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The Titan, Fisher Towers, Utah


by Dan Russell

December 29, 2001

When my buddy Ryan Sayers first started talking about the Titan, I didn't pay much attention to him. I'd never even aided before, and here he was talking about attempting one of the notoriously scariest sandstone towers in the country. Nevertheless, the aesthetics alone forced me to cooperate, and two weeks before we left, Ryan introduced me to the art of aiding. I wasn't very fast at first (nor am I now). It took me 90 minutes to get up the first pitch of Triple Exposure (5.12 c/d A0) in Garden of the Gods. A few days later we went back to the Garden and did most of Angle Tangle (5.9 A1), followed by a final tune-up the next week on the first few pitches of the seldom-traveled Inferno (A?). Three aid leads under my belt, and we confidently drove off to the Fisher Towers of Utah.

At 6 am the following morning, we began the hike in. It was only a mile or two, but in the 90 degree heat, it felt like a marathon. In retrospect, July was the wrong month to be in the Utah desert. Our packs were weighed down with too much of some items (like clothing and cams) and not enough of others (unfortunately, water). To slow us even more, Ryan had badly sprained his ankle bouldering a few weeks before, and was walking with a stiff brace. Our intended route, the Finger of Fate (5.8 A2+) had the longest hike of any route on the tower. We hiked around the entire tower, then uphill and into a cleft on it's uphill side.

By 9 am or so I was racked up and on the first pitch. After freeing the first 25 feet or so, the aid section began. The core of the rock was solid, but it's surface flaked off and deteriorated at the touch. My logic told me that everything was safe. Still, as I placed that first hex and weighted it, the adrenaline was pumping. Slowly I stood up and hammered in a bomber #3 angle till it rang like a war horn. Things went much better after I was able to get a bomber piece in. Even so, I was slow, and after three and half hours I finally clipped the anchors, a tangle of sun-bleached webbing fixed to five or so questionable bolts. The quantity of the bolts alone comforted me, but I still backed myself up in 3 or 4 places.

It had been a long pitch to lead, over 130 feet, and it took Ryan a solid hour to clean it, this partially due to the number of pins I had had to use. Feeling worn out after such little progress, Ryan finally pulled up to the anchors and we sorted things out to get him ready to push upward. Soon he led off, and after about two hours he had pushed the route about 60 feet farther. I watched him patiently as he tried to make his next placement while strung up above an impressive line of five or six tied off pins. He was at the crux of the route, and if were able to solve that next 20 feet or so, we would be able to start making faster progress. I started day dreaming about the upper pitches and of the sunlit summit over 600 feet above us....

Breaking my hanging bliss, Ryan suddenly shouted to lower him down, that he was dehydrated and couldn't get up the resolve to weight that next shaky placement. Dissapointed, I lowered him back to my stance. The placement he had been trying to make, I agreed, was a hideous one. In the flared crack above him, he had found a suitable bottleneck, but it consisted of two flaky horns that would require a small nut, and the horns themselves looked less than solid. It was about three o'clock now. Both of us felt dehydrated and hungry, so we agreed to fix our lines and lower off to get some lunch while we formed our battle plan. Back on terra firma, we basked in the sunshine while we ate a cold can of Spaghetti-O's and drank some more water. We were alarmingly low on water, considering that we had hiked in with over a gallon and a half. "More than adequate" we said early that morning, as we trimmed the rack and tried to cut a few pounds from our packs. Now we had a quart left, and were paying for our rationalization. How stupid of us, I thought, to think that we could go a little thirsty in the desert in July.

We soon realized that it would be foolish to push the route any higher without water. We grudgingly jugged back up, retrieved our gear, rappelled, and packed to hike down. By the time we were hiking out, the sun had gone down so we pulled out our headlamps to continue. Part way back, Ryan's ankle was bothering him and he began to be delusional from the dehydration. At one point he sat down and stated that he couldn't walk any further. I tried to persuade him that sitting down wouldn't get him water any sooner, but to no avail. Eventually I took his pack so he would continue and carried both for awhile. As we neared the parking lot, the trail seemed to run in every direction. The faint light of our headlamps made it difficult to differentiate the trail from the surrounding desert. We were so close to the car (and so thirsty) but it was near impossible to tell behind which rise the parking lot lay. Feeling not so dehydrated as Ryan did, I suggested we just sleep on the ground and head back in the morning, but in his delirious state he now insisted that we keep looking. I made him sit down and I fell asleep.

A couple of hours later, I woke up and Ryan was gone. Atop the hill above me I could just make out Ryan's headlamp moving over the ridge. I shouted for him to come back, when he responded that he thought he could see his headlamp reflecting off the car. I ran up to meet him and have a look myself. Unconvinced, I forced him to return to our gear and go back to sleep. A little while later I woke up again to see him searching around, though not so far away this time. Frustrated, I made him come back, then stayed half-awake the rest of the night to be sure he didn't get up again. I couldn't blame him for trying. I knew the dehydration was affecting him far more than me. But I couldn't rationalize walking around all night, wasting more energy, when we could sleep a few hours (if uncomfortably) and find the car with ease in the morning.

When we got to the car in the morning, Ryan instantly chugged a liter of hot, nasty Gatorade. I waited until we got to Denny's, where we went through a half dozen or so carafes of juice and gorged ourselves on bacon and pancakes.

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Live To Climb