March, '06


Ticking  Towers in the

Valley of the Gods

with Ben Kiessel



    It was our second day in the Valley of the Gods and we were killing it by my standards. Ben, my new friend and partner, was firing off manky 5.10 pitches with little or no affect on his mental mo jo. That was especially impressive considering that in our first day of climbing together, I had pulled off two holds and had another disintegrate under my left foot. I had also pulled out a fixed pin with my fingers on one of the Puttermans which I replaced with my nut tool and then stood on, confirming it's status as 'bomber'. The point is, the Valley of the Gods is no wingate lovefest.

    This day our sights were set on Arrowhead Spire and North Tower, both of which seemed like reasonable objectives at C2 and 5.10a. As we left camp at 7am I was second guessing my decision to stay up late the night before taking the above photograph. I felt tired. None-the-less, the approach passed without becoming terrible and soon we were racking up below the huge roof on the first pitch of Arrowhead. It was my lead and I was happy we had hucked all the large cams up the talus cone. The roof was fun and quite easy to aid so while Ben jugged, I sat at the belay wondering what C2 goodies lay in wait for him on the next pitch.

    Apparently the answer was none as he managed to free it. I followed up yet another manky pitch happy to be on jugs. That left only one short section to put us on top which I aided in a weird crack on the west side. As it turns out, the route goes the other way and gains the summit with easy free climbing. Whatever, we were on another tower and it didn't feel bad.

    A quick rap and a short walk put us below North Tower and the first route ever climbed in the Valley of the Gods. According to our book, Serendipity went free at 10a.  What we found was a sandy, .75-Camalot splitter that gently overhung and made us question whether we were in the right place. After scouting around again we both concurred; it was indeed our route. There were scars still visible from the 1" angles that Eric and Ron had placed 32 years ago.

    Ben launched up and with a brilliant effort showed me that what I thought was C1 was actually difficult 5.11.  Half way up the pitch the climbing changed to aiding off of 1/4" bolts that stuck out more than an inch.  They had no hangers or nuts, just skinny looking, threaded studs sticking out of the rock way too far. Ben dispatched with these un pleasantries and soon I had jugged to the anchor and racked up for the next lead.

    I have to admit that I was intimidated by what was above me. Although the moves were only 5.7,C1, it looked horrible. Worse than the start of Eagle Plume which I had fixed in my mind as the worst rock I would have to lead this weekend.  Quietly I worked my head back to the reality that climbing towers isn't badminton and it was time to step up and get it done. Especially after my partner had just climbed so hard on the first pitch. Carefully I worked my way up the choss until I was 20 feet above the belay ledge. The best piece of gear I had found was a cam behind a stacked block that was smaller than a washing machine. It was grim in terms of safety. All that mental prodding about pulling my weight and getting it done started to sound like horse shit when I looked down at that ledge. I tried to dig deep and summon the will to continue but I was melting fast and could already feel my thoughts start the shift toward looking for a safe way out of the situation.

    Protruding from the wall above me was another 1/4" bolt  and with a few delicate tosses, I managed to lasso a shoulder length sling over the very tip. Pulling one side of the sling threaded it down snuggly against the rock and I gingerly tested it and climbed up onto it. I was only 25 feet from the top but it didn't matter, I was finished. I clipped the rope to the sling and started to downclimb / lower.  When I asked Ben if I should clean everything he looked puzzled for a second and then said in his calm and understated way "no, I think I'll go up".  'Of course you will' I thought to myself as I reached the safety of the belay. 'You're the choss eating rope gun.'  My despair for bailing was replaced with excitement once again as I watched him batman up the rope to the old bolt. True to form it didn't take long before I was feeding out rope and listening to Ben call down that he was off belay and lounging on the summit. I jugged and cleaned the pitch and was not displeased with my decision to bail. There is some shady protection on that pitch!

    A few more climbing moves put us on the true summit where we lounged for a while and talked about future climbing objectives. It had been a perfect climbing weekend in a new area and with a new friend. Pretty good stuff as the game of life goes.  



The shadow of Eagle Plume and morning sun on Tommy Knocker and Tom Tom Towers.



The Puttermans peaking out from behind Eagle Plume Tower.



Ben taking one last look at the guidebook before we head out.



Leaving the parking/camping site.



Looking up at North Tower and Arrowhead Spire from the approach.



Another view from the approach.



Ben scrambling up some steep, loose dirt on the talus cone.



Arrowhead and North Tower from the north. CLICK HERE to see this picture with Serendipity marked on North Tower.



Close-up of the north face of Arrowhead Spire. Our route is on the opposite side but there is an analogous crack that splits this side as well.



Climbing though some bad rock near the bottom of Arrowhead Spire.



Taking in the view from under the roof.



Working out the roof is easy if you have enough large cams.



Hanging out at the belay while Ben jugs.



North Tower as seen from the first belay.



Looking down at Ben who's having a great time cleaning the big roof.



A couple of posers.



Ben ready to start the second pitch.



Our shadows in silhouette on Arrowhead Spire.



Ben on pitch two.



A shot of me off-route on the last bit to the top.



Looking down on the second belay from the summit.



On top of Arrowhead Spire.



Looking over to Tides of Mind from the top of Arrowhead.



Rapping off of our 4th tower of the weekend.





A panorama showing some of the towers and formations of the Valley of the Gods.

Ben is in the extreme right, standing in the saddle between Arrowhead Spire and North Tower.



Looking up at the Northeast Route which leads to the slightly lower east summit of North Tower.



Looking up at Ben and what we think is our route after hiking away from the base to get a better perspective.



Getting racked up for Serendipity with Arrowhead in the background.



Ben, ready to begin pitch one.  Unfortunately I left the camera on this ledge which is why there are no pictures of the second pitch.



There is no way this pitch goes at 10a. Mid 5.11 seems like a fair rating since it's sandy as hell and you have to climb it with ring locks.



Ben working hard for the clean ascent. Fortunately for me, the second half of the pitch required aid climbing on 32 year old, 1/4" bolts so there was no shame in my jugging.  :)



Ben approaching the end of the free climbing difficulties on the first pitch of Serendipity.



Back at the base with dirty hands and bristling moral.



Back at the truck enjoying a well earned and surprisingly tasty Rainier Beer.



North Tower and Arrowhead Spire at the end of our day in evening light.

Looking back upon the Valley of the Gods as we leave for our night drive back to Durango.

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