Freya & Thor Towers

I’ve been a fan of Norse mythology for awhile now and everyone knows I’m a Gore fanatic. When J and I climbed the intimidating northern of the two east ridges called Asgard Ridge up Mt. Valhalla over two years ago, we always gazed upon the lower 12,000′ towers to our left while ascending Asgard. These towers are called Freya and Thor. There is a tower further on up the southern of the two east ridges of Valhalla called Loki, but honestly didn’t look nearly as interesting as Freya & Thor. I figure the next time we are up on Valhalla’s summit, we can go check Loki out. But, Freya & Thor looked like the real prizes in the basin in addition to the obvious Asgard Ridge. The veteran Gore hardman Stan Wagon from Silverthorne details his climb up Thor on his website and pioneered a one pitch 5.6 route up from the west col to Thor’s summit. Stan also details his west ridge climb/traverse up to Freya’s summit on his website as well. Stan gave me some approach beta on the simplest route to these towers via the Rock Creek TH north of Silverthorne. J and I approached Asgard Ridge via Boss Mine and some steep and pretty intense bushwhacking. I think the better approach to Asgard Ridge proper is to leave the Gore Range Trail and bushwhack south-southwest for a few miles outlined in the route marked below:

Approach to Asgard Meadows, Freya, & Thor

Approach to Asgard Meadows, Freya, & Thor

While Ryan, Mike, and I were targeting Capitol’s NW Buttress route on this spectacular fall day, 3 people on such a serious route with potential rockfall just didn’t seem like a good idea. So, I dug around in my mind for an alternate adventure and remembered these towers deep in the Gore at the head of South Rock Creek Basin. I was excited to get back in there for a visit. Mike needed a big day back in the mountains and it was a treat for Ryan and I to get out together in the Gore with a rack and a rope and see what we could do. We all met at the Rock Creek TH late Friday night and left the TH by 6:30am Saturday morning headed south on the Gore Range trail. We had Ryan’s 70m/8.4mm rope, an alpine rack, set of nuts, draws, and plenty of slings and biners. However, we did choose to leave behind the rock shoes in favor for just our approach shoes. I can tell you next time I will definitely be bringing rock shoes. It was not too bad bushwhacking at all for a few miles up to the grassy meadow slopes on the south side of Asgard Ridge. We descended a few hundred feet down loose rock into a small basin at 11,600′ called Asgard Meadows: a beautiful grassy/bouldery meadow-like basin with a creek running through it and granite towers rising above. It was perfect.

Ryan shooting me shooting South Rock Creek Basin and Freya & Thor Towers still a distance away on the far right in the picture

Ryan shooting me shooting South Rock Creek Basin and Freya & Thor Towers still a distance away on the far right in the picture. Photo by Ryan

Freya Tower is down low on the left. Thor Tower is in the center of the picture. Mt. Valhalla is the high summit

Freya Tower is down low on the left. Thor Tower is in the center of the picture. Mt. Valhalla is the high summit

Asgard Meadows with Freya in the center and Thor on the upper right

Asgard Meadows with Freya in the center and Thor on the upper right

Asgard Meadows with Thor at upper left and Asgard Ridge in the distance

Asgard Meadows with Thor at upper left and Asgard Ridge in the distance

Thor's east face is mighty impressive

Thor’s east face is mighty impressive

I do look forward to coming back to Asgard Meadows and setting up a basecamp to do a full day or two of alpine rock climbing. We were debating on what to attempt first as it was only 9:15am. I told Ryan & Mike Freya’s east ridge direct looked mighty tempting and that I’d like to give it a shot. Based on no prior information that I could find on the east ridge itself and in talking with Stan, we were not sure it had been climbed before. But, it looked doable even in approach shoes – we hoped.

Looking up Freya's east ridge from the base

Looking up Freya’s east ridge from the base

Getting set up

Getting set up

It looked like we could scramble up 50′ of 4th/low 5th class rock or so into a southeast facing dihedral, which seemed like it lent feasible passage up to perhaps a small ledge 80′ above.

Ryan on the initial scrambling

Ryan on the initial scrambling

I started up a crack system on south-facing rock east of the dihedral and soon realized I would prefer the comfort of a rope especially with approach shoes. It was getting into mid-5th class with big exposure. I downclimbed 15′ back to a small ledge and we roped up. I took off up our 1st roped pitch. It was indeed a pretty awesome pitch and after a 5.8 move on the face I made my way into the dihedral and definitely pulled a 5.8 move or two up to the small grassy ledge. I placed mostly nuts but a cam at each of the two cruxes. I set up an anchor system at a convenient grass ledge and brought Mikey and Ryan up to me all the while I scoped out how pitch 2 would go above me.

Me into the dihedral on pitch 1. Photo by Ryan

Me into the dihedral on pitch 1. Photo by Ryan

Mikey and Ryan following pitch 1

Mikey and Ryan following pitch 1

Ryan took the lead on pitch 2 up a 5.8 corner to the right. I hoped in the back of my mind that it went somewhere because it looked to be our only option with some protection to be had. He did awesome and found a nice belay ledge at the base of another headwall above to belay us up.

Ryan setting off up pitch 2

Ryan setting off up pitch 2

I thought this was a cool picture: my head, Ryan's feet

I thought this was a cool picture: my head, Ryan’s feet. The grassy meadows on Asgard Ridge’s south side we used on the approach can be seen in the background

Ryan climbing the right-angling crack into the unknown

Ryan climbing the right-angling crack into the unknown

Mikey following

Mikey following

I took the 3rd pitch lead which began with a funky unprotected stemming chimney for 25′ to a small ledge. I then balanced my way onto a very small corner on the right and was able to get a small Alien into a small pocket, but it definitely wasn’t reassuring. However, there were no other options. I then made a committing face climb move or two to the left and got a good jug and stance in order to get a much better #1 cam into a solid crack. It was then fun 5.6 climbing up to the top of the headwall and I built an anchor to bring the fellas up.

Mikey climbing the headwall up to me on pitch 3. Photo by Ryan

Mikey climbing the headwall up to me on pitch 3. Photo by Ryan

Another view by Ryan. The stemming chimney is immediately behind the large slab of rock in the foreground

Another view by Ryan. The stemming chimney is immediately behind the large slab of rock in the foreground

Mikey on pitch 3 with Ryan below

Mikey on pitch 3 with Ryan below

Young Ryan making quick work of pitch 3

Young Ryan making quick work of pitch 3

A wider shot

A wider shot

I belayed Mikey around the small tower I sat upon for the pitch 3 belay to a very small col just west of me. I lowered Ryan down to this same col and then after gathering my anchor gear, I downclimbed the 15′ to the saddle. We all scrambled up another 100′ to the base of our pitch 4. It looked to be a nice angling hand crack and Ryan took the reins.

Ryan coiling the rope after pitch 3

Ryan coiling the rope after pitch 3

The scramble up to pitch 4

The scramble up to pitch 4

Me belaying Ryan on pitch 4

Me belaying Ryan on pitch 4

Ryan getting into the meat of pitch 4

Ryan getting into the meat of pitch 4

I think we agreed there were some 5.8 moves on this hand crack

I think we agreed there were some 5.8 moves on this hand crack

Mikey making his way on the right-angling, slightly overhung hand crack

Mikey making his way on the right-angling, slightly overhung hand crack

From the top of pitch 4, it was easy and fun class 3/4 scrambling to the 12,121′ summit of Freya.

Ryan almost to Freya's summit

Ryan almost to Freya’s summit

Mikey almost there. It had been awhile since Mikey had scrambled, so he was back in the game by this point

Mikey almost there. It had been awhile since Mikey had scrambled, so he was back in the game by this point

Summit of Freya (12,161'). Photo by Ryan

Summit of Freya (12,121′). Photo by Ryan

Looking due west from Freya's summit down its "standard" west ridge to Thor

Looking due west from Freya’s summit down its “standard” west ridge to Thor

Summit of of Freya (12,161'). Man, what a day!

Summit of of Freya (12,161′). Man, what a day!

Looking down Freya's east ridge from the summit

Looking down Freya’s east ridge from the summit

Well, whether someone had climbed the east ridge before or not, just not having any prior beta or even knowledge that it would go was exciting in itself. Plus, it was a solid 4 pitch alpine route on granite in a spectacular setting. Hard to beat. Here is a route overview of our route:

Freya East Ridge route. Red designates our unroped scrambling sections

Freya East Ridge route. Red designates our unroped scrambling sections

What was almost equally as fun and exciting as our east ridge route up Freya was the descent down Freya’s standard “west ridge” to the Freya/Thor col. This is the route Stan Wagon and his partners climbed in 2010 rating the one crux move at 5.6. We didn’t rope up for this ridge, but it sure was some awesomely exposed scrambling. Makes Capitol’s standard knife-edge look like a catwalk and not very exciting. This was the best scrambling of the day by far.

Mikey heading off on Freya's west ridge

Mikey heading off on Freya’s west ridge

Mike and I approaching the knife-edge portion. Photo by Ryan

Mike and I approaching the knife-edge portion. Photo by Ryan

Freya's knife-edge

Freya’s knife-edge. Photo by Ryan

Such a great ridge

Such a great ridge

Mike and Ryan on Freya's west ridge

Mike and Ryan on Freya’s west ridge

Meke on a very exposed downclimb

Mike on a very exposed downclimb

Ryan at the same spot

Ryan at the same spot

Easy walking

Easy walking

One final climb up on the west ridge

One final climb up on the west ridge

Finishing up Freya's west ridge. Photo by Ryan

Finishing up Freya’s west ridge. Photo by Ryan

Looking back

Looking back with Asgard Meadows down to the left

We took a well-earned break at the Freya/Thor col for a PB&J and some Gatorade. I am not sure what time it was, but maybe between 12-1pm. Anyway, we decided to go for Thor Tower as well. We took Stan’s route up the loose southeast-facing couloir to the saddle west of Thor’s summit. What really excited me about coming back to this area were some of the seemingly solid 300′ crack routes on Thor’s south face visible on our approach up the couloir. Rock shoes and a bigger rack are a must on the next trip.

This large dihedral on Thor's south face was especially interesting

This large dihedral on Thor’s south face was especially interesting

Climbing up Thor's southeast couloir. Freya's west ridge can be seen behind

Climbing up Thor’s southeast couloir. Freya’s west ridge can be seen behind

Then, we traversed north along ledges to Stan’s 5.6 crack route. Ryan decided to scope out a different route to the right (south) of Stan’s route and described it as an airy 5.4 pitch. I tagged the rope on my harness and climbed Stan’s 5.6 crack, found his old webbing and rap ring at the top, and belayed Mikey up to me.

Ryan on his airy route

Ryan on his airy route

Me climbing Stan's 5.6 crack

Me climbing Stan’s 5.6 crack. Photo by Ryan

Me belaying Mike up. Photo by Ryan

Me belaying Mike up. Photo by Ryan

Mike climbing Stan's 5.6 crack up Thor Tower

Mike climbing Stan’s 5.6 crack up Thor Tower

Stan's old webbing and rap ring. Ryan added another piece of webbing through the rap ring.

Stan’s old webbing and rap ring. Ryan added another piece of webbing through the rap ring.

It was then easy scrambling to the summit where we saw Stan’s cairn and small glass jar with his card in it.

Stan's card

Stan’s card

Their summit register

Their summit register

As I didn't have a pen, I added a patch off of my pack. Its a made-up "Expedition" just for fun as our mountain cabin in NC is called Chalk Hill :)

As I didn’t have a pen, I added a patch off of my pack. Its a made-up “Expedition” name my dad thought up just for fun as our mountain cabin in NC is called Chalk Hill :)

Looking down Thor's east ridge to Frey'a west ridge below

Looking down Thor’s east ridge to Freya’s west ridge below

The Valhalla amphitheater from Thor's summit

The east amphitheater of Mt. Valhalla from Thor’s summit

The section of ridge between Valhalla & Hail Peak I have yet to scout

The section of ridge between Valhalla & Hail Peak I have yet to scout

Summit of Thor (12,500' or so)

Summit of Thor (12,500′ or so)

We stayed on the summit for a good 20-30 minutes and enjoyed the wonderful views and weather.

Ryan rapping

Ryan rapping

Me rapping

Me rapping

We descended down the other side of Thor’s west col towards the beautiful lake at about 11,900′. While loose in spots, it wasn’t too bad at all. Then, we continued to descend another 300′ of boulders back down into Asgard Meadows.

The small lake at 11,900' between Asgard Ridge and Thor Tower

The small lake at 11,900′ between Asgard Ridge and Thor Tower

Back in Asgard Meadows

Back in Asgard Meadows

I so wish I had these mini-10' walls in my backyard for Sawyer to learn on :)

I so wish I had these mini-10′ walls in my backyard for Sawyer to learn on :)

Ryan spotted this northwest buttress on Rain Peak across the valley. Maybe a future climb

Ryan spotted this northwest buttress on Rain Peak across the valley. Maybe a future climb

We refilled with water and relaxed for a bit. It was 3pm now and we (at least me) should be probably heading on out. We reascended 300′ or so back up the scree/boulder slopes to the grassy meadows along Asgard Ridge’s southern flanks and cruised on home arriving back to the trailhead by 5:30pm for an 11 hour RT day. Thanks to Ryan & Mike for helping to make this day one of my most memorable Gore adventures in a long time.

Cruising beautiful Gore meadows at 12,000'

Cruising beautiful Gore meadows at 12,000′

Soaking it in

Soaking it in

Eiseman Hut & Lime Creek

Well, its been over a month since our family Eiseman Hut trip in early July, but it was a great time and had to share some pics of the fun experience with all of the young babies/kids. Thanks to J for spearheading this hut trip. I had never been up to Eiseman in the summer (always in the winter and a long 9 mile skin in), but it sure is nice to just drive the 4WD road to within 100 yards of the hut in the summer. However, despite only being literally 10 miles north of Vail Village, the feeling of being at Eiseman in the winter is something special and one of remoteness. The skiing is phenomenal in the northwest-facing bowls behind the hut a mile or two. A few pics from way back in April 2008:

 

Eiseman Hut

Eiseman Hut

A motley crew (Joel Mikey J, and J)

A motley crew (Joel, Mikey J, and J)

Kristine & Tim on the ridge

Kristine & Tim on the ridge

Rob Schnare & myself

Rob Schnare & myself

Tim, me, Mikey J

Tim, me, Mikey J

Kristine dropping the knee

Kristine dropping the knee

And, then 4 years later in April 2012:

Me & K

Me & K

Nico and the Gores

Nico and the Gores

Kristine swissbobbing

Kristine swissbobbing

The crew this trip

The crew this trip

The view of Vail Mountain & Mt. of the Holy CRoss

The view of Vail Mountain & Mt. of the Holy Cross

Sawyer just loves 4-wheeling and didn’t mind at all the 45 minute bumpy 4WD road up to Eiseman. We had a blast with all of our friends and their little ones, though lots of babies and adults in the same bunk room doesn’t lend itself to a lot of sleep. Some pics of the fun 18 hours up at Eiseman:

Joel, Kona, Lauran, & Celeste hanging on the deck

Joel, Kona, Lauran, & Celeste hanging on the deck

Chuck & Hudson

Chuck & Hudson

Megan, J, & Raina

Megan, J, & Raina

Sage, Sawyer, & a squinting Rainie

Sage, Sawyer, & a squinting Rainie

Hanging out in the new Cizik tent

Hanging out in the new Cizik tent

Sawyer is already a Bronco fan

Sawyer is already a Bronco fan

The Ciziks

The Ciziks

The Chalks

The Chalks

Rainie getting in on the playtime

Rainie getting in on the playtime

Dinnertime

Dinnertime

Out for a stroll

Out for a stroll

A gorgeous sunset

A gorgeous sunset

Sawyer waking up sporting her "bear hat"

Sawyer waking up sporting her “bear hat”

Breakfast on the deck

Breakfast on the deck

I love this one of Rainie, Kona, Sawyer, & Clara

I love this one of Rainie, Kona, Sawyer, & Clara

I love this little girl :)

I love this little girl :)

A few days later, Kristine & I took a half day and drove out to one of my favorite sport climbing areas called Lime Creek Canyon. Its about an hour and 15 minute drive from Edwards, but man its so worth it. Just wonderful limestone cliffs above the flowing Lime Creek.

Kristine climbing Old School (5.9)

Kristine climbing Old School (5.9)

Kristine leading Crowd Control (5.6)

Kristine leading Crowd Control (5.6)

Kristine climbing Sweat (5.10b)

Kristine climbing Sweat (5.10b)

Kristine climbing Rafting with Rednecks (5.10c)

Kristine climbing Rafting with Rednecks (5.10c)

Me rappelling off of Born on the Fourth (5.10a)

Me rappelling off of Born on the Fourth (5.10a)

Fun day together at Lime Creek

Fun day together at Lime Creek

It was a fun July with a few more trips to Lime Creek, lots of quality time with Sawyer & the dogs, some good trail runs, and enjoying the wonderful summertime that living in Colorado affords.

Quandary’s Inwood Arete

No matter how many times I have climbed the 14er Quandary Peak, there always seems to be new terrain to discover. The remote north face of Quandary harbors a semi-technical route that ascends an arete for 2,000′ to 13,800′ on the broad east face. Kristine & Sawyer were back on the coast of Maine visiting her folks for a week and so my friend Reid Jennings and I made a plan to hit this route as it would be a short half-day climb and not too much time away from Rainie & Kona back at the house. Plus, it would be a nice Independence Day scramble. I had been wanting to check this route out for some time and is even featured in David Cooper’s Colorado Scrambles book. Reid & I met at the main Quandary Peak TH at 7:15am and after driving the 2 miles or so on the dirt access road to the 11,000′ McCullough Gulch TH, we set off hiking up McCullough Gulch around 7:45am. It was very nice to leave the hundreds of folks at the main Quandary Peak TH, who would be hiking the normal standard east ridge, and have the entire north side to ourselves. I brought my 7mm tag line as our lightweight rope and a half rack of nuts and cams for the fun-looking initial 100′ 5.7 crack pitch. We both brought our harnesses, helmets, and rock shoes as well. After about an hour, 1000′ of vertical gain, and a delicate creek crossing, we reached the base of the route at the nice looking 5.7 crack.

Reid and the creek crossing

Reid and the creek crossing

The Inwood Arete. The 5.7 crack is in red and the remaining route denoted in blue is all 3rd, 4th, and low 5th class scrambling

The Inwood Arete. The 5.7 crack is in red and the remaining route denoted in blue is all 3rd, 4th, and low 5th class scrambling

Now there are 4th class and maybe low 5th class ways around this initial 5.7 crack, but what’s the fun in that?

Looking up the initial 5.7 crack

Looking up the initial 5.7 crack

Looking down at Reid at the crack's base

Looking down at Reid at the crack’s base

I placed 4 cams in about 90′, so its pretty easy climbing, but definitely adds a bit of fun to the route. I made an anchor at the top and brought Reid up to me. He enjoyed the pitch as well. We stowed our gear and traded climbing shoes for trail runners and took off up the class 3 scrambling.

Above the initial technical pitch

Above the initial technical pitch

I think the best part of the route and the most fun was the several hundred feet of class 4 and low 5th class scrambling on solid slabs above this initial class 3 scrambling. It was great. Very solid and fun climbing using various crack systems. This took us up to the base of the 1st tower.

Reid on the slabs

Reid on the slabs

Reid on a section of friction climbing with a great view down McCullough Gulch

Reid on a section of friction climbing with a great view down to McCullough Gulch

More scenic climbing shots of Reid on the slabs

More scenic climbing shots of Reid on the slabs

The cracks in the slabs really provided a nice route to the top

The cracks in the slabs really provided a nice route to the top

Reid almost to the top of the slabs

Reid almost to the top of the slabs

The towers would have been fun to hit head-on, but we just found the small gully up between the 1st & 2nd towers from the east and scrambled around just to the west of the 2nd & 3rd towers. These towers aren’t really all that impressive – mere bumps on a not so well-defined arete.

Reid coming up the gully which bisects the 1st & 2nd towers

Reid coming up the gully which bisects the 1st & 2nd towers

More scrambling awaits

More scrambling awaits

While the Inwood Arete is really not a sharp ridge as you’d think an arete should be, the scrambling is still fun and worthwhile, in my opinion. The route does sort-of meander up the remaining arete between steep, loose gullies and small cliff bands to the top at about 13,800′.

Reid up high on the route

Reid up high on the route. The three towers can be seen over his left shoulder down below

We then saw the hundreds of hikers marching up and down the standard east ridge. Another 450 of vertical gain and 20 minutes later we were sharing the summit of Quandary with probably 75 folks of all ages. Definitely not unexpected, but we didn’t stay very long.

Looking down from the top of the Quandary Couloir and Inwood Arete to its right

Looking down from the top of the Quandary Couloir and Inwood Arete to its right

Final push to the top

Final push to the top

Quandry Peak summit (14,265')

Quandary Peak summit (14,265′)

We descended the standard east ridge route until about 12,600′ where we veered northeast along the north edge of the large east-facing bowl in order to make a beeline for the car. While it was some steep off-trail talus hopping, bushwhacking, and grass slope descending, we amazingly popped out literally right at the car. Now, that’s some good navigation! :) It had taken us about 4.5 hrs roundtrip car-to-car and there were now well over a hundred folks at the McCullough Gulch TH. It was quite the scene with people trying to get to and depart from the TH via the narrow dirt road. We sat in some traffic waiting for people to backup their cars, but eventually got out. After all, it was July 4 and Breckenridge was nearby and obviously very busy and crowded. Back home at 2pm to take the dogs to the river, it was a nice half-day adventure with Reid.

Meanwhile back in Maine, my two favorite gals were having a wonderful visit:

Boating

Boating

Dressing up for parties

Dressing up for parties

And driving tractors

And driving tractors

Sawyer’s 1st Successful Camp!

After two unsuccessful camping attempts with a much younger Sawyer in 2015, we were finally successful this past Memorial Day Weekend and let’s just say Sawyer passed with flying colors! As parents, Kristine & I were very pleased. And, we did it in one of our favorite car camping/climbing areas: Escalante Canyon, Colorado. One of these unsuccessful camping attempts was in fact in Escalante Canyon over a year ago. Sawyer’s sleep was disrupted by a heard of cattle “mooing” a few feet from our tent at 10:30pm, which forced us to abandon the trip and drive back to Edwards arriving home around 2am. Live & learn, I guess :) We packed up last Saturday morning and made the 3 hour drive to Escalante in our new 2008 4-door Chevy Tahoe, which we recently bought from my parents. Its nice for a change to have a reliable truck that can fit all of us comfortably plus not having to worry if the headlights will go out :) Our friends Keith & Sarah with their daughter Melodie (a month younger than Sawyer) and dog Molly were already down there as were friends Lauren & Steve (with their dog Scout) and our good buddy Mikey. After walking around with Sawyer in the backpack trying to get her to nap while Kristine and Keith set up our mega tent and pack-n-play, we returned having had no nap because of Sawyer’s new surroundings, sights, & sounds. Around 4pm, Lauren, Steve, Mikey, Rainier, Kona, Scout, & myself all went to the Interiors Wall and climbed 5 or so routes I was pretty familiar with including the “cave” routes called Interiors (5.9-) and The Shaft (5.10a). Keith came up to check out the cave as well. Arriving back at camp around 7pm, we all hung out around the campfire, ate dinner, and had a nice evening.

Me & Sawyer back at camp

Me & Sawyer back at camp

The Chalks

The Chalks

Sawyer

Sawyer

She looks like a camping county gal in her jeans and dinosaur sweatshirt

She looks like a camping county gal in her jeans and dinosaur sweatshirt

Our tent in an amazing setting

Our tent in an amazing setting

Sawyer & Mikey

Sawyer & Mikey

Kristine & Sawyer

Kristine & Sawyer

Sawyer stayed up late! I don’t think she went to bed until around 9:30pm. Definitely the latest she has gone to bed. She didn’t even wake up when Kristine, the dogs, and I came into the tent around 11-11:30pm. Gosh, she slept well. Must be that cool and crisp desert air. I slept well, too. I always tend to sleep better in the desert than just about anywhere. We woke up around 8am and Sawyer didn’t stir until 8:30am. Kristine & I looked at each other and we both noticed that “ecstatic” expression in each other’s faces. Maybe we need to do more camping!

Gorgeous Escalante Canyon from our campsite

Gorgeous Escalante Canyon from our campsite

Morning, Sawyer! She has much nicer Patagonia long underwear than I do!

Morning, Sawyer! She has much nicer Patagonia long underwear than I do!

Sawyer & Melodie

Sawyer & Melodie

The little gals and Rainier

The little gals and Rainier

We hung around and had breakfast and took the dogs down to Escalante Creek to swim while Kristine drove out to Highway 50 to get cell service and work on getting her condo under contract. When she got back, I had packed up the Tahoe and we were ready to roll whenever we were to be done climbing. Kristine was so wonderful to hang with Sawyer and the dogs by the creek while I took Lauren, Steve, Scout, & Mikey up to quite possibly my most favorite crack I’ve ever climbed: Willy’s Hand Jive (5.10+). Maybe that doesn’t say a whole lot, but I sure do love it. Keith came up with us as well to check out our crack addiction :)

Me on Willy's

Me on Willy’s

Jam, jam, and jam

Jam, jam, and jam

Placing gear before the crux pod

Placing gear before the crux pod

Negotiating the pod

Negotiating the pod

And....success!

And….success!

Mikey did a lap on Willy’s and then we went over to setup an adjacent route called Rusty’s Cave (5.9+). Lauren & Steve took a good stab at Willy’s and hopefully learned a few trick of the trade with regard to this thing called “crack climbing”. Its definitely very technique-driven and takes awhile to hone in on the various maneuvers that work or don’t work. We left the rope up on Rusty’s cave for Lauren & Steve as I needed to head out because Sawyer’s nap time was fast approaching. Mikey and I rolled back to the car by 2pm and we joined up with Kristine, Sawyer, & the dogs at the small picnic table in the shade. We met two nice women as well at the picnic table. One had a 14 week old son in the baby bjorn. We chatted for awhile as they were both originally from Austria. The woman with the baby lived in Ridgway and her friend was visiting from Austria to keep her company while her husband was guiding in Alaska. Turns out the woman with the baby’s name was Ava House, wife of Steve House, one of the most accomplished, respected, and skilled alpinists out there. Pretty cool. I had forgotten Steve House lived in Ridgway. Sawyer promptly passed out as soon as we started the 11 mile drive on the dirt road to Highway 50. She was exhausted, but a good exhausted. We arrived back in Edwards around 5pm very happy with how things went for Sawyer’s 1st successful camping trip.

Ancient Art’s Corkscrew Summit

Last Saturday my boys and I made a climb happen we had intended to do this past mid-December. That is, until rain and snow prevented us from going further west than Grand Junction. Nevertheless, we had a nice December weekend of come cold climbing in the Monument. The Fisher Towers northeast of Moab, Utah are soaring towers of mud some 1,000′ off the deck. Most of these towers are very hard (and scary) aid climbs, but there is one free climb called Stolen Chimney (5.10+) up this crazy mud formation with four-summits called Ancient Art. The most visited summit (and rightly so) is the awesome southern summit that resembles a corkscrew. This summit has to be about the wildest summit just about anywhere with some mega-exposure on all sides. Folks sometimes base jump from the corkscrew summit. Steve Cizik, Mikey Santoro, and myself were joined by Derek Drechsel as our 4th member and we hit the desert on Friday night. I do miss going down to the desert. I remember the first time I ever set my eyes upon the Fisher Towers was an early morning after waking up next to my truck and Rainier in my sleeping bag in the trailhead parking lot. Kristine, Rainie, and I had driven down to meet some of her friends from Aspen to climb and bike maybe circa 2004 with my friend Billy Larson driving his jeep behind us. We just pulled down some dirt road late at night and found a parking area and slept. Kristine slept in the back of my truck and Billy in his jeep. Then, when the sun rose and we awoke in the crisp morning desert air, we were so surprised we had just camped at the Fisher Towers trailhead. A nice view to wake up to.

A few of the Fisher Towers. Ancient Art's corkscrew summit on the left and Cottontail Tower on the right.

A few of the Fisher Towers as seen on the hike into Ancient Art. The Kingfisher is on the far left. Ancient Art’s corkscrew summit is to the right of the Kingfisher. Then, comes Echo Tower and Cottontail Tower on the right side of the picture.

We arrived at the trailhead around 10:30pm and coincidentally parked adjacent the bathroom facilities. We hung out for a bit, having a beer, then we crashed in the back of our cars. Mikey and I in the back of Kristine’s subaru with the tailgate open to the cool night air. It was a great night of sleep. It seemed as if it had rained that day as the ground was a bit damp and the last thing we wanted to do was to climb mud towers if they were at all damp from a safety perspective but also from an environmental protection perspective for these towers. We were hoping to wake up to a sunny morning in order to dry things out quickly, but all we woke up to was a cloudy morning and a Moab Septic truck racing up the dirt road to empty the bathroom facilities. A grizzled man with no shoes hopped out of the septic truck as we were making coffee and said “Boys, I’m about to ruin that breakfast.” While disappointing, it was hilarious. We moved across the parking lot and what emanated from the pit below the bathrooms when he opened the lid was the single worst odor I had ever experienced. I think all of the boys agreed. I believe Mikey may have been gagging. I was close. However, the grizzled old septic man didn’t bat an eye and promptly hooked up his hose to the tank and began to pump. We continued to grin and bear the smell until Moab Septic left the premises and we had a newly clean bathroom to take advantage of. Steve went first as other campers were lining up. There is a 60′ tower called Lizard Rock literally a 30 second walk from the parking lot that I had wanted to climb and so Steve, Mikey, and I went over there while Derek went for a hike on the Fishers Tower trail to check out Ancient Art and the other towers. The sun was starting to poke through the clouds and things seemed like they would dry out nicely in a few hours time. I led the route called Entry Fee (5.9-) up the tower to the summit and set up a top rope. The route was a bit run-out and I didn’t see the old bolt protecting the final crux moves, but a #1 camalot in a mud pocket made up for the bolt – sort of :)

Me leading up Lizard Rock. Photo by Steve

Me leading up Lizard Rock. Photo by Steve

Me on top of Lizard Rock

Me on top of Lizard Rock. Photo by Derek

I then lowered down and climbed the old Ed Webster 5.10- route to the left of Entry Fee called Leaping Lizards.

Me on Leaping Lizards. Photo by Derek

Me on Leaping Lizards. Photo by Derek

The boys then took their turns each summitting Lizard Rock. I think the campers at the small Fisher Tower campground enjoyed watching us climb.

Mikey

Mikey

Mikey high on Lizard Rock

Mikey high on Lizard Rock

Ancient Art's 4 summits in the foreground with Cottontail Tower behind. You can see the Corkscrew summit as the far right summit

Ancient Art’s 4 summits in the foreground with Cottontail Tower behind. You can see the Corkscrew summit as the far right summit

Steve on Leaping Lizards

Steve on Leaping Lizards

Steve

Steve

Derek

Derek

Derek on top of Lizard Rock

Derek on top of Lizard Rock

The sun was out in full-force by now and we packed up and went back to the parking lot by 11:30am. Derek had secured a campsite for he and Steve that evening as well. We had a bit of lunch, geared up, and then made the 30 minute hike to the base of Ancient Art along the gorgeous Fisher Tower trail. By now, there were numerous dayhikers and the parking lot was full. However, it still seemed as if we were the only climbers, which was a great thing for climbing Stolen Chimney.

On the way to the base of the route. Castleton Tower and the Rectory can be seen in the distance

On the way to the base of the route. Castleton Tower and the Rectory can be seen in the distance

Ancient Art's corkscrew summit high above

Ancient Art’s corkscrew summit high above

We arrived at the base of the route around 12:30pm and all the soil, rock, everything was completely dried out and there was not another climber in sight! Perfect! We couldn’t believe there was no one else given its a Saturday in last April on a very popular route. We’ll take it! Derek & I roped up together and I took on up the 1st pitch placing a cam along the first 50′ of broken 5.6 rock and came to the first of the two cruxes of the route: a well-protected (bolted) 20′ section of delicate 5.10+ climbing. I led this clean making a few balanced stemming moves and pulled the lip up to the anchors. It was very fun climbing.

Me leading the crux 5.10+ section of the 1st pitch

Me leading the crux 5.10+ section of the 1st pitch. Photo by Derek

And another of me on the 1st pitch with the entire Stolen Chimney route visible above me along with the Corkscrew summit. Photo by Derek

And another of me on the 1st pitch with the entire Stolen Chimney route visible above me along with the Corkscrew summit. Photo by Derek

I then belayed Derek up to me with Mikey right on his heels leading for team Cizik/Santoro. Derek handed me my quickdraws and gear and I went to work on the 5.8 chimney of pitch 2. This was probably my favorite pitch of the route. Really fun climbing and well-protected and its a lengthy pitch at maybe 100′.

Derek climbing the crux 5.10+ section of the 1st pitch

Derek climbing the crux 5.10+ section of the 1st pitch

Me looking down from the pitch 2 chimney on the belay of pitch 1 and Steve way below at the route's base

Me looking down from the pitch 2 chimney on the belay of pitch 1 and Steve way below at the route’s base

Upon reaching the spacious belay ledge at the top of pitch 2, I set up to belay Derek up to me. I could feel the wind a bit hitting the west side of the tower and could hear it whistling. Yep, it would be a blustery summit! Steve led pitch 2 for the Cizik/Santoro team and Steve arrived shortly after Derek.

Steve at the top of the chimney of pitch 2

Steve at the top of the chimney of pitch 2

Pitch 3 is very short maybe 40′, but its indeed airy and had the toughest free climbing move of the route in my opinion between the last bolt and the anchors (5.10+). I led it clean though, which I was happy about. I then belayed Derek up to me on a very airy perch!

Belaying Derek up the 3rd pitch with Steve on the spacious belay ledge below

Belaying Derek up the 3rd pitch with Steve on the spacious belay ledge below

Derek topping out on the 3rd pitch

Derek topping out on the 3rd pitch

Ready for the summit pitch!

Ready for the summit pitch!

With Derek anchored into the bolts, he belayed me across the airy catwalk. The wind was definitely in full effect and so I definitely used my hands and bent down for balance. I then mantled the so-called “diving board” and clipped the 1st bolt. A few fun 5.8 moves and two more bolts and I was at the summit pitch’s anchors. I then climbed a few feet higher and stood on the corkscrew summit. It was amazing and I had never been on such an exposed summit as this.

Me climbing the corkscrew

Me climbing the corkscrew

Me at the summit anchors

Me at the summit anchors

Me standing on the corkscrew summit of Ancient Art!

Me standing on the corkscrew summit of Ancient Art!

Self-portrait of me on the corkscrew summit

Self-portrait of me on the corkscrew summit

Derek then lowered me down and I reversed the diving board and catwalk all the while leaving the quickdraws on the bolts. We then pulled the rope through the draws and summit anchor so Derek could climb through the bolts. It was Derek’s turn.

Derek on the catwalk

Derek on the catwalk

Mantling the diving board

Mantling the diving board

Derek climbing the corkscrew summit tower

Derek climbing the corkscrew summit tower

Derek on top!

Derek on top!

I then lowered Derek down and he reversed the diving board and catwalk and I continued to lower him down all the way to the spacious ledge atop pitch 2 with Mikey and Steve. Steve wanted me to stay atop the 3rd pitch so I could take pics of team Cizik/Santoro. No problem!

Lowering Derek down the 3rd pitch

Lowering Derek down the 3rd pitch

Steve climbing pitch 3

Steve climbing pitch 3

Mikey coming up pitch 3

Mikey coming up pitch 3

I was only anchored into the anchors and completely independent of Steve & Mike’s rope, so I just relaxed and took pics/video.

Steve on the catwalk. He walked this very well

Steve on the catwalk. He walked this line very well

Steve on the diving board

Steve on the diving board

Steve climbing the corkscrew summit

Steve climbing the corkscrew summit

Steve on the corkscrew summit of Ancient Art!

Steve on the corkscrew summit of Ancient Art!

Mikey was up next. He said this final pitch definitely kept him on his toes!

Set to go

Set to go

Mikey mantling the diving board

Mikey mantling the diving board

Mikey

Mikey

Mikey on the corkscrew summit of Ancient Art!

Mikey on the corkscrew summit of Ancient Art!

We then all rappelled back down to Derek at the big spacious ledge atop pitch 2 and set up a full length double rope rappel to the ground. The ropes were just barely long enough and what a fun rappel it was.

Derek rappelling

Derek rappelling

Back down at the base of the route around 4pm, we stowed our gear away and looked up at Ancient Art again in awe. What a spectacular climb. And, to have the route all to ourselves – amazing!

At the base

At the base

We then decided to take an extra 30 minutes and hike further out the trail to see a few more of the towers up close since it was such a nice afternoon.

Cottontail Tower up close from its base

Cottontail Tower up close from its base

The Titan is on the left - the largest of the Fisher Towers

The Titan is on the right – the largest of the Fisher Towers

Looking back at Ancient Art's corkscrew summit

Looking back at Ancient Art’s corkscrew summit

And a final team picture with Ancient Art behind

And a final team picture with Ancient Art behind

Back at the cars around 5:30pm, we all hung out and enjoyed the weather over a beer. Mikey and I headed out in Kristine’s subaru shortly after 6pm to make the trip back to Edwards. Derek & Steve camped another night and toured Arches National Park in the morning. What a fantastic 24 hour trip to the desert to climb this classic route with good buddies.

Steve put together a pretty funny Ancient Art montage here in one of his classic videos. Hope you enjoy:

Cold Climbing in the Monument

Typically, when a decent storm rolls into Colorado bringing snow, one would want to head for the slopes or backcountry for some powder turns. Well, Steve, Mike, and myself decided to head west to get out of the snow and onto some sandstone. It wasn’t looking too promising, but we pulled it off and got on some nice cracks and a tower to boot. However, it was indeed some chilly climbing (temps in high 30s at the warmest part of the day), especially in the shade and when the sun was not out. Our original plan was to head to the Fisher Towers to climb Ancient Art, but it is a teetering tower of mud and would not have been safe after a snowstorm (as it wouldn’t have dried properly) nor would have been good climbing karma to climb this tower so soon after it snowed. The harder sandstone near Grand Junction in Colorado National Monument was safer and in no way did we stand a chance of harming the rock.

Me leading the 1st pitch of Dewar Dihedral (5.10), a new route I had not climbed on the Monolith Spire

Me leading the 1st pitch of Dewar Dihedral (5.10), a new route I had not climbed on the Monolith Spire

Steve on Dewar Didedral

Steve on Dewar Dihedral. This route has a 2nd pitch, but having three of us just didn’t make sense with the hanging belay at the top of the 1st pitch. Next time we’ll do the 2nd pitch

Mikey

Mikey

Steve. For some reason when I led this route it was freezing! It got warmer as the afternoon progressed even though then sun was behind the clouds

Steve. For some reason when I led this route it was freezing! It got warmer as the afternoon progressed even though then sun was behind the clouds

Mike on a close to dark lead of Left Dihedral (5.8+)

Mike on a close to dark lead of Left Dihedral (5.8+)

Instead of driving to some trailhead in the dark and suffering through a cold night in the desert, the young Mike followed Steve and my lead and we all checked into the Comfort Inn in Fruita and had a comfortable night in a warm bed. Steve & Mike had never climbed Independence Monument, the 400′ free-standing tower in Colorado National Monument, via its moderate classic 5.9- route called Otto’s Route. I had climbed it twice, the first time with Jesse Hill and the second time with Kristine, and knew it well. The only issue with Otto’s Route was that the 1st three pitches were on the west side in the shade. It was to be very chilly on the fingers and toes. I was the 3rd wheel along for the ride taking pictures while Steve led pitches 1 and 4 and Mike took pitches 2 and 3. Finally, we got in the sun at the top of pitch 3 and it was a sunny and warmer pitch 4 and summit.

Hiking the 2 miles into Independence Monument

Hiking the 2 miles into Independence Monument

Bighorns enjoying the morning sun

Bighorns enjoying the morning sun

Steve making one of the most awkward moves of the day on the 5.6 pitch 1. The cold really contributed to zero friction between your hands and shoes and the rock, i.e. the cold made 5.6 feel way harder

Steve making one of the most awkward moves of the day on the 5.6 pitch 1. The cold really contributed to zero friction between your hands and shoes and the sandy rock, i.e. the cold made 5.6 feel way harder

Mike leading the 5.8+ off-width pitch 2

Mike leading the 5.8+ off-width pitch 2

Top of pitch 2

Top of pitch 2

Me belaying Mike on lead up the 5.7 pitch 3

Me belaying Mike on lead up the 5.7 pitch 3

Mike belaying Steve up pitch 3

Mike belaying Steve up pitch 3

Me topping out on pitch 3...into the sun, finally!

Me topping out on pitch 3…into the sun, finally!

Steve beginning pitch 4

Steve beginning pitch 4

Steve leading the really fun 5.9- roof move/mantle to the summit

Steve leading the really fun 5.9- roof move (mantle) to the summit

And Mikey is off on pitch 4

And Mikey is off on pitch 4

Steve belaying Mikey up the roof

Steve belaying Mikey up the roof

Its then just a short belay away from the true summit cap. Mikey took this pic of Steve and me way down below

Its then just a short belay away from the true summit cap. Mikey took this pic of Steve and me way down below

Me goofing around on the roof move

Me goofing around on the roof move

Independence Monument summit

Independence Monument summit

Gorgeous Monument Canyon from the summit

Gorgeous Monument Canyon from the summit

A nice hiker took this pic of us from the ground. You can see my red jacket on the summit of Independence Monument

A nice hiker (Toni Leuthold from Winter Park) took this pic of us from the ground. You can see my red jacket on the summit of Independence Monument

Me rapping off the summit. Photo by Toni Leuthold

Me rapping off the summit. Photo by Toni Leuthold

Two double rope rappels and we were down on the ground again around 1:30pm. We started hiking back down Monument Canyon and the high clouds rolled in and blocked the sun yet again. It got pretty chilly. Oh well, at least we had sun for the tower’s final pitch and summit. We wanted to go to the fun 120′ crack route called Wide Load (5.10) that I had climbed before, but a pair of climbers were on it. So, we bouldered around for 30 minutes waiting for them to finish up. Steve set up his phone and speakers to get the Broncos game. Climbing Wide Load seemed tougher than normal because of the cold but all good fun. However, listening to the Broncos game was not fun. Disappointing to say the least.

Mikey leading Wide Load (5.10)

Mikey leading Wide Load (5.10)

Steve at the roof on Wide Load

Steve at the roof on Wide Load

We pulled the rope and then I led Wide Load

We pulled the rope and then I led Wide Load

By 4:30pm, it was just too cold to stay out. Our fingers and toes were numb. We packed up and headed out to the trailhead. All in all, despite a less than favorable forecast, we made the most of our rock climbing weekend and got on some good stuff. I’m looking forward to hopefully another one or two winter trips to the desert.