My good buddy Steve (Stevo) Cizik and I have started making a habit of getting in a desert tower climbing weekend once in the spring and one in the late fall. We went way too late last year (as in mid December) and it was some darn cold climbing. Fun, yes, but cold. This year, we planned it about a month earlier when our schedules coincided and we recruited J to come with us and our good friend Mikey. Mikey had to cancel due to family health issues, but I recruited my young friend/co-worker Dylan Friday to come with us. Our thoughts were with Mikey and his family all weekend for sure. Dylan had never climbed a multi-pitch route, but he was a strong guy whom I climbed with all summer and fall around the Vail Valley. I knew he would do well. I had two towers and two routes in mind in Colorado National Monument outside of Grand Junction: Fast Draw (5.10+) on Sentinel Spire and The Long Dong Wall (5.11) on the Kissing Couple Tower. I had researched the routes and had always wanted to climb them. Now in retrospect, I’d love to go climb them again. They were good.
We all rolled down in my Tahoe Saturday morning around 8am after dropping J’s 16 mo baby, Raina, off at Aunt Julie’s in Eagle. We decided to do Sentinel Spire first on that Saturday as it would require less time. The approach to Sentinel’s north face is exciting. By parking at the Book Cliffs Viewpoint near the Saddlehorn Campground, we walked down to the edge of Monument Canyon and fixed a rope to a tree and rappelled down about 100′ to a sloping ledge. We left my old rope fixed and scrambled down a few hundred feet to the base of Fast Draw (5.10+) and laid our eyes upon the intimidating tower.
I took off up the crux leading for Dylan & myself and actually led the crux finger-layback clean, which was exciting. I enjoyed jam after jam of awesome climbing for 80′ to the airy pitch 1 traverse left to two old fixed pins. I set up my belay careful to not put all my bodyweight on the two pins. I just didn’t totally trust them – it was indeed an uncomfotable belay. Dylan then followed and cleaned my gear.
J then led for his team and as I know J loves a good handcrack, I don’t think he was disappointed.
Pitch 2 was the offwidth pitch. I had bought a #6 camalot specifically for this pitch and it worked well. It will come in handy in the future I am sure. This was a fun pitch with some stemming involved and nothing over 5.10a in my opinion. The belay ledge at the top of pitch 2 was a paradise compared to pitch 1’s belay station.
Pitch 3 looked like it would be a breeze from below, but gosh it reared its ugly face about halfway up and I thought one small section was pretty darn difficult during the bolted section. Nevertheless, I made it and belayed Dylan up to me.
J then brought Stevo up and we had a ball on the summit for a good 20 minutes. Some nice folks on the canyon rim spotted us and took some phone pictures of us on the summit and sent them to me.
What a great afternoon, but we still had a lengthy out to the car despite not being very far away (as the crow flies) at all. After a single rope and then a double rope rappel to the bottom of the north side of the tower, we scrambled back up to the fixed rope. Stevo brought his jumars and aid ladders and ascended the dynamic fixed rope up to the canyon rim in excellent fashion.
Feeling like the rest of us wouldn’t nearly be as efficient as Stevo ascending the rope, we decided to haul our heavy bags up one at a time after I tried to free climb the roof on belay from Stevo above. It was a tough climb and I should have put on my climbing shoes instead of wearing my approach shoes, but I didn’t. I finally pulled over the lip and we began hauling all three bags up to us from Dylan & J below. Dylan free climbed the pitch and then J was last as darkness really set in.
We packed everything up and a room at the Super 8 motel in Fruita was in order. After some hot tubbing and swimming we hit up our favorite El Tapatio for generous heapings of Mexican food and giant blue margaritas. It was a good day with my boys.
After a warm and comfortable night at the Super 8 and an average continental breakfast, we found ourselves hiking up the familiar Monument Canyon trail for an hour and 15 minutes to the base of the Kissing Couple Tower.
There was a bit of a boulder problem to get to the base of the Long Dong Wall route and we lifted each other’s packs up because it was too hard of a move with a 40 lb pack on! Finally, we were at the base of the route on the tower’s south side in the shade. It was chilly even though it was around 10am already. The first pitch was said to be the difficult crux pitch rated at 5.11a. However, I have heard because of the sandy and insecure footing and hands, it could feel more like 5.11+. I share that sentiment in retrospect. It was a tough pitch. I was sweating so much halfway through leading it, I had to throw down my jacket to the boys. The biggest challenge for me wasn’t so much the moves but the insecurity of the route with little to no footing and what footholds/edges there were sand completely covered them making them extra slick. Its a long pitch too – maybe 100+’. Once you got through the bottom half, the finger crack and hand crack went much smoother until you get to the top crux face move, which is protected by a bolt. Yep, I hung, but figured the move out without french-aiding on the bolt 🙂 I would definitely think because these moves were so slick, sandy, and smooth, the move felt much more like 5.11+ to me. I then set up and belayed Dylan up to me cleaning the route and trailing another rope so J and Stevo could just top rope the pitch. I would love to go back again to lead this pitch 1 better.
Pitch 2 went well with some easier 5.7 chimney moves up to a very runout stemming chimney (5.9ish-5.10?), which was a very exciting lead for me. However, there was no place for gear and its about a 30′ runout to where I could plug a #2 cam in a hole to make the final mantle move to the anchors.
Again, we trailed a rope so J and Stevo could top rope this pitch to be more efficient. Next up was the no-pro class 4/low 5th scramble up to the base of pitch 4. Its easy to belay the follower if necessary from the pitch 3 belay anchors. Pitch 4 was a wonderful pitch. I’ve heard its the best 5.8 in the desert. I don’t know about that, but it sure was fun. J led this pitch for the J/Stevo team and loved it.
We were now in the center of the “belfry” between the two halves of the Kissing Couple that appear to be kissing if seen from a distance. It was a cool position. In fact, someone etched in the sandstone “Far Out!” at the belay. It was a fitting statement.
Pitch 5 was the coolest pitch of them all as you climb up between the two halves of the Kissing Couple inside the belfry, squeeze through a small whole, and “voila” you are at the pitch 5 anchors 5 feet below the summit cap. The first 15′ of pitch 5 is rated 5.10c and is protected by a piton, but you can get a piece of gear in after that. Climbing up the crack then to a roof and traversing left under the roof is just so cool.
After a quick unroped 5′ move to the summit cap,, we took in the amazing views of Colorado National Monument from a new summit. I think it was around 2-3pm, but who knows. It was so warm and windless.
We then double rope rappelled from the pitch 5 anchors to the tower’s east side (not down through the belfry) to the top of pitch 3 and easily pulled the ropes down. We had heard horror stories of ropes getting stuck, but honestly I believe its only possible if you rappel all the way to the top of pitch 2 and try to pull them from that location.
We then did a single rope rap from the pitch 3 anchors to the pitch 2 anchors and did a double rope rap all the way to the route’s base from the top of pitch 2.
We hiked out at dusk and reached the trailhead right at dark. I love evening hikes out like this recounting the day’s fun and excitement and telling stories. What made the hike out even better was the full “supermoon” rising.
After another awesome burger at Red Robin in Grand Junction and catching up on our NFL football, we made the roadtrip back home arriving back in Edwards by 11pm. What a fantastic weekend of desert climbing. My shirt even proves that a good time was had, especially during those stemming chimneys on pitches 2 & 4 of the Long Dong Wall.