Washer Woman is both a "desert tower" and an "arch". The name no doubt derives from the resemblance of this spectacular formation (esp. when viewed from the east) to a tall and slender woman reaching her hands (which form the arch) into a tub. Located in the northern reaches of Canyonlands National Park, it sits atop a ridge (running roughly NW-SE) flanked by (taller) Monster Tower to the south and a rarely climbed Sandcastle (or "Castle Made Of Sand") to the north. According to Eric Bjornstad's guidebook (which coincidentally features Washer Woman and Monster Tower on its cover), this is the only arch in Canyonlands N.P. that is currently open to climbing. Topping out on this formation is only half the fun. Washer Woman is famous for the spectacular and airy rappel down the center of its arch! Most agree that this is the most unforgettable descent in the desert.
DON’T SPOIL THE SOIL!
Much of the SE Utah desert including Canyonlands 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 either use the provided pit toilets (these are scattered along the White Rim Road) or pack out your solid waste!
More Overview Photographs
There are two standard ways of reaching this tower - both require a high clearance (ideally 4X4) vehicle:
(1) From the south (Moab):
Follow US 191 northbound out of Moab. Turn left onto Potash Road (Wall Street climbing area) past the bridge over Colorado River and before the entrance into Arches N.P. At ~16.5 miles Potash Road becomes a dirt road. Follow it. At 30 miles it enters Canyonlands N.P. At 32 miles from the junction, you arrive at the junction with Shafer Trail road. Turn left.
(2) From the north (US 191):
About 10 miles north of Moab, turn off US 191 onto UT 313. Take UT 313 toward Island In The Sky area. 19.5 miles from the junction (just pass the entrance booth to Canyonlands NP but before the visitors' center) turn left onto Shafer Trail road. Follow Shafer Trail ~3 miles to the steep switchbacks (avoid when snowy or wet) that will take you to the bottom of the canyon and the junction with Potash Road (coming in from left). Go straight.
Both routes meet in a scenic canyon (with a pit toilet no less). From the intersection, follow the very rough White Rim Road for 15.7 miles. The going is slow! Took us ~1 hour from here in our high clearance 4X4. It would be very challenging to get a low clearance vehicle through! You catch the first glimpse of Washer Woman (and Monster Tower) approximately 13+ miles into the scenic drive. The road first approaches the towers on the southeast side at approximately 14 miles and then veers away from the towers towards the rim. It returns closer to the towers on their southwest flank at 15.7 miles. Park near where the road does a sharp left hairpin turn at the bottom of a prominent wash.
Hike up ridges in the direction of Monster Tower going up its talus cone on the S/SW side. The going is class 1 with occasional class 2 move - it's a hike. If you're pulling 4th class and harder terrain, reconsider your route finding. Once at the base of Monster Tower, traverse left (~north) along its base till you're at the base of Washer Woman. The first dihedral system looming above you is In Search Of Suds; the more prominent dihedral in the center of the west face (further along) of Washer Woman is the chossy West Face route (standard descent route).
The tower is located within Canyonlands National Park. Standard NPS backcountry rules apply. Additionally, only clean (hammerless) aid is permitted. For more climbing-specific information see here.
Official NPS website for Canyonlands is here. Entrance fee for passenger vehicles is $10 for a 7-day pass (more details here).
Overnight stays in Canyonlands require a permit. NPS website states: Permits are required for all overnight stays in the backcountry. This includes backpacking, four-wheel drive or mountain bike camping, and river trips. For more information on reserving overnight permits see here.
When To Climb
Climbable year round though summers are no doubt oven-like and winters can get cold and sometimes wet. During periods of precipitation, driving access might be an issue (not to mention that you don't want to be climbing wet sandstone).
For list of NPS drive-in campgrounds (and links to BLM campgrounds in the area) see here. For backcountry camping information in Canyonlands NP see here.
For conditions, contact Canyonlands National Park visitor information at (435)719-2313. For backcountry permits, call NPS office at (435)259-4351. You can also try contacting the local climbing climb shop, Pagan Mountaineering located in Moab, UT. Their number is 435-259-1117.
There are three established and published routes on this tower. Descriptions for all three are given in Bjornstad's guidebook only (see below):
(2)West Face rated IV 5.8 A3. Loose! Standard descent follows the lower half of this route.
(3)Through The Looking Glass rated III 5.11. Located on east side of tower opposite to In Search Of Suds.
(1)Selected Climbs In The Desert Southwest by Cameron Burns. Provides a description for In Search Of Suds route. It includes a mostly accurate route topo (except for showing 2 fixed pitons on the 5.9 headwall of pitch 4 witch in fact only has 1, mostly pulled out pin).
(2)Classic Desert Climbs by Fred Knapp. Provides a short description for In Search Of Suds but no topo.
(3)Desert Rock: Rock Climbs In The National Parks by Eric Bjornstad. Provides descriptions and topos for In Search Of Suds and West Face routes. Also provides a text description for the Through The Looking Glass route.
(4)Rock Climbing Utah by Stewart Green. Provides descriptions and photo with topo overlaid for In Search Of Suds.