We’d been living in Castle Valley for about a week when I called up Herb, one of the owners and guides from Desert Highlights in Moab, Utah, to see what he thought about me climbing Castleton Tower. Our canyoneering guide, Kai, had planted the seed in my mind when we rappelled through Pool Arch Canyon. I didn’t previously think I could do it.
But the more I learned about this tower’s epic history, the more I wanted to try: Alex Honnold free soloed it, Steph Davis base jumped it. Chevy even did a commercial here in 1964, helicoptering an Impala and a model to the top.
To climb Castleton, I had to pass Herb’s test. We went to Wall Street, which is slightly west of Moab down Potash road. Here, I learned the basics of how to crack climb outside. Herb put me through his “Castleton simulator” which includes four routes: A warmup on Grama & the Green Suede Shoes (a 5.7), Lacto Mangulation (5.10b), Top 40 (an old-school 5.8 with a lot of laybacking on the finger crack running up the corner), and Flakes of Wrath (East of Wrath variation at 5.9+). I definitely didn’t feel like I was crushing it, being completely pumped and sore at the end. I wasn’t totally certain what Herb needed to see, but he told me I’d passed and he’d see me the next morning at Castleston.
To beat the traffic, Herb and I met up in the parking lot at 6:30am and began our hike up the 1,500 feet of vert to get to Castleton. Once you’re on the plateau between the Rectory and the tower, you still have to scramble your way up to the base. After a little awkward bouldering, Herb pointed out some dinosaur tracks and we ambled over to the start of the North Chimney route.
First pitch: I fell after three moves and already felt super pumped and I hadn’t even gotten to the roof.
Second pitch: This one contained the spicy offwidth section. I found I could make upward progress by relying on tiny toe ledges and smearing my hand on anything I could find off to the left.
Third pitch: This seemed to be the actual chimney section. It got a lot easier here with ample opportunity for stemming and great holds. You arrive at your final anchor point, which is a nice, flattish pile of rocks wedged in a giant crack.
Fourth pitch: This is where you meet up with the top of the Kor-Ingalls route, which is the classic offwidth crack running up the south side of the tower, first put up Layton Kor and Huntley Ingalls in 1961, and which was the first route to access the summit. The last pitch is a sweet relief. A nice 5.7 with a big hand rail and decent feet. It’s also the shortest pitch at something around 60 feet.
A few more moves, and we mantled up onto the summit. It’s bigger than I imagined, with enough room that climbers built a wind-protected bivy site. I was also pleased to find four bars of LTE for a quick Facetime call to my wife.
After we’d had our fill of pictures and the stellar views, we began our rappel down the Kor-Ingalls, which has chain anchors all the way to the bottom. Funnily-enough, this was the only part of the day when the exposure got to me. You have to trust your gear completely to not let you fall hundreds of feet into the boulders below.
When I got to the ground, relief and a massive sense of accomplishment settled over me. Castleton Tower was the probably the hardest physical endeavor of my life to date. Every limb on my body was cramping. I was so acutely exhausted at the finish it was hard to keep my eyes open on the descent.
Huge thanks to Herb for getting me up and down Castleton safely, and the team at Desert Highlights for being awesome guides during our time down in Moab. I’m definitely planning to climb with them again when I go for another big objective in southern Utah.