Trip Report
Line in the Sand (Cottontail Tower, Fisher Towers) TR
Monday January 1, 2018 8:28pm
The small claw grinds down into the sand of the solution pocket. The pocket is just over an inch in diameter, but the floor is slightly sloped inward, which gives the claw a positive purchase. My primary fear is that the claw tip is only gripping the outer, decomposed layer of "rock." The outer layer of two previous pockets yielded with barely fifty pounds of weight on the claw. What is this one worth?

As I transfer more and more weight onto the claw, the grinding noise subsides, perhaps a good sign. But I consider my position. This is the first placement of what will turn out to be about 900 feet of climbing. I'm "standing" at the top of a very steep sand-slope out of which I had to shovel ever-sliding "steps" in order to even reach the base of the wall. The "steps" are sliding down slope at this very moment. The slope slides for 20 feet and then pitches off a small, ten-foot-high cliff that overhangs the trail. If I shoot off of that cliff, I'll overshoot the trail and fly down a very steep gully for another 50 or 100 feet.

In short, this first placement cannot fail, or I'm facing a "fall" that cannot end well. But, absurdly I'm not even one placement off the "ground." I haven't even started "climbing" yet. What aid-rating should such a situation receive?

My partner for this venture, Scott ("Plaid") Peterson, seems resigned to my fate. After all, there's really nothing he can do, despite dutifully belaying the rope. He can probably arrest my rapid exploration of the lower gully, which is not nothing. But there's a freedom in resignation, and Plaid is free to cheer me on, which he enthusiastically does.

Amazingly, the claw keeps holding, and I suddenly realize that my foot has lifted clear of the sand slope. I'm fully on the claw. This can mean only one thing: Upwards.

The "landing" looks worse and worse to me as I work up into the second-loops of my aiders. This position puts much more outward pressure on the claw, but I have no choice if I want to reach the next feature. I want off of this claw, and the second loops are going to make "off" happen one way or the other.

Now I can reach a completely hollow-sounding, almost completely detached flake that is about 2 x 3 feet and two inches thick. Using a Tomahawk, I'm able to sort of "loop over" the upper edge of the flake as I tap in the blade. The expansion is apparent, but Fisher Towers sandstone can "flex" like I've never seen anywhere else.

Out of the "frying pan" into the "fire," I start weighting the Tomahawk. It grinds down a bit with that sandstone-crushing sound you just get used to at the Fishers, but the way the shaft "loops" the top of the flake makes it seem pretty good to me. I'm soon on it and moving up in my aiders again.

All of the obvious features in the first pitch lean right. The way to make the pitch go, however, is to do the counterintuitive thing and use each such feature once, then work left instead of right. Small solution pockets and horizontal ledges and ripples almost completely connect everything up. A few rivets connect small gaps and make the whole pitch work.

Three days of effort have us up the first two pitches. The anchors are just sling belays; there are no stances yet. We use big, Rawl Wedge Anchors at anchors: At least one 1/2" x 5 1/2" and at least two 3/8" x 6". In my opinion, the ridiculousness of creating artificial "difficulty" by intentionally creating (supposed) death-anchors to escalate the rating is pure, nutty, hubris. A couple of people at the Fishers seem determined to repeatedly play this game to "justify" an A6 or A6+ rating, but I'll have none of it.

It became clear that we would hike the trail about 1.24765 million times to get the route up, usually carrying loads. One sign halfway out the trail always mocked us.

Every day: "Sigh. We're just hikers."
Every day: "Sigh. We're just hikers."
Credit: madbolter1

We weren't doing Ancient Art, so we weren't "climbers" and therefore always had to go right at that sign. Sigh. But, you know, aid climbing is nothing more than "hiking" anyway, so it was appropriate mockary.

Nut-job that he is, Cam went into Moab and came back with a "Party Pack" of ice cream. I couldn't eat enough to do justice to it, so it just melted away, like the towers themselves.

It's a party pack
It's a party pack
Credit: madbolter1

Cam made us English tea every morning along with breakfast, so we were well-satisfied!

Credit: madbolter1

Then, load up and hike in to fix ropes higher.

Credit: madbolter1

Credit: madbolter1

A nearly constant stream of hikers needed protection from falling rocks....

Credit: madbolter1

So, we positioned a sign in a good, obvious place right next to the trail.

Credit: madbolter1

Pushing the high point ever higher....

Credit: madbolter1

Plaid belaying the second pitch
Plaid belaying the second pitch
Credit: madbolter1

We even use bolts made of 304 stainless steel, because the sandstone is very salty, so we're treating it as a "marine environment." The typical 303 stainless is widely believed to corrode in exposure to salt, so I special-ordered bolts in the less common 304 variety. Our anchors are bombproof, even in the Cutler sandstone. At a couple of anchors mid-route, we even placed the "extra" "convenience" bolts, so that subsequent parties can bivy comfortably and don't have to take responsibility for the "extra" drilling.

1/2" x 5 1/2" 304 stainless steel wedge anchor
1/2" x 5 1/2" 304 stainless steel wedge anchor
Credit: madbolter1

Our rivets are 1/4" x 1 1/2" Zamac. As I've learned over the decades, these remain good for a long, long time, and the mushroom head makes a perfect fit for a typical rivet loop. The one high-up pitch on the route that turned out to be a rivet ladder even has two bolts strategically positioned along the way, so that it's not the "artificially difficult" of just an uninterrupted string of small rivets.

1/4" x 1 1/2" Zamac rivet
1/4" x 1 1/2" Zamac rivet
Credit: madbolter1

Plaid wanted to lead the third pitch because of its chimney section. But to get to the chimney, he had to first negotiate a very thin, bottomed crack, embedded river-rock knobs, and a roof.

I had taught him some hard-aid tactics, and he was raring to go. However, even with my ongoing coaching over the upcoming days, turning theory into practice proved to be a definite toss into the deep end. After many days, Plaid eventually emerged victorious, and, except for one trenched head, the pitch is a good and technical addition to the route. The days he spent on the pitch, however, did play out the remaining time we had available for that first foray on the route.

Richard belaying Plaid on the third pitch
Richard belaying Plaid on the third pitch
Credit: madbolter1

Credit: madbolter1

Credit: madbolter1

Credit: madbolter1

Credit: madbolter1

We left fixed ropes to the third anchor and drove to our respective homes. We decided to return in the Spring to finish the route.

In late April, we returned. This time Cameron Burns was fully along to help and take pictures and video.

Then things got really scary for me
Then things got really scary for me
Credit: madbolter1

The mascot had seen better days
The mascot had seen better days
Credit: madbolter1

So had Plaid
So had Plaid
Credit: madbolter1

Oh my, so had Cam!
Oh my, so had Cam!
Credit: madbolter1

Ascending our ropes, we found that a horizontal crack that was supposed to start the fourth pitch was completely bottomed, and we found that the third anchor was not well located. It was really unclear how to best get to a vantage point from which to scope out the mid-section of the route, particularly a hoped-for crack system interspersed with huge, frightening mud-curtains.

I decided to "move the anchor" up and right about fifty feet, so that I could peer over an overhanging area at the next section and have the belay positioned at the start of that section. This "anchor move" proved to be worthwhile, because it positioned that next anchor almost directly above the first anchor. This enabled us to rap and jug a much more direct line, with that fourth anchor about 190 feet above the first. Each anchor overhung the one before.

We had barely gotten established at the fourth anchor when the rain started. Torrential downpours like I've never seen there went on and on for days. Waterfalls poured down the walls, and the access road turned into a river. Over a week of almost continuous rain made us finally capitulate for that trip. The rock was never going to be dry enough in the time we had left. We had to pull our gear down and try to return in the Fall.

Credit: madbolter1

Credit: madbolter1

A huge upside to the rain was hanging out with Pam, Devon, Jay, and others. Jay was so hospitable, and we enjoyed some wonderful conversations with them that trip and in September.

Credit: madbolter1

Devon and Pam are animated and hilarious storytellers, and they often had us in stitches!

Credit: madbolter1

Mike and Susan were also amazingly hospitable to us, allowing us to crash at their house and repeatedly fill their shower drain with mud.

Early September found us at our high point again. From the fourth anchor, the hanging mud curtains began in earnest. What was supposed to be a continuation of the earlier horizontal "crack" disappeared into about a thousand pounds of mud. Nothing to do but start excavating.

Fourth anchor, after the mud curtains are cleaned off
Fourth anchor, after the mud curtains are cleaned off
Credit: madbolter1

Richard on the claws that were revealed after cleaning off the mud cur...
Richard on the claws that were revealed after cleaning off the mud curtains
Credit: madbolter1

For people not familiar with Fisher Towers first ascents, I'll try to explain the mud. In this case, the mud formed a sheet about one foot thick, fifteen feet high, and ten feet wide. Underneath all that hanging death there might be a crack, or might be nothing but blank "rock." And the only way to find out is to (hopefully) hack the mud sheet into sections that are not big enough to kill me as they fall away with unpredictable vectors. Meanwhile, I am the center of a vortex of swirling dust, sand, and silt with a ten-foot radius. The sheer density of this sandstorm is beyond belief. I might as well be in the middle of the Sahara desert in a sandstorm.

Plaid and I started mimicking the line from Zoolander, with anemic, dainty coughs: "I've got the brown lung, pop." But, over time, the real coughs take control, and they last for months. No joke about the brown lung. (I think that I'm finally beyond my case.)

Two hours of concerted hacking efforts revealed that the "crack" had become a small, sloped ledge that took two claw placements. I've moved about six feet to the right and no higher. And that sums up first ascents at the Fisher Towers: Hours and hours invested in tiny gains. People who climb exclusively on good rock like in Yosemite cannot conceive of multi-hour mud-cleaning sessions just to see if any placements are even available. And there were countless such cleaning sessions on the route. Any subsequent ascent is a vastly different experience from the FA if for no other reason than that the route now actually exists and is very clean compared to what we encountered.

Mud and pebbles
Mud and pebbles
Credit: madbolter1

Mud curtains on the fifth pitch
Mud curtains on the fifth pitch
Credit: madbolter1

Ah, it's a vertical beach
Ah, it's a vertical beach
Credit: madbolter1

Even what would be a good placement on real rock can be pretty sporty on mud ripples.

Claw on mud ripple, going for second-loops
Claw on mud ripple, going for second-loops
Credit: madbolter1

Rapping, jugging, rapping, jugging....

Credit: madbolter1

At the sixth anchor we decided that we were sick of rapping and jugging, so it was time to commit and just get up the thing. Time to pack loads of bivy gear and haul it up.

Credit: madbolter1

Credit: madbolter1

Credit: madbolter1

Credit: madbolter1

So, what is this route? Well, to me "the route" is the experience that we had with it. "Objectively" speaking, there is this "Line in the Sand" that can now be followed by other parties. But their experience will necessarily be very different from ours. Of course, everybody wants to know about ratings, hole-count, gear used, and time spent.

Frankly, having had one of my routes evaluated at a truly insane level of minutiae, I kept track of no such "metrics" on this route. People want such "metrics" so that they can armchair-critique a route that they have not seen and almost certainly will not even climb. Screw 'em! The route is whatever experience you have on it. As Harding famously said, "Start at the bottom and come out somewhere at the top."

The route ultimately took us weeks spread over three separate trips. A solid week of rain cut our second trip to almost nothing. On the third and final trip, we spent about two weeks bivying on the wall for the final push.

Bivy at the sixth anchor
Bivy at the sixth anchor
Credit: madbolter1

Richard at the bivy
Richard at the bivy
Credit: madbolter1

We excavated about ten tons of mud, give or take. There is harder climbing and easier climbing, much of which has bad-landing danger. If you keep a rope fixed between the fourth and fifth anchors, you can easily rap the route, and there are excellent rap-ring hangers at the rap anchors, all carefully placed to create sweet rope-runs. The route has one trenched head, and we left most of the heads in place, because yanking them out destroys the fragile placements.

What's the route rated? Well, I've come to laugh at ratings, both free and aid. It's worse than "subjectivity." The climbing world has been on a number-ticking, number-increasing kick, while the ratings actually say very little about the nature of a route. And one person's A5 is another's A2; vice versa is also the rule. Some are determined to "achieve" stratospheric ratings, such as A6 or A6+. I've repeatedly found first hand that such ratings are pure ego-pumping hype. In at least one case, the "climber" hypes his routes because he is a nation-sponsored climber, so his living is to do "spectacular" climbs around the world. But, whatever the motivation, such ratings are absolutely retarded, imo.

Even the supposed granularity of ratings is absurd. Is there really a difference between A3+ and A4? If so, I can't detect it. I've done pitches rated A3 that scared me plenty, and I've done A5 (even supposed A6) pitches that were literally casual.

High on our route, I'm standing on a small alumahead that repeatedly popped while testing it. It finally seemed to "stick," but I'm not happy on it. The next alumahead fails three separate testing attempts. Each time, I re-stick it, but then it just pops at about 50 pounds, with a spray of sand. Finally, I place a deadhead, which seems to stick and pass the bounce-test. I look down. The wall is rippled and corrugated. If this next placement fails, I cannot avoid being totally busted up, even though the fall will probably be only about 25 feet. What do you rate something like that? A2+? A2R? A2X? What? It's just ridiculous.

I call down to Plaid and explain the situation. If the deadhead pulls, it's bad news. Plaid stares up white-faced. We briefly discuss the strategy for getting my broken butt out of there if the deadhead fails. Fortunately, it holds, and I move onto similar placements higher and higher.

Deadhead (lead fishing sinker on a cable) will stick where not...
Deadhead (lead fishing sinker on a cable) will stick where nothing else will!
Credit: madbolter1

And so it goes. Mass quantities of mud and small rocks fall into the abyss, and fine silt fills the air around me. Every night it's the same routine: I expend about 1/3 of a package of wet-wipes in personal-hygiene heroics. I blow my nose and wipe out the inside. Blow and wipe, again and again, until what I'm seeing is only light-brown. Clear is out of the question. Face, ears, arms, neck... will they ever be truly clean again? Finally, if I'm not too tired, I can eat.

Dirty face
Dirty face
Credit: madbolter1

Even though Plaid isn't leading, he has to go through the same cleaning histrionics before he can eat each evening meal. Worse for him, his portaledge doesn't have a fly. All night long, small pebbles and sand trickle down on him from above. His bivy sack and the small roof at our bivy mostly "protects" him, but I know that it must be maddening to be pelted from above.

Plaid, tired but at least semi-cleaned up
Plaid, tired but at least semi-cleaned up
Credit: madbolter1

Finally, we reach the final slot leading to the highest shoulder of the tower. Neither Plaid nor I "do slots." People like Pam, Devon, and Jay revel in them, and I bow in deepest respect to such hard women and men. I'm a pansy-azz compared to them. Someday, perhaps, that upper slot will go free at I have no idea what rating. I thrashed and struggled through part of it and drilled the rest. There are well-placed protection bolts for any free efforts.

Plaid led the summit block (the right side of this picture), and it was done.

Credit: madbolter1

Credit: madbolter1

Credit: madbolter1

I'm never "excited" or "jazzed" until all the rappels are done and the route is stripped. And lowering the mass quantities of gear from a Fishers FA is not trivial.

Now, there it is: Line in the Sand. Is it a "good route?" I have no idea. Is it a "manufactured route?" Yes indeed. There's more drilling than I hoped and much less than I feared. There are some really cool pitches, and there's one rivet ladder. There are also some tricky placements.

Credit: madbolter1

As with any route, there are more stories than can be told. All in all, I'm satisfied with the line, although the only "great" route I've ever seen was the Sea of Dreams (also heavily manufactured). It's a Line in the Sand, and an experience. Your mileage may vary.

And that's the essence of our "BLT" rating scheme. On our second trip, one night around the table Plaid, Cam, and I were talking about ratings in general and aid-ratings in particular.

I talked about the rating system a friend had come up with way back in the day: "There are only three climbing ratings: Hard, Really Hard, and I Can't Do It. 'Easy' is a 'hike,' so there are no easy climbs."

We all liked Bridwell's system, but even it seems much too granular to withstand "objective" scrutiny.

We were joking about various acronyms, and eventually the free-association "BLT" came up: "I like a good BLT." It stuck, and we felt like it perfectly encapsulated all other "scales" into one catch-all rating system: Your mileage may vary. That's all "BLT" means. You may find it hard, and you may find it easy. Who can tell? But who doesn't like a good BLT?

"BLT" is not an attempt to be coy. It is literally expressing the fact that I have never been able to detect a reliable difference between supposed ratings. There are pitches (and sections) that scare me more than others. But those same pitches (and sections) seem easier to other people, and others find some pitches scarier than I do. So, I literally don't know, and, frankly, I don't believe that anybody else does either. You're just as busted up (or dead) from a Fisher Towers A2 as from an A5, maybe more so.

For example, the first pitch of the route looks harder from the ground than I think it actually is. But somebody might think it is "A5." Somebody else might think it is "A3" or even easier. It all depends on the sorts of placements you're comfortable with. Who knows? Thus, it's BLT. And so on.

Honestly, if you need more than "BLT," then this isn't the route for you. It's like an expensive clothing shop: If you have to ask the price, then you can't afford it.

It's MUD, for crying out loud! A vertical beach.

And that's the intrigue.

So much of aid climbing, particularly on good rock, is a "paint by the numbers" affair. There are few "paint by the numbers" pitches at the Fisher Towers. You have to be comfortable with a huge range of placement tactics, and in most cases each placement doesn't resemble the ones that bracket it.

It's impossible to describe the time and effort involved in an FA there. And that's part of the intrigue. Each five-foot section might be different "rock" than the band above and below. And the hanging mud curtains defy description.

While I was leading the first pitch, Plaid called up to ask, "What's the rock like?"

I responded with the refrain that had become appropriate to several of the bands so far: the Meow Mix jingle, "Meow meow meow meow. Meow meow meow meow." Kitty litter. I'm hooking on kitty litter.

Some people will never experience the joys of the Fisher Towers. Calling the rock "choss" and not worthy, they will miss out on some amazing experiences. It is "choss," without a doubt. But it's better than a lot of "choss" in other places. And just the existence of these towers is so improbably that it feels like a privilege to ascend them.

At one point, as the rain kept us in our tents for over a week, and we realized that the second attempt was going to be a bust, I said to Plaid, "Let's just call the fourth anchor 'the top' and call it good."

With his classic, wicked grin, Plaid instantly responded, "If we wait long enough, the fourth anchor will be the top."

And that's the intrigue.

Credit: madbolter1

Many thanks to Cameron Burns for his photos (some sprinkled through this TR). Thanks to Plaid for his dedication to the route and for his pics. Thanks to Mike, Susan, and Jay for their help and hospitality! And what a pleasure to hang out with Pam and Devon. Thanks, guys, for lifting our spirits with your own! Ammon, thank you for dropping by our site and spending some time swapping stories and hugs. Paul, same with you. It was a genuine pleasure to meet you.

  Trip Report Views: 5,288
madbolter1
About the Author
madbolter1 is a big wall climber from Denver, CO.

Comments
Did you like this Trip Report? Got something to say? Don't hold back...
Comment on this Trip Report
Jaybro

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
  Jan 1, 2018 - 10:32pm PT
Having walked up to the base of this a handful of times just to be see if I could get an idea of what was going on, left me scratching my head. All I can say is that it looks "unlikely". It's really hard to tell where they went, except by the anchors. But they found a way, and it's Not, a bolt ladder!

I'm not completely unfamiliar with these media, I do have some experience aid climbing, some old ascents of el cap routes, like. Mescalito, the shield, zodiac, before thy became total trade route, we even did the 18th(?) ascent of Aquarius back while Richard was on Wings... I was shaking my head back then too. Among other things in the Fishers, I've climbed ancient art sixty odd times, and every ascent of that, one of the most stable routes in The Fishers, is a new route every time. Heraclitus would love it!
For most of us, this is probably not the rock we've been looking for, or at....

So looking up at this I gotta say, I just don't get it. After over half a century of varied climbing experience, generally looking up routes over my head, I can get an idea of what's going on, and what's involved, even if I'm not going up. I'm just really not sure, on this. But I know, it goes!
..that being said, I would love to get up there and have a go at free climbing those slots though!

I really like this report and the " unconventional" rating system seems apropo! I suspect that trying to rate these pitches in classical style could be like trying to write out a musical score using the alphabet, instead of musical notation

Congratulations men! and here's to adventure and exploring new frontiers in new manners! Sometimes I think we try to define things too closely, to fit them into the boxes we regularly use. We all too often cheat ourselves of the wonder of the enigmatic...
thebravecowboy

climber
The Good Places
  Jan 1, 2018 - 10:44pm PT
that's some brass, alright. no hiker complaints?







not that you guys have a perverse obsession or anything....but this photo kills me

Credit: thebravecowboy
skywalker1

Trad climber
co
  Jan 1, 2018 - 11:54pm PT
What an amazing piece of real-estate to stand on top of!!! A hard summit to reach by any route, and forging your own way!

What a strange and beautiful place to be. Bring both the right side of your brain with the left. You need both.

Nice pictures and nice read. TFPU!

S...
kingtut

climber
Jingus Newroutaineer
  Jan 1, 2018 - 11:28pm PT
Nothing like some good Conquistadoring of the Useless to remind us that Climbing is absurd.

GJ Team. Looks like where angels would fear to tread.

Would make a good addition to "Men Without Women" --Hemmingway
healyje

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
  Jan 2, 2018 - 02:59am PT
Hmm....sometimes I look up in wonder at things without ever wondering what it would be like to climb them. This looks like just such a time and place and I'm not sure I really fathom the impetus, but kudos to those of you who do - vision is where you find it.
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Jan 2, 2018 - 03:06am PT
A really wonderful Tr Richard,
Thank you.

I've always loved Cameron burns writing,
I'll bet he is a blast to hang with!
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  Jan 2, 2018 - 03:13am PT
Great report and epic climb! Thanks for sharing.
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Jan 2, 2018 - 04:11am PT
Wow....great, definitive tr! Talk about sticking with it.
T Hocking

Trad climber
Redding, Ca
  Jan 2, 2018 - 06:01am PT
Congrats Richard and Plaid you dirty boys!
TFPU
Tad
SC seagoat

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, Moab, A sailboat, or some time zone
  Jan 2, 2018 - 06:09am PT
Wow! You really captured this multi year project.

It was amazing to see you guys stagger in, get a hot meal, a bed, shower and back at it.

Surely there are some other lines to conquer? It wonít be spring and fall without you working on another impossibility!

Susan and Mike
Nick Danger

Ice climber
Arvada, CO
  Jan 2, 2018 - 07:03am PT
Climbing in the Fisher Towers is so unique, it simply is like no other place I know. GREAT TR, guys, and boffo performance putting it all together. I love your ruminations on grading aid in general and in rating anything in the Fishers in particular. Using symbols from the Klingon alphabet would yield just as much useful information as anything else, so "BLT" works for me. I also appreciate what Jaybro posted above - quite apropos.

Thanks, lads, for putting in the effort and for haring that effort with us.
Woody the Beaver

Trad climber
Soldier, Idaho
  Jan 2, 2018 - 07:38am PT
Thanks! Great picture of Mr. Plaid with the humongus bolt! The Fishers are such gloriously improbable summits -- beautiful peaks. My own modest old-guy bucket list has Kingfisher on it, but your route looks magnificently unlikely! Nice work, gents!
Kauait

Big Wall climber
salt lake city
  Jan 2, 2018 - 07:44am PT
Well done guys! TFPU
ionlyski

Trad climber
Polebridge, Montana
  Jan 2, 2018 - 09:14am PT
"That" was a great "trip" report. Makes my mind "spin" with all kinds of "cool" sounding terms I'll never know, like "claws" trenches, holes and such. If I ever try it someday though, I think I'd better "increase" the beer count and "decrease" the ice cream consumption.

Anyhow, way to get out there and "do" something!

Arne
madbolter1

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Author's Reply  Jan 2, 2018 - 10:02am PT
Thank you, Jay. Thank you (and Mike) again so much for your help with keeping an eye on things and the ultimate load-hump out, as well as your hospitality. And please thank Devon and Pam for the incredible conversations. The energy you guys have is infectious and really buoyed our spirits!

Thank you, Susan, for the implied invitation. You must be a glutton for punishment. Hehe

Who knows what the future holds?

no hiker complaints?

We were careful to not move around up there or drop things when hikers were directly below or within the blast radius. Everybody but one woman expressed lots of excitement at being able to watch the thing going up. Some would hang around for up to an hour just watching, but, as you know, it's like watching paint dry.

The one woman loudly complained to her husband, "That ought to be illegal."

Other than that, people all seemed happy to watch and even asked lots of questions. One large group showed up just as I was about to start jugging in the morning. They gathered around and learned the details of how to ascend fixed ropes.

Except for that one woman, it seemed to be good PR between climbers and hikers. And nobody died or was injured, which was a good thing.
Jon Beck

Trad climber
Oceanside
  Jan 2, 2018 - 10:05am PT
Did you have ropes fixed in October? I think I walked under the route and looked up thinking how utterly improbable that looked. Congrats for sticking to it and getting the job done
madbolter1

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Author's Reply  Jan 2, 2018 - 10:06am PT
A really wonderful Tr Richard,
Thank you.

Thank you.

I've always loved Cameron burns writing,
I'll bet he is a blast to hang with!

So true on both points! It was wonderful to meet him and then get to spend some quality time with him. He really added to the energy of the team.
madbolter1

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Author's Reply  Jan 2, 2018 - 10:09am PT
Did you have ropes fixed in October?

Yes indeed. This is the SE side of Cottontail, about 75 feet to the right of Intifada.

Thank you, sir.
Inner City

Trad climber
Portland, OR
  Jan 2, 2018 - 10:46am PT
I really liked that TR. I can't say that I even remotely relate to it, but I enjoyed the heck out of it. You folks have vision and we know, "you gotta have vision" Talk about fighting the odds and completing what you start, wow!

Thanks!
Dingus Milktoast

Trad climber
Minister of Moderation, Fatcrackistan
  Jan 2, 2018 - 12:39pm PT
Interesting report. I have some open and sincere questions, hope you will elaborate in answering. Note my only familiarity with the climbing there is via written word such as on this website and other forms of media. I understand there is or was some controversy around this and some other routes in the immediate or nearby vicinity and my curiosity is piqued by your chosen writing style in this TR. Forgive my hubris in asking:

Why did you pick this particular line, specifically?

Was the proximity of Intifada relevant to your route selection? If so, how much and why was it relevant?

Is there an undercurrent in your commentary related to Intifada and the FA climber who did Intifada? Is there bad blood betwixt yall?

Am I mis-remembering - didn't you climb and (my term) de-bunk Intifada?

Is Line in the Sand intended as a direct response to the methods used to open Intifada?

Is it appropriate to rain debris on an obviously active public hiking trail? (genuine question, I have no personal knowledge of the trail nor the environs, though I do recall some comments on this board about your fixed rope possibly hanging down in the middle of the trail for some time, earlier this year maybe?)

Is your extensive commentary relative to aid techniques and specifically, belay anchor hardware, related to Intifada and the methods employed on the FA of that route?

Thanks!
DMT
healyje

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
  Jan 2, 2018 - 01:12pm PT
Mud wrestling!!!

Credit: healyje
stevep

Boulder climber
Salt Lake, UT
  Jan 2, 2018 - 02:27pm PT
Great TR. I've been down there multiple times, and even though I've never been tempted to get on anything other than Ancient Art, it's a beautiful and inspiring place.
Matt's

climber
  Jan 2, 2018 - 02:41pm PT
Is it appropriate to rain debris on an obviously active public hiking trail? (genuine question, I have no personal knowledge of the trail nor the environs, though I do recall some comments on this board about your fixed rope possibly hanging down in the middle of the trail for some time, earlier this year maybe?)

that was my thought as well-- putting hikers in the debris zone of a route that ~ no one will ever repeat doesn't really seem worth it (at least by my calculus)

best,
matt
madbolter1

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Author's Reply  Jan 2, 2018 - 03:45pm PT
Interesting report. I have some open and sincere questions, hope you will elaborate in answering.

I believe you are sincere, but I won't "elaborate," because I've learned the folly of such efforts. I "elaborate," which elicits attacks claiming that I'm not being "forthcoming enough," which arouses my efforts to be as "forthcoming as possible," which elicits further attacks that I'm "obfuscating," etc. It goes round and round, and this time I'm not going to play that game from the start.

There are those that do, and there are those that critique. In talking with Pam and Devon extensively, I was stunned to hear about the critiques and outright attacks that she's endured over the years. People who can't even hope to climb her top-quality routes just eviscerating her over this or that protection bolt she placed: "Leave the route for somebody who can do it in proper style." On and on.

Nope, I've learned my lesson. It's a fool's game to "elaborate." Sorry.

Regarding the trail, both hikers and climbers share a resource. We were extremely careful, and all but one hiker we know of were super-excited about the project.

'Nuff said.
madbolter1

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Author's Reply  Jan 2, 2018 - 03:51pm PT
doesn't really seem worth it (at least by my calculus)

Wow, are Plaid and I (and Cam) ever happy that we don't share your calculus! I'm pretty confident that I can speak for them on that point, and they are certainly welcome to speak for themselves if they wish to "elaborate."
rincon

climber
Coarsegold
  Jan 2, 2018 - 04:05pm PT
We excavated about ten tons of mud, give or take.

Sounds like great fun!
madbolter1

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Author's Reply  Jan 2, 2018 - 03:56pm PT
We excavated about ten tons of mud, give or take.

Sounds like great fun!

Oh, there are no words!

"I think I've got the brown lung, pop."

Heh
Chippychopperone

Social climber
SLC, UT
  Jan 2, 2018 - 03:58pm PT
Wonderful report. Thank you for taking the time posting it. To hell with any questions or critics. It was a great adventure for you and leave it at that!

Cheers

Tda
healyje

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
  Jan 11, 2018 - 10:54pm PT
We excavated about ten tons of mud, give or take.

Good thing you had Plaid with you as that's about par for the course on a route around Portland.
madbolter1

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Author's Reply  Jan 2, 2018 - 04:04pm PT
Good thing you had Plaid with you as that about par for the course on a route around Portland.

That's what I hear from him also. :-)

Chossmasters unite. We should have had you along too, Joe!
madbolter1

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Author's Reply  Jan 2, 2018 - 04:05pm PT
To hell with any questions or critics. It was a great adventure for you and leave it at that!

My sentiments exactly. Thank you MUCH for such a supportive comment!
couchmaster

climber
  Jan 3, 2018 - 08:09am PT
GREAT (AKA FANTASTIC) WRITING RICHARD! SOLID PICS TOO. GOOD JOB ALL, WORTHY EFFORT!

What an impressive project, I suspect that the line to 2nd it will not be too long:-) Super on you for putting in solid anchors though and thank you for sharing it with us here as well.

ionlyski

Trad climber
Polebridge, Montana
  Jan 2, 2018 - 04:10pm PT
Just one more sincere question Richard. Seriously, because I've never noticed it before in your writing. Why are you "using" "so" "many" "quotation marks" for "just" about "every" other "word"?

I know. It's none of my business but I gotta ask man. I hope you "elaborate".

Arne
madbolter1

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Author's Reply  Jan 2, 2018 - 04:13pm PT
Check out those BD fingerless gloves!
Check out those BD fingerless gloves!
Credit: madbolter1

Unsolicited, unsponsored plug for the BD fingerless gloves. I've always used the typical leather gloves, but the seams are always in the wrong place, and they get stiff from sweat.

I was suspicious of these from BD because they seemed so, well, flimsy. But I really put 'em through their paces, and they held up to a hostile environment very, very well. The seams are in the right places, and they are superbly flexible. Really comfortable and protective! These things are well worth the money and far better than the pure-leather gloves, imo!
madbolter1

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Author's Reply  Jan 2, 2018 - 04:19pm PT
Little Shop of Horrors anchor.
Little Shop of Horrors anchor.
Credit: madbolter1

Where were you when we needed you, Joe?

:-)
Matt's

climber
  Jan 2, 2018 - 04:47pm PT
Wow, are Plaid and I (and Cam) ever happy that we don't share your calculus! I'm pretty confident that I can speak for them on that point, and they are certainly welcome to speak for themselves if they wish to "elaborate."

You may want to fully quote what my comment was, instead of truncating it in a way that mis-represents what I said.
dee ee

Mountain climber
Of THIS World (Planet Earth)
  Jan 2, 2018 - 05:20pm PT
Bwahahahahahah!

Enjoyed the TR!...and love that place!
Plaidman

Trad climber
West Slope of Powell Butte, Portland, Oregon, USA
  Jan 3, 2018 - 09:40pm PT
Richard has done the story justice. Being a Choss Monster this route called to me. It was such a privilege to climb with Richard Cam kept us in stitches. This route took patience, stamina, endurance, and a little absurdity. I had the time of my life. It was such an adventure.
Thx for the many kudos ya all.
The critic train has started. But we know what we did and why.
Glad we climbed it. It truly is a ďLine In The SandĒ

Plaid
Second iteration of our hiking trail sign made by Cam Burns. Thx Cam!
Second iteration of our hiking trail sign made by Cam Burns. Thx Cam!
Credit: Plaidman

Mad Plaidís Chimney  <br/>
Mad Plaidís Chimney

Credit: Plaidman

Claws!!!!!! Absolutely the best hooking gear ever!!! <br/>
 <br/>
Plaid
Claws!!!!!! Absolutely the best hooking gear ever!!!

Plaid
Credit: Plaidman
madbolter1

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Author's Reply  Jan 2, 2018 - 06:56pm PT
BTW, it's come to my attention that I misspelled Devin's name as "Devon." Sorry, my friend.
nah000

climber
now/here
  Jan 2, 2018 - 10:00pm PT
iíve been trying to come up with an analogy for how i feel reading this piece, and this is the best iíve come to so far:

reading this made me feel similar to when someone posts a video of a very skilled theremin player...



ie. we may not be interested in the same music and i am often left wondering why someone would put so much time into such a wierd and esoteric pursuit... while at the same time i have nothing but respect for someone who follows the beat of their own drum and dedicates themselves, for at least a time, to something so wonderfully and intrinsically strange.



ie. ie: much thanks for taking the time to drop photos and words...
madbolter1

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Author's Reply  Jan 2, 2018 - 08:14pm PT
Thank you, nah. That is a nice way to sum it all up.

Cheers!
justthemaid

climber
Jim Henson's Basement
  Jan 3, 2018 - 07:09am PT
What a delightfully bizarre adventure!
I think Nah000 sums up my sentiment better than I can. I can't fathom doing such a feat but can appreciate the effort involved .

You can find no finer vertical mole to assist in such an endeavor than Plaid.

Thanks for posting the TR.
Plaidman

Trad climber
West Slope of Powell Butte, Portland, Oregon, USA
  Jan 3, 2018 - 07:35am PT
Thx Maid. Iíll add vertical mole to my list of aliases.

Plaid

Credit: Plaidman
i-b-goB

Social climber
Nutty
  Jan 3, 2018 - 08:29am PT
Gettin' down and dirty!
the Fet

climber
Tu-Tok-A-Nu-La
  Jan 3, 2018 - 09:34am PT
Lots to love here.

Great route name.

Great writing.

Great pics.

Great getting out and getting it done on a challenging FA at a "mature" age.

To me this really brings to mind the saying "To each his own". It's a very limited subset of the population that this type of experience would appeal to, but I think it's great that you revel in dirt and danger and write about it for others to experience. I like hearing about the diversity of desires and experience and how fulfillment isn't a one size fits all proposition. The world would be a pretty boring place if it was.
madbolter1

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Author's Reply  Jan 3, 2018 - 10:40am PT
Thank you, the Fet.
SC seagoat

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, Moab, A sailboat, or some time zone
  Jan 3, 2018 - 08:41pm PT
Bump.
I get more out of it everytime I read it.

How does one have that level of multi year perseverance. Amazing to me.

Susan
Plaidman

Trad climber
West Slope of Powell Butte, Portland, Oregon, USA
  Jan 3, 2018 - 09:04pm PT
Susan I asked my wife ďIt is pure insanity! All AID climbing is stupidly insane. Itís like watching paint dry. There is no explaining the multi year obsessionĒ said The Adventure Queen (Ronda my wife).

Plaid
From while I was leading Mad Plaidís Chimney.  <br/>
 <br/>
Plaid
From while I was leading Mad Plaidís Chimney.

Plaid
Credit: Plaidman
thebravecowboy

climber
The Good Places
  Jan 3, 2018 - 09:13pm PT
as the frenchman said: otra vez, chapeau!


you got the Itch, the good hot multiyear Itch. glad you got some scratchin!


I met you in the macadam parking there by the grocery in Mowab, Plaidman, and you were tying some thin little nylonage for waterjugs, I think, and we shook hands. You were so unassuming and deferential to Richard. Pretty chill for that kinda sh#t, it seemed.

Still inspiring the deep digging, you fellows. Cha-f*#king-peau!
thebravecowboy

climber
The Good Places
  Jan 4, 2018 - 04:44pm PT
what's up with those claws of yours anyway? custom made I am sure, but what was the original stock?
madbolter1

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Author's Reply  Jan 4, 2018 - 06:44pm PT
The claws are forged out of a material called HiTuf.

http://www.mtladv.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/170_HARDOX_HiTuf_UK_Data-Sheet.pdf

It comes in plate and bar stock, and it is pretty amazing stuff. You have to hot-forge it at white-hot temps. Even faintly yellow and it cracks while forging. The torch had to be almost cutting-torch temps to get the material hot enough to hammer around the jigs without cracking.

Obviously, Mark and I used jigs to hammer the curves correctly, and we threw away about 1/3 of our "finished" results due to visible or micro cracks.

We found a custom metal engineering firm near Long Beach, and we showed them pictures of our past climbing. They were totally jazzed and said, "We'll do your heat treating for free if you'll just give us some hires prints of your project." That was for Ring of Fire, and we did give them some print-on-canvas shots that they hung in their main office.

Then they x-ray and in other ways tested the claws, looking for imperfections and otherwise invisible cracks. Finally, they heat treated the whole pile of claws (many more than in Plaid's pic) and tested about 1/4 of them in a range of sizes to failure.

The great thing about HiTuf is that it can be mega-hardened without getting brittle. Watching some of the test units flex and flex before suddenly breaking was quite amazing.

And they are ridiculously strong. The small-diameter little claws are good for about 7,000 pounds, while the larger-diameter smaller claws are good for upwards of 18,000 to 20,000 pounds. Obviously, the larger the radius the weaker they are. But even the "weak" ones are good for many thousands of pounds, with flexibility as they approach failure. So, in any climbing situation, they are unbreakable.
Todd Gordon

Trad climber
Joshua Tree, Cal
  Jan 5, 2018 - 02:01am PT
thanks for sharing ...love the fishers;...looks like a grand adventure and challenge. Wonderful. We are lucky to have such a place to climb on planet earth......
Joe Shultz

Gym climber
Pennsylvania
  Jan 7, 2018 - 12:38pm PT
October 18th, 2017
October 18th, 2017
Credit: Joe Shultz
madbolter1

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Author's Reply  Jan 7, 2018 - 07:01pm PT
Sweet pic, Joe! TFPU!
rincon

climber
Coarsegold
  Jan 7, 2018 - 07:06pm PT
Took me a minute before I saw the portaledge :)
madbolter1

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Author's Reply  Jan 7, 2018 - 07:16pm PT
^^^ LOL... yeah, right.

The Wall-Ahwahnee takes up half that side of the wall. Hehe
Plaidman

Trad climber
West Slope of Powell Butte, Portland, Oregon, USA
  Jan 10, 2018 - 03:43pm PT
Todd it would have been awesome to have had you climb with us.

Richard that Wall Ahwahnee is sick. Canít wait to build mine.

Plaid

Credit: Plaidman

The gathering storm <br/>
 <br/>
The gathering storm


Credit: Plaidman
kaholatingtong

Trad climber
The fake McCoy from nevernever land.
  Jan 10, 2018 - 08:06pm PT
I enjoyed this quite a lot. Thanks for sharing.
Jaybro

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
  Jan 11, 2018 - 09:17am PT
Credit: Jaybro
Credit: Jaybro
Credit: Jaybro
Credit: Jaybro
Ballo

Trad climber
  Jan 11, 2018 - 12:39pm PT
FWIW marine grade stainless is 316 which includes molybdenum for corrosion resistance to chlorides.
madbolter1

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Author's Reply  Jan 11, 2018 - 08:37pm PT
^^^ Ah, so the guy at the fastener place in Denver wasn't quite accurate. He asked a lot of questions about my application and told me to order 304. Typically I listen to "experts." I wonder if he was thinking of something like this: http://www.ccsi-inc.com/t-stainlesss.htm,

which says, "For the more severe conditions of higher chloride levels, lower pH and/or higher temperatures, alloys with higher molybdenum content such as Type 316 or AL-6XNģ alloy should be considered. Interestingly, Types 304 and 304L stainless steels pass the 100 hour, 5 percent neutral salt spray test (ASTM B117) with no rusting or staining of samples."

My guess is that he was thinking that the "salty" sandstone isn't a true marine environment (not wet), so 304 was good enough. Now I feel a bit led astray, because I would have paid more for 316 had I known it was available.

Thank you for the heads up! I'll know better for the future.
healyje

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
  Jan 11, 2018 - 11:01pm PT
Types 304 and 304L stainless steels pass the 100 hour, 5 percent neutral salt spray test (ASTM B117) with no rusting or staining of samples.

I'd actually be more worried about the 100 hour, 5 percent courage with no crying or short staining test (and then there's the whole morally-objectionable-kilts-above-hiking-families thing on the first couple of pitches). But, hey, that's just me...
couchmaster

climber
  Jan 12, 2018 - 06:57am PT


^^^LOL, best comment of the thread JH ^^^
madbolter1

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Author's Reply  Jan 12, 2018 - 10:20am PT
and then there's the whole morally-objectionable-kilts-above-hiking-families thing on the first couple of pitches

LOL

Plaid did keep it under wraps while above the hiking-families. So, I can categorically state that we did NOTHING morally-objectionable. NOTHING, do you understand?
Reilly

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
  Jan 12, 2018 - 10:57am PT
I wish I had the capacity to comprehend this. May I make a comparison to ďWaiting For GodotĒ?
I might add that the writing was definitely more entertaing than the estimable Beckettís,
and possibly as deep, mudwise at least! 🤓
Ballo

Trad climber
  Jan 12, 2018 - 11:13am PT
Non-marine grade bolts won't typically show corrosion, but they will become brittle. Witness the horror some climbers experienced in Thailand where stainless bolts were so brittle they broke off by hand on lead.

AFAIK with salt non-marine stainless will leach chromium but won't 'rust' due to the nickel content.
Reilly

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
  Jan 12, 2018 - 11:17am PT
I have a close friend who uses millions of dollars of stainless a year.
He uses only 304 (AFAIK) but says it will rust eventually.
madbolter1

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Author's Reply  Jan 12, 2018 - 11:50am PT
Now I don't know what to believe about stainless!

I can only think that it's going to take a very, very long time for 1/2" bolts to become unsafe.

I guess the motto is: Climbing is inherently unsafe, and....

Yer gonna die!
Ballo

Trad climber
  Jan 12, 2018 - 12:28pm PT
I can only think that it's going to take a very, very long time for 1/2" bolts to become unsafe.

This was proven untrue in Thailand. This lead to a very expensive project to replace all the stainless bolts with titanium.
Credit: Ballo
Credit: Ballo
madbolter1

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Author's Reply  Jan 12, 2018 - 12:31pm PT
Are those examples actually getting regular contact with salt water?

That's FAR worse corrosion than anything at the Fishers, and that includes gear that's been in that sandstone for decades!

Furthermore, those examples don't correlate with your earlier statement that the gear doesn't evidence any rust or corrosion but just becomes brittle.

I'm starting to think that your corrosion statements are a moving target.
madbolter1

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Author's Reply  Jan 12, 2018 - 12:46pm PT
I quote from the site about the replacement project: http://thaitaniumproject.com/problem/.

Metallurgists were consulted, climbing companies were called back, climbers bought higher grade steels like surgical A-4 steel, 316L stainless steel and marine-grade steels. But unfortunately none of this seemed to work. The metallurgist said the higher grade steels should have worked, but without years of study and a big bank role, they could not tell us why the bolts were corroding.

First, this problem does seem to correlate with actual salt-WATER exposure, and something about the Thailand rock is a problem not encountered anywhere else! 316 and even 304 stainless fixtures have been used successfully for YEARS in marine environments, so something is very different about the Thailand cases.

Second, even 316 stainless proved no better than 304 in Thailand. So, your suggestion to use 316 instead of 304 proves to be no panacea IF the Fishers are like Thailand (which, clearly, they are not).

Finally, until it is KNOWN what is really the root of the problem (not yet understood) in Thailand, it's invalid to paint all climbing areas with Thailand's brush. This problem (for whatever reason) appears to be unique to fixtures in Thailand. Clearly, such broad strokes are not valid, because this problem was not and has not been observed in other well-known climbing areas, including the Fishers.

I consider even the 304 stainless to be "overkill" at the Fishers, but we did what seemed reasonable, given all the information available, including from a Denver outlet that does nothing but commercial fixtures as a business, and I talked with one of their engineers. So, I'm not going to continue to beat what I now believe is a dead horse.
madbolter1

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Author's Reply  Jan 12, 2018 - 01:08pm PT
Ohhh... LOL....

I take safety seriously, which is why I've been responding to you, Ballo. But now that I've checked out your posting history, I see that you're just a (subtle and even slightly clever) troll.

I won't be responding to you anymore. Bye-bye now.
jeff constine

Trad climber
Ao Namao
  Jan 12, 2018 - 01:41pm PT
Credit: jeff constine
Tests are still going on in Thailand, whats best?

It will be a while for the results.
madbolter1

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Author's Reply  Jan 12, 2018 - 01:55pm PT
Look at the moisture in that test shot, Jeff.

Uhh... nothing like the Fishers, that's for sure!

Just as a point of interest, though, I am curious to see what the results will be and an account of what's going on there.
healyje

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
  Jan 12, 2018 - 03:18pm PT
I don't think it's all that useful to compare equatorial beach limestone with mid-latitude desert sandstone. Two year old SS bolts were almost literally evaporating from the rock in '93 when I was there. I suspect 1/2" SS bolts in desert towers will still be in halfway decent shape sixty years from now.
Ballo

Trad climber
  Jan 12, 2018 - 03:34pm PT
316 stainless is standard in EU construction for safety gear. 304 isn't allowed.

I'm not saying don't use 304. I'm just saying 316 is designed to be resistant to chlorides, and that just because you have a 1/2 bolt doesn't mean it takes a long time to corrode. You read waaaay too much into my posts. Try reading them literally instead.
madbolter1

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Author's Reply  Jan 12, 2018 - 05:47pm PT
If it posts like a troll and argues like a troll, then it's a troll.

Don't feed the troll.
Plaidman

Trad climber
West Slope of Powell Butte, Portland, Oregon, USA
  Jan 12, 2018 - 05:50pm PT
Iíve run out of troll food.

Plaid
thebravecowboy

climber
The Good Places
  Jan 12, 2018 - 07:38pm PT
those folks eat sh#t I reckon. mostly you seem to be fueled by sand and silt.
Yury

Mountain climber
T.O.
  Jan 12, 2018 - 08:36pm PT
We left fixed ropes to the third anchor and drove to our respective homes. We decided to return in the Spring to finish the route.
For how long were these fixed ropes kept on this route?
Have you had any concern about their degradation by ultraviolet light?
thebravecowboy

climber
The Good Places
  Jan 12, 2018 - 08:42pm PT
that line doesnt get a ton of sun, Yury. once you've stuck yer pecker into the ant's nest and all, why bail bail?
Plaidman

Trad climber
West Slope of Powell Butte, Portland, Oregon, USA
  Jan 24, 2018 - 10:50am PT
Yep Tony, Cowboy got that right. No problems with those Ropes. They were protected by the overhang and the brief sun exposure that the East face gets daily. The Titan blocks most of the sun.

Plaid
chill

climber
The fat part of the bell-curve
  Jan 24, 2018 - 11:38am PT
Great trip report. I've only climbed 1 FT route, the standard one on the Titan and, strangely enough, in 35+ years of climbing I've never been tempted to do another. I do remember the shower I took afterwards, and the red mud that flowed out of my hair.
eeyonkee

Trad climber
Golden, CO
  Jan 27, 2018 - 07:21am PT
Fun T.R.! I've been fascinated and in love with the Fisher Towers ever since Clean Dan Grandusky showed me pictures of them in Boulder, CO sometime in the middle 1980s. Since I'm a geologist, I've always been particularly interested in why these massive towers occur in the Cutler (of all formations) at this location. The Cutler is typically, mostly slope-forming in this part of the Colorado Plateau. It's also typically structurally-low, to where you rarely see it's full thickness.

So, I've come to two conclusions about why the Fisher Towers are their spectacular bad-selves. First, a thick section of the Cutler is exposed because the towers occur within an anticline -- one of two salt-cored anticlines in the vicinity, the other being Castle Valley, to the east (Google Earth shot). These anticlines have pushed the lower strata higher. Second, the sandstone in the overlying Moenkopi formation is particularly coarse and thick -- undoubtedly a channel sand. So, the towers occur within a channel during Moenkopi time. The thick sand is captured well in those pictures up-thread. The Moenkopi is the distinctly-browner sandstone comprising the upper-fifth of the Fisher Towers. This sand interval is responsible for holding up the underlying mudstones. And now back to your regular programming.
Fisher Towers area showing approximate trends of salt anticlines
Fisher Towers area showing approximate trends of salt anticlines
Credit: eeyonkee
madbolter1

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Author's Reply  Jan 24, 2018 - 07:13pm PT
^^^ Totally awesome! TFPU!!!
Mike R

climber
California
  Feb 26, 2018 - 11:56am PT
I'm new to climbing so please forgive my ignorance. I'm not trying to troll, start a fight, or be disrespectful. This climb is undoubtedly an achievement and I applaud the effort and dedication.

I read this trip report when it was first written and since then I've been trying to understand how this fits in with climbing ethics. My understanding is that the central part of it all focuses on not damaging or altering what is being climbed. Merely placing a piton, or a bolt where trad pro would suffice is frowned upon. Manufacturing a single hold is a sin. In the case of more iconic or fragile areas, even the most minor alterations to rock can be career ending (e.g. Delicate Arch). That said, how is removing literally tons of mud from a structure made entirely of mud acceptable or at least not frowned upon? Is it merely because that's the only way (or least impact way) to climb a route like this? If so, should it just remain unclimbed? Or is the loose mud a sort of renewable feature that will heal over a brief time?

Obviously there is a line to be drawn somewhere, or else we'd only be climbing 100% trad routes, and where that line is drawn is a matter of opinion, tradition, law, etc. The lack of a discussion here on this topic makes me suspect that I'm missing something.

Thanks,
Mike
j-tree

Big Wall climber
Typewriters and Ledges
  Feb 26, 2018 - 12:58pm PT
Or is the loose mud a sort of renewable feature that will heal over a brief time?

Yup
Mike R

climber
California
  Feb 26, 2018 - 02:50pm PT
Yup

Yes obviously a dumb question, my attempt at giving OP the benefit of the doubt.
klaus

Ice climber
6th and Mission
  Feb 26, 2018 - 03:05pm PT
new rating: BGBL
Jaybro

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
  Feb 26, 2018 - 03:54pm PT
Nice analysis Grug!

Now consider that there are other areas of Cutler towers, notably the area along and just below the White rim, the White Rim, though uncharacteristic, is the topmost layer of the Cutler. I' m not sure the same anticline situation exists in the monument basin and other nearby Cutler tower fields; it's all pretty horizontal terrain...

Something to ponder.
Mike R

climber
California
  Mar 14, 2018 - 01:02pm PT
Nothing? I suppose that answers my question. PM's are welcome too if anyone is kind enough to enlighten me.
eeyonkee

Trad climber
Golden, CO
  Mar 16, 2018 - 07:43pm PT
Hope you don't mind the separate geology riff on this thread, but, in answer to Jaybro's post, I would say that maybe what this means is that having a thick Moenkopi (and it turns out that it is invariably lower Moenkopi) is the determining variable. And I don't think that it is so much the thickness of the Moenkopi at your location per se; I think that it is the thickness of the Moenkopi in directions radially outward from you that have protected you from erosion for a long period of time.

But, let's not forget. the Fisher Towers are especially special because of their height -- that's where the anticline comes into play. Yeah, there are towers that you can climb on elsewhere in the Colorado Plateau that are mostly Cutler, but none are as high the FTs.

Another important variable, I would think, is rate of uplift. The faster the rate of uplift, the more likely that something that is made up mostly of thick mudstones capped by sandstone will survive as a high tower. At slower rates, the whole thing would erode before it amounted to much.

That got me to wondering about the relative rate of uplift of salt diapirism vs classic tectonism. I would think that those other areas are subject to the rates associated with more or less classic tectonism. Tectonism is ultimately sourced in the lower crust and mantle and driven by buoyancy differences and convection in materials there. The whole Colorado Plateau has been rising for several millions of years because of tectonic reasons.

These salt-cored anticlines are driven by buoyancy differences in much shallower areas of the crust. Basically, there is a Pennsylvanian-aged layer of largely salt that is overlain by higher-density "regular" sediments of sand, silt, and clay. The salt rises as an elongated, diaper-shaped body along linear fissures because of the buoyancy differences (I know that you know this).

The question is, might salt uplift outpace Colorado Plateau uplift by a significant amount? Seems to me to me that the answer is likely.

Here are a couple more Google Earth shots. The second shows the top of the Moenkopi in black. The approximate trend of anticlines and synclines in red, and the projected top of the Moenkopi -- the part that has eroded away in dashed blue.

Google Earth screenshot of Fisher Towers arae
Google Earth screenshot of Fisher Towers arae
Credit: eeyonkee
Google Earth screenshot of Fisher Towers area with sketch geology
Google Earth screenshot of Fisher Towers area with sketch geology
Credit: eeyonkee

I've had that first shot as my screen-saver for several weeks now. I can't help but notice the symmetry between Castle Valley and the Fisher Towers salt anticline. It looks to me that Castle Valley is just older. My guess is that it had some Fisher Towers of it's own a few thousand or tens of thousands of years ago. They have since eroded away. This makes me think that the salt intrusion in Castle Valley is older.

Notice how you can actually see the collapsed salt capstone (white rock) in the Fisher Towers anticline.

By the way, Onion Creek is a lovely little valley that owes it's structure to being between two salt-cored anticlines.
Jaybro

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
  Mar 17, 2018 - 01:11pm PT
Fascinating

Yeah, there are four and five pitch cutler towers but nothing like th total anywhere else, that I know of.
Did you like this Trip Report? Got something to say? Don't hold back...
Comment on this Trip Report
Go