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Wild New 5.13 on Castleton Tower

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Photo topo courtesy of Sam Lightner Jr.

10/23/12 – Chris Kalous has freed a wild new route called Ivory Tower (5.13) on southeastern Utah’s iconic Castleton Tower. Ivory Tower climbs four long pitches up a sharp arête and face on the southeast spine of Castleton, to the right of the famed Kor-Ingalls Route. It ends atop the Arrowhead, a huge flake, just below the summit.

In addition to the crux second pitch, the route has three 5.12 pitches, which had been redpointed earlier by Sam Lightner, Jr., who also reconnoitered and bolted the line. During his successful ascent with Lightner on October 22, Kalous followed the first and third pitch free, and led the crux second pitch and the fourth pitch. Ivory Tower is now one of the hardest multi-pitch sandstone routes on the Colorado Plateau. Most of the climbing is bolt-protected, but there are substantial crack-climbing sections as well.

In an email, Lightner described the genesis of the route:

“I had been looking at the line for years. It’s hard to spot the south face, but if you see it from the right angle (away from the road), you can see how much featured calcite is on it. Last fall I took a harder look, climbing out to it in various places and taking a look down it. I could see it would go free and would be worth the effort. I was going to Patagonia last winter, so I used Castleton as my winter project to get in shape. I went up with big loads in winter conditions—pretty fun, actually, to be up there with rime ice and drifts, and not a person on the entire ridge.

“In spring a number of people went up there and worked on it with me, including Chris. I freed the three 5.12 pitches with Brad Barlage, but realized I was a long way from redpointing the crux. Chris was closer. He put in a few days in the spring, and then it got too hot. We came back to it in September. He made numerous trips over here to work out the sequences and give redpoint goes. It’s very sequential and hard to read, as chalk hides pretty well on calcite.

“By this last weekend, we knew it was just a matter of time. Chris had the endurance and had worked out the moves for that pitch. On Sunday [it looked as if] he had it in the bag on his second attempt. It was blowing about 35 mph across the arête in gusts. I watched him holding the extremely thin crux holds, pivot in the wind, and pop to the air. That was it for that day. We went back up on Monday in similar conditions. Neither of us felt that good, and the wind was gusting even harder. Chris waited to enter the crux between gusts, and pulled it off… He got it in the nick of time and stayed focused with the freight train rolling in—super cool ascent.

“I’ve already been emailed by people asking why I would not save it for my own redpoint. Well, I can certainly admit that Chris is a stronger free climber—it took him far less time than it would have taken me. Also, I consider any climb, unless its soloed for the first ascent, to be a team effort. Chris is the stronger climber so he got that pitch, but he would not have gotten it without my effort and time, and this route would not have gotten the free ascent without his effort and skill. Climbing is a team sport. I firmly believe that.”

For his part, Kalous described the ca. 35-meter crux pitch (16 bolts) as “vertical to slightly overhanging climbing on the edge of a sheet of white calcite that forms the southeast face of Castleton. [Your] right hand and right heel often grab the giant sweeping arête that forms the skyline you see from the notch between Castleton and the Rectory.” The pitch has two 5.13 cruxes, with very thin moves on calcite bumps and edges.

“I think this pitch is one of the most unique and magnificent passages I’ve ever climbed on,” Kalous said. “I’d hold it up against The 8th Day [5.13 at Rifle, Colorado] or something in that quality, any time. But you put it in that position, on Castleton, and it becomes a true mega classic.”

Date of ascent: October 22, 2012

Sources: Sam Lightner Jr., Chris Kalous