April, '06


The South Gossip

'Be There Or Be Talked About'

Written by Lisa Foster



The north face of Eagle Plume Tower at sunrise.


    I heard about it every week: “Lisa! We climbed this, we climbed that.” The Bridger Jacks, the Valley of the Gods, Arches, River Tower, Echo Pinnacle, Dolomite Spire, etc…Brad was going to the desert every weekend, and he was getting it done. The trick was, he lived 3 hours from Moab and I lived 9 hours away from Moab. And he had weekends off, and I didn't. But finally, I couldn't take it anymore. “Just choose a weekend,” he taunted, and so I did.

    When Alex and I rolled into camp in Castle Valley, it was dark and quiet. All serious climbers (and even Brad and Ian-ha) were already in bed. So we pitched our tent and waited for morning. Brad found us in the morning and we sat around on the tailgate and laughed about Ian's most recent dating exploits. Finally it came time to choose our climbing objective. We had originally considered Mother Superior but it soon became apparent that Brad had his sights set on Arches. Ian squirmed, voiced his distaste for the soft entrada sandstone, for the slippery, sandy nature of the climbing in the Park, then acquiesced. We were off.

    We drove into Arches National Park and my heart skipped a little. Climbing here, I had heard, was serious. Soft sandstone, which is more often than not unstable, is the main type of rock found in the Park. The freeze-thaw cycle works over time to weaken the rock and cause it to slough off, fall apart and have a fine layer of slippery sand granules on everything. Weather weakens the “permanent” gear, creating tales of thrilling and terrifying adventures for many climbers. Some consider Arches to be one of the best climbing areas in the world; others consider it one of the scariest. No one, however, disputes the beauty of the landscape or the majesty of the towers.

    We drove to the parking lot at the Courthouse Towers and piled out of the Subaru. The Three Gossips are comprised of a single mid-sized sandstone tower rising more than 350 feet from the desert floor. The top of the tower is split into three distinct summits, or “heads” of the gossips. We were headed for the south summit and the West Face of the South Gossip.

    We hiked north along the road for a few hundred yards, marveling at the Tower of Babel and Sheep Rock. We left the road and headed west into a wash. We scrambled south through the soft mud of the desert floor toward the west face of The Three Gossips. We got to the base of this magnificent formation and saw three abandoned ropes fluttering in the wind. One of the ropes was running down our route. These ropes would prove to be disturbing to our climb and Brad threatened to cut them down. However, it provided an entertaining tirade by Brad about how abandoned gear, fixed ropes and needless bolting were endangering our right to climb in a protected area.

    Brad hiked up to the base of the South Gossip and racked up. There was an easy looking ramp up to the vertical section of the wall. This ramp was covered with loose sand, making it difficult to walk on, but Brad skipped up the ramp and launched onto the wall. He free climbed the initial section, placing two pieces of protection. The loose sand was making upward progress difficult on any section of lower-angled rock. Finally Brad grabbed the abandoned line and hauled himself up into the main crack. Here he put the hammer down and cruised up the crack, laughing and grunting. I knew he was aiding but I marveled at his speed. In no time he was on a belay pedestal at the top of the first pitch.

    My turn. I fought my way up the initial section, trying not to pull a gumby move like slipping down the 4 th class rock ramp. The vertical section was also incredibly sandy, and the holds flaked off in my hands. I pulled on gear, gaining the crack. The pro seemed kind of far apart in the wide crack, so I did my best to chimney along and make it from piece to piece. I made it to the belay, having aided my way up my first pitch in Arches National Park.

    Ian tried to free climb the pitch, and almost did it, using his trademark grunt/screech technique to muscle his way up the difficult crack. It was cool to witness.

    The three of us stood on the belay pedestal, looking out at the beauty of the Park. Brad offered us the next lead. Ian and I looked at our shoes. Luckily, my inexperience with aid climbing caused Brad to focus his harassment on Ian instead of me. But Ian is a pro at deflecting Brad's pestering with a wry grin and a wisecrack, so Brad ponied up and started to stem his way up the dihedral. The dihedral narrowed to a sandy slot and Brad finessed his way up into a pod. He smeared his feet out on the right hand wall and pushed his back against the left wall of the slot, shimmying his way up to the belay.

    Somehow I hauled myself up after him, and he was leaning against his daisy chain on a sloping ledge with an amazing view of Sheep Rock. I passed him and worked my way across a gap in the ledge to a broad, rounded pedestal below the sheer, varnish-stained west face of the upper South Gossip.

    Ian joined us in double time and Brad somehow convinced me that I could lead the third pitch. Hesitantly, I took the rack and moved out east, trying to gain a slot that led to a boulder that provided access to the sheer west face. I was scared and unsure, and the climbing was awkward. I had no idea what I was going to do when I got to the bolt ladder. I placed two pieces and tried to make a somewhat difficult bouldering move. No go. I tried to lurch up onto the boulder like a beached whale. Brad called up to me; I slipped. Then I heard the sweet words that Ian would take the pitch. I retreated. Ian bouldered up to the top of the boulder and was kind enough to remark that it wasn't that easy. He then set up his aiding system and flashed from one bolt to another. Brad followed, with me taking mental notes about how ascenders worked. When my turn came I was pleasantly surprised that it was easier than I thought. Before I knew it, we were all three basking in the late April sun on top of the flat, squarish summit, roughly 4,800 feet above sea level.

    The view was outstanding. Brad pointed out Argon Tower, The Organ, Tower Of Babel, Sheep Rock, The Lamb, and the snowy La Sal Mountains.

    Brad and Ian cut slings and repositioned them on the bolt anchor and Brad rappelled first. I went second, my heart in my throat as I eased myself over the edge.

    It was a magnificent climb, the fourth tower I had ever climbed. At the base I congratulated Brad and Ian on another fine ascent of another beautiful tower.



Ian just out of the parking lot.


In the wash on the approach.


This first bit is the sketchiest part of the whole climb.


I finally caved to fear and pulled on one of the three ropes that someone had left fixed to the tops of two different summits.


Once you can start chimneying, the difficulty eases.


There remains an interesting move onto the belay ledge though.


Lisa on the sandy start of the first pitch.


Happy to be in the shallow chimney.


Lisa cruising through the awkward moves at the top of pitch one.


A large picture looking down on Ian and the wide section of the first pitch.


Ian in the chimney.


Ian and me.


Ian makes the moves to the belay.


Your lead... right brother?


When Ian climbed up and stood next to Lisa and they both looked at me with this expression, I knew it was my lead.


RANT--- Leaving a formation with three ropes fixed like this in Arches is not cool. (two of the three ropes went to summits) I cleaned this one when we left. If it's your's and you want it back, contact me.


Ian belaying.


Lisa on pitch two.


Lisa took this shot from part way up pitch two looking back at Ian at the belay.


This is an outstanding pitch by Arches standards. It almost felt like Wingate in places.


Lisa pulling the last moves of pitch two.


Lisa arriving at the belay.



We all climbed in perfect style and not a single pitch was climbed free and clean by any member of our team.


Ian in the acute chimney.


Ian at the top of the second pitch


Humor imitating life.


You're certainly reminded that you're in Arches on the topout of this pitch.  "Yeah man, I'm sure that crimp is bomber, pull hard."

A panoramic shot of the Courthouse Towers area of Arches.


Lisa having a go at the third pitch.


To be fair, the moves she's looking at in this picture are pretty damn insecure.


Later we sent Ian up to have a look.


Ian made it through the sketchy section with a fleet footed technique not uncommon in the desert.


Tying off to the fixed line for a piece of protection.


Argon Tower and the lower formations of Park Avenue.


Ian on the final bolt ladder.


Poised for success.


A shot of me jugging the last pitch.


Looking down on Lisa jugging.


Soaking it in.


Another jugging shot.

Panoramic shot of Ian on top. The other heads of the Gossips are visible in the foreground on the left.


Lisa getting ready to top out.


Ian on his 9th tower. Not bad for a guy who has been threatening to quit desert climbing since his third tower.


Excluding all things to do with my family, times like this are possibly the best part of my life.



Pretty good stuff for 3/5th of the B-Team.


Ian and Lisa with Argon in the background.


Looking out at the La Sals. The small formation below the mountains and to the left of the park road is Mars Hotel.


Ian rapping from the top of the second pitch to the ground.


Lisa waiting for her turn to rappel.


Me pulling one of the three fixed ropes as I rappel.


Ian coiling ropes with Argon Tower in the background.


Another adventure with great friends concludes.


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