).
(5) Desert Rock III: Moab to Colorado National Monument by Eric Bjornstad. Gives a good description for Honeymoon Chimney and a pretty rough topo (details are a bit off). It is also the only book in the list that makes mention of other routes on the formation. Descriptions for those routes are not that detailed but probably sufficient.