Reworking the page --- in progress. 3/11/2009.
The Three Penguins is a mid-sized sandstone tower guarding the entrance to Arches National Park outside of Moab, Utah. The formation derives its name – no doubt – from its close resemblance to a trio of Antarctic Penguins especially when viewed from the east. The tower is about 130 feet tall but it sits atop a “pedestal” of seemingly rotten rock which itself towers above the main park road 100 feet or more (this section is hikeable from “the backside”). This gives all climbs a pretty exposed feel. There are three published routes on the formation (see Routes Overview section below) – all are technical in nature and 2 of the 3 involve squeeze chimneys. The rock (at least on The Right Chimney route) is excellent – clean, not-too-sandy sandstone. Given the tower’s proximity to the main park road, you’re likely to be the star of tourists’ photographs and home videos if you choose to climb it. When viewed from the west side, the tower’s base looks frightfully undercut – one gets the impression that it won’t be upright much longer (at least on the geological time scales – still, save your jumpin-jacks celebrations until you have descended off the tower). Note that the formation also goes by the name of Camel Rock (thanks Aaron for pointing this out).
Summit elevation is an estimate based on information provided by desainme: Rimrock is at 4800 feet and the road 4200-ish. Summit elevation interpolated/eyeballed based on these values. desainme also provided the topo coordinates (thank you!).
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 from downtown), turn into Arches National Park via the main park entrance. The formation is clearly visible even from US 191 though it tends to blend in with the background rim rock from this vantage point. Drive the main Arches Park road for under a mile from US 191. The main road will switchback sharply up the rim passing directly under the base of the pedestal atop which sit the Three Penguins. Few hundred yards past the formation (~2 hairpin turns) look for pullouts on either left or right. Leave your car here.
Look back towards the Penguins. Your goal is to access a ledge system on the right side of the base of the Penguins. Hike up a low angle dirt and boulder field (several hundred feet right of the Penguins base). You should see a faint climbers’ trail. This hike will bring you to a ledge system in the rim wall that you follow left towards the Penguins. The going is a little bit exposed and a hundred yards before you reach the base of the east face you will need to tunnel (on all fours) through a slot in the ledge system. Once past this small tunnel, the formation is dead ahead of you. Approach time is about 10 to 15 minutes.
Red TapeThe Three Penguins are 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.
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 ClimbGiven the desert (albeit high desert) environment, the rock is climbable year-round. Keep in mind that winters can be wet and chilly and summers are no doubt unbearably hot. All three established routes on the Penguins climb the east face of the formation – morning to well after noon sun exposure (great for winter; an oven in the summer!).
CampingCar 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.
Mountain ConditionsThe 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.
Routes OverviewVast majority of climbers reach the summit of The Three Penguins via The Right Chimney route. Although this one carries the highest rating (5.10c), it offers the only way to the top of the formation that has no chimney moves on the whole route. Remaining two routes are both squeeze chimney fests according to the guidebooks. All three published routes climb the east face of the formation. Bjornstad and Green both make references to scary approach pitch required to reach the pedestal where the routes proper begin. There is no information given as to the rating of this scare fest. All routes can (not tested) be reached by a hike up approach to the top of the “pedestal” (see Getting There section). These additional routes include:
(1) Center Chimney, 5.9 climbs the squeeze chimney immediately left of the Right Chimney Dihedral. Reaches top of the formation in one pitch. Note that we saw (from “afar”) the rappel set up on the leftmost Penguin – it did not look inspiring (slings around a flat slab – might have been supplemented by something else we could not make out from the distance). You’re probably better off scrambling across to the center Penguin where the fixed pitons rap station is located.
(2) Anorexia, 5.10a climbs the leftmost of the crack systems on the east face of The Penguins (1 pitch). Another squeeze chimney according to guidebooks (8 inches at its crux). This one definitely tops out on the leftmost Penguin. You might be better off traversing to the center Penguin for the descent (see comment above).
Guidebooks Overview(1) Eric Bjornstad’s Desert Rock: Rock Climbs In The National Parks offers good-sized descriptions for all three established routes on the Penguins. No topo given.
(2) Fred Knapp’s Classic Desert Climbs guidebook briefly describes both The Right Chimney as well as the Center Chimney routes.
(3) Stewart Green’s Rock Climbing Utah guidebook provides seemingly detailed descriptions of all three routes (more so than Bjornstad). Stuart also gives a nice topo photograph showing all three routes on the formation.
(4) Supertopo’s Desert Towers Select e-guidebook describes (in the usual vivid and high quality detail) The Right Chimney route. It also provides minimal description on the Center Chimney Route (no topo given for this one though).
Web Links(1) Three Penguins page on climbingmoab.com.
(2) Excellent Right Chimney TR. Link provided by John Prater.
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