High on Moab

Tahoe Mountain Sports Ambassador Aaron Finley (Ph: Sara Surgen)

TMS Ambassador Aaron Finley recently joined the team and was happy to share one of his many adventures with us. Welcome aboard Aaron! Follow him on Instagram at @fin_dizzled

To some, the doldrums of the slow season can provoke thoughts of under employment, penny pinching, and day dreaming of upcoming powder days. I have to admit that I suffered with these sentiments in my early days in Tahoe. That is, until I started to properly save and explore the Southwest to fill the gap. Utah’s Moab area possesses all the elements required for a first-rate climbing destination: expansive open terrain, limitless free camping, lawlessness, and millions of exquisite splitter cracks. From the towers of Castle Valley, the boulders of Big Bend, to the endless splitters of Indian Creek there is something for every climber.

Exum Mountain Guide Dan Corn exhibiting his ability to lay back.

Typically when climbing in the Moab area, you fill your truck to the gills with food and water then race to Indian Creek. The place is a climber’s utopia with endless miles of solid Windgate Sandstone, boasting cracks of every shape and size. Unlike most crags, rolling with a large crew is beneficial, for some pitches require up to 14 of the same sized cam. The Creek is a glorified “Crack School” where climbers can hone their skills on the entire spectrum, from fingers to chimneys. Surprisingly, after a few trips to Indian Creek it can begin to feel repetitive. Looking back on past trips to the Creek memories of friends, crags, and campsites all blend together in a haze of 3.2% beer. The act of putting your feet on the capstone is taken out of the equation, climber’s have an ingrained desire to set foot on the summit. Every peak I reach acts as a milestone in my path of life.

Ben Gilmore cruises through the final moves of Jah Man.

This year, to escape the monotony of Indian Creek we decided to visit nearby Castle Valley. Just a short 30 miles from Moab, this sleepy valley is home to a number of breathtaking desert towers. These precarious spires are the perfect venue for unforgettable adventures. Between the free camping, nearby Colorado River, and a long list of desert classics, Castle Valley is an easy place to spend a week.

Looking forward to 400 feet of chimney ecstasy.
Mixed climbing pioneer Ben Gilmore’s ideal autumn day is spent sending towers, with white tube socks, while sampling Utah’s selection of 3.2% beer.

We thought it would be fitting to start with the route Jah Man on the Sister Superior. With the help of Dan’s Tacoma we were able to cut the lengthy approach in half. I was shocked to see that we had the place to ourselves. Climbing these towers can feel like a history lesson in old school climbing protection. Thanks to the American Safe Climbing Association (ASCA) many of these shoddy anchors are being replaced. The party that retro-bolted Jah Man was nice enough to leave behind a bulk of the original gear, but backed it up with modern 1/2” bolts. The long approach and tiny belay ledges all pay off when you gain the tower’s narrow summit. The anxiety caused by our questionable anchor in soft capstone contributed to our short stay. Three rappels and a quick jog had us at the car for awaiting beers in no time.

This old girl is a star drive, not to be trusted around these parts.

As with all sports, climbers have their own set of slang to describe their trade. One that gets thrown around quite often is ‘Sandbag’. The climber’s dictionary defines the term as, “a climb that receives an inappropriately low rating for the difficulty”. At one time the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) topped out at 5.9, as it was once believed to be the limit of climbing abilities. In the 1960’s many difficult routes were given a grade of 5.9+, and some of those routes still bear the same grade despite the change in the system. A few tricks to identify these notorious sandbagged routes are the dreaded 5.9+ rating, any section of chimney, and most importantly any climb pioneered by the mythical legend Layton Kor. Castleton became our second objective; nobody seemed to pick up on the fact that our route possessed all three of these characteristics. Due to a casual 10:30 a.m. start we were discouraged to find the climb filled with other parties. The Kor-Ingalls is a five-star route, which also draws in the five-star crowds. We cached the climbing gear at the base and planned on returning the following day.

Corn prepares to grunt, squeeze, and thrash his was through the crux pitch

Reluctantly we woke up early so we could hike up to get our place in line. We waited for the one party ahead of us to gain some ground to avoid the inevitable traffic jam. Dan was nice enough to take on the crux chimney pitch. The Yosemite Decimal System is one method of measuring a climbs grade, but another unofficial indicator of difficulty is the volume of the leader’s grunting. I became fearful after hearing Dan’s barbaric howls from within the chimney. Despite raw elbows and knees we pulled onto the summit to find a number of parties hanging out. To our surprise an unknown climber cached a solar powered crank radio in an ammo can on the summit. We fired it up and tuned it into a local Moab Funk radio, starting an impromptu dance party on the summit of Castleton!

To learn more about climbing in Moab, visit: www.discovermoab.com/climbing_moab.htm

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