The desert spire that helped launch a revolution
“I WAS STARTLED THERE COULD BE SUCH A THING,” says Huntley Ingalls, the first climber to spot the 400-foot (now) desert icon Castleton Tower. It was 1956, and Ingalls had happened upon Castleton, the Fisher Towers, and the Six Shooters during a gravity survey for the United States Geological Survey. His other impression? “That Castleton was beautiful,” says Ingalls. “It struck me as a classic.”
While today it’s a no-brainer that Fifty Classic Climbs of North America would include the four-pitch climb, it wasn’t always so easy to convince climbers. Standing atop a talus cone a dozen-odd miles east of Moab, Castleton went long overlooked, mainly because of Golden Era lore about desert rock’s chossiness. When, in 1961, Ingalls convinced Layton Kor to have a go, the ascent went down in two days, on Wingate and Kayenta sandstone the pair found surprisingly solid — their ascent helped the desert revolution gain momentum. And while Kor and Ingalls used some aid, the 1962 second ascent (Harvey T. Carter and Cleve McCarty) revamped the line into a free climb.
Castleton has since played host to car commercials (with automobiles “summiting” via helicopter), fireworks displays, BBQs, TV shows, and, in May 2008, a free solo-to-BASE jump (Steph Davis on the North Face, a 5.11-). With its Fifty Classics status, the Kor-Ingalls is a major draw in high season, with parties stacking up along its length.
To start, head east from the campground along a wash, and then follow a quad-mangler trail (1,000-plus feet of gain) up the cone. Contour south along the tower to a platform below the Kor-Ingalls, which stair-steps right through clean-cut corners. Throughout, you’ll marvel at the blobular calcite holds, seemingly wax-dripped onto the Wingate.
The first pitch takes 5.5 chimneys to a large ledge at 140 feet, while the second pitch steepens to 5.8 jamming for another 100. Regroup on a cozy ledge and look up at the crux third pitch: 5.9 squeeze on steepening rock to a ledge another 100 feet up (heel-toe, heel-toe, thrutch-thrash-pray!). From here, 60 feet of moderate climbing lead to the summit, a 30-by-40-foot platform in the sky. The La Sals to the south, the Colorado River to the north, spires, valleys, and mesas all around: take in the view, and then rap back to the red desert.
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Guidebooks:Rock Climbing Utah, by Stewart M. Green (Falcon Publishing; 1998); Fifty Classic Climbs of North America, by Steve Roper and Allen Steck (Sierra Club Books; 1979, 1996)
Equipment Shops: Pagan Mountaineering, Moab — paganmountaineering.com, (435) 259-1117, 59 South Main St. #2
Rack: Double cams from 0.5” to 3”, medium and large nuts, long slings, 60m rope, 60m tagline
Season: Autumn through spring
More fun in Castle Valley:
By Luke Laeser
Climbers visiting the Moab area shouldn’t find a shortage of things to climb with stacks of cliffs and towers at areas like: Indian Creek, Mill Canyon, River Road, the Big Bend Boulders, the Fisher Towers, Potash Road, Canyonlands, Arches…
Castle Valley, or specifically the ridge and formations between Castleton and the Priest, has enough beautiful lines to keep most climbers busy for months. Castleton has long been a part (and usually the start) of many popular “climb-as-many-towers-as-you-can-in-a-day” link-ups with the most popular consisting of something like this:
Any route on Castleton Tower (see below for a few more suggestions)
The Rectory, usually Fine Jade(III 5.11)
The Priest, usually Honeymoon Chimney(III 5.11- or 5.9 A0)
Sister Superior, usually Jah Man(III 5.10c)
with possible additions of Ancient Art(III 5.11 or 5.9 A0) which is just across the way in the Fisher Towers
and even Otto’s Route (II 5.9) on Independence Monument in Colorado National Monument, over in Grand Junction, Colorado
Any mixture of those routes packed into one long day (and of course spread over a few days too) will surely cure your tower fever and make you a desert lover forever.
If you’re looking for more classics near the Kor-Ingalls be sure to try:
Black Sun (III 5.10) This is a great climb that is started after the first pitch of the Kor-Ingalls, so it’s a good escape should the traffic get too heavy on busy weekends. A well protected 5.11 direct finish brings you on to the summit without having to rejoin the Kor-Ingalls.
Little White Lieback (5.11) The first pitch climbs an excellent thin hands crack and is well worth doing. After that most parties bail because the route eventually joins up with a bolt ladder on Stardust Cowboy, on the amazingly blank south facing plaque of calcified rock.
North Face (III 5.11a) Most climbers regard this route as the finest three pitches of free climbing on Castleton Tower. Super-splitter pitches of hands and wide-hands. Also an excellent rappel route.
North Chimney (III 5.9) Super fun climbing and considered to be the easiest and quickest way up Castelton.
MORE CLASSIC CLIMBS: