Trip Report
Abbey Tower--boats, bats, lightning bolts
Sunday May 14, 2017 8:19pm
Piton Ron, back in the day, quietly made first ascents of many of the best quality desert towers of the Colorado Plateau. The Witch, The Owl, Charlie Horse Needle, many more.

Abbey Tower, the tallest of a line of proud pinnacles on the Green River's Bowknot Bend, would have been irresistible. Clean Wingate cracks lead all the way to the summit. The first ascent was finally done in May 1989. Such a singular summit in such a remote location deserved a singular name, so Ron named this tower for Ed Abbey.

Abbey Tower, second from left with striking cobra-head lean.
Abbey Tower, second from left with striking cobra-head lean.
Credit: crunch

May 2017 was time for a rematch. Ron invited me along, together with Eve and Danny McGee.

We assembled in Moab at Ralph and Eve's place, drove out to the put-in at Spring Canyon. Except that when we arrived at the start of the steep switchbacks that dropped into this canyon, there was a swarm of non-moving ATVs.

A constipation of ATVs
A constipation of ATVs
Credit: crunch

Next, Ron's vehicle died. Would not start. End of the trip, right there. Eve and I raced out to the highway to try to catch phone reception so we could warn our friends Danny and Hugh who were planning on boating upstream from Mineral Bottom to meet us. As Eve talked to Danny, Ron somehow reached me and explained his vehicle was mysteriously working again. Back to the switchbacks and the put-in.

We started up the outboard motor; Eve, in her own little inflatable canoe, set off. Whereupon out motor stalled and would not be restarted. We had planned on motoring back upstream after our climb. If the motor could not be relied upon, we would have to float downstream after the climb. Lucky for us, another pair of climbers had joined us at the put-in with a moto-less boat and had just set off to drop a vehicle off at Mineral Bottom. I raced after them, fast--60 on the dirt road, much faster on the pavement stretch. They kindly gave me a ride back, so this trip report is dedicated to Trevor and Aaron.

Credit: crunch

Credit: crunch

With a vehicle far downstream, we could set off!

The campsite under Abbey Tower, when we arrived, was idyllic--friendly bats skittered among pretty cottonwoods and oaks, silence ruled, the beer was perfectly chilled. Hugh and Danny arrived at the last minute. We talked and joked far into the moonlit night.

Credit: crunch

Credit: crunch

Credit: crunch

We rose early, excited, headed up the talus. I wanted to lead nothing, being 11 weeks out from hip replacement surgery, and a bit wary of potential impacts. i belayed Eve.

Credit: crunch

There was a large ledge after the second pitch. Just one more, brief pitch led to the summit. Danny led this, and as he moved upward, we watched as a band of dark clouds crept in from the west.

Pitch 3
Pitch 3
Credit: crunch

As he reached the top, low rumblings became louder, a fierce wind howled, raindrops flew sideways. Danny fixed a rope, Eve set off. Nearing the summit she began screaming, not from joy at reaching a classic summit but from being repeatedly shocked by her belay device. She descended fast and we all fled down fixed ropes. Ron had been to thr top before, Danny and Eve had reached the top this go round, so I, as the only non-summiteer, volunteered to jumar back up later and clean the route.

Of course, the weather cleared by the time we all reached the ground. So, I decided to head right back up. Of course, by the time I reached the same high point, 50 feet from the top, another thunderstorm rolled in...

Credit: crunch

Credit: crunch

After the second storm, our sunset was spectacular and happy bats again frolicked around us as we drank beer and ate dinner.

Next morning: perfect blue sky dawn: I was on top by 9 AM.

Credit: crunch

Credit: crunch

The boat ride out was exhilarating and humbling. The engine miraculously worked and we flew through a landscape that was inviting, beautiful. Towers and canyons rose and fell, clouds drifted in and out of view.

Credit: crunch

Yet mile by mile, the vista became overwhelming, severe, and alien. I was glad to reach the take-out. I cannot fathom how it must have been to boat down this river as part of the original Powell expedition, week after week, month after month gliding past the same daunting, inhospitable cliffs, no maps, no idea when the vista would open up once again to human proportions.

Huge thanks to Piton Ron, Danny McGee, Eve, Hugh for sharing this fabulous adventure. And to the tower's namesake, Ed Abbey, whose writing I love to return to for inspiration and perspective.

  Trip Report Views: 1,810
About the Author
crunch is a social climber from CO.

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Trad climber
  May 14, 2017 - 08:25pm PT

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
  May 14, 2017 - 08:46pm PT
Woohoo! A great "old-farts" adventure on a significant & obscure tower, in a hard to reach area, with technical climbing & a lightning storm.

What could be better?

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  May 14, 2017 - 08:47pm PT
Great story Crusher...wish I could have been there!

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  May 14, 2017 - 08:55pm PT
Full value.

Spider Savage

Mountain climber
The shaggy fringe of Los Angeles
  May 14, 2017 - 09:04pm PT
This is the real thing.

Trad climber
  May 14, 2017 - 10:28pm PT

Social climber
San Francity, CA
  May 15, 2017 - 05:34am PT

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  May 15, 2017 - 07:20am PT
Fantastic! A quick smash and grab job on a killer looking formation. Way to get after it!!!

Trad climber
  May 15, 2017 - 07:26am PT
I've camped under those towers and wished I had brought climbing gear. Next time I'll know better. Great report.
SC seagoat

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, Moab, A sailboat, or some time zone
  May 15, 2017 - 07:56am PT
Just wonderful!


Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
  May 15, 2017 - 09:12am PT
Noice! But no guns? ;-)

4 Corners Area
  May 15, 2017 - 09:47am PT
Thanks Crunch!
I was wondering about those Towers when we boated by back in '09.

Quite a bit of potential, as I remember, down there in Labyrinth Canyon . . .

Gonna have to load up the canoe with some climbing gear one of these days.

Ever done that spire down in Grand Gulch, off the San Juan?

The Good Places
  May 15, 2017 - 10:01am PT
I mean it's no Potash, but I guess it'll do.

Oakland, CA
  May 15, 2017 - 10:57am PT
Fantastic. Beautiful. What I wouldn't give for a weekend like this...
Nick Danger

Ice climber
Arvada, CO
  May 15, 2017 - 01:30pm PT
This was a full measure Utah triathalon, fast dirt roads, boating, and climbing - it just DOES NOT GET any better than that. Your TR inspires me to blow off all responsibility and get back out there to the desert! Also, kudos to you for getting after it after your hip replacement.

Grey-haired people rock!

Social climber
  May 15, 2017 - 02:06pm PT
Very nice! Thanks for posting and taking me along for the ride.

Social climber
The home.
  May 15, 2017 - 02:28pm PT
That is one SEXY trip report. Thanks!

Mountain climber
Anchorage, AK
  May 15, 2017 - 02:35pm PT

Great trip report!
Woody the Beaver

Trad climber
Soldier, Idaho
  May 15, 2017 - 02:48pm PT
That was fun! Thanks. The climbing looks pretty nice.
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
  May 15, 2017 - 04:08pm PT
Guns,...... yeah, right.

Eve was concerned about scaring the bighorns.

Hell, the bighorns should be scared. 160 years ago there were more bighorns than deer in Utah.

What happened? 95% were killed by disease brought by domestic sheep. In fact if a bighorn contacts domestic sheep now, wildlife managers shoot it to prevent it from killing it's herd.

But I get it. Eve loves the bighorns and so do I. Thing is,.. I also love birds and other small animals so I don't have a cat (which is allowed outside loose by its own little door).

Now,.. if Mike had shown up with a SMG and I had loaded the tannerite that I had brought that canyon would still be rumbling,..
As it was I had a break down 10-22, a Black Widow and the original Beretta 21A that I had fired from the summit on the FA.

Total rds discharged; 2

Steve acted like I had actually murdered something, but the echoes were COOL!

Then there was the time in '84 when a windstorm blew over our tent dumping what little food we had and preventing escape.
I went survival hunting with my Colt. After 2 miles I crept into a glen with the wind in my face. Stepping around a boulder there, only 30' away was doe that hadn't detected me. I raised the Colt and got a perfect sight picture,.....

uh, gotta go, finish this later.

Trad climber
Salt Lake City, UT
  May 15, 2017 - 06:57pm PT
Awesome Crunch. I floated that stretch from Ruby Ranch to Mineral Bottom last October, and got to sample a few splitters along the way. Next time we'll chill out at the towers for a few days to climb.
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
  May 17, 2017 - 01:42pm PT
First time the toyota hasn't started in 150,000+ miles. Probably just a loose fuse. The real miracle was driving 5 miles to a highpoint and actually being able to call crunch.

Then came the magic moment that afternoon;
after numerous failures to start the (34 year old) outboard in the heat, I retired to the shade of some scrub oak.

And thats when I heard it. There was a pair of canoeists getting ready to put in about 50m away, and I heard the distinct sound of climbing hardware!

Sure enough, although they had no info, Trevor and Aaron figured they'd just go adventuring. There may just be some hope for the next generation after all.

Of course it only took a day for them to realize that they had stumbled into a movie sort of like Cacoon meets Todd Browning's FREAKS.
We last saw their boat at the mouth of Barrier Canyon, where I have always wanted to explore more.

I wonder if Aaron Ralston would still say that,....

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
  May 18, 2017 - 01:33am PT
Okay, it's on the list!

Social climber
Author's Reply  May 18, 2017 - 10:12am PT
I wonder if Aaron Ralston would still say that,....

He told me he'd give an arm AND a leg to explore more around there!.... ahem, sorry....
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
  May 18, 2017 - 01:36pm PT
I hate it when people make a down payment and then want a refund,...

Social climber
Author's Reply  May 20, 2017 - 09:24pm PT
A note on the climbing:
Start on the west side. The climb ascends the obvious, direct, splitter cracks.
P1: Lieback 15 feet up a huge flake. Then up the obvious splitter, Small cams at first, then it closes up. Two modern bolts here replace what would have been 2 or 3 piton placements. The bolts are new and bomber. Also far apart, so this may be a cheater stick move unless you're up for a hard, thin face move or two. Above, tips to fingers to small hands, then hands. Fabulous straight-in crack, perfect rock the whole way (140', 5.12a-ish or 5.whatever and C1).
Belay at two drilled angles (can be backed up) at a big ledge.

P2: Four fixed pins protect the start. Flared dihedral opens up to all kinds of sizes and chimney/flare/OW/stem configurations (120', 5.11a-ish or 5.whatrever and C1). End at a huge terrace, two fixed pins.

P3: The obvious crack system to the top (70', 5.10 or 5.whatever and C1).

No pitons or hammer needed! Has been climbed free (not by me!). Goes clean easily. Bring lots of cams up to OW size; some wires.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  May 20, 2017 - 03:05pm PT
What a fun outing despite the numerous glitches.

Way to float by it all and not sink to the occasion and kudos to Ron for not popping a cap at several points in frustration. LOL
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
  May 31, 2017 - 03:37pm PT
Well there is a lot of wingate, similar to IC.

With IC now in a national monument (Bear's Ears)it is (as I have often said) the canary in the coal mine.

What happens when a dabneyesque despot, oops, I mean superintendent decides that the rap slings and flailwear on the varnish are no longer tolerable?
With a waive of his/her hand climbing would effectively cease.

I remember when Arches banned climbing on anything with a name on the USGS map. The owl shaped rock had fallen off the rock in the '30s so the name never made the map, but if it had,....

Lets be careful what we wish for. The Labyrinth is an ace in the hole, best played slow.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  May 23, 2017 - 12:13pm PT
Hey those folks decided a while back that a sling around a horn constituted an "installation" according to the Wilderness Act so anything is possible. I have never been able to determine why the superintendent for this district has such a dislike for climbers as a user group.
I sure am glad Eve didn't get zapped by lightning!
Rick A

Boulder, Colorado
  May 23, 2017 - 03:05pm PT
Thanks for taking us along!

Beautiful, with a full-value nautical approach. Hard to beat.

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