Thursday, December 4, 2014

Castle Valley: I want to climb that.

"Because it's there" was George Mallory's famous reply to the question of why he wanted to climb Everest.  The question itself might seem a bit preposterous to some climbers as it can be hard to understand how someone can see a towering peak, jutting pillar or any similar formation and not want to be on top.  That seeming innate desire had me scrambling up buildings, trees and rocks as a small boy and when I grew older it transitioned to hiking up mountains just to be rewarded with a grand view.  So when I eventually found climbing it would seem that it would take me to new heights, but instead that initial desire to simply reach the highest point quickly morphed to include finding the most striking and/or difficult line and over time I was standing on fewer and fewer summits until eventually I reached the point where I'd exert days of effort to crawl out of some 10 foot hole covered in graffiti.  It's an interesting place to end up.  

Now don't get me wrong, I love bouldering and have no intention of forsaking my beloved pebbles but there is a yearning when visiting certain places that makes me want to put aside the pad and tie in to a rope.  There are features that are so impressive in scope, contrast, ascetics and/or magnitude that they beckon like sirens, appealing to that fledgling climber that like Mallory felt the need to climb it simply because it's there.  I'd know the big walls of Yosemite or perhaps the peaks of the Sierra Nevadas might come to mind for many but if you're not willing to commit the time/effort or lack the expertise necessary there are some dessert towers that will appeal to the "Mallory" in us.

Though lacking the commitment of El Cap and on a much smaller scale Castleton Tower in Utah's Castle Valley just begs to be climbed.  There are plenty of towers in the area but this one stands out as it stands imposingly, demanding your attention.  The first time I drove through the valley I was captivated by Castleton and felt the urge to stand on top of it.  Of course having dedicated myself to bouldering all these years I had to recruit someone capable of helping me to the top and luckily for me my sister Prairie has become an excellent trad-climber.  So it was with great excitement that I joined my sister to bag a tower for what has been a highlight of my 15 years of climbing.

It's easy to see why Castleton is a "must do" for climbers visiting the region.  And while I can't help but want to stand on top of such formations this desire is not shared by all.  When asked, my sister Heather replied with no hesitation that she had zero desire to see the view from the top of Castleton.  I'll share my pictures with her though just in case. 

The hike to the base was fairly casual and took roughly 40 minutes.  Prairie had done Castleton a couple years earlier and said the trail was much better now.  Even if you got off the trail you'd have to be dumb or blind to actually get lost.  "Does anyone know how to find the massive tower?"

At the base of Castleton.  A note to those going for a winter assent of pretty much anything in the northern hemisphere, if the high temperature for the day is going to be just just a few degrees above freezing it is best to avoid routes with the word "north" in their name.  As I mentioned earlier Prairie had done Castleton a couple years earlier via the classic Kor-Ingals route.  Wanting to take an alternative route to the top she opted for 5.8 on the other side of the tower and I foolishly followed....  The first pitch of the North Gully is superb climbing in an ascetically pleasing dihedral but I couldn't appreciate any of it as my hands were so cold I had to fight the urge to vomit while I wondered how long it takes for frostbite to set in.  Seriously though, my hands have never been colder and I really felt like vomiting.  When I finally joined my sister at the anchor after climbing the first pitch we chuckled about how miserable we were and how we had never thought it possible to have to try so hard on a 5.8.  When the blood flowed back into my hands along with the feeling best described as the "screaming barfys" (you want to both scream and barf simultaneously) we decided it was best to just rappel down and go around to the sunny side and do Kor-Ingals.  I must say that while I was jamming my numb meat-hooks into the freezing crack I couldn't help but be impressed with my sister.  Not only did she lead with absolutely no feeling in her hands but she belayed me up the first pitch thinking we'd continue climbing through icy hell.  Or maybe she just wanted me to expericne the same suffering she just went through.  Either way I was happy to have had that miserable experience and even happier that we bailed and went to climb in the sun. 

Prairie racking up.  Needless to say, things went great once with got in the sun.  We danced up Kor-Ingals wondering how we could have been so dumb.  Live and learn.

The mandatory summit photo. 

The view on top for my sister Heather (just in case).  And there are some more towers I'd like to stand on.  

The beauty of climbing like this is the gratification you get when you get to a remote place.  It might not require great strength but even an easy climb can be an adventure and give a sense of fulfillment much greater than sending a V-hard boulder problem.  Maybe the reason I explore and develop so much is that it is a way to instill that sense of adventure that is generally lacking in bouldering.

Castleton casting a shadow.  Clearly this tower was happy to see me.


damon said...

really enjoyed this post bro

Robert said...

Love this post and wished I was with you bro.
Next time!

Heather said...

Just re-reading this post. Looking forward to upcoming family time! It is a lovely view. Thanks for taking the pic, it's all I need! And ps, in the obligatory summit picture it looks like you're wearing a fur collar. Stylish & seems like you should have been warm enough. :)