May, '05


Best Laid Plans...

Written by my friend and partner

Ian McAlexander




    It had been a long winter for Brad and the ambitiousness of his plans showed it. He called me daily with ever grander plans for a week in Moab . “Hey man, let's do three towers in a day!” morphed into “Hey man, let's do four towers in four states in four hours!” I suggested seeing who could put the most prickly pears in their pants (Brad won. Final score: 27 to nil).

    Our first afternoon was spent falling off boulders at Big Bend . I did succeed on High Step, a great V2 (snicker) problem where you put your foot on your shoulder and then stand on it. Brad would have done it but his pants were stuffed with prickly pears.

    While bouldering, Dolomite Spire kept glaring down at us, giving us the “come hithers”. We decided to head up next morning and give it “whut fer” via the Kor route (5.8, C2). The first pitch is really short. A wide grunt move with gear at your face (#4 Camalot) puts you in a narrow hallway. You emerge at the notch between Lighthouse Tower and Dolomite Spire with instant exposure to the east and west. This was where the business began and Brad launched into the C2 pitch. The “I don't know about this” moment came while taping in a brass offset with a cleaning tool. He was having flashbacks of his recent aid solo of the Hindu ( Fisher Towers ) where the same piece ripped and he busted a knuckle, a knuckle that was still freakishly swollen this day. At the belay he handed me the rack, an extra set of aiders and said “You're up”. And so began my first aid lead on my second desert tower. The fun began right off the belay: girth hitch the angle, get into your top step, then stand on the angle and clip the bolt with the loop of crunchy webbing for a hanger.

“Are you sure this is C1?”

“Oh yeah, maybe easier. Get on up there.”

“Should I be top stepping on a 0.5 tricam in an overhanging corner on a C1?”

“Oh yeah, definitely. Get on up there.”

“Layton Kor was like 7' tall, wasn't he?”

“7' 5” if an inch. Have at her boulder boy.”

    Kor's original bolt ladder ended the pitch. Brad joined me and we watched some guys on a wild overhanging 12a on Big Bend Butte next door. The wind kicked up, black clouds glowered and a long pitch loomed above. We left the rope fixed and headed down. Woe unto us, for the gods are angry gods and loath retreat and weaknesses of Men. Though we humbled ourselves before Cumulus, the Greek god of climbing, Tendonitus, chose to punish Brad with a sprained ankle. Yep, coming down the talus field, Brad, now referred to as “The Gimp”, slipped and twisted that right ankle but good. We slunk back to camp and formed a new plan.

    We decided to meet up with friends at a massive and little known boulder field near Grand Junction . This would give The Gimp a chance to recover and the rest of us (Lisa, Alex, Jason, and yours truly) could explore and put up new boulder problems. This was very much to my liking since bouldering is my favorite flavor of climbing. So we did V this and V that with good landings and bad landings, etc. Since reading about bouldering is as exciting as AM radio, I'll just let the pictures do the talking.

    Four days later The Gimp and I returned to Moab to find heavy rains and a forecast of more thunderstorms to come. Bummer, our tower climb was turning into a rope recovery mission. However, the next morning was sunny, the ground was dry, and the rack was organized. We're going for it! The jugging went fast but we were met at the belay by black clouds and a cold wind.

“Hmmm, you up for it Ian?”

“Hell no. It's going to dump any second and this rock isn't worth shit when it's wet. This is dangerous business. We should bail.”

“I'll lead it.” The Gimp said grinning like a fiend.

“Gimmie the goddamn rack and my rain jacket. If the weather craps out I'm lowering on your gear… all cams.”

    And so I launched, hesitantly and with great consternation, into the fourth pitch. Thirty feet up and right I left the aiders, mantling (using the classic and misunderstood Beached Whale method) onto a nauseatingly exposed block on the corner of the tower just as the SNOW started bouncing down the wall. “Keep going, the fastest way down is up” I convinced myself. Besides, snow is better than rain. Fun cracks led to the crux, a leftward traverse on sandy pin scars and a top step move on a fulcrum-down 0.5 tricam (a.k.a. Pinky the Magic Answer Cam). This put a shiny new bolt within reach, but the view from the top step was grim. Stepping out of the aiders and onto the hanger clarified the situation: the face was as blank as my mind. Time to bust out some free moves boulder boy. Son of a Monkey F#%ker, forgot to unclip the daisy chain! “Yeah, I bet I'm the first to do that.” A few crimp moves on brainy rock ended on a rounded ledge. From there it was casual to the summit. With my hands about a foot below the top, The Gimp called up:

“Are yooou on the summit?”

“Noooo!” I replied (technically true).

“How's it loooook?”

    “Shooort, but I don't seeee any geeear.” Again, technically true. I continued on for the last unprotected ten inches of the climb. As I fixed the line the sun emerged. The Gimp got to jug under the mental burden of leading the next aid pitch with a swollen finger and sprained ankle. I know it sounds cruel, but the relief of finding the summit in the warm sun made it that much more glorious. I just laid spread eagle on the flat 6' x 20' summit giggling while The Gimp gave me hell for my lie of omission.

    And so, with The Gimp's instruction, threats and encouragement we persevered and Tendonitus was thus pleased. We were in a circle of sun and all around were dark clouds, rain and snow. We lingered on the summit as long as we dared and rappelled into the windy notch. What a great feeling, what a sense of triumph, to turn a rope recovery mission with an injured friend into a successful summit day! Thanks Brad! I think we're ready for the BC on South Howser , oh yes indeed.

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Looking up at Dolomite Spire (left) and Lighthouse Tower (right).


Ian wondering what to expect in a few hours when he's on his first aid lead.


Ian in the only sketchy spot on our approach. The second day I stayed in the drainage until I could see Dolomite and then picked my way up the base. (recommended)


On the approach...


Trekking poles are helpful regardless of how you approach these towers.


Our first view of Lighthouse Tower.


Ian choosing some protection for the short 5.8 section on pitch one.


Ian in the easy chimney and past the difficulties on the first pitch.


Leading the second pitch...


Ahh the best part of aid climbing... not!



Self portrait with Lighthouse Tower behind...



Ian working hard to clean his first aid pitch, which of course traversed quite a bit. 

IOYH-all the time!


Looking up at a climber leading Infrared (.12a) on Big Bend Butte.


Of course Ian didn't know that this would be the only pitch he had to clean on the whole route.




Does this look like a man who is about to lead his first aid pitch?... I thought so too.


The first part of the pitch is all fixed. Albeit with some peculiar pieces including drilled lost arrows and old hangers which curve at the perfect angle to act as a fulcrum and pry out the bolt you're standing on.


Ian led brilliantly considering he had to top-step on a pink tricam and then later leave his aiders all together. Pretty spicy stuff for a pitch rated C1.


Looking back at me at the semi-hanging belay below the third pitch. It was nice to have a belay seat on this route.


This picture was taken right after Ian had to leave his aiders for the first time and stand on a protruding piton to reach the next piece.

Note the grim smile.  :)

Descending the opposite side of the towers toward the road...


If you approach from this side there is a short 5.7 pitch to the right of Lighthouse which accesses the routes on the back side.
  Day two on the climb...

Looking up from the car on the second day.


Jugging the fixed line first thing in the morning...

Ian jugging to the base of the last pitch. Now, in my defense of pushing us to continue the climb, I would like to point out all the sun in this photo. How could I know that it would be snowing on us in an hour.  :)

Ian looking less than pleased our decision to continue.


Fishing in another pink tri-cam. This was a spooky move right off a ledge with the last protection 8 feet directly left.


There is some serious thinking going on in this photo.  :)


Feeling committed now standing on the pink tri-cam.




Ahh, the safety of a bolt!


Onward! Let's get up this puppy before it really rains on us. It's good that we didn't know what was to come as Ian would be out of his aiders at least two more times before the top!


Alone at the belay with Ian out of sight and yelling down asking about the possibility of using his fifi for a hook move! Glad I am belaying.   :)





A panoramic shot of Big Bend.


Looking down on the summit of Lighthouse Tower from the top of Dolomite Spire.

Here is a Closer View.


Ian enjoying the perspective of looking down on the bouldering rather than up at the spires for a change.


Taking in the atmosphere on the summit.

Note the beautiful weather.


Starting down...



A self portrait of Ian's Silhouette.



Back in the safety of terra firma.

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