Castleton Tower: North Chimney Trip Report
One of the best rock climbs near Moab!
It sure was a long season on the ice tools and I was finally itching to hang them up for awhile. Arno and I had planned to climb the Kor Ingalls on Castleton Tower in December but bailed due to a thin layer of ice from a not so recent storm.
Instead, we went cragging in the sun at Wall Street. It was great to hang out and climb some routes on warm, dry rock. I hadn't climbed some of the classics here in well over ten years!
Fast forward four months...
This time around, armed with warmer spring weather and a #6 cam, we set our sights on the North Chimney of Castleton Tower. Even though this route only goes at 5.8, it commands respect. It’s a relic of the time when 5.9 was one of the world's toughest routes.
Listed as three guidebook pitches, this route has it all from finger and hand jams, to a six inch off width, to wildly exposed face climbing high above the ground.
All the makings of a Classic!
My typical gear for the North Chimney includes:
Personal climbing kit (see here for recommendations)
60m 9.2mm dynamic rope
65m 7mm static tag line
10 shoulder length slings
(1x) # .3 cam
(2x) # .4 cams
(2x) # .5 cams
(2x) # .75 cams
(2x) # 1 cams
(2x) # 2 cams
(2x) # 3 cams
(1x) # 4 cam
(1x) # 6 cam
Set of stoppers
Small climbing backpack
Large 40L backpack (I normally leave this at the base)
Arno and I chatted a few days prior to the big day and sorted out logistics and start time. Since we were both coming from the Denver area, we decided on a casual start time of 7:45am.
I decided to drive down to Moab the night before so I could get some better sleep and be fresh for the morning. The drive always feels longer than it actually is, but I made it in pretty good time.
I cooked some dinner, snapped some beta photos, and decided to call it for the evening. It was a cold night and I tossed and turned until eventually I got into my second sleeping bag. It was all sweet dreams from there until my alarm went off at 6am.
Some warm coffee and a pop tart was calling my name and I humbly obliged to the craving. Heck, I even made two cups of coffee before jumping in my truck and heading to the trailhead!
The drive down River Road never ceases to amaze me. As the sunlight hit the canyon rim, shadows of orange, gold, and red extended as far as the eye could see. And I thought to myself: How truly lucky I am to be able to share the outdoors with people!
I pulled into the Castleton Primitive campground just before 7:30am. There were a ton of people and cars and not many people camping. Maybe 7:45am was too late? Were we going to be stuck behind lots of other parties?
As I sat and waited for Arno, a few of the cars drove away. Phew! I watched a large group of Italians racking gear and uncoiling brand new climbing ropes. Nonchalantly, I wondered over and struck up a conversation. It turned out they were headed to the Rectory. Double phew! Now, if only I knew where everyone else was going.
Arno showed up right on time and within a few minutes of checking gear, we were off. I honestly think the hardest part of climbing the North Chimney is the approach. One hour of strenuous hiking up over 1,000 vertical feet make this a formidable obstacle.
We took it nice and slow and were able to carry on a conversation the whole time. It’s a delicate balance-hike too fast and you’ll be gassed for the climb. Hike too slow and you’ll get stuck behind other parties.
As we crested the ridge and began the final steps to the base of Castleton, we were amazed that there were no other parties. Does it get any better?
We drank some water and ate a quick bite while we donned harnesses and helmets. I got the rope flaked out at the base of the tower and packed the tagline in my small summit pack. The temperature felt cold, even though the sun was beating down on us.
We tied in, did our final double checks, and I launched up the boulder section of the tower. The hardest part of this initial step is the first few moves. Not a good place to botch it either as it's a pretty substantial drop on both sides.
Some years there has been a fixed line here, while in others it's gone. The easiest way to navigate this section is to start from the flat rock. Climb straight up the cliff band for maybe four meters then up easier terrain until you can get a piece of gear in. Cut left to a small chimney with a step in it and climb to the base of the tower.
After climbing for about 40 feet, I sat down behind a large boulder and pulled up all the extra slack. It came tight on Arno and I gave him a belay with a munter hitch on my harness.
I was still surprised to be the only party up here today. It was a pleasant change from the hustle and bustle of the Front Range.
Arno reflaked both the rope and tagline at the base of the first pitch as I put my climbing shoes on. I touched the sandstone. Brrr, it was still cold.
A quick double check of our belay system and I started pulling moves on the first pitch. This pitch, by the way, is absolutely spectacular. If it was closer to Denver, it would easily be a five star route!
Parallel cracks split the sandstone and offer up everything from fist jams to fingers to the occasional face hold. Make sure your crack climbing technique is dialed or this pitch is going to feel tough.
Another good piece of beta: Make sure to have your belayer give you a really good spot right off the ground - there's a tricky move here!
The crux of pitch one comes ten feet below the belay stance. The move is a little funky and involves some really high feet, a finger jam, and a wierd lieback crack. I moved past it without any trouble, grabbed the victory jug, and set up a quad anchor on the two bolts.
As a side note: these are the only bolts on the entire North Chimney route and the last place to bail from without leaving gear. You need two 60m ropes to get down from here though.
I called off belay and pulled the rope up until it was taught on Arno. He was on belay and started to climb.
After some initial falls on this pitch, Arno found his crack climbing rhythm and plugged and chugged to the anchor. We re-racked gear, chatted real quick about the offwidth pitch, and I launched off.
Most people consider the true crux of the North Chimney to be pitch two. A six inch offwidth covered in slippery calcite guards the passage to the upper chimneys.
I turned right side in and began chicken-winging this beast! There is an old bolt you can clip here, but it probably wouldn't catch a fall. Instead, it's better to bring a number six cam to back it up. Don't be fooled by the guidebook beta: the number five can work it's way out of the crack because of the slick calcite.
Once through the true crux, I built a two piece anchor and hauled our packs through the offwidth. After some more steep and engaging chimney moves, I arrived at the sloping belay stance at the end of pitch two.
My typical anchor here is at least four pieces. There are a few old pitons here, but it's best to back them up, especially since I've seen cams slip right out of the calcite covered crack. Finger sized to hand sized pieces work great to make this a good belay!
I put Arno on belay and easily dispatched the offwidth. As he neared the belay, I could tell he was getting tired. He had trouble getting over the last little steep section and fell a few times. After some thought, Arno figured it out and arrived at the belay stance.
A quick gear swap and rope flake and I was off again. The last pitch of the North Chimney has a lot of variety with some incredible exposure high over the ground on small calcite edges. A quick romp to the top and I was clipping the final anchor on the Kor Ingalls.
I pulled the rope tight and Arno started to climb. After climbing about 100 feet, he started up the final steep bit to the anchor. It was windy and I could tell he was pretty gassed. But he did it!
We spent a little time on the summit taking photos and refueling before heading down. I prefer to rappel the Kor Ingalls route with double sixties. It's easier to get to the first rappel station and you don't have to step over the edge of the cliff like you do on the North Face raps.
Many people say the Kor Ingalls is a rope eater, but I've never found this to be the case. If you rapped the route it with a single rope, the first rappel could potentially snag the rope. Instead, we did three double rope rappels to the base of the tower with no issues whatsoever.
After we reversed the scramble off the base of the tower, we enjoyed the extra water and food we had stashed at the base.
An uneventful hike down left us feeling proud of climbing this iconic formation. What a day! Arno definitely has something to be proud of!
It was an absolute pleasure to climb this route with Arno, especially since it was the biggest route he’d ever climbed. I’d love to climb Castleton Tower or another Desert Classic with you! Drop me a line Here to ask questions about this route or to set up a climb. Hope to see you out there!
Written by Ben Coryell
AMGA Certified Rock Guide and Owner of Golden Mountain Guides