Desert Sandstone Climbing Trip #3 - Indian Creek, Monument Valley and Castle Valley
The rock climbing tour in Utah - Colorado - Nevada - Arizona with Gian Luca Cavalli (CAAI - Gruppo Occidentale), Manrico Dell'Agnola (CAAI - Gruppo Orientale) and Marcello Sanguineti (CAAI - Gruppo Occidentale). Part three: Indian Creek, Monument Valley and Castle Valley
Can there be such thing as a US sandstone climbing trip without a visit to Indian Creek?! You bet there can't!! Manrico and I had already been there many times, so now it was Gian Luca's turn to rub his eyes in disbelief at the staggering crack sequences offered by this trad paradise...It was a flying visit, with just a couple of afternoons to enjoy a few routes in some of the zones (Reservoir Wall, Supercrack Buttress,...) and to visit the wilderness of Cottonwood Canyon.
We then decided to head south and, after a few hours on the road - past Bluff and Mexican Hat - we got to Arizona, to visit Monument Valley. This incredible geological zone is part of the Navajo Reservation (Navajo Nation). The locals call Monument Valley "Tsé Bii’Ndzisgaii" (roughly pronounced tsaay-bee-ni-zes-kye), which means "valley of the rocks". It is home to an amazing number of sandstone structures and towers, some of the most impressive ones in the whole of the Colorado Plateau: East Mitten Butte, West Mitten Butte, Merick Butte, Mitchell Mesa, Elephant Butte, The Three Sisters, Camel Butte, The Hub, The Tumb, to name just a few.
We took a dirt road and tried to get into the restricted-access zone without a Navajo guide, but we were immediately rubbled by a native, who didn’t beat about the bush in sending us back. After a bit of bargaining, Logan - a young Navajo who works at riding stable - agreed to take us into the heart of the valley, home of the Yei Bi Chei towers which, according to the Navajo, represent dancing spirits, as well as the spectacular Totem Pole. While the car went at full pelt along the sandy track, Logan told us about the "Long Walk" in the winter of 1864 when 4000 Navajos were forced to walk 563 kilometres through snow and ice from Fort Defiance in Arizona to Bosque Redondo in New Mexico. With forced marches, deaths caused by diarrhoea, natives who were imprisoned and enslaved during the walk, this was one of the shocking episodes during the Indian American Holocaust. Our young guide described the petroglyphs on the rock faces to us and explained the significance that each sandstone structure has for his people. He spoke of the teepees and hogans (Navajo houses) of his anscestors who lived on the plateau and kept asking us at regular intervals: "Do you like my valley?". As he spoke these words in a ritual-like manner, his face betrayed a melancholic sadness for a time when this land used to belong to his people, a sort of happy era which he never knew. We would have loved to step foot on the top of Totem Pole, but we didn't argue when we were reminded that, out of respect for the religious beliefs of the population, climbing is forbidden in Monument Valley.
Another treat was in store in the next lap of our journey: our next goal was Castle Valley, near Moab. From north to south along this valley, some of Utah's most famous sandstone towers rise up opposite Parriott Mesa: Castleton Tower, The Rectory-The Nuns-The Priest (which looks just like a priest at the altar with nuns at his side) and, a little further away, Sister Superior and The Convent.
The rock is Wingate Sandstone and is much better than the Entrada Sandstone of the Arches. It's the same type of sandstone as at Colorado National Monument, but in Castle Valley it is better quality: more compact and less friable, so much so that there are many face-climbing pitches on the tower routes. Some of the routes, such as the Kor-Ingalls route on Castleton Tower, Honeymoon Chimney on The Priest and, above all, Holier Than Thou on The Nuns take advantage of calcite arêtes and flakes. The story behind the first ascent in Castle Valley dates back to when Layton Kor saw Castleton Tower on a postcard and mentioned it to Huntley Ingalls. They climbed it together before Harvey T. Carter, nicknamed "the desert rat", had the chance to join them. The Kor-Ingalls route on Castleton Tower has become a great classic in Castle Valley. Carter and his wife Annie, came straight after their wedding, arriving the day after Kor and Ingalls had completed their climb. Eager to bag their own first ascent, the two newly-weds climbed Honeymoon on The Priest, now another of the valley’s classic routes.
The climb I suggested to Gian Luca and Manrico was the one which was first-climbed in 1979 by Ed Webster and Buck Norden on the North face of Castleton Tower, just to the right of the North Chimney. I had first set eyes on the great-looking corner on the first pitch many years ago. As soon as they saw it, they didn't have to think twice about my suggestion. The talus cone which the tower sits on seemed to be never-ending and we worked up a sweat getting to the start of the climb, but we were eager to get our hands on (or rather in) the Castleton Tower's sandstone. It was Manrico's turn to have first dibs on which pitch to climb. As a true connoisseur, he chose to take the first pitch and so I was deprived of the joy of leading that pitch which had caught my eye years before...Never mind, now it was his turn. The climbing was exciting, and Manrico enjoyed every metre of it: a hand jam, then a bigger hand jam, followed by a roof which you layback round the right of using an athletically-challenging white calcite flake. Even seconding it was pure heaven!
The following day we decided to take a break. We tucked into a delicious breakfast at the Peace Tree, a nice little joint in the centre of Moab. It was very relaxing. The water mist system was on cooling down the customers who were sitting having breakfast on the covered terrace. It was the perfect chance to enjoy a moment of relaxation. Between a mouthful of scrambled eggs, a sip of dark liquid which they passed off as coffee and a bite of bacon with hashbrowns, we noticed a bored-looking policeman who euphemistically seemed "not particularly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed'”. In his police car he was checking all the parked vehicles on the side of the road, stopping every now and then to type into a laptop. When he had finished typing, he printed out a fine, carefully placed it in an envelope, got out of the car and, with a series of awkward movements, placed it on the unfortunate car. He had an awkward-looking figure and from the way he moved it was clear he didn't follow quite the mediterranean diet and sport did not play a leading role in his lifestyle...We carried on enjoying our breakfast, making various insinuations about this awkward police officer until we realised that the fine he had just printed out was destined for our car, accidentally parked in front of a fire hydrant!! Our excuses didn't get us anywhere: he didn't seem to be a big fan of tourists. There was no persuading him as he got back into his car, showing the same kind of satisfaction of someone who had just caught a dangerous gang of traffickers. We would have to wrap up the day with a visit to the Grand County Justice Court to pay the fine dealt out by our "Moab Supercop".
Marcello Sanguineti, CAAI
Karpos (www.sportful.com/karpos): clothing for leisure and the outdoors
Climbing Technology (www.climbingtechnology.it): genuine Italian hardware.
Dolomite (www.dolomite.it): footwear for mountaineering, trekking and the outdoors.
Wild Climb (www.wildclimb.it): climbing footwear
Il Risuolatore (www.ilrisuolatore.it): resoles for climbing shoes, mountain, outdoors and motorcycling
Geoborders Italy (www.geobordersitaly.com), sales, rental and assistance for satellite systems
CAI Sezione Biella (www.caibiella.it)
DESERT SANDSTONE CLIMBING TRIP 2014
21/11/2014 - #1 - Colorado National Monument
25/11/2014 - #2 - Arches National Park
Translation from Italian by Jane Ledlie.