A Moderate Climber’s Desert Tower Ticklist

April 24, 2017

Standing atop Castleton Tower

A few weeks back I visited Moab with the goal in mind to climb desert towers, accomplishing a dream of Sadie’s for her birthday. The Falcon Guide had some of the most popular climbs, but if I bought a guide book for the area again it would be the more recent and fully featured High On Moab book. Surprisingly it was actually this map from summit post that really lead me to discover the variety of towers in Moab. If you are a moderate climber who is comfortable trying some aid, these are the regions and climbs you must check out (in order of preference).

Castle Valley

Castleton Tower in all its glory from the campsite. The Priest and the Nuns the left most rock towers.

I climbed Castleton Tower via the Kor-Ingalls Route (5.9+) which is a four pitch climb up one of the most iconic towers you can find.

There is a free campsite right at the trailhead that cycles through campers in the early afternoon and fills up quickly. The climb really took it out of me with 150ft of consistent, strenuous 5.9 in form of either squeeze chimney or off width (P3+P4) combined with an unexpectedly cold wind from nearby snow capped mountains which left me shivering the whole day on belay. I brought two #4s and was happy for it. Even a #5 would have been awesome.

Sadie coming up the final squeeze chimney

The feature is definitely deserving of the 50 classics status, but the climb itself wasn’t quite ‘classic’ for me. Other nearby climbs include North Chimney 5.8+ on Castleton which can be loose or Honeymoon Chimney on the Priest (which can be done as a 5.9 A0).

Fisher Towers

Our campsite with the mighty Titan in the background

Just a little bit North of Castle Valley is a tower playground much different than Castle Valley. The Fisher Towers are long and thin where sketchy fixed gear meets sketchier rock quality with things like ‘mud chimneys’, fixed slings drilled through rock and bolts sticking out inches due to erosion. I climbed Ancient Art (5.8 AO or 5.10) here which is likely the other most iconic tower in Moab due to its finish of a 3ft wide, 20 ft long cat walk to a 5 ft wide, 20ft tall spire, surrounded on all sides by a 1000 ft drop.

View of Ancient Art from approach trail

The exposure was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. In fact, I bailed because the exposure really got to me and I couldn’t lead the last pitch.

The catwalk, small enough to straddle.

Final pitch of Ancient Art

We had higher sights of climbing Kingfisher NE Ridge (5.8 C2) the next day which is mostly bolt ladders and mud chimneys with a little clean aid, but we gave ourselves an easy day and climbed the resident tower 100 ft from the small first come first serve campsite at the Fisher Towers trailhead. Lizard Rock is a cool 5.9R 65 ft pinnacle. Read the comments, it doesn’t need to be R at all, just bring cams 1-4 and two quads for slinging.

Sadie atop Lizard Rock

The climbing in the Fishers didn’t seem as bad as all the beta suggested, but we didn’t take on any of the larger towers which include: Maverick (5.8 C2), the eight pitch Fantasia (5.10-, C2), the next best thing after Ancient Art, The Flow (5.8 C1 or 5.10 free) or beautiful and dicy Phantom Spirit (5.9 C2+).

Hey there is more than just towers!

Hand line avoiding the stagnate pool of water.

We also did a fantastic canyoneering route in Moonflower Canyon (3A II) which involved trekking through (but not on!) biological desert crust which is some of the oldest forms of life. Using a fixed line to bypass a pool of muck and then rappelling 200ft! down into the canyon. Sure I spent 10 minutes hanging in space 50 ft above the ground untangling our two ropes, but it was still awesome!

On the other side of this is a 200 ft free hanging rappel.

On rappel! I’ll touch down near that water.

Where else are the towers?

Castleton really took it out of me so we weren’t as gung-ho on our short week in Moab, but if we had more time I would check out these areas (in order of interest).

River Road Area

Dolomite Spire is the taller blacker tower and Lighthouse is the other point to its right. (Photo by Chris)

Lighthouse Tower (5.10- R) and Dolomite Spire (5.8 C2) were next on my list for cool towers I wanted to send. Other ones of interest were 20m Molar Tower (5.8) where it was suggested to also climb nearby Red River Dihedrals while in area and the six pitch Fun Ramp! I’d also recommend the sub area of Utopia. A guide I met on Ancient Art kept saying how Terma (5.9- PG13) was a great intro to desert climbing. Also the Spear of Destiny looks totally rad stemming into space (5.9 PG13, some say 5.7).


Three gossips left, photo by Ian

When in Moab, you gotta climb Arches. That is unless almost all the climbs are closed due to the infamous Rapter Nesting Closures that happen all over the West. However, if they were open my top three towers would be Three Gossips (5.9 C1), Argon Tower (5.9+ C1, lots of large gear) or Dark Angel (5.9 A0). Next try your hand at some adventurous aid on a rare (for Arches) six pitch long route on the Tower of Babel  (5.4 C2+) or take a break from aid and hit some of the fun smaller towers like Owl Rock (5.8), Bullwinkle Tower (5.6) or Testes (5.9). I’d also recommend Tonka tower, 3 penguins and El Secondo, but I didn’t look into them much because they were closed.

Other Areas

BUT if you really want a memorable time in Moab with a really unique experience you should a rare alpine style traverse: the 17 pitch Everyman’s Endless Edge.