Perspectively, things can be easy or hard. A lot has to do with what’s on the other side of things.
There is a climb in Utah that is world famous for the shear exposure. The climbing is relatively easy. But the exposure is real. Also the “rock” quality is a bit on the lower side, the thing is a tower of mud. Petrified mud. Nonetheless, people flock to the Fisher Towers every year to stand on this beautiful feature.
Fisher Towers. Ancient Art is the little squiggly one that extends into the sky up to the left. The Titan on the right, is the tallest free standing tower in N. America.
I’ve wanted to climb Ancient Art ever since the first photo I ever saw of someone standing on top. It is a slender corkscrew top out that leaves you on a pedestal with sheer 400 feet drop off surrounding your 3 foot platform. It’s intense. With the lack of winter in Utah, Fiona and I headed down to Moab for the weekend to tick it off the list.
We left Salt Lake City at 8 am. This put us at the Fisher Towers right around 1pm. The approach is short and the climbing is quick. We figured to top out right around sunset and then scurry back to the car in the dark. We arrived at the base and headed up the mud pile.
As I said, the climbing was quick. On pitch 1, there is some delicate 5.10 sport climbing where a fall would leave you risking being caught by a piece of metal glued into the mud, so whenever uncomfortable, I just aided (pulled) on the bolts. I wasn’t going for the send here, it was all about the spire. Pitch 2 was fun climbing where there was a full mix of trad climbing, chimneying and some face holds. At the top, a party of 4 was about to have an epic.
Fiona and I waited atop pitch 2 for the 4 pack to start clearing off the sidewalk. I started climbing towards them and one of their leaders started rapping the route. Or I should say he rapped off the side of the tower, not really sure where he was going. He ended up stranded on a ledge, somewhere 50+ft off the ground. There 2nd leader decided he was going to save the day and followed the guy, stranding himself on the same ledge. Some people aren’t very smart. They left their two most inexperienced people at the top, to save them. They ended up pulling up the ropes, leaving their two people on a mud ledge somewhere 200 ft below, and planned to rappel into the chimney we climbed, reach a set of anchors and get a rope to their two people on the ledge. The two up top were all sorts of scrambled in the brain, double, triple checking things and being quite unsure of themselves.
I let them do their own thing for awhile and led up the corkscrew. The last pitch starts off by having a sidewalk. It’s simple. Walk this sidewalk to a diving board. You would never fall off a sidewalk, right? Well this sidewalk is a little different. It has a 400 foot cliff off both sides. It’s unprotected. A fall would put everyone on the last set of anchors in risk of being ripped off the mud tower. Just walk. After the walk, a mantle, belly flop, beached whale move to get on top of a diving board piece of mud, still unprotected. So exciting. Then a few tricky moves past 3 bolts and you get an easy way up the backside of the spire.
Fiona about to belly flop onto the diving board after walking the exposed sidewalk.
I love putting myself into subjectively safe, but uncomfortable positions. It makes me feel alive. It takes every thought, every piece of energy and emotion that you have and focuses everything into each movement. You are truly in the present moment. This is something that not everybody gets to experience. It was really cool to see Fiona walking across the feature as the sun hovered above the horizon. Golden hour among the red rock desert. Priceless.
The last moves before topping out. Take a breathe, focus.
After topping out, we had to wait for the party that was still figuring out what they were going to do. At one point they asked if they could just rappel with us to get down. We didn’t mind and offered help but they ended up slowly, really slowly, making their way down the rappels.
All in all, it was totally worth it. The spire did not disappoint and it was quite an adventure. Everybody ended up making it safely to the ground (in the dark). It was something I’ll never forget.
The classic Ancient Art.
Absolutely ripping on psyche,