Head West Young Man!
Let’s be honest here, this is entirely my fault. Normally I’d attempt to blame Ihinger for these type of shenanigans, but he’s completely innocent.....this time.
Last autumn, I mentioned the idea of climbing of South Six-Shooter to Aaron who, in partial disbelief of the subject’s mention, jumped at the chance to go after a desire he had for a couple years. A year of logistical frustration kept us away from the tower, yet our luck seemed to turn as we were both able to work out some time away over the long Thanksgiving weekend. Finally this notion is coming together!
A long drive from the Front Range finds us at the entrance to the Davis Canyon Road around 9pm Thursday night. Here we are expecting to meet up with Heather, who was driving to Utah a day earlier, yet she is nowhere to be found. Figuring that she has started down the road in search of place to camp we follow suit and begin our drive the initially bumpy Davis Canyon Road. ~2 miles later, we finally find a suitable place to camp as we enter the wash, but no Heather. Stuck in the middle of a sizeable dilemma, we continue another 2 miles to the end of the road, setup camp, and hope the following morning’s light would answer our questions.
Camp View the Following Morning
By the time 7:30 rolls around, we are ready to go. Seeing the route is still buried in the shade and the temperature’s only 17 degrees, we agree to allow things to warm up for an hour while driving back down the road in search of our third.
Riding shotgun I am able to soak in the incredible views as we fly down the wash before bumping along the final section. Here we find the same thing as the previous evening, no Heather! Bummer. Without cell service we’re stuck but have business which needs attending to, back to South Six-Shooter we go! As we drive back to camp, I watch as South’s sexy self begins to lure us on.
Back to South
Back at camp Aaron has a few remaining things to pack up. Not wanting to loiter in the shade I decide to start hiking up the slope in search of a place to wait in the sun. After finding a comfortable ledge, I apply some sunscreen while watching Ihinger make his way through the boulders to my position.
Happy Aaron reaching my position
A few minutes later, Aaron announces he has lost his camera. Oh crud! Dropping our packs, we start to retrace our path only to stumble across it a moment later, a mere 50 feet down the slope. Back to business, we pull through a few cracks onto the plateau.
And there it is, oh baby, look at that beauty! South Sexy, here we come!
South Sexy from the Plateau
With the lower grunge slope behind us we’re pumped to see the tower noticeably closer every time we look up. Upon arriving at the base of the South Face, we easily locate the base of the first pitch with the looming drop-off steps beyond.
While poking around a little, I pick out my plan of attack to start P1. Once on-belay I start up and place two cams over a short distance to protect against the unlikely event of a slip here. It’s a smart decision, that drop is menacing and I probably don’t bounce well.
Shady First Pitch
Rounding the base of the chimney I’m shocked to see a rock sticking out at its base.
After dropping the #4 here, I crank this small overhang on beautiful holds and work my way up this delight to the sunny belay station. Aaron cruises up and pops out of the chimney with a large grin on his face. Yeah, we’re in the business now!
There You Are!
With uncomfortable slanted rock over a large drop to our right, I head back left into the shaded chimney before rejoining the sun at a large and airy step across move. It’s unnerving so I poke around and decide the other two options are even less appealing.
Summit Tower from the Airy Step
Slightly unnerved I bring Aaron up to my position for the moral support only your climbing partner can bring to these situations. With some slings rigged around a large boulder I attempt to make the airy move but my left foot has become a lead weight and refuses to move. Scooting back to my original position I practice getting my left foot in the air, re-engage the move, lean back and forth before launching over the gap. Yes, that felt good!
Feeling the Air Set In
~30 feet later, I come across a pair of conveniently placed bolts at the base of the summit tower. As Aaron starts the pitch, he asks for a tight rope and to be ready in case of a following pendulum fall. Bracing myself, I hold tight as he climbs, yet he reaches me without incident. But the fun has only begun.....
Rugged Desert Characters
Glancing up at the summit tower, I notice the mantle onto the ledge doesn’t look too rough but it seems like the moves to reach the summit are somewhat stretched out. Well, getting onto the mantle is “the crux” so everything else shouldn’t be THAT bad. Yeah, keep telling yourself that buddy.
Showdown in the High Desert
With friendly-looking boulders to finesse to the right, I swing out that way to start off. Upon completing that easier section there’s nowhere left to go but up the tower. I glance up and my heart begins to race as the verticalness of this section begins to grasp my mind.
"X" Marks the Spot
Deep breaths man, concentrate, you can do this as long as you focus on your plan of attack. Moving skyward I place a small cam in both cracks I encounter along a 5-7 foot stretch to aid in mental protection before mantling up onto the larger than expected ledge. Standing up cautiously I clip into the bolt and ponder my immediate future. There is a ledge above my head with decent handholds but my feet don’t seem to have a semi-solid place to get one into to vault myself up to the summit several feet higher. Interesting…..
Upon gathering my thoughts I start up again with good handholds on the intermediate ledge and a sketchy smear with my left foot. A quick fling of my left arm slides it under the deadly “X” block on the summit. The rest of me is stuck. My feet are flailing in mid-air while losing their quest to locate something usable while my right arm is supporting the remainder of my body. This won’t work, back to the ledge. While lowering myself back down, my feet land halfway off the ledge causing me to lunge forward quickly. Oh my goodness, what I am going to do now? Well, to start off with you’re going to hang a sling from the bolt, then regroup, calm down and get back to climbing the tower.
With a sling in place below the bolt I head back up believing this will work. The sling swings but the extra height allows me to get my left arm back under the “X” block yet my right hand slips across the featureless surface as I try to move in that direction. I just need to get over to that other large block, and I’ll be good. Just a little more and….oh shoot, my sweaty hands start to lose their purchase so I slide back to the ledge while I’m still in some position resembling control.
Totally flustered, I slowly remove the mental demons lording over my mind. Okay, what are you going to do now? First, chill out and think. There’s a reason why you had that conversation with Dominic about this very position. He mentioned taking the time to hang a couple of slings and you only have one up now, so add another sling. How about one for your right foot?
Running my hand along the intermediate ledge I find a nice place for a #2 cam. Once it’s securely in place I dangle a sling, and plan my next jaunt up this pitch. Once my left foot is up and set, I move my left arm under the “X” boulder and stretch right for my new sling. With my new position I begin reaching for the large boulder to my right, but the lack of height(5’9 1/2”) isn’t getting me there. Slowly removing my left foot from its sling, I lunge forward before thinking about my now committed position and jam my right arm under my boulder destination. With my arms secure I move my right foot onto the coveted intermediate ledge and pull my body onto the well-earned summit.
Shaking steadily, I lie on my stomach for a moment before kissing the sandstone in joy and wobbling over to the summit anchors. In a cut-up voice I relay my position to Aaron. After unclipping from the lower bolts, he proceeds to make his up to the mantle ledge. From there he’s not making a clean run either and asks for a tight rope as he works through 10 feet of utter chaos. A couple of jerks and a few curse words later, he pulls himself onto the small summit slightly flushed and flustered.
We smile and I ask him his opinion on the summit moves. “5.hard enough, that wasn’t 6.” he says. “Nice lead.” I smile, thank him and feel my cheeks go red as I start to blush.
Glancing around we begin to appreciate our surroundings. The Needles District in Canyonlands is showing off teasers
Proud to be Sitting Here
and the infamous Indian Creek climbing area is dominating our view to the east. We snap a few pictures before rappelling down to the lower bolts.
The Team Before Rap #2
Here we run across two parties, the only people we’ll see all day. They allow us to rap off before continuing. We don’t hear the rope hit the ground so I go first towards a lower ledge just in case we need to make another rappel. The view over the south facing cliffs is sobering as the rope is mere feet short of the ground. Shucks! Aaron completes the short rap, and we engage in conversation with the other groups while I tend to setting up the final rappel. The vertical South Face rappel is a fun way to finish off the climb.
Aaron Rapping the South Face
Overjoyed we rip our climbing shoes off and soak in the sun a bit before packing up and hitting the trail.
During the hike out we periodically look over our shoulders at what we just accomplished, very pleased with ourselves. That’ll be a climb we remember for a long time.
Farewell Our Friend