May, '09

 

An ascent of a mud giant.

Climbing Cottontail Tower

Written By: Bill Grasse

 

 

Bill, me and Ben on the summit of Cottontail.

 

   I was free; leaping from rock to rock. A pool of energy, I never seemed to tire. The feeling of wind in my hair and with weightless youth I just leaped. Hopping from rock to rock then mountain to mountain, each jump had grown to be a short flight through the clouds. It seemed for hours. When upon landing on one mountain top, I came to a sudden and peaceful halt silence.

    Looking around me I became filled with emotion. Peacefulness, solitude, and joy surrounded me like a warm blanket as I began to look at the beauty all around me. Green -gray peaks jutting through misty clouds and gleaming in the noon day sun. Valleys with green trees and rushing silver creeks lay thousands of feet below, and all with the sound of a slight breeze whispering past. In this state of relaxation and peace I just sat and looked and thought. I was pondering the beauty of life, of trees, and of this pictorial scene when it started: Squill! A noise came from a close rock. Pill! It came again. Pill? What? Fill! once more. Who is Phil? I thought. Bill it said clearer. Then I heard it again: Hey Bill, are you up? Are you up? I thought suddenly realizing I was in some sort of bag. Bill! it said again. It was now dark and squirming around I found a hole. Straining, I pushed for the hole and reaching it I looked though Stars. Then it hit me. I was sleeping. It was all a dream. Bill! said my friend Ben. Get up! Arent you psyched, were going to climb Brer Rabbit! Brads up. Lets freaking go! And so it began.

    Brer Rabbit lies in a group of sandstone towers known as the Fisher Towers that are located 30 minutes north of Moab , Utah . Climbing one of the formations known as Cottontail Tower , Brer Rabbit ascends the south ridge via adventurous climbing on Fisher Towers loose and muddy Cutler sandstone.

    Though they may not look it, the Fisher Towers are responsible for some of the most adventurous, dangerous, and spectacular climbing routes in Utah . Some friends and I have been slowly ticking off the major formations for years and Cottontail was one of the last. So, when one of my buddies called all fired up about Cottontail, I had to go. Here is the story:

    Day One: consisted of five pitches of curse words, wide cracks and an array of bodyweight only gear placements. I was surprised how many times we had to climb out of our aiders into wide and unprotected terrain.

    We left the car at 7:45 with my Mutant 38 loaded to the brim with ropes, food, cams, stoppers, harnesses, clothes, runners, carabiners, climbing shoes, helmets, water, headlamps, tape, med kit, gloves, and anything else I cant think of. Lets just say that the load was heavy and the new pack had me cruising down the trial. After a, not as long as I remembered, hike we found ourselves nervously racking up at the base.

    My buddy Brad took the first pitch which judging from the words coming out of his mouth; it seemed not to be the easiest pitch in the world. After jugging up to him, it was my turn. The pitch started off with some relatively strait forward aid climbing that lead through a roof were after, the gear seemed to get worse and worse until Bam! who wants some wide climbing over tipped out cams! Oh not enough? Lets follow that with an unprotected mantle! The rest of the pitch consisted of more wide slots intermixed with easy aid to a couple of ancient bolts that were easily backed up with a cam.

    Pitch three started out with the plan to link it with the last but upon rounding the corner, I found myself hanging on crap gear, looking at even worse placements ahead and with enough rope drag to stop an elephant. So it was back to the belay to ask Brad and Ben to come on up to join me.

    After their arrival, I quickly found myself above the bolt ladder that I was initially trying to reach and at yet another impasse looking for the right way to go. Why do I always get the pitches with the free climbing over bad gear? I found myself thinking as I was mantling over a lip with only some funky slung horns for pro. Well, lets just say that after some sphincter exercise, I found the bolt I was looking for and reached the belay.

    The next pitch was Bens lead and he easily negotiated the run out traverse. Then, Brad went and finally hey why am I also always the one to be the last on run out traverses? Well played Brad, well played.

    So now, late in the day, Ben readies himself for the crux. He makes his way out to an old bolt and before long he is off in a world of unprotected trickery, peckers, and free moves only to arrive at the belay an hour and a half later. Nice lead Ben!

    Now, to Fix and get down which, from the base of the crux, was easy due to Brad rapping down and placing a new bolt at the, otherwise old, anchor below us.

    That night consisted of celebrating a friends birthday and learning of Brads fear of spiders. And in the words of Forrest Gump, that's all I have to say about that.

    Day Two: started relatively early. Up at 6:30 and hiking by 7:15 we arrived at the base a half an hour later. Once again, my new Mutant 38 makes for yet another comfy hike. No time to spare, we geared up and were on our way and climbing up our fixed ropes to the previous days high point. Ben went first, then me, and then Brad. This way, I could arrive at the top and could start climbing the next pitch while Brad cleaned the gear from the last pitch the day before.

    So, shortly after arriving at the top belay, I was off. Twenty minutes later after screaming though an overhanging offwidth and obtaining a new set of cuts and scrapes, I, exhausted and beat up, arrived at the shoulder of the tower and built the belay. Next Ben, helping the haul bag on his way up, arrived at the belay. Within seconds he freed up some rope for him to lead on and headed off on the shoulder traverse to go inspect the coming gap we had to jump over. After Brad was at the belay, Ben jumped, then Brad, and I stayed back to take pics of Brad leading the next pitch.

    Brads pitch went like this: nervous joking, then cursing, then quiet, more cursing, then more quietness, then more nervous joking, then the clinking of a hammer, then more quietness, then more cursing, then panting and groaning, and then a holler of success.

    A strong lead, Brad was psyched and Ben and I were feeling the energy. We all were pleased that most of the hard climbing was done and the top was only two pitches away. Ben was off leading and meanwhile, I placed a bolt to back up the anchor. But, when Ben yelled off belay on what should have been the last major pitch of the climb Brad and I knew that something was up. He was too close and the top seemed a lot farther. When Brad and I arrived at the belay we all figured out that we were at the real top of Brads pitch and now looming ahead was the real last tricky pitch of the climb.

    Time was of the essence considering that it was about 6:00PM and we still had to get off. So, Ben quickly got started on the lead. After a hand crack, a tension traverse and some magic-wanding to a bolt ladder, Ben was at the top of the pitch and Brad was jugging up while I got to jug the other rope hanging in free space.

    On top of the shoulder Ben wanted to lead the last pitch up the summit boulder because he had climbed another route on the tower and went the wrong way up the pitch. So, it seemed that he wanted to find the real way up this time.

    The pitch was relatively easy, starting with a worm move through a hole and then up a wide crack to a bolted slab move. Ben pulled the slab move and seconds later was on the summit. Brad and I joined minutes later but the fun wasn't over yet. I was 6:45 and we had some tricky rappelling in front of us.

    The first couple of rappels involved some traversing back the way we came. While this was a relatively smooth process getting off of the summit boulder, the next rappel was not so easy. This rappel involved rappelling off of funky threads around a horn and through a hole, and then jugging back to the anchor. A tricky and more importantly time consuming process. After the first two rappels were six more not as tricky but close rappels to get us on the ground by 8:00PM.

    All in all, it was a great adventure with good friends and a beautiful setting. This climb and others like it tell a story of triumph and tragedy, determination and defeat, and a bond shared between friends. For me, this is one of the main reasons I climb: To have another adventure in a in a lifetime of adventures, for a guy refusing to let his life just float on by.

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It's that time!

 

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Almost.

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Matt and Amber in their pimpin ride. They let me sleep inside when I discovered spider crawling on me in the parking lot.

Giant mud towers?... no problem.

Spiders on me?.... HELL NO!

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An overexposed shot showing the opening moves of the route.

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Ben and Bill at the base of the route.

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Go mud!

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A shot of me on the first pitch.

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Good stuff!

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Climbing the roofs at the top of pitch one.

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Happy to have the first pitch out of the way.

This pitch ends on a great ledge.

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Bill getting ready to link pitches two and three.

 

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Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

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Looks and climbs just like Wingate...

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In fact, this pitch was a lot like the Creek.

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Ben jugging pitch one.

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Bill leaving the belay on pitch three. The plan was to link 2 and 3 but the rope drag and crap gear was too much so we broke them up..

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Bill above the first roof on pitch two.

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Ben at the base of pitch three.

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Ben Jugging pitch three.

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A closer view.

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Ben taking off on the heady traverse that is pitch 4.

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Wheeee.....

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This pitch is runout. The only protection is that midpoint anchor and a few ancient star drives.

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The shots that were obviously from the ground were taken by Matt and Amber.

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Matt and Amber had already climbed the Kingfisher and were content to hang out and watch us flail around for a while.

Thanks for all these distance shots guys!

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We had a double lowering of the bag on the fourth pitch.

I climbed half of the pitch and Bill lowered it out to me and then I lowered it out to Ben.

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Ben pulling up the bag.

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A shot of me on the traverse.

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Bill waiting to traverse.

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Matt and Amber also ran around and took pictures of us from different angles.

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Bill making the difficult first move off of the belay.

I was so impressed with the zoom on their camera (Cannon SX10I) that I went out and bought one a few weeks later.

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Bill having a ball on the second half of the traverse.

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A large shot of us at the belay.

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These distance shots are so fun.

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Ben taking off on pitch 5.

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An attempt to lasso a horn.

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Bill belaying.

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A team of climbers on Ancient Art.

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This row is a series of Ben partially cleaning pitch 5 on rappel.

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I put these shots in a row to show how quickly the color changes at sunrise and sunset in the Fishers.

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Beautiful!

Thanks again to Matt and Amber!

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Looking up at the west face of Cottontail after rapping down to add a bolt to our next descent anchor.

Day Two
   

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Bill and Ben feeling goofy before jugging the fixed lines in the morning.

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Bill leaving the ground for what turned out to be a fairly painful jug back up to pitch 6.

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Waiting to climb pitch 6.

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A morning team on Ancient Art.

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Ben and me re-racking at the base of pitch 7.

 

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Bill waiting before the jump across to take some pictures of me on the next pitch.

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Where I come from we call this

"Getting it Done!"

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A party on the Finger of Fate on the Titan.

That's the actual 'finger' in the lower left.

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This turned out to be the sketchiest "bolt ladder" I've ever climbed.

Looking back at Bill on the lower shoulder with Castle Valley in the background.

 

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Here's a larger shot of this pitch.

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Here is another shot of me "Getting It Done".

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This is where Ben yells up that I should be looking out for an 11r mantle up above.

WTF! I can't climb 5.11 at the Creek, let alone in the Fishers and with no pro.

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"Houston, we have a problem.."

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I did manage to find a way through the free climbing that didn't require any hard free climbing.

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The placements through this section left a little to be desired though.

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This is me plugging 35 cams into the first good crack on the pitch.

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Yet another team on Ancient Art.

A panoramic shot showing The Oracle, The Hydra, and of course The Titan.

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Team Titan nears the top.

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Team TItan on the summit.

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We added a 3/8' bolt to the anchor at the top of pitch 7.

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Ben taking us to what he hope is the summit.

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Bill waiting to jug.

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The Hydra.

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At this point I'm thinking that this route wanders around A LOT and that Ed Webster is a freaking BAD ASS!

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Bill heading to the base of the summit block.

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Self portrait of Bill jugging.

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This was another wild pitch that required me to lower out twice while following. Once of a dirt mound and then off of an ancient fixed pecker.  Nice lead Ben!

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Ben through the hole we had to climb through to get to the last pitch. It's a pretty tight squeeze.

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Looking back to the hole from the base of the final difficulties.

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Looking over at the last few pitches of The Oracle.

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Looking down at Echo Tower and the some impressive shadows.

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Bill and Ben on the summit of Cottontail Tower.

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Relaxing on the final summit in my quest to climb all of the major Fisher Towers.

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Me and Ben on the summit.

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Look at this crazy anchor we encountered near the top!

 

                    

 

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Ben rapping in the last rays of sunshine. Time to get out the headlamps!

 

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It's hard not to love this place!

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NOTE: When you're pulling your ropes in the dark and you;ve sunburnned your neck, don't look down!

  

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