Finger of Fate 5.8 C3F
Trip ReportKor, Ingalls and Hurley and the FA of The Titan
I don't have the National Geographic magazine article, perhaps one of you does and can post it... but Don has a story he's working on and he'd like to post it together with that article...
here's what I could come up with on short notice:
Main Fisher Tower: The Titan. Layton Kor, George Hurley, and I made the first ascent of the Tower in May. On May 5-6 we climbed halfway to the summit, stringing the tower as we climbed. We returned and completed the climb on May 12-13. The Titan has not been surveyed, but comparison with human figures in photographs indicates an approximate average height of 900 feet on three sides. A saddle on the north side gives access to the route, which has about 650 vertical feet of technical climbing. The rock is Moenkopi sandstone which has a disturbing rounded rotten appearance, sometimes covered with a crust of baked mud. The rock underneath the crust is fairly good and takes pitons and bolts well. We were surprised to find a crack system on most of the route. The route begins with a 300-foot direct-aid pitch up a vertical buttress to the base of the Finger of Fate, a gendarme which overhangs the route on all sides, This obstacle is surmounted by a very exposed direct-aid traverse to the right and a fissure through the overhang. The next pitch leads to the Duck Walk, a friction traverse on an arete. We bivouacked on a good platform about 30 feet above here. High winds and a drop in temperature gave us a poor night. We reached the summit with two direct-aid leads above the bivouac platform. The summit is a large broken cap of hard sandstone which overhangs the tower on all sides. Some of the rappels are very exposed and require stirrup transfers. The climb is dangerous, but the risk is not unreasonable for climbers with experience on grade-five climbs involving extensive direct aid.
AAJ 1963 p481
From Rock Climbing Desert Rock III by Eric Bjornstad
page 169 "A Brief History of Climbing in the Fisher Towers" by Mike Baker
The Fisher Towers are named for a miner who, in the 1880s, lived near them, working the area in pursuit of mineral riches. Although Fisher surely scrambled among the now-coveted towers, it was 80 years before the first climber took note of them. Huntley Ingalls, while employed by the U.S. Geological Society, gazed at these amazing towers and decided they were way beyond his ability. By the fall of 1961, feeling more confident on sandstone after his success with Layton Kor on Castelton, Ingalls once again returned to the Fishers, this time to reconnoiter possible climbing routes.
Although the rock was coated with mud, it did appear climbable. That winter, on a trip back east, he showed a couple of slides of the Fisher Towers to acquaintances at the National Geographic magazine and, to his surprise, they expressed interest in sponsoring an attempt on the largest of the towers. National Geographic would not only pay money, but would supply one of their photographers, Barry Bishop, to document the adventure. After some persuasion, Kor agreed to make a reconnaissance with Ingalls to the Fisher Towers. By spring the unstoppable Kor had decided that the project was an excellent way to kick off the new climbing season.
Kor and Ingalls reasoned that three climbers would be safer and faster than two, and decided that George Hurley was their man. With Hurley enlisted, the climbing team was off to the desert, with sights set on the summit of the largest tower, later to be known as the Titan. The approach was long, the cracks were coated in petrified mud, the climbing was difficult and almost all of it was artificial. After two days of climbing, with Kor in the lead, the trio had only been able to gain 300 feet, and the most difficult part of the route was yet to come. Somewhat defeated, they left fixed ropes for their return, loaded the car, and drove back to Boulder, Colorado, and their Monday morning jobs. On Thursday, after much anticipation and some anxiety, they were again off to the Fishers. As Ingalls put it, "in the early '60s, speed limits were high and gasoline was cheap."
They had previously arranged to meet Bishop (the photographer) in Grand Junction. Bishop had recently returned from Europe where he had acquired a pair of mechanical ascenders that Kor and Ingalls would use on their fixed lines. This was notable, since it was the first time ascenders were used in the United States. Hurley was slightly more skeptical and went with the tried and true prusiks.
At their high point, Kor again took the lead and continued to work his way up virgin rock. After another day of climbing, the trio discovered a small yet adequate bivi ledge and decided to spend the night instead of returning to the ground. The following day Kor was off on the final pitches. The relatively blank rock required a 70-foot bolt ladder to reach the more solid caprock and finally the summit.
Layton Kor, George Hurley, and Huntley Ingalls summitted the Titan via the Finger of Fate on May 13, 1962. Bishop, having hired a plane for aerial photography, had flown to Moab for fuel. When he returned the team had already summitted and was on its way down. Ingalls wrote an article in the November 1962 National Geographic entitled "We Climbed Utah's Skyscraper Rock." Hurley would return to do the second ascent of the Titan in 1966, and went on to pioneer many routes of the desert, including several on the Mystery Towers. Both Kor and Ingalls moved on to other areas, and neither did any substantial climbing in the Fishers again. With so many other unclimbed towers in the area, this may seem a little strange, but when in 1991 I asked Kor if he would like to join me for a climb in the Fisher Towers he replied, "Why? I've already climbed the Titan."
From 50 Classic Climbs in North America Steve Roper and Allen Steck
38 The Titan
Eroded by wind and storms, the Fisher Towers, near Moab, Utah, prove to be a startling sight to those who seek them out. One must take a half-hour detour from U.S. Highway 160, the main tourist artery of the region, even to glimpse the towers. A rough dirt road traverses the last few miles to a parking area, and from this vantage point half a dozen spires loom like skyscrapers. The first thing a visitor notices, besides the brilliant coloration, is the delicate, curtain like appearance of the Moenkopi sandstone. Every wall is covered with a unique patina of mud over scoured grooves. Nowhere else in the Four Corners area do similar formations occur. What caused these great fluted ripples? The answer is relatively simple: even by desert standards the rock is quite soft, and since the Fisher Towers abut the 12,000-foot-high La Sal Mountains, they receive far more precipitation than do most of the other desert areas. Rain courses down the flanks of the spires, carrying abrasive red mud wit hit, and deep ruts are carved into the weak rock. As the rock dries, the viscous liquid slows until curtains of mud are frozen in place to await the next rains and eventual reduction to piles of red grit at the base of each wall. Wind, too, has contributed considerably to the shaping, for the unsheltered towers are exposed to fierce drafts which in certain seasons sweep the La Sal slopes.
Upon first touching this bizarre rock, the climber is astonished to discover that fingernails can easily gouge the mud which appears to have been laid on by a drunken mason. One can knock off hunks of stone with a strong kick, and even children can pry off flakes. Debris lies in disturbing mounds below the awesome grooves. How is it possible, wonders the prospective climber, to make any headway on this nightmarish rock?
The Titan commanded the attention of the first climbers to visit the area, for it was the tallest spire--900 feet on its downhill side--and it was free-standing, in contrast to some of the area's other spires, which were partially connected to nearby buttes. Layton Kor and Huntley Ingalls were the first climbers to discover the Titan, having spotted it from Castleton Tower, six miles away. On a reconnaissance shortly thereafter, the outlined a possible route on the 650-foot-high northeast side of the monolith. Examining the rock, they found that an inch or so under the dried mud lay much more dependable rock. Still, they realized that even this loose outer shell of stone would pose problems with both man-caused rockfall and the placing of bolts in obvious blank sections.
In the spring of 1962 Kor decided that a desert first ascent might be a marvelous way to begin the climbing season, and he approached Ingalls. Always in need of extra cash, they hatched a clever plan: perhaps they could interest someone in sponsoring the venture. Ingalls queried the National Geographic Society regarding an article about the ascent of the Titan. He knew that for a years the organization had published articles about the hidden canyons and Indian ruins of the Four Corners. Knowing also the Society's growing interest in mountaineering, Ingalls anticipated a positive reply. Word arrived in a few weeks: the Society indeed was interested in publishing such an article and would assign a staff photographer when the time came for the summit push.
Kor and Ingalls next persuaded George Hurley, a mild-mannered English instructor at Colorado University, to accompany them. A party of three, they reasoned, not only would be safer but would allow more exciting photographs to be taken. In early May, having only a weekend available, the three men drove to the rock to establish a high point.
As they roped up on a clear May morning, the climbers all felt that singular combination of emotions peculiar to those who engage in dangerous activities. The challenge was obvious, and the man were excited and curious about what lay ahead. At the same time, however, they were apprehensive, if not fearful. Rational thought suggested that the ascent should progress without incident--after all, they were experienced at what they were doing. But other thoughts intruded, especially in those lonely hours before daybreak: What would happen if the leader pulled off a flake onto those below? What if he ripped out a long string of pitons and smashed into a ledge? Keeping such thoughts to oneself was the rule in the masculine world of rockclimbing, so the talk at the rope-up spot was jocular and laced with obscenities.
Kor and Hurley climbed about 200 feet the first day, slowed by the unfamiliar vertical rock. Since they were able to follow a continuous crack system, few bolts were necessary. Rather than spend the night on a foot-wide ledge, they rappelled to the base at sundown. The following day it was Ingalls' turn to belay Kor, who was to lead the entire route. The aid climbing was unique, and in his article for National Geographic magazine, Ingalls wrote that "sometimes Kor had to probe the caked mud with a long piton or excavate with his hammer to find a crack, showering dust and small rocks down upon me. At times he had to drive a long piton directly into the mud and gingerly trust his weight to it." Progress was slow, and the pair accomplished only two pitches that second day. As he watched the climbers rappel the fixed lines, Hurley reflected that the ropes were strung barely halfway up the tower, an inauspicious start, for it was the upper section which looked toughest. Since the climbers had to return to jobs in Colorado the next day, they left their ropes dangling and planned to return the following weekend.
Accompanying the three climbers on their return drive to the Fisher Towers was National Geographic photographer Barry Bishop, soon to become famous in the mountaineering world as one of the first Americans to climb Everest. Bishop's task on the Titan was to shoot telephotos from the ground and also obtain aerial photographs. The climbers themselves would document the route at close range.
On May 12 all three climbers ascended the fixed ropes to their high point 350 feet above the ground. Kor began work on the next section, which proved to be difficult free climbing up cracks. A short while later the three adventurers were resting on the best ledge on the route. Cold winds had risen, and swirling red dust permeated clothes and equipment. The climbers' eyes were becoming inflamed, but there was little to do about the problem except face away from the gale. Kor led one more pitch in the late afternoon, placing nine aid bolts because of the paucity of cracks. Fortunately, however, the rock on the upper section was far better than the rock below, and even though the summit area bristled with overhangs, it was clear that the route would go. Rather than rappel to the ground 500 feet below, the climbers prepared their bivouac.
The wind remained gusty all night, and the temperature dropped into the thirties. One disadvantage of having the six-foot five Kor along, ruminated Hurley, was that he took up so much room on the bivouac ledge! The ledge, which had looked so spacious in the afternoon, was perceived by dawn as a sloping, lumpy ramp. But all bivouacs do come to an end, and the sun mercifully struck the eastern side of the tower with early warmth.
Kor soon began drilling his way up to the next section--the pitch was another which lacked cracks for pitons--but it wasn't long before he shouted down that he was on easy ground just below the summit. Bishop choose this moment to have his charted plane make a close pass, and for a few seconds the climbers forgot their own precarious position as the plane banked frightfully close to the rock.
By noon the climbers were eating lunch on the mesa-like summit, trying to relax before facing the frightening rappels. Only a few of the rappels were routine; most had pendulums at the bottom or transfers at hanging bolt stations. By dark, three tired men had reached the welcome, flat earth.
Fifty-two expansion bolts had been placed, half for direct aid and half for anchors. Most of the belay stations had three anchor bolts, which may seem overly cautious to climbers unfamiliar with sandstone. But Kor had climbed enough in the Southwest to realize that a few extra minutes of drilling meant a distinct increase in peace of mind.
"We Climbed Utah's Skyscraper Rock" appeared in the November 1962 issue of National Geographic. While written for the layman, Ingalls' article managed to capture much of the flavor experienced by first ascenders on unknown sandstone. Whether the article itself caused a renaissance in desert climbing is not clear, but hundreds of climbers soon ventured to the desert. The Titan route became the most popular of the major desert climbs, even though only about ten ascents were made in the decade following the first ascent.
On the third ascent, three climbers put up with a steady drizzle throughout the upper pitches and the descent. Observing at first hand how the mud curtains were formed, these highly experienced big-wall men practiced extra caution on the descent. It was not until reaching the ground that one of the climbers noticed to his horror that grooves had cut halfway through his rappel carabiners by the abrasive red mud which had been forced against the aluminum by the pressure of the sliding rope. The unusable carabiners now hang in ceremonial display at the climber's house as a reminder of the unexpected dangers of rockclimbing.
The Titan is much more than loose rock, sand in the eyes, shifting pitons, drizzles, and dangerous rappels, however. Anyone who walks in its vicinity will be awed by its multitude of bizarre rock forms, startling colors, and fascinating vegetation. Those who climb the Titan may find the landscape and climbing so different from that found in other areas that the experience becomes distinctly unearthly. Equally dramatic is the contrast between the glaring midday sun and the soft light from a full moon, which renders the region hauntingly beautiful. The convoluted rock casts a network of eerie shadows at such a time, and the howl of the coyote seems eminently appropriate.
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