May, '10


Lively Times on

Trisstin's Tower and Attila's Thumb

Written By: Jeff Widen




    “Five towers in two days” – that’s what Brad and Ben enticed me with to go out to the Rims Recreation Area to do Trisstin's’s Tower, Attila’s Thumb, and a bunch of others .  They picked me up after dark, of course, and out we headed, all excitement and making the list of what we’d do that weekend.  Hard right in Cortez, and north on (what should still be Hwy 666).  Jokes, plans, endless climbing banter as usual, then WHAM – air bags go off, wtf is happening?  It takes half a second to realize we hit a deer.   Ben skillfully kept the Mountaineer straight, and pulled safely over to the shoulder.  Oh shit!  We checked the rig – front smashed bad, fluids leaking.  Quick assessment, to which I silently conclude that we’re going home, get up early, and maybe still do our trip – but oh no – we have to get another car tonight!  We limp the car back to Cortez, calling friends on the way for help. 

   At the gas station, another look – grill – destroyed .  Fluids – leaking worse. Radiator - suspect.  But we have a plan – Ben’s wife Amanda and Bill Grasse  will both drive out with Ben and Amanda’s other (much smaller) car, then drive back together.  We lads will par down our gear to fit the small car, reload, and (much to my serious disappointment) still drive out to the desert that night.  Sleep calculations aren’t encouraging, nevertheless we go.  Oh God tomorrow mornings gonna suck.

   Drive drive, laugh, make lists, swap stories, and we finally navigate to our bivy spot.  Straight to bed, 3 am.  Blissful, exhausted sleep, then dammit! Ben’s up with his headlamp right I our faces.  I’d been told earlier by Brad that resistance is futile, so I drag myself (literally) out, and dress.  It’s frickin cold, but I eat my little food and go through the motions. At least I get to see Brad evicted from his sleeping bag by Ben.  Hiking at first light, across the plateau, hard to keep up, and find the rim, then Trisstin’s Tower  -it’s awesome!  To my utter surprise, I start to feel awake.  Scramble down, rig an impressively complex anchor, then huck the two ropes (tied together) over for the 300 foot rap to the base.  I screw up the knot transfer and take forever (embarrassed and pissed) to reach the notch. 

   Brad raps, Ben quickly joins us– here we are.  Seems like a whole lot has happened to get here, we almost forgot about the route!  Razor-thin crack sigsagging up an immaculate, smooth vertical wall.  “Who’s got the first pitch?”   Oh , me??  Wait, I’m  off the couch, I’m scared, I can’t do this!  Too bad, Brad hands me the rack, and I start up.  It’s THIN, really thin.  Micro nuts, then micro cams, I joke (kind of) about sending up the pins.  A little beat down from the boys , and I keep going  - it stays thin the whole way, with an occasional good cam, to the belay.  I’m psyched, I CAN still do this!  Set up, get comfy, then scope the next pitch, which is – thinner.  Glad it’s Brad’s pitch.  He re-racks, a little quieter than usual, then starts up – oh, wow, the pitch is thinner AND steeper!  Micro-nutting right off the belay, Brad gets even quieter.  I encourage him by saying how sketchy it looks, and how scared he must be . . .

   Ben’s been on the fixed line the whole time shooting pictures, and encouraging Brad in much the same way as I’ve been.  Then the jokes started – this is another thing I was learning about these guys   – they tell A LOT of jokes.  I’d re-tell some of them here, but they’re, er, not really suited for an audience of the, um, sophistication of these readers.  Trust me, they were really funny.

   So Brad’s getting into the thinnest part, and then I see him pounding in peckers with the heel of his hand!  I get ready, this is going to be nasty.  But they all hold – unbelievable!  A few more thin moves, and Brad reaches left to a bomber yellow TCU crack, and fires to the belay.  Nice lead!  He even starts singing again!  Cleaning, I’m amazed at how solid the Peckers are – Brad’s the man!

So now Ben, who has been doing nothing but joking around and making scary commentary, jugs up to, then past me to Brad, and leads the third pitch in about four minutes.  Yeh, it’s 50 feet of 5.8, rather than the sick thinness Brad and I did, but he’s a hero anyway.  Top – celebration, woo hoo’s, etc.  Then the fun part – we dragged our fixed line up with us, and now set up a tyrolean back to the rim.   Now THAT is a good time – we hoot, laugh, pull, jug, and are back to the trail home before we know it.  Yeah!

   It’s mid afternoon, and there’s some smaller towers close by, easy ticks, but - - we could also find camp and drink beer.  Our goal of five towers takes its first hit – we drive to an amazing campsite right on the rim, pull out some wood, startfirecookdinnerdrinkbeertellstoriestellmorejokes – the thing about climbing with these guys is that it’s ALL fun – all a very good time.

   Sleep, then up in the dark again (dammit Ben!), we’ve decided to do Attila’s Thumb today.  Hike out to the end of a peninsula, amazing view of the tower, and we predict 2 raps to the talus.  Well, it’s four raps (three ropes), but Ben’s impressive anchors always ease the pain.  We quickly slog over and up to the route, oh my it’s steep!  And allegedly free too!  I for one am genuinely intimidated.  Scared, too.  Brad’s got pitch one – 5.8 loose.  Well, it IS loose, but it’s not 5.8, it’s more like 5.10 – but at least it’s scary!  Pitch two is mine – 5.10, with a bit of wide at the top.  Well, it IS 5.10, but it’s loose, and scary, and the wide part is like hard 5.10, and longer than it looks, and really wide, and coated with a layer of dust/dirt.  I’m now more scared, and getting grumpy fast, but I C1 it, grunt, and lurch to the anchor – which is way out on the arête, but the standing place is back toward the crack.  Good for rapping, but weird with your tie-off 10 feet in the wrong direction.   The guys come up, and Ben takes off on the money pitch – big awkward roof, out in space to offwidth, then diagonal offwidth, then slick chimney and hard moves to the belay. 

   It takes Ben a while to do this pitch, which is worrisome – I’m scared, the sun has left and we’re shivering, and I tell Brad I’m rapping.  He looks at me incredulously – really?  Really I say – this isn’t fun, and I’m scared. Fortunately, it doesn’t take TOO much lobbying on Brad’s part (“you’ll regret it, just think how you’ll feel if you don’t top out, etc.”) to change my mind.  We start singing instead – Brad and I share a weird affinity for Broadway showtunes, and we start belting out some Les Miserables to lighten up the situation – it works, and fortunately there no one to hear us and comment on middle age gay climbing parties.

   Ben’s up, I’m going to follow, and Brad’s going to prussik – not jug, prussik!  In a second, he’s hanging well away from the rock (glad it’s him not me), and I follow.  Steep, wide, awkward – everything you want in a tower pitch.  It’s a quality pitch though, and we’re soon scoping the last lead, which could be mine.  I’m worked – “Ben, you wanna lead?”  Thank god he says yes, especially when he finds a mandatory 5.11 move above a drilled angle on sandy sloping holds.  Brad and I shamelessly hand-over-hand the moves, and we’re on top.  Excellent!  We start rigging ropes in seconds, a few summit pics and three long raps get us to the ground.  OK, I AM glad I didn’t bail!

   Only 4 fixed lines to jug – in the dark.  The boys go ahead while I clean up the anchors and drag the lines up.  On the last one I can barely move I’ve got so much crap on me.  I hear Ben and Brad laughing just above me at the top – “can you guys take some of this?!”  Brad looks over, laughs, “oh yeah, forgot about that!”   Wow, this is a lot of gear – hump to the car, cram it in, collapse in the seats, drive home.  Five towers?  Nope, just two, but very much FULL VALUE, and we did total a vehicle.  We’re gonna be tired at work on Monday!


Gas to Moab?  $30...     Totaled SUV?  $1,500 after insurance...    Two obscure towers on the edge of Canyonlands with fantastic friends?  Priceless!


Glad to be uninjured but pretty bummed that the rig is trashed and that we're limping back to Durango.

We're in Cortez at a gas station, I just got off the phone with the State Patrol, and we're all in that weird state of mind that comes from hitting something hard enough to set off airbags.

We made it to Mancos Hill before it became ridicules to continue driving.

Knowing we probably weren't going to make it back to Durango, some AMAZING PEOPLE (Amanda and Bill) drove out to bring us another vehicle.

We finally rolled into camp around 3am.

Truth be told, I tried to sleep until the sun actually came up but Ben grabbed the foot of my sleeping bag when I wasn't looking and unceremoniously dumped me out.


There's nothing like Canyonlands at sunrise to make any and all suffering worthwhile.

Ben Kiessel rapping in to Lockhart Basin.

Looking up from the notch at the base of Trisstin's Tower.

Jeff getting us started with some heads up thin aid.


Three hours sleep... small wires in sandstone right off  the ground... what's not to love?


A series of Jeff on the first pitch.

Ben jugged back up our fixed line to get these shots.

Thanks partner!

Looking out at a slice of the heart of Canyonlands.

Jeff Widen doing us proud on one of the finest thin aid pitches in the desert.



Cleaning the first pitch.


She's a thin bugger!

Thanks again to Ben for all the effort it took to get these pictures.

A few shots of Jeff and me on pitch two.


Three hand placed peckers above tiny nuts and cams? Oh yeah, that's a spicy meatball!


I love offwidths!

Looking up at pitch two from the anchor.




Shadows summit.


Ben and Jeff rigging the ropes for our return to the rim.


A panoramic shot of Lockhart Basin.


Now all that remains is a modified rappel/tyrolean back to the rim.

Jeff making his way back to the rim.

An interesting butte in the middle of Lockhart Basin.

The old approach to Trisstin's Tower comes around the right side of that butte.

Three cheers for Google Earth, GPS units, and rim approaches!

Ben, Lockhart Basin, Canyonlands.

Here's a shout out to Bill Duncan, John Burnham, and Steve Anderton who not only found this gem but equipped it with quality anchors for the rest of us. Thanks guys!

This is what I think Norman Rockwell would have painted if he had been a climber.

Look at this picture and tell me it doesn't give you the feeling that something bad is about to happen.


Ben getting back to the rim.


We caught a quick glimpse of tomorrows objective  at  the end of the day. Attila's Thumb is the sunlit sliver on the right end of Mitten Butte.


Jeff and Ben at camp after Trisstin's.

Off to Camp...






A nearly inconsolable Jeff after he spilt his last coffee grounds on the cooking rock.


Wait... Maybe if I...... 

A morning pano looking north from near our campsite.





The first view of our objective from the rim. The upper level mesa visible in the right 2/3 of the photo is Island in the Sky.



Canyonlands has to be one of the best national parks anywhere on Earth.

Scouting our best option for the rappels.

Attila's Thumb is visible as the sunlit tower between Mitten Butte and the camera.

Ben Kiessel with a thousand beautiful adventures waiting in the background.

Looking across the Colorado River to Chip and Dale Towers. Jeff actually got the first ascent of both of them.

Jeff also bagged the first ascent of Tiki Tower which is pictured here on the right end of the butte.


Ben scouting the raps into the canyon.

Our approach.

Looking up the talus field at our objective.




Morning shadows.

Looking up at our intended route from the base.

The fun is either about to start or about to end.


As it turns out, there are a few loose blocks on this pitch.


If you look closely, you'll see something unusual in this picture.

Here's a hint...   I'm not carrying any aiders.

At this point I think I decided it was fun.

Jeff nearing the belay at the top of pitch one.

This chimney would be even more fun if it didn't have a fine layer of dirt covering everything and making it slippery.

Note the nuts holding the cam in a "good orientation".

Jeff starting pitch two.

Jeff on pitch two.

Ben tackling the wide crack after turning the roof.

Ben on our third pitch.




Looking down at Jeff in the chimney on our third pitch.

A closer view of Jeff in the Chimney.

Looking up at Ben from near the top of our pitch  three.

Shadows... Attlia's Thumb and Mitten Butte.


The Orphan.

Nice work Brad Bond for finding this tower and putting it up solo.


Belaying the day's MVP (Ben) who led at least one pitch that would have sent me packing.


I love it when the first piece is a 6 Camalot.


A panoramic shot looking back toward Canyonlands Overlook with the La Sals in the background.

Some jokers.


Ben getting ready to rap from Attila's Thumb.

This doll is always following Jeff around.

I think it's his alter ego.

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