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Desert Tower Climbing Pioneer Huntley Ingalls Dies at 90

During the 1960s Ingalls and Layton Kor established many of the most difficult, dangerous, and classic routes in Colorado and Utah together. Ingalls is remembered for his tower climbing, with FA’s of Castleton Tower, the Titan, Standing Rock, and North Six Shooter.

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Huntley Ingalls, July 11, 1928-October 22, 2018Chris Van Lueven

On October 22, Huntley Ingalls, an geophysicist who once worked for the Bureau of Standards (now National Institute of Standards and Technology), photographer, desert tower climbing pioneer, and fixture in Boulder, Colorado’s old-school climber scene, was found unresponsive in his apartment. A few weeks earlier he had celebrated his 90th birthday.

Ingalls authored some 50 first ascents, both small and large, most often while partnered with Layton Kor (who most often led). Ingalls’s routes—and photos—from the late ’50s and early ’60s remain classics to this day. This includes the über-popular Kor-Ingalls route on Castleton Tower (outside of Moab) in 1961, an ascent that took two days to complete due to weather. On the way down the team was hit with a downpour and nearly struck by lightning.

The following year the pair, along with George Hurley, and with support from National Geographic, made the first ascent of the Titan, Utah’s “Skyscraper Rock.” Ingalls made two recon trips to the Titan before finally committing to the climb. The team bivied high on the tower and experienced 70 mph winds, robbing them of the sleep they hoped to get while perched on the side of a hoodoo and tied in with Goldline rope. Ingalls believed this was the first route where jumars were used in the U.S.

“Much bigger, more dangerous, more formidable,” he told me of the Titan in 2013 over a veggie pot pie at Turley’s in Boulder. We were meeting while I was working on a story for Alpinist. He was contrasting the mud-covered, 700-foot north side of the Titan to the comparatively clean 400-foot southeast face of Castleton Tower.

Also in 1962, Ingalls climbed Standing Rock in Monument Basin, Utah. Other notable first ascents from that year include the Eldorado Canyon, Colorado, A4 route Psycho with Kor—“I was very scared for both of us,” Ingalls said of the route named after the Hitchcock horror movie. “It was outstanding for its difficulty and scariness, but not as a great climb like Castleton or the Titan.”

Castleton Tower Moab Utah Desert Rock Climbing Kor ingalls
The Kor-Ingalls route ascends the corner on the right side of Castleton Tower (pictured in the shadow). The route was listed in Roper and Steck’s Fifty Classic Climbs of North America.

“That second pitch on Psycho was really marginal. It was hanging by your fingertips and pulling up, it was a huge strain on the joints.”

Pat Ament who made the second ascent of Psycho said, “It was 1965, and it had time to build up this reputation and no one wanted to go near it.”

Due to his severely arthritic hands, the last time Ingalls tied in was in 1983.

Author of Desert Towers: Fat Cat Summits and Kitty Litter Rock Steve “Crusher” Bartlett said, “He partnered for all those things with Layton. I believe there was great synergy between these guys.” Kor died in 2013.

Ingalls, from Potomac, Maryland, began caving at age 11. At 19, he started climbing on the 100-foot cliffs of Potomac Gorge near his home. In 1959 he moved to Boulder, Colorado, to study math at the University of Colorado. He met Kor shortly after, during a party at Flagstaff Mountain. During this period, Ingalls also worked in Moab, Utah, as a field assistant for the government, using a gravity meter to find underground pockets of uranium.

In Moab, then a quiet town, he had views of the grandest and biggest then un-climbed towers in the area including Castleton Tower, North Six Shooter, and the Titan.

It took two years for Ingalls to convince Kor to climb Castleton Tower. “I spotted the tower and knew immediately that it would be a classic,” Ingalls said. “But Kor wasn’t interested”… until one day he was. The duo climbed the route with the tools of the time: Goldline, three rung aluminum aid ladders fastened with rope, and pitons.

After the climb, Ingalls, who was already connected with National Geographic due to his caving images, dropped off a collection of shots, including one of the Titan. A few weeks later, to his astonishment, the National Geographic Society sent him a letter informing him that they would be sponsoring his climb on the condition that he write a story. “Barry Bishop had a lot to do [with making] it happen, he was the prime mover,” Ament said. Included in the envelope was a check for $300. Read Ingalls’s story here.

Last year, while visiting with Ingalls and his friend Jim Erickson for a story with Gripped, I asked Ingalls, who was hard of hearing, if he had any climbing regrets. “Only for this. [Ingalls gestured with his severely arthritic hands]. I really would like to have my hands back. But the rest of it? No. Incredible adventures.”

During that visit he shared his closest call, which occurred during the first ascent of the Shining Buttress on South Chasm View Wall in Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison with Layton Kor in 1963.

“… they have these pink pegmatite bands that are just terrible. Like petrified breadcrumbs. So we are up there about 600 feet off the river. Layton was doing a layback on a big slab of rock. I heard a loud crack and the slab had come loose. Both he and the slab were sliding down the wall. Then it started breaking in pieces, and pieces were falling all over the place. A block the size of a typewriter fell over my head. Kor [reached] out and caught a handhold and that stopped him after his toe hit a nubbin. The rope [was not damaged], nor were I or Layton hurt, so we all carried on.”

His final years were spent in his white-walled apartment in Boulder surrounded by bookshelves with books ranging from science, to studies in LSD, to classic westerns.

“He loved classical and eastern Indian music,” said Ament. “He also had weird things like Organized Sound [an academic journal] and we would lie on his floor and listen to these different albums for hours. One instrument he turned me onto is the Swarmandal.”

Ingalls loved science and was fascinated with the immense size of the sperm whale’s brain. In 1992, he published Speculations on the Brains and Minds of Cetaceans.

Bartlett remembers his friend: “He was a really pleasant person to be around. He was always adventurous and curious about things and people and had a huge sense of decency and treating people right. And he was always up for doing something fun.”