Man or monument? The author gets aesthetic atop Fisher Valley at the pinnacle of Ancient Art.
Near the end of February, I read on Facebook that Harvey T. Carter, 81, was in the hospital and not expected to live much longer. Harvey T. has put up some 5,000 climbing routes in his lifetime. To me, one of this legend’s most notable achievements is the Sundevil Chimney, a climb he completed in 1971. Known as Utah’s Skyscraper Rock and ascending 1,000 feet, it’s the tallest freestanding tower in North America. The route ascends steep cracks and mud-chocked chimneys on the tower’s steep south face. It was also the first route to bring hard aid climbing to the Fisher Towers in the form of RURPs (Realized Ultimate Reality Pitons)—think half a stick of chewing gum on a wire made of Chromalloy steel.
Climbing in the Fishers is a distinguished taste, sort of like a pungent, aged cheese. The fact is they are covered in mud. But, when you’re up on those skyscrapers, in total stillness and at the right time of day, the sun casts a fire-red hue onto the towers. And ther is no better place on Earth to climb.
But there is more here. To the west of the Fishers is Castle Valley and its landmarks: 400 foot Castleton Tower, The Rectory and the Priest rise in a line atop a 1,000 foot ridge. Carter made the first free ascent of the Kor Ingalls route on Castleton, one of the 50 Classic Climbs of North America. Around that same time in the early 1960s, he says was struck by lightning. His heart stopped briefly while on the summit of the Priest. He came to, disoriented, discovered the rope in his hand, punched the rock, and rappelled to the ground.
I had just completed an ascent of the Sundevil a few days prior—bivvying with my partner like figures on a totem pole on its side near the summit on a waist-width hoodoo as storm clouds roared overhead. So I felt, I should go to visit Carter and pay respects. At the hospital, we got to talking climbing, eventually about the RURPs on the Titan: “Once in, we couldn’t get them out!” he said. They are still there.
Often described as being “in the parking lot,” Lizard Rock has no real approach. It does have a taste of virtually everything you’ll ever encounter when climbing in the Fishers—piton scars, old hardware, traversing and runout climbing on crumbly rock—in a compact 60 vertical feet. Two routes ascend its west face, 5.8 r and 5.10 r. Summit this little guy and you’re ready for Ancient Art up Stolen Chimney.
Stolen Chimney, Ancient Art
(5.11a or 5.9 A0)
Want mud-free climbing? This route gets more traffic than all the others in the Fishers combined (it’s even featured in a current Citibank commercial with Katie Brown and Alex Honnold). A 20-minute approach from the parking lot leads to 300 feet of climbing up bolts in a chimney, various-sized cracks and solid belay bolts. Once near the summit, you must walk the plank (or do a butt shuffle) to approach the corkscrew summit. On the precipice, standing and posing like a circus animal is standard, just don’t go too crazy: the summit wobbles. Do it at sunset, with a loved one. Take photos.
Titan, Finger of Fate
(VI 5.8 C3F)
Carter was not the first one to gain the Titan’s summit. Huntley Ingalls, George Hurley and Layton Kor completed it in 1958 via this route. This climb made the cover of National Geographic magazine in May 1962. Despite (for the most part) new bolts, it’s likely one of the least climbed of the 50 Classics. It’s got a generous amount of stucco on it—not as bad as the Sundevil; nothing I’ve climbed is that bad—but it is heavily pin-scarred, awkward and big. Do it with someone who smiles when others would cry.
Castleton Tower, Kor Ingalls
By the time you reach the base of Castleton, you’ve essentially already completed one route (the 1,000-foot hike/climb takes about an hour for fit climbers). Cracks from finger- to chimney-size split the tower itself. Kor Ingalls, another of the 50 Classics of North America, is one of the wide ones: it’s generally a chimney-and-offwidth climb. The firm Wingate sandstone is often painted with calcite—sharp white stuff. Be wary of a few loose blocks. Kor Ingalls gets direct sunlight and can cook in the sun, but once in the shade cools rapidly. If you want to pull a little harder with your fingers and hands, rather than grunt from the gut on the wide stuff, the North Face is more a sportier route at 5.11+.
You’ve made it up to the heinous hike and ticked a route on Castleton. The sun won’t set for a few hours, and the beer’s back at the car. A mere 15 minutes stroll away from the base of Castleton is the Rectory, which boasts routes from 350 to 400 feet tall. Fine Jade, 5.11a, is like stacking the highly-trafficked routes from Indian Creek and putting them on an arête. Haven’t had enough? Try one or two of the “Dark Horse routes” as photographer Andy Burr calls them. Crack Wars, 5.11a/b (think calcite-covered fist cracks ad nauseum), or Coyote Calling, 5.11+/5.12, which requires finger- and hand-crack endurance with face cruxes and some runouts.
The Priest, Honeymoon Chimney
When approaching Crack Wars, keep going until you pass all the routes on the Rectory and hit the next independent tower. The name of the route name gives away the style of climbing on this iconic line up the Priest. Technically, once you squirm up the first pitch the meat of the route is done. Or your body has been shredded into ground beef. Either way, next comes the big chimney, then a bolt ladder rated at 5.7 A0 or 5.11-. A short dihedral leads to the summit. •