Five years after climbing the iconic Primrose Dihedrals (5.11)
on Moses’ south face, I returned to climb the Dunn route on its north face
. While not near the trad/crack fest Primrose is, Dunn is a worthy objective offering a stout off-width challenge (5.11) on its crux pitch.
Dunn and company established the route in 1973
and it went free almost ten years later. Both of these climbs offer remote climbing experiences where on most occasions you are likely to have the entire tower to yourselves.
Island in the Sky is a 6000’ high mesa in Canyonlands National Park to the west of Moab towering over the Green and Colorado Rivers. This section of Canyonlands is home to the most infamous of desert towers, the most notable of which are Moses, Zeus, Washer Woman, Monster, Standing Rock and the Witch. The extreme temperature range in this region is one of the widest in the world at -25F to 115F. Moses is one of the most prominent of this group, located near Taylor Canyon.
There is a huge drop in climbing difficulty from the crux 4th pitch (5.11) on Dunn in regards to the rest of the route.
The first pitch offers an easy, albeit chossy, dihedral that moves right to left to the base of a prominent corner/chimney system. The 2nd-3rd pitches combined make for one solid and fun pitch with mostly 5.9 varied climbing. As before mentioned, the crux 4th pitch offers a stout C4#4 off-width section up a dirty and sandy crack that pulls a small roof.
The climbing after the roof cleans up considerably and offers more options in dealing with the remainder of the wide crack (arm bars, etc). The 5th-6th pitches can be combined to the top via relatively easy 5.8 chimney and face climbing.
Head north out of Moab on US 191, turning left on the paved road heading for Canyonlands National Park (Island in the Sky). After 11 miles
on a paved road that heads for the park’s visitor center, turn right on a gravel road marked for Mineral Springs Bottom. Do not make the mistake of turning right for Mineral Springs Point
which is the dirt road that runs past the Horsethief Campground. Rather take the next right, .2 miles further, on a gravel road heading for Mineral Springs Bottom. Follow this road for quite a distance until it finally dumps onto steep switchbacks to the bottom of the canyon. High clearance vehicles are highly advisable for this descent although in 2014 it was in decent shape. Once down to the Green River, turn left for the sign marking Canyonlands National Park. This narrow dirt road follows the river for several miles to a campground along the river on your right and a marked sign telling you to turn left for Taylor Canyon
. The Taylor Canyon road is much more primitive requiring a solid 4x4 type of vehicle with good clearance (2014)
as it meanders along several washes for approximately five miles up canyon to the base of Moses where it dead ends. Follow a marked trail from the parking area as it ascends to the ridge line (to the right) heading for Moses. Circumvent on a decent trail to the north side. A picture of the obvious first pitch is provided
Steph Abegg, my partner and photographer for this climb, did an outstanding job on this topo pic displaying the route
as well as writing up a detailed trip report
on her blog site.
Route DescriptionDunn Route, 600’+/-, 5.11
1st Pitch- 100’- 5.9+/
The direct start of the first pitch is chossy with a potential deck fall at the grade. However there is an easier option, although chossy as well, to traverse in from the right. The direct version offers a few sandy and sloping pockets that are eroding with time that lead to a finger crack that leads up and left into the right facing/wide dihedral. Two short and run-out off-width sections (5.8) are climbed up to a ledge with a fixed belay below the main corner.
2nd/3rd Pitches- 220’- 5.10-/
The crux move on this pitch is at the start which involves a challenging stem over a bulge above the belay on some crusty rock. Hand and finger jams lead you to easier ground. When you hit the easier stemming portion that leads up and right between a flake and the main chimney, look to traverse up and left to a left facing corner. Much is made to do on the topo in a local guide to this portion being run out, but I did not feel it, nor did the climbing ever feel 5.10 except for the first move or two at the base of the pitch. Rope drag was a bitch, but I continued to the large ledge and fixed belay below and right of the 5.11 off-width pitch. The guide/topo calls these last few meters (they have it split out as a separate pitch) as 5.9+ but it did not feel that difficult (by Moab standards) even with the rope drag.
Move the belay left to the base of the off-width pitch. You can exit the route from here by traversing right and rapping down the chimney with a single 70m rope on existing tat (2014).
4th Pitch- 90’- 5.11/
This pitch offers a hard challenge for 5.10 off-width leaders. The pitch was quite dirty in 2014 after a heavy rain. Off the deck head up to the roof and pull it (C4#4) with off-fists and knee jams and/or stemming. The upper section was much cleaner and offered up a few arm bars and fists to assist with the wideness. There is one piton out left however an ample supply of C4# 3’s and 4’s will protect the upper crack well. A hand jam/fist helps pull you past a fixed belay into the cave where it is more comfortable to set up a gear belay versus using the fixed station out on the wall. The most recent guide book has this pitch at 5.11 and I concur. None of the climbing on Primrose is as challenging as this pitch with the exception of freeing its aid ladder section.
5th/6th Pitches- 200’- 5.8/
I combined these last two pitches with considerable rope drag. Head straight up the run out but relatively easy chimney to the sub-summit just NE of the main summit of Moses. Face climb (5.8 with a bit of exposure to a ledge) past two bolts to the summit anchor.
DescentNowhere as of 2014 does anyone allude to the fact that you can rap Pale Fire (route just to the left of Dunn on the north face) with a single 70m rope, but you can easily.
A new station has been added as your last rap making it possible. A short rap off of the summit returns you to the far side (north) of the sub summit at the top of Pale Fire (you can see the rap station from the summit). Another relatively short rap hits the first anchors down the north face with some effort required to swing left. Then four single 70m rope raps straight down the face, trending left if anything. A 60m might make them all with at least the second to last one being very close. You end up just meters away from your backpacks.
Essential Gear70m single rope.
I took a standard double rack from C4#.3 with double C4#3’s and 4’s and a few micro/off-set pieces. Assuming the leader on a 5.11 climb is comfortable running out 5.8 off-width, nothing larger is needed. Someone referenced on another site that you did not need the 4’s. That is wrong.
The fours and threes are perfect for protecting the crux pitch. This pitch is so burly that if I were to lead it again, I would take another #4 or two so I could focus on plugging and leading it clean.
You could definitely leave some of the small stuff behind if you wanted to. However that 2nd/3rd 200’+ pitch can eat up most of your rack. The other pitches don’t use much gear at all. Helmets are a good idea, quite a few loose blocks en route. You can bail off of this route at the top of the chimney via a single 70m rope on existing tat in 2014. North facing route, full on shade in September.