At the Red Rocks Rendezvous I was fortunate enough to have the winning bid for a climbing trip to do desert towers with Brittany Griffith. The auction was for the Access Fund and this item was sponsored by Black Diamond. Right off the bat let me tell you that Mountain Gear and Black Diamond went out of their way to make this a trip to remember. Brittany and Johnathan Thesenga were my climbing hosts while Adam Chamberlain and Kate Miller from Black Diamond graciously opened their cabin in Castle Valley for us. The plan was to do Castleton Tower on Saturday and be flexible on which route we did based on whether there were other parties there. Sunday the plan was to do Jah Man on Sister Superior.
The weather forecast for the weekend was sketchy at best and I was a bit concerned about being on a desert tower in a lightning storm. But, since I had never been to this area, I knew the trip would be great just to be out of Kansas City and into a new environment. I got in a bit early and was able to hike up to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park and also spent a little time at Dead Horse Point. Both were absolutely amazing.
Friday evening the group all met in Castle Valley, with Castleton Tower visible right outside the door. It had been raining off and on all day and the forecast for Saturday was 40% rain.
Saturday morning brought clouds and gloom but Johnathan's stoker meter was at max. Here is what the tower looked like that morning:
After a great breakfast we loaded up and headed for the tower. Things still looked iffy as we started up the hour and a half hump to the base.
A little higher up.
Things looked a bit better as we approached the base.
The weather had one great side effect. We were alone at the tower. So, Johnathan and I and Brittany and Kate would climb the North Chimney as two ropes of two and Andreas and Cassie would climb the North Face route. Of the 6 climbers in the group this would be the first desert tower for 3 of us.
Johnathan started up the first pitch with some intermittent sprinkles.
By the time Brittany started up the sun was out!
On top of my first desert tower. What a rush.
Brittany follows with Kate while Johnathan spews a constant stream of beta (right!)
Andreas, Cassie, and Johnathan enjoying the summit
Kate enjoys her first tower.
The weather was looking bad again.
When we left there were two parties still on the tower and the rain was closing. We hustled down and when we got about 100 yards from the van, the downpour hit.
We had dodged a bullet for sure and most of us got a little wet but were at least now safe and dry in the van.
When we got back to the cabin, we were greeted with an amazing double rainbow display.
First a couple of Brittany that I thought came out pretty good from a novice photographer.
We had another great meal and looked forward to Jah Man the next day. Again the forecast was for rain but we seemed to be getting pretty lucky so I looked forward to my second tower the next day.
The drive into Jah Man was "exciting" since the road was muddy and part of it wandered up a stream bed with steep walls and big rocks for Johnathan to maneuver around. We got as far as we could and started another long uphill hike.
Cassie leading the first pitch of Jah Man
Looking up the amazing second pitch
I took a fall on the main crux but my story is it was to test the fantastic Chaos harness that Black Diamond gave me. The test went great and I LOVE this harness. In fact I took a pretty long lead fall in the gym when I got home just to test it some more. This route, Jah Man, is one of the best I have ever been on anywhere. The climbing is varied and continuous and on great rock. Chimneys, splitter cracks, and boulder problem moves make it quite an experience. In fact on the last pitch (Brittany combined the last two) I was a bit concerned. She flew up the incredible hand crack section and I heard her talking to Andreas and Cassie. They had topped out and rapped down the last short pitch. So I waited. And waited. hmmm I was wondering what was going on. Then I heard her say "I just can't reach the hold". My normal climbing partner is also a short female so I was very familiar with this issue. So this normal 5.10 move was now probably a hard 5.11 with only an old star drive bolt to protect it. Of course, she sent it after finding the "short" variation. When I got to that point I had no guilt at all reaching up and grabbing the tiny crimps she couldn't reach. But I did make a throw to the jug that I may not have wanted to do on lead.
Top of my second tower. Bent over so Brittany could get the shot. There was no place higher for her to stand!
We rapped off and headed home. When we got back to the cabin, we got hit by an incredibly strong front that came through with intense winds. It was over quickly but would have been pretty scary if we were still on the tower.
That evening we had a great feed with Kate and Adam pulling out all the stops. I have nothing but good things to say about all my hosts and to Black Diamond. I truly believe you can judge quite a bit about a company by its employees and Black Diamond has a quality group from the ones I met. There was never any drama and everyone went out of their way to make me feel comfortable. Special thanks to Brittany and Johnathan for dragging these old bones up such fantastic routes.
Johnathan on Castleton
I can't wait to get back and take some friend up Castleton. I am sold on desert towers!