Castleton Tower, Kor/Ingalls Route

By: Mark Staples | Climbers: Mark Staples, Suzi Kozub |Trip Dates: January 08, 2001

Photo: Gary Clark

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Ever since I saw Castleton Tower on the TV show "High Country Climber", I had hoped to climb the Kor-Ingalls route (one of Roper and Steck's Fifty Classics), but I never thought my chance would come so quickly. After a few days of skiing at Alta this January, Suzy and I drove to Moab for three days of climbing. I had my chance, but I was worried because many people said that the route is pretty bad and certainly not a "Fifty Classic". I was also worried about the third pitch, the crux pitch. This pitch is a big left-facing corner with a wide crack that is both a chimney and an off width crack rated 5.9, but many claim it should be 5.10. One particular aspect of Castleton that supposedly makes the third pitch so horrible is the calcite glaze on the rock. This calcite glaze can make things slippery. Since 5.10 is my leading limit, I wasn't sure if it would be a good idea for me to go for it. The odds of falling would be real, and I didn't have any big gear so that I could add more protection than what the bolts provided. How many bolts were there? One for sure, maybe two. This didn't sound like a great idea for me, but I thought my last resort would be to check with the climbing shop in Moab before abandoning Castleton. On top of it all, time was a factor. We only had three days! Three days to find good weather, get our climbing back up to speed, and get accustomed to climbing on the desert sandstone.

Late Saturday night, Suzy and I arrived in Moab and checked in at the Lazy Lizard Hostel. Our plan for the next day was to make a required stop at the Moab Climbing Shop, then follow the advice of Suzy's friend Zach. Climb Owl Rock in Arches NP then hit the Potash road area on the way back. After a big breakfast at La Hacienda (Mexican breakfast, hmmmm! …..good omelettes though), we walked into the climbing shop for beta on Castleton. So, how's the third pitch? "Three bolts on that pitch dude, totally safe…..its all face climbing. The calcite provides super positive holds." Finally!!! Words of encouragement. Just what I needed to hear! It was good to hear the calcite would actually be helpful. We would follow our plan for that day and climb Castleton on Monday.

We didn't exactly get off to a roaring start. Ha!…far from it. Our enthusiasm for climbing (especially attempting Castleton) came to a sudden halt on Owl Rock. This climb sounded great: a 5.8 hand crack up a 100ft tower in Arches National Park - great warm-up, but it was a wide crack, our first climb, and it was really awkward, probably popular for the moderate grade and its uniqueness. When I topped out, I was seriously wondering what it was about climbing that I loved so much? As Suzy climbed, her grumbling was enough to tell me she didn't feel much different. On top, we took some photos, ate a Luna bar, and came down. Off to Potash Road and Wall Street for round two. Wall Street quickly restored our confidence and our love for climbing. First was a stiff 5.8, Sieberntics, that was fabulous - great pro and delicate moves up a low angle right-facing corner. Then we headed to another climb that looked fun: a 10a finger crack that lead to a hand crack in a bulge…..another super classic!! It was just the right lead for me, but then Suzy surprised me as she climbed it with great footwork and avoided the pull-ups I had used to overcome the bulge. She was climbing really well especially considering it had probably been a solid two months since she had climbed anything! After these two routes, Suzy and I felt GREAT and ready to tackle Castleton the next day, so we headed back into town.

I can't begin to describe the excitement I felt the next morning as we drove to Castle Valley. With the sun rising, the scenery was spectacular as we drove along the Colorado river. We rounded the corner on another road and the tower finally came into our sight! Unsure of exactly where to go, we missed the turn off, but we only drove about a half of a mile further. However this mistake allowed us to get a great photo of Castleton and the route we would climb. I hated doing that ….it sort of felt like a jinx, oh well. We drove back to the pull off and began the hour+ hike 1200' up to the base of the route. Near the base of Castleton is a short (20') vertical rock band that one must climb, but we missed the normal spot where one would climb it with approach shoes and a pack on. NO…we kept walking around looking for the spot we had missed, until we finally ditched the packs, put on rock shoes, and belayed each other up the rock. A few more minutes of hiking, and we were at the base!

First pitch: two easy chimneys that both Suzy and I worked on way too hard. They were easy, but I tried to climb too fast instead of like an inchworm as Ken (my "mentor from Yosemite") had taught me. The Second pitch, supposedly this was the best pitch. Follow the right crack system and take the crack on the right with a rating of 5.8. Well, I don't know what I did, but I thought the left crack would take better pro, and it looked easier, so I went left. Uh oh! 1/3 of the way up I needed to change my plan, ok, extend the runner on my last piece and move to the right crack. As Suzy cleaned this pitch she did a great job, and once again, used brilliant footwork to avoid the arm-blowing technique I had used. Despite my poor climbing, I felt great and ready to tackle the next pitch. The third pitch started with a few moves up to the first bolt (aaaaagh….normally I'm not a fan of too many bolts, but I was happy to see these) then it was time to move into the chimney. Despite the slippery calcite glaze, I felt great and was in an "old school - mountain climbing mode" as I pushed, grunted, slipped, and inched my way up the chimney to second bolt. This bolt was well placed - from a rest position inside the chimney I could reach out to the bolt just before making a tricky move out of the chimeny. I stood up on the face of the corner, reached and clipped the last bolt, then I turned onto the main wall for a mix of face climbing and off width technique with my right side. Before I got too far from the bolt, some climbing savior had left a sling on a chockstone….was it good? Just don't think about it Mark and keep going. I clipped it and kept moving until I was able to move back into the crack and resume the comfort of chimney climbing. Finally I had finished the third pitch, and I had overcome the crux. With the extra rope, I hauled up our water and most of the rack. I thought this would make things easier for Suzy, but really I just wanted the water! Ha ha…

That pitch was great! Why did so many people hate it? Some people use a lieback to get through the crux section. WOW….that would really suck. No matter, I enjoyed it and so did Suzy. On the final pitch, we had a short and fun chimney section (again!) and then some easy 5.7 face climbing that I could have aided through with the amount of gear I placed. It felt great to be able to place tons of gear from easy stances! I found the anchors on a ledge just below the summit. Once Suzy came up, we untied and pulled up to the most awesome summit I had ever been on. Not only was the summit amazing, but the surrounding scenery was unbelievable.with the spectacular desert landscape and the mighty 12,000+ ft La Sal mountains next door!!! Originally we planned on rapping the north face, but we were unsure how it would work with a 50m and 60m rope. It's possible with only two rappels, but I did the math for a 400ft tower and decided we should just rap back down the route. Soon enough we were on the ground, and except for a short delay with a rope that didn't want to pull, we were off and racing back to Moab for a well deserved dinner.