The strikingly beautiful Day Canyon stretched out in front of the two of us, red sandstone cliffs and towers soaring high above the canyon floor. We hiked briskly on a shady narrow drainage trail, skirting along desert shrubbery. It was still early, about 7:00am on a cold sunny November morning, but we were stoked. As we hiked further into the canyon, we had inadvertently veered off of the established jeep trail as we began maneuvering across boulders that lined the riverbed. Finally, after about forty five minutes of hiking and scrambling, we looked up at the steep rocky talus in front of us to the base of a tower that resembled a dinosaur. Raptor Tower, I explained to Laura. That small lumpy one to the left of it is Boognish Tower. Our objective.
I had nearly attempted Boognish Tower, a 120 foot bolted tower located outside of Moab, Utah, approximately a year and a half prior. As native Virginians, my boyfriend, Dustin, and I had thought that the dry climate of the west in June would feel like a welcome relief to the thick heavy humidity to which we were accustomed. Moab in early June would be totally fine, we had assured ourselves. That was obviously not the case; we were seemingly the only visiting climbers there for good reason. On the last day of our trip, we decided to climb Boognish and had hiked to the base of the talus by 6:30am. Even by that time, however, the stale desert heat had already enveloped our bodies, dehydrating us by the minute. The desert indicated that we were foolish to even attempt an ascent that day. So as we hiked back to the car in disappointment, I waited eagerly for the next opportunity I could come back to Moab.
We ended up scrapping most of our original climbing objectives for that trip due to direct sun exposure. Surprisingly, we still ended up making a few memorable ascents that trip, including climbing a perfectly shady Owl Rock and aiding our way up the crazy looking Happy Turk Hoodoo formation. We also spent a fair amount of time savoring the air conditioning in Gearheads, one of the several local climbing gear shops in Moab proper. One of the times we were there filling up our water tanks, we chatted to a younger stoked employee about adventurous but accessible climbing options that were not super committing in the summer heat. He suggested we check out Boognish. That evening, I looked up the tower’s stats on Mountain Project. 5.10, PG13. I could do 5.10! I’m not sure what attracted me to this particular tower other than it seemed like a weird style of climbing that honestly looked pretty fun. The description itself was also beckoning to a young female climber like myself, who at the time, was looking fervently for ways I could prove myself (to myself) as a legitimate independent climber.
The whole thing is a crux; somewhat sustained 5.9 chimney work with a spicy start and finish moves. Stellar, tall, big view, spacious summit.
I paused. Spacious summit. Yes, this was exactly what I was looking for. Gradually, I became more intrigued about this tower. It seemed accessible to most sport climbers, yet I could not find too much information about besides the fact it was 120 feet of heinous chimneying and stemming (which didn’t do much to deter me since I much preferred that kind of stuff to actual crack climbing….) As mentioned, however, I had to wait a little bit before I could attempt this formation. The months passed and I was reminded daily of my goal to climb Boognish as it topped my bucket list of climbs posted to the side of the refrigerator, right above “climbing in Kalymnos.”
Come November of the following year, I had flown out to Colorado to visit Laura, one of my closest friends and climbing partners, for a week of climbing and catching up. I met Laura through climbing at a local Virginia crag with a mutual friend about four years ago. We almost instantly clicked through our mutual stoke for getting outdoors as much as possible. Together we both made our first trips to the New River Gorge and the Red River Gorge, slowly but surely getting braver lead climbing. Two years after we met, Laura took the plunge and moved to Colorado, a place that seemed far more conducive to rock climbing than eastern Virginia.
While I didn’t follow her out there, I did take advantage of every opportunity I could to visit her and let her be my tour guide of Colorado’s many, many crags. And when it was too cold to climb in Colorado, it wasn’t hard to convince her to drive to Utah and climb a tower that would possibly make our calves pumped but would definitely be memorable. As always, Laura not only wholeheartedly agreed to do it, but also did her own research on the climb. My friend at the gym who climbs 5.13 did it and said the crux made him throw up! Strangely, this made us both kind of excited. We were going to climb something maybe actually kind of badass!
Together, we made the half-day drive from her home outside of Denver to Moab, Utah. We planned on three days of climbing, with the hopes of summiting Boognish Tower on one of those days. It had rained a bit in some areas of Moab the day prior to our arrival, so it looked like we had to wait at least a day before scoping out an attempt as to not to potentially damage wet sandstone.
On our second day in Moab, we decided to investigate. It was a sunny and cloudless but quite chilly November morning. Day Canyon was eerily quiet as we arrived to the trail cutoff to Boognish, readying ourselves to make the short but very steep ascent up the giant pile of choss to the base of the tower. There was no defined trail through the choss, just little cairns that marked our path. It felt incredibly insecure and slippery and I tried not to think about getting down off this shit.
Finally, we reached the base of the chimney. We looked up and saw a hundred fee of smooth sandstone, littered every few feet with bolts. It definitely looked well-protected, which gave me a little boost of confidence. Laura and I had decided that since this route was technically “my goal,” that I would lead up the pitch and she would follow behind me (due to the nature of the route, it was not conducive to lowering and/or toproping). After we caught our breath and ate a quick snack, I geared up, butterflies in my stomach, entered the chimney and started the pitch.
I will preface this stating that, in my experience, Boognish Tower was (as expected) a heinous but exhilarating experience. The pitch started as a chimney climb, with me scooting my butt then my feet, higher and higher. It was slippery, insecure. While most of the pitch was extremely well-bolted, the route developer left a little runout between bolts 1 and 2 which felt like the spiciest section of the entire route. As soon as I began to get used to the consistent chimneying motion, the crack widened just far enough that I had to transition to stemming for the last 30 or so feet. Like a starfish, I braced my feet against the walls of the chimney, silently thanking the route developer for placing bolts literally every six to eight feet during this section of the route. In my best Elvis impersonation, this was the point of the route where both of my legs began shaking uncontrollably as I struggled finding a single good spot to rest. This was really was heinous. Thank god it wasn’t a trad route. Just a few more bolts, I told myself.
Finally, at the last bolt- the widest point of the chimney- I had to make the awkward transition from stemming both sides of the chimney to mantling the left side to access the anchor. As the topout proved crumbly and chossy at first go, I plugged a #2 cam into a slot for extra protection. I gingerly maneuvered my balance from my feet to my hands, as I grabbed onto a what seemed like a usable hold on the topout. Nope. Almost immediately, my hands slipped off the glassy hold and I fell 10 or so feet from my cam placement. Whew. First time I’d fallen on a piece of gear I’d placed myself… on a bolted route no less.
On my second go, I was thankfully able to locate a hidden thank-god juggy hold that enabled me to pull myself, shaky legs and all, atop the summit. It was blissful. The sun had risen higher in the sky by this point, highlighting some of the morning shadows that enveloped the Canyon’s inner corners. Minutes later, Laura joined me on the summit to enjoy the view. That shit was hard, she exclaimed, as she caught her breath from her awesome effort. I sounded like I was having sex with the route, she exclaimed. I laughed and agreed with her. That felt really hard, I’m just glad we were able to do it. We both sat for a moment to catch our breath, reveling in the empowering sensation that overcame us then that we as two obsessive female climbers- who could be unnecessarily self-deprecating about our climbing abilities- had in fact successfully submitted a desert tower together. It wasn’t pretty, but we did it.
The silence broke as we heard the chatter of voices below us, another party waiting in line to climb. This route was popular for good reason. I quickly signed the summit register for both of us before we set up to rappel.