"It doesn't always have to be fun to be fun" -old SP proverb
Zero to Sixty in no time flat
Please note, this trip report is was made on a high-resolution, wide screen monitor. This may cause some sizing problems while viewing. Sorry for the inconvenience.
Spring of 2013 found me in an interesting spot in life. I had been out of college for almost a year, spending most of that time aimlessly wandering Europe and living the dirtbag lifestyle in my beloved Sierra. It was care-free living. But soon the gravity of life dawned on me, and I figured I should probably try and become a functioning, productive member of society. I moved back to Colorado, moved in with my girlfriend, and started looking for a job. Another wall of reality smashed into me; they don't exactly hand out jobs, especially in the field I was searching, to inexperienced youngsters who had spent the past year dicking around the world. I was in a funk; not quite sure if this whole lifestyle of living in the suburbs and trying to find a corporate teat to suckle on was for me. My climbing slowed down to a trickle. Upon learning of my return to Colorado, my pal Noah contacted me in hopes of roping me in for ascent of something called the Oracle, in the Fisher Towers. Noah and his partner Brian were already balls deep in their own Fisher Odyssey. In hindsight, the smarter and safer thing to do would have been to decline. This was a big aid climb. At that time, I had only barely dipped my pinky toe into the netherworld of aid climbing, having done two measly, short, C1 pitches in Boulder Canyon, several years beforehand. But, against my better judgement, I accepted, After all, I was unemployed, in a funk, and looking to get out of my comfort zone in climbing. I got all that, and oh so much more. Little did I know I was about to embark on a journey that would take me all sorts of places.
The Oracle is the least-often climbed major tower in the Fishers. It stands atop a giant fin way in the back of the group, rudely shadowed by the more in your face, obvious, free standing towers. It had been almost 4 months since I had roped up outside when I started toiling up the loose, muddy first pitch of the route, so you could imagine my nervousness climbing into this unknown, strange environment of hanging mud curtains, flared and sandy offwidths, bolt ladders with dubious looking hardware, and exposure. God, that kind of exposure while so gripped was something I had no clue how to deal with. This is where it started. A kind of sick, twisted addiction to this stuff. By the end of the climb two weeks later, I was a different person. Totally humbled and beaten down. Thankful for life. Thankful for my girlfriend. Thankful I had survived the solid Type 2+ fun. I was happy to learn of a job offer on the ride back to Colorado. Now I could finally start my productive suburban life with the girl I loved. Which I did. But, the Fishers kept drawing me back.
Here is a link to my report on the Oracle climb, a trip report within a trip report (Trip report-ception?)
Also, I do NOT recommend this climb as a first big aid climb!
Push me somewhere I don't wanna be
Following the Oracle climb, I fell back into a slump. My new job was going well, but I still yearned for something more. I felt as if the Oracle had taken something from me. It left me with a confused feeling of yearning to be back in the Fishers, pushing myself into a world of unknown. This would be followed by gut wrenching dread, after thinking that I actually wanted that. It made me sick to stomach. Finally the day came. Once again, Noah invited me to join him, Brian and Derek on Cottontail; it was to be Noah and Brian's last major tower. Once again, common sense escaped me, agreeing to climb another route that I was not nearly experienced enough to be on. But I knew I was in it for the long haul.
Cottontail was fucked up. Like Type 3 fun fucked up. Every pitch seemed to have a negative effect on the team. The climbing was hard, devious, dangerous, and just not all that fun. It may be that we just suck at climbing, but the route put up one hell of a fight. I'm not too sure why we didn't bail after the third, fourth, fifth, or sixth harrowing hardship. Probably a mixture of stubbornness and stupidity. And Noah was not about to give up so close to finishing all the towers. I gotta give it to him, his perseverance was what got us to that summit.
"Chossy aid epics that last for days"
These seven words are an accurate short summary of what climbing in the Fishers is all about. Cottontail took us three weeks to complete in the fall of 2013. On the first go, we managed to climb 5 pitches in two days, barely half way up the damn thing. Among other hardships, Brian took a very spooky daisy fall (nearly disastrous) on the crux fourth pitch, slicing his fingers. That was his final straw. The summit was not worth the mental anguish. I don't blame him one bit; I would've given up in his position. We were at a psychological low-point in the climb. Everybody was pissed. I could barely keep myself together just sitting on the ledge. Noah valiantly finished the pitch in the late afternoon light. The next morning he climbed one more spooky pitch (read: missing bolts) off the impressive saddle between Cottontail and Echo tower. We fixed the ropes and left. I wasn't too sure I'd return to this tower. I had finally realized I was in way over my head, and that the safe thing to do would be to sit this one out, let the more experienced Noah and Derek finish it, and hope that someday I'd be good enough to give it a go myself. Those two returned a week later to try and advance, maybe even summit. After just one pitch, they fixed and rappelled. Progress on the tower was slowing to a trickle.
Two weeks went by before me, Noah, and Derek began jugging up to the top of the sixth pitch. I'm not sure why I decided to come back, but I'm glad I did. The crux seventh pitch took Derek most of the day to lead. Noah and I sat at the uncomfortable belay stance, not saying much to each other. I kept hearing families and tourists hiking below us, laughing, having fun, blissfully unaware of the anxiety and fear running through our prone bodies, 600 feet above. I was pissed that I was not down there with them. After a many hours of being on the brink of mental instability, we finally heard Derek yell "off belay!" from somewhere higher, out of sight. I jugged the pitch with a dreadful fear, unsure of what the second to last pitch held in store for me. To my surprise, it was not all that bad; solid offwidth that lead to a wild and precarious stem chimney. I topped out on the shoulder of Cottontail in the late afternoon light, tired, mixed with feelings of anger and happiness. For the first time since this climb started, I believed we were actually going to make it.
Derek and Noah jugged quickly, and Noah made quick work of the final, short, summit pitch. Pulling onto that summit was for me, one of the most rewarding experienced I've ever felt climbing. The amount of work the team had put into accomplishing the climb was nothing short of miraculous. Rappelling the tower was not easy with the massive amount of gear and ropes we had used to fix over the past three weeks. We touched back on the ground after 9 PM, almost 3 hours after we had left the summit. That's when the euphoric feeling flooded my body; no other climb made me feel so accomplished as this one did. It stayed with me for weeks. Now that I had summited the two most difficult towers here, completing all the major towers felt within reach.
Here is a link to Derek's trip report, with many more photos:
Video of the climb, made by me. As you can tell, video editing is not my forte.
First move off the ground
Glorious butt-shot; pitch 2
Jugging pitch 3
Jugging pitch 7
Jugging to the summit
Over the Hump
Now that I had gotten the two hardest towers out of the way, the stress of climbing here had subsided substantially. Derek had yet to climb the Titan, and this made for a logical next-step in the Odyssey.
Fast-forward to the spring of 2014, and Derek and I were humping loads to the base of the Titan. I was psyched, or so I thought. Derek lead the first pitch, I jugged, and somehow my psyche completely vanished. I was just not into it. We bailed. We came to the conclusion that this climb would be much better tackled with a team of three, as we had done on the previous towers. A team of three provided less leading for everybody, and people to talk to at belays, which does wonders for motivation.
We returned in Fall 2014, armed with a third, my buddy Paul, I guy I had been climbing with for quite a few years in Boulder. Paul proved to be a very good partner for the Titan. We climbed the tower in good style in a scant two days. It felt great to finally have a sense of knowing what the hell I was doing on a climb here. Paul led the first long pitch, and Derek took the second and third pitches, getting the crux aid section out of the way. The next morning we approached our fixed ropes under a glowing red Blood Moon. I led the fourth pitch, Paul took the fifth, Derek the sixth, Paul the seventh, and I took the final summit pitch. Some spots were exciting for sure, but for the most part, the climbing was manageable and straightforward. Solid type 2- fun. We were on top by mid afternoon. I felt so elated to have summited a tower here without the high stress and mental anguish I had to go through on the previous two towers. Having only Echo and Kingfisher left, I felt like the rest were in the bag for sure.
Here is a link to Derek's trip report on our climb on the Titan:
The time had come for me to step up my game. Up until this point, all my partners had led the cruxes of the various towers. I needed to pull my own weight. Conveniently, I had the two easiest towers left. I felt that I was up for the challenge of Echo Tower, featuring the most splitter route in all the Fishers, Phantom Sprint. I recruited a new partner for this climb, Kevin. Kevin is a very strong free climber and talented photographer and videographer who I was very psyched to have along. He had yet to venture into the aid arena, but was psyched to try his hand at it. Phantom Spring IS a route I would recommend as a first big aid climb.
In Fall 2015, we climbed Echo Tower in two short days, taking our time climbing the muddy cracks of Phantom Sprint. This route was very straightforward with minimal funkyness; just good climbing all the way up. We fixed the first two pitches on the first day, and finished it up on the second day at a leisurely pace. What a change of pace it was to wake up late and rappel with plenty of sunlight left in the day. Solid Type 1 fun.
Here is a 360 Degree Video Kevin shot from the climb. (note, some browsers may not support the 360 view)
Climbing the enjoyable 3rd pitch on Echo
Wild, exposed summit of Echo
Save the Easiest for Last
In keeping with the tradition of climbing these things in bass-ackwards order, I saved the easiest big tower for last. The standard route up Kingfisher follows a well-traveled, mostly bolted line up its northeast prow. It is often done as an introduction to aid climbing. It had been a mild winter, and in February 2016 I brought along two friends I had known for a long time, Kiff and Kurt. These two exceptionally strong free climbers had never done much aid climbing either, but far excelled me in all other types of climbing. Kiff, known for his prowess on very hard trad and sport climbs, and Kurt, with his beastly skills on hard ice, mixed, and alpine climbing made me by far the weakest member of the team. Having these rope guns along for the ride gave me an extra sense of security that we would make the summit and my Odyssey would be over.
One half day of type 1 fun climbing landed us on the summit. Looking out over the rest of the towers, all the memories and hardships came flooding back to me in an emotional moment. I had come a long way since that first hike in to the Oracle. During this Odyssey, I had lost a lot of ego and gained a lot of humility. It made me realize that as a climber, nothing really changes in the grand scheme of things. You could go through the biggest, most life-changing event, and nothing really matters. You gain experience, but the world keeps on turning. It doesn't really matter that I climbed all these things. What I can take away, though, is that life has an interesting way of engaging your outlook on time; I could have easily just said "Fuck this" and and never returned to the Fishers after the Oracle. I would have saved myself a lot of mental games and sleep. But, because I chose to keep pressing onwards, even when I flat out did not want to. Not really sure why I kept pressing on with it; I'm not sure I'll ever know. But it's done now.
Google photosphere taken at the top of Kingfisher. If you look closely, you can see Kurt napping on the east side of the summit.
The Fishers are a place I will always return to exist in, but probably no longer to climb. No place I have found makes you feel quite as insignificant. I am content that I will probably never become a Fishers hard-man. Standing once atop all these summits is quite good enough for me. My utmost respect to those who ventured here before me and who venture here in the future. My hat is off to the pioneers and first ascensionists who first had the vision that these things could be climbed. The level of skill that goes into putting up first ascents here is mind-boggling. And a big thank you to all my partners throughout the whole experience.