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.
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 🙂
I then lowered down and climbed the old Ed Webster 5.10- route to the left of Entry Fee called Leaping Lizards.
The boys then took their turns each summitting Lizard Rock. I think the campers at the small Fisher Tower campground enjoyed watching us climb.
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.
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.
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′.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
I was only anchored into the anchors and completely independent of Steve & Mike’s rope, so I just relaxed and took pics/video.
Mikey was up next. He said this final pitch definitely kept him on his toes!
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.
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!
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.
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: