Towers Rock Climbing Info
The sandstone towers of the Colorado Plateau offer airy summits
in a setting of unrivaled natural beauty. There is nothing as aesthetic
as a slender sliver of chocolate sandstone and nothing as exhilarating
as standing atop it. In the desert, summit glory comes easy. While
mountaineers have to slog up 10,000-foot snowfields to get that
glory, desert climbers jam up a couple of hundred feet of rock.
Not a bad deal.
That said, sandstone climbing is not for everyone. Few tower routes
are easier than 5.10 and the rock is soft and can resemble dried
mud. The continuous parallel cracks require unfamiliar strenuous
techniques; and you have to borrow gear from all your friends
to find a rack big enough to climb safely. To get psyched for
your trip to the desert, read Joe Puryear's ultimate
desert road trip story.
Towers Climbing Skills
Most of these towers are on Wingate sandstone. This rock is solid,
for sandstone, but still potentially hazardous. Don't pull out
on flakes, especially if it has rained or snowed recently. It is
best to wait a day after a storm as the rock is weaker when wet.
Watch for loose blocks in cracks and on ledges. Face holds may
be rounded or sandy, and take some getting used to. Solid crack
climbing skills are necessary. The cracks are generally vertical,
have poor rests, and few face holds. The leader needs extra endurance
to hang out in strenuous positions in order to place gear at least
every 6 feet. Most climbers use athletic tape to protect their
hands from abrasion.
Sandstone cracks are mostly parallel-sided, which means they accept
cams and often reject nuts and hexes. Although it's tempting to
run it out to save strength, protection has been known to pull out
of this rock, even from textbook placements. Be conservative, and
borrow or buy enough gear so you can protect adequately. A basic
tower rack is two-three sets of cams, from sub-finger to fist size,
a set of wired nuts, and many slings. Each SuperTopo
notes where other gear is needed. Two 50-meter or 60-meter ropes
are standard for rappels. Always back up every anchor, including
bolted anchors. While most of the classic desert climbs have good
bolts, there is no such thing as an absolutely bomber bolt or cam
in sandstone. Be cautious.
Free Climbing Rack For Desert Towers
Here's the rack we at SuperTopo bring when we climb Desert Towers. This is
just to give you a general idea of what to bring.
1 set of BD
1 set of DMM Peenuts
1 ea HB offset brass
2 sets of Metolius
Master Cams to #5
1 set of offset-Aliens (1.75”)
2-4 sets of Black Diamond
1-2 each of Black Diamond
Camalots #4 and #5
1 60m x 10.2mm lead rope
1 60m x 7.7mm rappel rope
Oz quickdraws and 20 extra lightweight
10 shoulder length
Petzl Gri Gri 2 or Trango
Cinch belay device
Reverso 4 belay device
Meteor or Half
If the route does not have a lot of chimney, I use a hydration
pack. Long pants and good approach
shoes or boots are
strongly recommended for the often cactus-filled approach trails
and the bushwacking descents. Sunscreen and sun
hats for warmer periods, and warm gear and rain gear for anytime
in the late fall through spring, where you can expect anything
from hot periods to rain or snow. Don't forget the headlamp! On
multi-pitch routes, many people get hung up behind slow parties
or take longer on the descent than they expect. A headlamp is essential
to get out of the canyons if it gets dark. A small
knife is handy to remove old webbing at rappels. A cell
phone could potentially save your partners life in an emergency.
GPS device will help you find the crags and parking. Don't
forget the camera!
First Desert Climbs
There are no easy climbs in the desert but the following list will
introduce you to some of the more moderate climbs in the Moab Area.
All these climbs in our Desert
Towers Select guidebook. We encourage you to check out the FREE
SuperTopo of Primrose
Dihedrals to get psyched for a desert adventure.
Off Balanced Rock
of the most incredible moderate chimneys in the desert.
good introduction to Fisher Tower rock and protection. Short,
the most exhilarating summit in the desert and many people's
first multi-pitch desert tower.
easiest significant desert tower. Wild moves on drilled pockets
and chopped steps.
right off the road in beautiful Arches National Park, Owl Rock
is fun, popular and the easiest tower in canyon country.
this climb after climbing Entry Fee. A good way to get comfortable
with Fisher Tower rock.
in Arches, this challenging route ascends a left-facing corner
with fingers, hands to (brief) squeeze.
rock, relative to other Arches climbs with steep and sustained
hand jams to offwidth.
Climbs for Returning Desert Climbers
Once warmed up to desert climbing, you may want to expand your tick
list to the climbs listed below. All of these climbs are part of
Desert Towers Select guidebook.
Tower, North Chimney
the easiest route on a major tower and the first pitch may be
the best 5.9 in the desert.
with numerous wide cracks, this classic route offers sunny exposure,
good ledges, history, and fun climbing.
varied climbing and a narrow summit make this an unheralded
of the finest tower climbs. Although there are many cruxes,
you will be rewarded with grand views of Castleton Tower and
the La Sals Mountains.
popular route follows excellent sandstone to a spectacular isolated
in the remote heart of Canyonlands National Park, this route
is one of the most rewarding you will ever do.
The Big Bend Boulders offer the best bouldering near Moab.
Located just after mile marker 8 on Highway 191, the boulders range
from 10-20' tall and contain problems in the V0-V10 range. No guidebook
is available so you'll just have to climb what looks fun. The Crack
House offers one of the longer and stouter crack boulder problems
anywhere. This problem is not published in a guide so go to Pagan Mountaineering and ask Brian or Janine for a handdrawn
Most of the towers described in Desert
Towers Select are on public land, with the exception of the
routes in Canyonlands and Arches, which are outside national parks
and thus have limited regulation. Don't abuse this situation. Never
drive off-road and when hiking stay on approach trails and off the
crunchy, black cryptobiotic soil and vegetation. Don't add fixed
pro and keep your rack from scraping against the rock. While rappelling
or belaying, prevent your ropes from carving grooves in the rock.
Rappel slings wear out quickly in this environment; be prepared
to replace them with rock-colored webbing. Pitons destroy sandstone.
All free climbs are 100 percent hammerless and most popular aid
climbs should be done clean as well. Placing pitons or bolts, or
leaving gear on a route, is illegal in Canyonlands National Park
(Moses). Camp at established sites and minimize use of fires.
The center of the universe for desert climbers is Moab, Utah, a
former uranium-mining backwater, resurrected as a tourism and mountain-biking
mecca. The Moab scene can seem antithetical to the desert experience
on busy spring and fall weekends. Nevertheless, the town's services
and modest nightlife make it a destination on most desert climbing
trips, and there's no denying its spectacular setting.
Moab is in southeastern Utah, along US 191, about
30 miles south of I-70 (view
Air Travel. Moab has a small airport, about 15 minutes north
of town, with pricey scheduled flights to Salt Lake City. The closest
larger airport is the Walker
Field Airport in Grand Junction, Colorado, about two hours drive.
Most people fly into the less expensive Salt
Lake City airport and rent
a car for the four hour drive to
Moab. The next closest major airport is in Las Vegas, a seven hour drive to Moab.
Car Travel. A car or truck is essential in the desert and
the best place to rent a car is in Salt Lake City. Note that 4WD
is not necessary, but some towers can be reached only with high-clearance
vehicles. The topos in Desert Towers Select indicate clearly
when a high-clearance vehicle is necessary.
Salt Lake City, UT: 4 hours
Denver, CO: 7 hours
Las Vegas, NV: 7 hours
Los Angeles, CA: 12 hours
Bishop, CA: 11 hours
San Francisco, CA: 18 hours
Spring and Fall offer the best climbing conditions. Winters are
unpredictable and summers are scorching. Temperatures in the sun
and shade differ dramatically. With no wind, 65° in the shade
can mean 100° in the direct sun. Always bring plenty of warm
clothes and water.
Fall: Climbing temperatures are often ideal from mid-September
to mid-November with temperatures ranging from high-80s to mid-60s.
It can be scorching in September, but few storms will be encountered.
Winter: Winters can be extremely cold, but climbable days
do appear. Before heading to Moab, check the weather to make sure
that the temperature is at least 60° for climbing towers and
50° for the crags, boulders, and Indian Creek. Snowstorms are
frequent and may last for days. Nighttime temperatures dip well
below freezing even in the best winter conditions although the area
usually doesn't get more than a few feet of snow each winter.
Spring: Daytime temperatures begin to climb into the 60s
and 70s in March. However, cold nights and possible snow can be
expected into early April. Mid-April to mid-May offer good climbing
temperatures, with more frequent wind and rain than in the fall.
Summer: Temperatures hover around 100°, but early morning
ascents of towers are possible. Climb elsewhere.
weather—five day forecast for Moab
Arches National Park weather—five day forecast for Arches
or call Arches
National Park at (435) 719-2299
Depending on the season, Moab is a great place to hang out. Climbers
and mountain-bikers crowd the town in the spring and fall. Even
the hot summers attract many tourists. Great camping abounds and
motels are relatively cheap during the freezing cold winters.
There are a many commercial campgrounds in Moab, but most climbers
camp near the approaches to their routes. The most popular spots are on the Potash
Road/ Highway 279, less than ten minutes from Moab and right
near the Wall Street climbing area. The road receives moderate traffic
but is otherwise in a beautiful setting with each campsite up against
a 100-400' wall. Sites are usually packed during peak season. Of those, about
ten sites have privacy while the rest are right near the road. Directions:
from Moab, drive North on 191 for a few minutes and turn left onto
the Potash Road/Highway 279. After 4.1 miles you will pass the Jaycee
Campround ($15, pit toilet, no water). At 5.5 miles you reach the Williams Bottom Camping Area ($10, pit toliet, no water, 17 sites). At 10.2 miles you reach the Gold Bar Campground ($10, pit toliet, no water, 5 campsites).
Other camping is available off Kane Creek Road, Highway 128 (the
River Road) or Highway 313 (the road to Island in the Sky). Most of these have facilities such as picnic tables and toilets and charge
$15 per site; none have water. Camping near Moses tower requires
a backcountry permit from Canyonlands
National Park ($10 or $30, depending on the site; call 435-259-4351 for details); many climbers prefer to camp just outside the park
boundary along the approach drive.
Moab has thousands of motel rooms. Expect to pay at least
$65 for a double in peak season (spring and fall), and as little
as $30 in winter. No-vacancy signs may be posted on spring and
fall weekends. The Red
Stone Inn (535 South Main Street; 800-772-1972) has HBO, laundry,
and kitchenettes. The Adventure
Inn (512 North Main Street; 435-259-6122) is climber-owned
and has a friendly staff. Starting at $12 a night, Lazy Lizard
Hostel is the cheapest way to get a roof over your head. It is located
at the southern outskirts of town, east of U.S. 191.
Moab has dozens of descent restaurants and many fast food chains.
In the winter months fresh, quality food is scarce. The Red Rock
Bakery (74 South Main Street; 435-259-5941) has scones, excellent
cinnamon rolls, good coffee, and also features local artists. The Moab Diner (189 South Main Street; 435-259-4006) is a typical
greasy spoon with moderate prices. The cool funky, EklectiCafe (352 North Main Street; 435-259-6896) serves the best coffee
and town and healthy, tasty breakfasts. Fat City Smokehouse (36 South 100 West; 435-259-4302) is a great, moderately priced
steakhouse and the local hangout. Eddie McStiff's (57 South
Main Street; 435-259-2337) is a favorite brewpub and has good pizza
and pool tables; although it is a bit pricey. The other brewpub
in town, the Moab Brewery (686 South Main Street; 435-259-6333)
has good beer and typical pub fare. Alfonzo's (Main St. at
south end of town), has the cheapest Mexican food. The Subway (299 South Main Street; 435-259-SUBS) has reasonably
healthy and inexpensive alternatives to burger joints. Also recommended are the Jailhouse Cafe, and the Branding Iron steakhouse.
City Market (425 South Main Street; 435-259-5181) near the south
end of Moab, is the only grocery store and has beer and a good,
cheap salad bar. The State Liquor Store (55 West 200 South
Street) has the best (only) booze selection.
You can fill bottles at many gas stations and the Arches
National Park visitor center. A popular spring, with a healthy flow
of clean water, spurts from a pipe in a sandstone wall on the south
side of Highway 128 (the River Road), just a few hundred yards from
Moab has a few banks, a post office, and a laundromat.
Gear and Climbing Guides
The best selection of gear and climbing beta is at Pagan
Mountaineering (59 S. Main St. #2; 435-259-1117). Moab Desert
Adventures is the main guide service and offers group trips
and private guiding to climbs and canyons within a two hours of
Cliffs and Canyons is another guide service in the area.
Moab is one of the world capitals of mountain biking. Dozens of
great rides ring the town, but if you have time for only one ride,
check out the Slickrock
Trail. It's incredibly overcrowded, but those roller-coaster
petrified dunes are a unique and wonderful experience. Great hiking
is also plentiful. Check out the crowded Arches
National Park hikes such as Delicate Arch or the Devils Garden.
They're popular for a reason. Other good half-day hikes near Moab
include Negro Bill Canyon (Highway 128), Corona Arch (Potash Road)
and Hunter and Kane canyons (Kane Creek Road).The Needles District
of Canyonlands, just past Indian Creek, offers awesome multi-colored
rock, trails winding along ledges on the sides of cliffs, and excellent
long dayhikes/short backpacks like the Joint Trail. Backcountry
skiing is possible in the winter in the La Sals mountains east of
Moab. For awe-inspiring views of nearly unlimited climbing potential,
drive to Deadhorse
Point State Park or Grandview Point in Canyonlands
Indian Creek: One of the best crack-climbing areas in the
universe. Unfortunately most climbs are 5.10 to 5.12 (bring a ropegun!)
Wall Street: Located off the Potash Road, this is one of
the few cragging areas that can be considered too convenient as
you are almost belaying on the road (watch out for big rigs). Great
mixture of crack and face climbs and most people's introduction
to the area's sandstone.
Mill Creek: The prime sport-climbing in the area with excellent
edging up black sandstone. A great escape from the summer heat.