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TR: Perfection and Adventure in the Desert
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takeme


Sep 17, 2003, 5:17 PM
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TR: Perfection and Adventure in the Desert
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Fine Jade & Primrose Dihedrals, Canyonlands, Utah


Every so often there is a weekend that simply defines why you climb.

This one started Wednesday evening. My roomate Justin and I were sitting around in Boulder, checking out the internet weather for the upcoming weekend. It did not look good--rain and 40s and Saturday. That is my one full climbing day each week, unless I go away on a trip, so I was pretty bummed. On a whim, I suggest that Justin check the Moab weather. Hmmm, 70s to low 80s--is this September we're talking about?! No precipitation? I had been bugging Justin all summer about taking a desert trip in the fall, but hadn't figured on cool enough weather until October....

Two and a half days later, we're sprawled on the narrow ridge connecting Castleton Tower with the Rectory, and the base of one of the all-time desert classics: Fine Jade. The wind is howling, as it has been all night; I'm still spitting sand (no tent). The overhanging fist crack above looks unreasonably hard. But the view is stunning, the position invigorating.

When the wind stops, there's no more delaying. The fist crack is actually not so bad--it's the footless transition to thin hands above that's totally wild. The whole sequence is one of the coolest I've ever done, and the rest of the pitch is easier, but sheer joy. A thin and perplexing, hard, scary section catches me by suprise on pitch 2, but the end result is to make the subsequent crux seem straightforward and desirable, with perfect pro. Justin then takes over the lead for the upper half of the route. Following the 5.7 pitch is the scariest part of the route for me! Blind feet, crumbly handholds, a traverse with serious exposure. A huge roof somehow checks in at 5.9, and we're on top, reveling in incredible views, perfect weather, and, we agree, one of the very best routes we've ever done--and one we have all to ourselves.


That evening takes us down past the sheer dropoffs and old wrecks of the Horsethief Trail--down from the "Island in the Sky", into the depths of Canyonlands National Park. Sunday morning, we're driving up severely washed-out roads into Taylor Canyon, to attempt the granddaddy of desert spires: Moses. At the end of the road, noone is around, and the tower is even more impressive than I had anticipated. The top is small and hangs wildly out to the west.

Neither of us own a desert guidebook, but I've done my homework--or so I think. After a wonderful approach, we slog around the tower to a spectacular notch right of the original first pitch. We're planning to traverse in at 5.8, but see no sign of chalk, and the rock looks crumbly and overhanging. Since I can't remember for sure if this was the side for the traverse, we slog back around to the original 5.11+ roof start to the Primrose Dihedrals. Here we realize that we indeed had found the traverse, but this looks short and easy to aid--unfortunately, we're not aid climbers.

Looking up at the route now, I'm way impressed. It looks steeper, twice as long, more nebulous, and much harder than Fine Jade--even though, with easy aid on the 5.11 pitches (our intended style), it should be technically easier. Thankfully, at this point Justin grabs the rack and puts an end to our hesitation. He takes a long tme grumbling his way through the transition from the unfamiliar aid, to crumbling, poorly-protected free climbing. I'm glad to be following, and I don't even think about trying to free the thing, despite successes the day before. Today has an entirely different feel, right from the beginning.

Pitch two looks hard, steep, and long. During the first hard fingery section, I get sunscreen in my eye so bad I can't see, and my sunglasses fog up. 3/4 blind, I continue up a thin hands crack, and finally get cleaned up in an alcove beneath an imposing roof.

Climb out to a very steep, akward, off-balance stance, nearly pitch off placing a piece, grovel desperately back to the security of the alcove. Try #2 finds me unreasonably scared, pointlessly shoving a piece into the flare above my head, yelling for Justin to get ready, and frantically, feet slipping, thrutching up into the flare, coming about as close to falling as one can. It's rated easier, but feels way harder than either of my leads on Fine Jade.

The third pitch is one of the wildest in the desert. From the belay, Justin climbs 30 feet straight down, does an extremely exposed traverse straight left (good hands or feet, but not both!), and then climbs a delicate but beautiful thin crack/flake system straight up to a belay no more than 10 feet in elevation above mine. He does an incredible job back-cleaning the entire "up" section, so that the swing I face is minimal. Even better, as I'm watching him straight across from me, a huge grin spreads across his face--he's loving it. I too am beaming following the pitch--it's fantastic and exposed.

The next pitch starts with a slightly hollow flake...uh, make that a pillar that moves a few inches when you rub it the wrong way! Mainlining on fear-induced adrenaline (flight is definitely the appropriate option here), I charge up over a fingery roof before I can think. The stunning wide-hands corner above is fantastic, and contrary to my expectations, seems much easier than the second pitch.

With little mileage on wide-hands cracks, Justin fires off the pitch following, but arrives at the belay very tired. A mini-cluster**** ensues, as well as a discussion of who will be leading the next pitch. We're both really starting to feel the weekend's cumulative effects--for me, it's especially mental, but more so physical for Justin. Eventually, I head off, making good progress up a steep, granite-like corner. I clip a poor fixed belay, and continue into the next pitch, as is recommended. Ten feet below the bolt ladder which bypassed the "Ear" (an overhanging 8" flake, free at 11+), I hang out for a long time, getting very pumped trying to figure out a bulge that seems much harder than it should be. This is suddenly extremely frustrating, a bit scary, and for the first time all weekend, I find myself in a place I'd rather not be. There is pro, but it's not all that good. In a short time I'll be aiding anyway, so it doesn't take much to convince myself to abandon all style--shortly before that would have happened regardless!

A couple of "taints" later, and I'm merrily clipping up old bolts, enjoying the exposure, when the fun ends abruptly at the final bolt. This is a baby angle thats seems barely attached to the wall--it sticks out several inches. I'm peering into the top part of the ear, as offwidth as ever up here, and it's in bad need of a cue-tip! I paw around inside, causing sand to fill my eyes and hair. This leads to wimpering, and backing down to hang fearfully on the "bolt". Once again I'm wishing myself far away. Trying again, I'm half-wedged in the crack, right tip-toes and the now thankfully protruding angle piton, straining to place a small cam above my head into a crumbly crack. I ooze higher, and to my suprise, it looks half-decent; without further thought, I yard on it, and soon I'm at the belay ledge.

Since there don't seem to be satisfactory anchors, I combine yet another pitch into a full 200 foot lead, which ends 30 feet below the summit. Now I'm completely fried mentally, and not doing so hot physically as well. But I'm elated. It's easy and short to the top, which is almost beyond description. It's getting late, but we have to hang out, absobing our remote and beautiful location in the canyonlands, reading the register, laughing, enjoying the (once again) nearly perfect weather, and the fact that we have not only the route and the tower, but all of Taylor Canyon to ourselves!

What a weekend. Perfect weather, a great partner, and arguably the two best tower routes in the desert, all to ourselves. We were struck by the contrast between the two routes. We both expected Fine Jade to be harder (given our intention of aiding the cruxes on Moses) and Primrose to be better, but the opposite was true. Primrose in fact seemed quite a bit harder. While it had much great climbing, even more, it was a true adventure for us, with aid climbing, wild and intimidating features, route-finding, sustained cracks, and sand blindness. Fine Jade, on the other hand, was not really an adventure, so much as perfection in a route. Any way you look at it--hell--in some ways, it was the best weekend of climbing I've ever had.


Charles Vernon


dave1970


Sep 17, 2003, 5:34 PM
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Charles,

Thanks for an excellent story.



Well written,


Dave


kman


Sep 17, 2003, 5:44 PM
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moabbeth


Sep 17, 2003, 5:56 PM
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Excellent!!! I'm drooling so hard I think I'm about to short out my keyboard :lol: . Kudos on those routes, especially knocking out both in a weekend.


The second I read this line I was THERE man....I know exactly where you're talking about. I close my eyes and I am THERE! Ahhh....3 more weeks and I will be :wink: .

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Two and a half days later, we're sprawled on the narrow ridge connecting Castleton Tower with the Rectory, and the base of one of the all-time desert classics: Fine Jade. The wind is howling, as it has been all night; I'm still spitting sand (no tent).


cologman


Sep 17, 2003, 9:01 PM
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Charles,
The top of Moses is truly one of the most spectacular summits I've seen. That tower is wild climbing in a wild setting. Lets get together and do Monster Twoer or Washer Woman (both?).
Jeff


takeme


Sep 18, 2003, 6:40 PM
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The second I read this line I was THERE man....I know exactly where you're talking about. I close my eyes and I am THERE! Ahhh....3 more weeks and I will be :wink: .

That's what was so cool...I didn't think I'd be headed there until October. I guess that's why we didn't have any competition, despite having a weekend with great weather.

Hopefully, I'll be back sometime in October!

Charles


takeme


Sep 18, 2003, 6:41 PM
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Whoops...had some trouble quoting Moabbeth in that last post--sorry!


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