Three weeks ago, I stood atop my first desert tower in the Canyonlands National Park. Kurt Ross and I reached the Islands in the Sky via the windy White Rim, packed a rack for the following morning, and slept until we woke to a blissful, breathtaking sunrise that gave prominence to the unique tower features in the distance.

We hiked early in the morning with Primrose Dihedrals (5.11+) in mind. Even the drive out to Moses felt like an adventure. I’ve climbed splitter Wingate sandstone before but Primrose felt a little new, a little foreign. There was just a different sense of adventure tingling in the air: this was not the Creek.

Islands in the Sky at daybreak

We jumped into the deep end with the first 5.11+ pitch (protected by both a 3 and 4 for the crux move). A few more hard, bouldery moves brought us to the base of the second pitch, which I happily took the lead for: a perfect finger to hand crack with beautiful movement the entire way.

The fourth pitch proved to be a bit harder for me. Kurt triumphantly swam up the crack, his hands considerably larger than mine, meanwhile I struggled between janky cupped hands and tight fists. As I flopped to the belay, we decided that we made good cracking climbing partners considering our vastly different sizes.


As a rest day, we climbed in Long Canyon during the later part of the day, having ambled through Moab to enjoy a lazy coffee morning and big burrito breakfast. If you are to only climb one route at Maverick Buttress, let it be Miss Kitty Likes It That Way, a fiery little pitch of 5.11+. A relatively short route, it was quite fun through the perfect hands section and then, revealing her claws, becomes nails hard after the pod. With about ten feet to the chains and desperate thin hands and shit feet, you can clip the anchor or finish the continuation, Just The Tip (5.12+).

Dirtbag state of mind

Despite its popularity, we chose Castleton the next day. Having climbed most of the classics, Kurt wanted to try something new. He picked Sacred Ground, a four-pitch 5.12b that starts to the right of the north face route. Kurt led the first pitch. It went at 5.11c and was by far one of the coolest, most interesting cracks I’ve ever climbed. Not feeling super confident about the hard grade, I surprised myself following it clean.

Sacred Ground was butt hard, to say the least. Sandwiched between two very difficult pitches, the first and the fourth, are two very fun 5.10 pitches. The final pitch to the summit is purely sport climbing that goes at 5.12b and involves a few very big moves and some techy (and painful) calcite crimping. I didn’t like the less than quarter pad crimping but I certainly didn’t mind the exposure.

Sport wanking is hard

It’s hard to believe that I stood atop my first desert tower only a few weeks ago. I don’t know how I could have spent so much time out west without having done one before, and it will be some time before I’ll be able to do it again. Instead of mourning being far away from the desert and the mountains, I’m embracing the upcoming changes. Life has a funny way of pulling us in new directions when we least expect it but that’s just part of the absurdity of living. We can plan to climb, strategize and plot it out, pitch by pitch. But life…is not for planning.

View atop Castleton Tower

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