Soul Asylum was first discovered by Kelly Oldrid and Mike Call, looking to expand the Gorilla Cliffs area in Utah Hills west of Saint George. Lee Logston and Jeff Baldwin were the two who actually put in the sticky and pocketed routes of the Watch Tower on the west end of Soul Asylum. Unlike the brittle and hot sandstone related to most of the Saint George Crags, the limestone in Utah Hills can be hard, jagged and cold. It is actually so hard and textured in places that your shoes have more sticking capabilities making you a slightly better climber. At several thousand feet higher than Saint George, you can always count on a 5F to 15F degree temperature differential. My first trip here in winter had me attempting a 5.10d with gloves on! What is even more special about the Watch Tower during 100F temp days down in the desert is that most of its routes seem to be folded into shade for the belayer and climber in a unique line up of hanging alcoves.
Watch Tower receives more sun during the morning in winter and offers good shade in the afternoon during spring and summer. The Watch Tower itself sports five bolted routes with five additional sport routes on the adjoining wall to the right, all fairly moderate (5.10 range).
The Routes are Left to Right, East to West
The first five routes are on Watch Tower itself, the remaining routes are on the adjacent wall to the right, just right of the small cave.
- Red Cloud - 160’- 5.10a/ (yes a 160’ pitch, with a mid-station for a one rope rap) Along with the other two, Blood Drive and the Howling, some of the best 5.10 routes anywhere near St. George. Super long with a few cruxes before the first rappel station, but the best climbing at the upper third via a flake. Fantastic view as you near the top of the tower. Really good stuff.
- Blood Drive - 140’- 5.10c/ (same option as above)
- The Howling - 140’- 5.10a/ Does not get any better for a 5.10a in southwestern Utah. Not as common as Red Cloud, because of the awkard rappel. In other words, it traverses so much, it must be seconded to be cleaned. You rappel down a different side of the tower. Incredible steep traverse on bomber rock that would not be very forgiving if you fell on lead. Soul Asylum is not a place to push your lead limit. This form of limestone serves as a human sized cheese grater. I liked this route more than Red Cloud even because of the variation side pulls on the traverse. Super stuff!
- Orion - 80’- 5.10b-c/ Thought this was harder than Petrified. Definitly runout for what sport climbers are used to (watch decking op after 1st bolt). All good stuff, but sometimes hard to find the right holds as with all of this pocketed limestone, the holds can be hidden. Make a weird traverse out left up easier ground. I would thought you could have run this line straight up through the brown chert.
- Petrified - 80’- 5.10c-d/ This is the route I did in the winter with gloves….geez this limestone is damn cold in the shade. We were up there in the morning, should have waited until the afternoon. We did this route then got the hell out of dodge and found sun and warm temps at Chuckawalla Wall. Very sticky hard limestone (don’t fall on lead as it will cut you up!) up nine bolts to anchor. Orion and Petrified are side by side in the same alcove, but you can stem up the first portion of Petrified before you hit the sparse pinches and pockets that are the mainstay on both routes.
- Free Spirts - 60’- 5.10b/
- Afterlife - 60’- 5.10a/ Six bolts to chains up dead center of the first alcove on the wall to the right of the Watch Tower itself. Nice mini under cling move early and then cruise on nice pockets until the crux finish to reach the chains themselves. Really search for a right hand piece to unlock the move. Nice shady route in the afternoon.
- Spirit World - 60’- 5.9/ Dead center of next alcove to the right. Shady for the belay, rock probably has some sun. More of a true 5.9 than Pink Coral. Six bolts to anchor.
- Pink Coral - 60’- 5.9/ Follow a bolt line right by stemming up and right out of the same alcove as Spirit World over a flake and past a tree into a water runnel with large pockets and features that make this an easier 5.9. Seven bolts to anchor.
- Solitude - 55’- 5.10a/ Starts in the last alcove to the right. This can be a bastard of a start on lead until you know which pinches work. Pocketed face past five bolts to merge into Pink Coral for its final two bolts. Start your left traverse right after the 5th bolt, try not to go any higher as the wall gets loose and dirty at that point.
Double ropes make for one rap versus two on the longer routes. They are all sport routes, so no trad gear needed. Need 17 draws for Red Cloud!
A 4-wheel drive with high clearance will get you much closer to Soul Asylum. A low clearance vehicle will add an hour to the approach.
Remember, you are several thousand feet higher than Saint George, so if you are visiting Utah Hills in the early spring, late fall or winter, bring a decent jacket.
Turn left on Sunset Blvd off of Bluff Street in Saint George. Drive 11 miles west through the town of Santa Clara and into the Shivwits Indian Reservation. Pass the Gunlock turnoff and stay left on old route 91 for another 8-9 miles. Pass a communications tower on your left and take the next left over a yellow cattle guard.
This rough road leads to an active mine therefore is somewhat maintained. Travel approximately 2 miles and you will see Gorilla Cliffs on your left. Turn left off of the mine road onto a much more primitive road. Drive past the Gorilla Cliffs through several dips and up a hill. Stay left at a fork and pull out right at a gate. Continue past the gate on foot and follow the road left crossing a dry creek bed and continue east up the road past a fenced in station of some sort. The road becomes more faint, but a trail emerges that curves back northwest as the walls of Soul Asylum come into clear view. You pass a large cave and arch and continue to the west end where you will clearly make out the Watch Tower, which contains the longer climbs at Soul Asylum. Look for a cairn and trail leading to the base of the Watch Tower and/or the adjoining wall to the right.
We have run the Tri State Marathon on old route 91 and it can make for a scenic run or bike before or after your climb.
Soul Asylum is actually now (2007) owned by the Teck Cominco Mining Company out of Spokane, WA. Our local climbing coalition (Southern Utah Climbers Coalition) negotiates with Teck Cominco to keep the area open to climbers. Access is granted to climbers as of May, 2007. Much of the surrounding area is still BLM lands. The BLM manages nearly 22.9 million acres of public lands in Utah, representing about 42 percent of the state. The regulations regarding most BLM land are fairly wide open compared to State and Federal parks. Unlike most of the rock back in the St. George area, the limestone of Utah Hills is quite solid. The main difference is the effect of rain. I would not hesitate to climb at Utah Hills after a rain.
When to Climb
I have climbed in St. George for years during the winter months and have always found any south facing walls inviting places to climb. However, I froze up in Utah Hills during one winter visit. There can be a dramatic difference in temperatures between Utah Hills and Saint George, particularly during the winter. If you are climbing anywhere in southwestern Utah during the summer months, you more than likely better get up early and finish your climb early. The walls can get brutally hot. Solstice Wall
further down US 91 is your best bet during sunny winter days.
There are no official facilities although evidence of camping exists. Where mining land starts and ends versus BLM land is not definitive, thus I would avoid camping back here. There are three campgrounds within the city limits of St. George none of which I have experienced. Temple View RV Resort
at 975 South Main Street; Settlers RV Park at 1333 East 100 South; St. George Campground at 2100 East Middleton Drive.
Of course my druthers would be to stay at the campground in Snow Canyon State Park
. This has to be one of the finest State campgrounds anywhere with direct access to tons of climbing routes.
The campground is open all year, no holiday closures. There is a limit on your stay of 5 days. They have 33 total units, 17 of which are reserved for the big boys (RV’s) with utility hookups. The tent sites were $14 in 2005. Drinking water is available on site along with vault toilets and even showers. The running/hiking/equestrian trail system is pretty cool and as long as you don’t run into the occasional Segway group, the whole park is usually very quiet, particularly during winter months.
the weather forecast