Sandstone Crack and Tower Climbing in Utah's San Rafael Swell

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Sometimes it's a little unmotivating to pick up and drive 10 hours just for a weekend trip down to Utah, but the Climbing Clubs plan was to climb at San Rafael Swell's Lightbulb Tower and I just couldn't miss it.

I'm really interested in getting better at crack climbing because I'm really no good at it at all, and being good at crack climbing will be key to my trad climbing future. Also, I've never climbed a tower before and the chance to be like that commercial on TV was just too alluring.

SO, I convinced Jim it was worth going to, and we headed off to Utah last Friday. We basically had to pull an all nighter in order to get there on Saturday because I had to work that Friday, but it was still worth it. We bought and listened to "Into Thin Air" from the itunes store most of the way there, and that helped make the drive go by faster.

We got about 3 hours alseep before meeting the group that morning. We rolled in around 8am, and pulled off to look at the Pictograph Panel first where there were a bunch of old pretty cool pictographs on the walls.

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It was pretty incredible actually how well preserved these things were considering all the weathering that must have occurred here.

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We saw some parasailers too. Too bad I already have way too many hobbies. That looks pretty awesome.

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Shortly after the pictograph panel, we met the group over in the area we were going to be climbing. I'm not sure if there is an actual name for it, or if there is even a guidebook for the area. It was relatively untouched, and empty when we got there on Memorial day weekend.

Getting to the crag involved a 20 minute hike. Where I scratched up my knee on the way in. This ended up being my biggest injury for the whole day despite jamming my hands and feet into cracks all day. Ironic, isn't it.

Pardon my little kid smile. I'm not sure why I felt the need to go so intense on it.

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Jim and I "warmed up" on this route below first. Jim took the first shot at it and blew off this giant hold right at the beginining of the climb. It was amazing actually that he didn't get hurt because he flew backwards clinging onto the giant hold and barely missed the ground with my belay holding him about 6 inches from it. We soon learned that a) don't trust any of the holds, b) wear a helmet.

This route was cool, but there was a crux in the middle that niether of us were able to get past... or didn't really dedicate a lot of time to trying.

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Next, our friend Darren, taught us how to properly tape up for the crack climbing to come. Around the thumb first, down the knuckles, around the knuckles and then across the wrist.

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Like a boss.

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Jim had never really crack climbed before, and I've only done it a few times in Enchanted Rock back in my climbing days back in Austin... so we practice on this 5.9/5.10a crack below. The crack was short but a really good one. At the top of the crack it was a short sport climbing like climb to the anchors.

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Toe jamming and hand jamming.

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More toe jamming, lining those knees up...

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And trying to keep that butt in. It's not the easiest thing to pick up at first, but a great technique to learn.

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This, however, was our next victim. The light bulb tower. 2 pitches of crack climbing to a 3rd pitch of aid climbing to the top of this fantastic sandstone tower.

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This climb alone was worth the 10 hour drive for me. I got to learn a ton of new things on this climb. For starters, I had never used a micro-traxion before (shown below).  All the ropes were already set up by a few of the other members on the trip to maximize the amount of people we could get up and down on the climb. So isntead of having to have a bunch of belayers, we used our micro-traxions to self-belay ourselves up the route.

It was a little unsettling at first to trust in this tiny little piece of mechanical hardware, but it did what it was supposed to and always caught my fall. It's pretty sweet to think I could go out to the Kern Canyon and set up climbs for myself and not need a belay. Handy thing to have.

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There was a steady stream of people going up and down the pitches of the climb.

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Jim went first, and here he is on the first pitch. At the beginning of this pitch you have to layback before the crack become more like a positive crack climb. I thought this was the hardest pitch of the whole climb. It took me a while to get up it.

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Once past this pitch, there was a ledge to wait on till going on to the next pitch, again, on microtraxion. Lots of people below.

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This is just a picture of the rig up we had set up on the ledge toproping the first pitch and holding down the bottom rope for the second pitch to enable you to use the micro-traxion... and of course, my self anchor while I waited for Jim to finish the second pitch.

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It is a weird thing, waiting on a ledge. When you first get there and set up your self anchor, you're like "Damn, I'm really high" and you want to be freaked out a little by it, but then you're like "Damn, it's beautiful up here", and there's no hurry to get off the ledge. Or at least, that is how I feel about it. It was a little cold though up there.

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Eventually, I began the second pitch. This crack was a lot more fun, I thought, and a bit bigger than the last crack.

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There were also several spots that were more like sport climbing. It was kind of a mix of sport and crack climbing to be honest.

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There were a few tricky spots, but relatively easy I thought. Then I made it to the 3rd ledge, where there were about 4 people just hanging out waiting to do the 3rd pitch of aid climbing to the top of the tower.

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We just took turns lead belaying each other to the top until it was our turn to go.

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It was cool just sitting and talking up there. People ascending and descending.

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Darren was able to get some cool pictures of us doing our thang.

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So, aid climbing was also new for me. I've never done any aid climbing. Each of us lead the aid climbing pitch to the top. Essentially, its like lead climbing except that there are no features to climb on so you hook in these ladders into the bolts and clip in your rope as you go up. I mean, it's more complicated than that, but that's it in a nutshell.

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Those who had done it before were pretty good and efficient on it.

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I, on the otherhand, had a lot of trouble with it. It wasn't all that hard really, but it wasn't all that easy either. I went kind of slow... but made it eventually!

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Then the top! (self anchored dancing)

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Pretty exciting for everyone.

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We signed a register at the top before rappelling down to the bottom. The rappelling part was actually kind of freaky. The anchors were way below my comfort zone. I was kind of paralyzed with fear for maybe 5 whole minutes before figuring out how I wanted to handle it. I had to kind of tell myself to stop being ridiculous and get my ass onto that rappel. So, after slowly lowering my self anchor bit by bit, setting up my rappel on ATC, and finally putting all my weight back onto the rope I began to lower. Then I started to notice another issue that freaked me out. The rope was pretty small, and my hands got super sweaty on the long rappel down. I started to regret my choice of choosing an ATC for the rappel down instead of my gri-gri. It was pretty freaky all the way down, but I made it.... learned that I'd rather use a gri-gri on my future rapels... that way I just don't have to worry about sweaty palms in mid air.

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I had borrowed someones red climbing shoes, and ended up having pink feet after the climb.

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Jim and I decided to do one more climb before calling it a day. We did this chimney climb.

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It was pretty cool actually, and I made it up without falling. The chimney was pretty weird though, lots of body twisting, stemming, manteling and reaching around.

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That night we camped here with another guy from the club... this really old historic bridge.

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Sunday morning Jim and I decided to head over to  go hike Little Wildhorse Canyon, which was supposed to be this sweet little slot canyon.

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The hike is only supposed to take about 4 hours. Nice relaxing change of pace from most of our hikes with the climbing club. Exactly what we were looking for.

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There was a lot of water at the entrance, and we tried wading through it, but about half way through we realized it was deeper than our heads, and so we had to figure out a way around the top of this first section.

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Much better.

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The sandstone all throughout the swell was awesome!

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V0 climb to a ledge. (just kidding, Idk what rating is easier than a Vo.)

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Then finally we got to the area where the hike became more "slot" like.

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It was pretty sweet!

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But then it started to rain, and we weren't sure what that meant. Having no experience with canyons, but only knowing that we read a million signs warning of flash floods, we decided to turn around and just head back home.

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Anyways, the weekend was pretty awesome and I'm really glad we dragged our butts up there.

One of my favorite quotes from the audiobook we listened to, "Achieving the summit of a mountain was tangible, immutable, concrete. The incumbent hazards lent the activity a seriousness of purpose that was sorely missing from the rest of my life. I thrilled in the fresh perspective that came from the tipping the ordinary plane of existence on end." -Jon Krakauer

This explained a lot of what I feel about climbing and mountains, and why I do the things that I like doing.

Anyways, till next time.

Cheers.