Just over six weeks ago, Dustin and I took 16 days off of work to fly out to Vegas and climb and hike around Nevada and Utah. We had climbed in Red Rocks before briefly two years ago as newly fledged rock climbers, just having learned how to sport climb. Likewise, our first couple days we spent there were really good. Really good. My confidence at leading was in full swing a few days later as we meandered our way across southern Utah to a place that had been tugging at my heart strings for a while now.
Moab, Utah… A place that now evokes memories for me of early mornings, red gatorade, sand in my shoes, and the promise of adventure. A small town feel surrounded by literally hundreds of miles of …nothing. Except rocks. Lots and lots of towers, cracks, buttes, and sheer cliffs. Moab was definitely the first time I ever experienced a feeling of finding “mecca” as a rock climber. It was an exciting feeling. It felt almost bittersweet as I realized that if I came here as a fully fledged trad climber, the opportunities would literally be endless. The first day we got there I knew I was coming back.
But the sport climbing was really good too. Our first day there, I was able to redpoint probably the best sport climbed I’d ever been on, although the juggy, powerful moves were definitely more reminiscent of my beloved Red River Gorge than southern Utah. The heart wants what it wants I suppose…
Soooo many jugs! Pocket Rocket (10c) in Day Canyon
Every day we spent out climbing was a small epic in itself. Due to the heat, 4:30am wake up calls happened more often than not so we could climb a few pitches in the morning before the heat of the day truly settled in. Some days, we timed it perfectly.
The day we climbed Owl Rock, a classic 5.8 desert tower in Arches National Park, we arrived to the parking area just after 6am and were surprised to find not another car in sight. In fact, in the time that it took us both to climb the 100-foot slightly overhanging hand crack (without the best gear, mind you, so it took a while), the only people we saw in sight were on-looking tourists from the parking area, sneaking in a few pictures of us rock climbers to show their grandchildren back home.
After topping out the tower, we took a lunch (re: air-conditioning) break in town before driving 25 miles east of town to the La Sal Mountains, a lush alpine oasis towering over the sweltering Moab desert below. The temperatures in the La Sals were also roughly 20 degrees cooler as well. It was a bit surreal and felt a lot like we just landed on the set of The Sound of Music. We spent the afternoon climbing kind of sketchy run-out moderates in the shade of aspens.
We knew it would be hot in Utah in June. It’ll be dry heat, no humidity, we convinced ourselves prior to trip. So it probably won’t actually feel that hot. Lolz.
The thing about dry heat is that you still sweat, but it evaporates instantly, so you don’t actually realize how hot and dehydrated you are until it’s almost too late. Luckily, we learned this pretty quickly after Dustin got overheated on our first day in Moab. Our morning ritual after that incident was to buy 3-4 large Gatorades each at the 7-11 on Main Street in town and supplementing those with at least 3 liters of water daily. Despite the OD on electrolytes, we still had to be super careful about where we climbed/how much we climbed.
With multi-pitch desert towers out of the question for this trip, we made the best of it and ended up visiting a lot of the classic single-pitch sport crags in the area. We had to be super careful about climbing these crags while they weren’t in full sun, however. Late afternoon one day, while waiting for the Ice Cream Parlor crag to cool off, we found a random shady desert tower in the guidebook, listed as close to where we were parked. While killing time, we decided to go check it out.
The tower was called the Happy Turk, and resembled a short tower with a giant golf ball on top of it.
The climb and the belay were indeed in the shade, so we decided why not? We had a stick clip with us and Dustin ended up pseudo-aiding his way to the summit (which ended up being way more of a pain in the butt than we originally thought due to chain links on the bolts). He ended up summiting, and setting up a top rope for me to ascend. We both sat on the summit just as the sun was setting in the sky. Happy Turk was actually our first official desert tower summit. It wasn’t the 4-star southern Utah classic we had been lusting after prior to our trip, but nonetheless the Happy Turk, in all its goofy-looking glory, still gave us the insatiable first taste of desert tower climbing.
As we settled down in our sleeping bag later that evening, under the base of the iconic Castleton Tower outlined in the shadows from the Milky Way above, I knew for sure I needed to get back to this place sooner than later. Moab had my heart.