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A Windy Classic


by Warren Teissier

April 22, 2002

"Did I miss something or is this really hard?" Jason’s comment reaches Josh and I as we belay him up to the top of the first pitch of the Kor-Ingalls, on Castleton Tower. This comment sets up the tone for the remainder of the day. This route is classic climbing and rating at its best. This pitch is as much a 5.4 (original rating) as the Durrance crack is 5.6. Can’t wait to get to the 5.9 part…

By now, all cockiness is gone and for the rest of the climb the leads will be prefaced or punctuated by comments like “I hope I can lead this” or “sorry it’s taking me a while but …”.

As I sit at home after the climb, sorting through my tangle of gear I stumble onto a red folder marked Castleton Tower. I sit back and re-read the route description and trip reports once again. It is all so clear and vivid. Every word in them makes sense and seems obvious now.

Maybe it’s just that I have a really short attention span, but it seems it is always that way. I must have read Greg Opland’s TR and emails at least 5 times before the climb and yet, now that I have climbed the route, I pick out details in his writing that I somehow totally blanked before the climb. Like his comments on the squeeze chimney after the kick in the ass crux on the third pitch… I certainly wasn’t expecting that to be there…

We leave Boulder at 4 PM on Friday with the fear that I-70 will be chockfull of Spring-breakers heading for the ski resorts. But to our surprise it all goes amazingly well. Four and a half hours later and with Pink Floyd’s The Wall cranking in the stereo, I make out the outline of Castleton against the backdrop of stars. Jesus, the cone it sits on is huge, it almost makes the tower seem small!!! The weather is unbelievable, it is warm with a very light breeze and not a cloud in the sky. How lucky we are. After a few minutes of staring at the tower and dealing with the emotions that the first look at a challenging climb brings, we set up camp, and proceed to assemble the rack by consensus.

We haggle over departure time and settle for 5:30am. I toss and turn, almost too hot in my down bag. After a couple of hours of sleep I am awakened by the wind thrashing the un-staked rain fly of my tent. As I run around the tent in my underwear securing the rain fly, I notice that a thick cloud cover has moved in with the wind. Weirdness…

Up at 5:00am and by 5:20am we are slipping past the other campsites with headlamps off, in the hopes they will keep sleeping. We count seven cars besides ours, we fully expect a conga line at the base. Only one tent has a light on. But what if some parties are already on their way?

Fifty calf burning minutes later and we are at the base of the route. We are first in line, hard to believe, we must be living right!. As I rack up, I hear voices coming from trail below, we expect company soon, but they never materialize, they must have headed for another route. For most of the day we will have the climb to ourselves.

I lead up the delightful direct start of the first pitch and onto the broken ledge above. From there, I stare in disbelief at a deep narrow chimney. Now, I am not fond of confined spaces, in fact you may say that I am very uncomfortable in confined spaces, so I hesitate to enter the 15 foot deep 18 inch wide chimney, I search for a way of climbing it by staying close to the entrance but a huge chockstone caps the chimney and points me towards the depths of the monster….

Gradually my claustrophobic fear is replaced by my fear of rattling down the slippery calcite lined chimney. I grunt and jam my way up by combining chimney, face and OW technique in the two cracks deep in its bowels. Finally, 15 feet off the bottom I place a 3.5 Camalot in the left crack and walk it up as I climb, in true “chicken shit technique” ™, for the entire length of the pitch. I bring up the other two amigos and point out how neat it is that the sun is finally shining upon us.

As Jason prepares to lead pitch two, the morning breeze turns into a pretty stiff wind. He leads the strenuous, in-your-face OW pitch in style, in spite of the sparse pro. (We climbed the crack left of the overhanging dihedral but right of the flaring chimney. Not sure this the right way since pictures of Kor and the "50 Classics" book show them climbing the flaring chimney and then traverse right?) We all agree that the tricky start to the crack is the crux.

By now the sun is hidden behind the thick cloud cover that races by us blown by the strong wind. “Is that rain over the La Sal Mountains?”. It gets cold in a hurry and we are all starting to feel the stress of the wind: the noise, the constant flapping of our clothing, the relentless pressure on our bodies and the need to shout at each other at the belays.

Josh fires the third pitch in good form. He gets a bit stumped at the crux and tries a couple of things before finally committing to it using OW technique and a large show of balls. He disappears into the crack for what feels like forever while we shiver in the wind. Jason dispenses the crux by linking a really hard stemming sequence. By the time I reach the crux, my fingers are numb with cold. I try the OW approach but apparently Josh is skinnier than I am, so I try stemming but run out of footholds after one move and retreat. Finally, after seriously considering yarding on the bolt, I reach deep into my being for my biggest climbing asset: Brute Force. I set my feet up and lay back the "son of a bitch", all along staring at my feet as if my gaze would prevent a slip that would send me crashing against the wall. I huff and puff my way up the squeeze chimney that caps this pitch, making a mental note on how tight the exit is. How do my chubby climbing brethren typically finish this pitch? Go figure…

I get the rack and immediately proceed to lead the last pitch. I am excited about this pitch ( 5.7 variation right), it is supposed to be classic exposed face climbing with great pro. My excitement is quickly dampened by yet another protection-less chimney that, what else, squeezes at the top. After the chimney, I reach the notch that separates the dihedral system at the top. In front of me the 5.7 face sequence is way cool, but the wind is unbelievable. I hesitate to put a number to it, but I am guessing it is at least 50 miles per hour, sustained. I consider bailing for a couple of seconds but chose to continue, we are so close…

I start up the face, and find lots of protection opportunities, mainly of the hand size genre, both pieces of which are at the belay anchor, as back up for the bolts. I am not having a good time, the wind is pushing me sideways, I fudge a number two Camalot in a slot, leaving it with one cam floating, a few more moves and a poor sideways stopper placement protects the tricky mantle move, a couple more ledges and I am at the belay. Through the sequence I felt the need to rush my moves and had no patience to fiddle with the placements. I have no real reason for this except that I was feeling really pressured by the gale. Sort of like, trying to answer a written test with someone yelling incessantly over your shoulder…

Jason and Josh dispense the pitch promptly and we all make our way to the summit. It’s 10:30am 4 hours since we started. A decent time for a threesome, on four pitches of honest climbing. The view is awesome and as Jason chats with some folks coming up the North face route, Joshua and I cower from the wind behind a small rock shelter as he re-racks and I sift through the summit munitions box and sign one of the three registers.

Rappel time finds us exhausted by the climb and the relentless wind. Jason and I set up the rappel, and I have to feed the thinner rope down to Jason as he raps, since the wind keeps blowing it back up. Joshua seems stressed and asks to go next. As I reach the end of the rope I find us sharing the belay at the base of the third pitch with another threesome. We mention the wind conditions above but they choose to continue. We will later see them rapping down before reaching the summit.

We pull the ropes without incident (to everyone’s relief) and Joshua starts the next rap. As I rap down I find him at the top of the first pitch solidly tied to the anchors. We are supposed to be able to rap almost all the way to the base and as I reach him I draw a sharp reply from a simple request to flip the ropes over a flake so I can continue rapping…It is clear nerves are frayed by now. I continue the rappel to sort out how far it reaches. If only the wind would stop, just for 1 minute…

We complete the second rappel and after a 15 foot scramble up a broken corner, Josh manages to free the end of the stuck rope. We down climb the remaining 30 feet and proceed to hike back to the cars. The wind accompanies us, all the way, sandblasting our faces as we work our way down the scree cone.

After a great route, we finally relax and relish our time at Bandito’s restaurant in Moab, not because of the drinks or food, which were great, but because of the shelter from the wind, the silence is oh so soothing…

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