Table of Contents
Chapter 1. The original desert climbers were the Anasazi, who, in a tradition followed to this day by some leading desert climbers, left little record of their ascents. The first modern desert climber was John Otto. His amazing 1911 ascent of the 400-foot-tall monolith Independence Monument set a precedent for boldness and innovation.
Chapter 2. In the 1930s the climbing world became obsessed by 1,800-foot Shiprock. Colorado climber Robert Ormes made several brave attempts, but it was the "rock engineers" from California (David Brower, Raffi Bedayn, Bestor Robinson and John Dyer) who climbed this "Last Great Problem" in 1939.
Raffi Bedayn: Shiprock
Chapter 3. Spider Rock. In 1956 came the next big breakthrough. Mark Powell, Jerry Gallwas and Don Wilson, three of the top Yosemite climbers of the day, ascended 800-foot Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly, a climb dispatched in magnificent style.
Don Wilson: The First Ascent of Spider Rock
Chapter 4. Emboldened by success on Spider Rock, a year later the same threesome, plus Bill Feuerer, tackled the "thinnest spire in the desert"--the Totem Pole. They battled ferocious winds, frighteningly steep rock, cracks too wide for their pitons, and competition from Colorado climbers for the first ascent of this coveted summit.
Mark Powell: The Totem Pole
Chapter 5. The Three Best Towers. With Spider Rock, Cleopatra's Needle and the Totem Pole climbed, what next? In the late 1950s and into the 1960s, California climbers came to the desert and mostly repeated the same three towers.
Steve Roper: Cleopatra’s Second Ascent
Chuck Pratt: The View from Deadhorse Point
Chapter 6. By contrast, the first of the Colorado climbers came to the same desert, intent on finding new towers to climb. Castleton Tower, North Six-shooter, Sentinel Spire: there was an explosion of new climbs.
Huntley Ingalls: The Colorado Plateau
Huntley Ingalls: Castleton Tower
Layton Kor: The Best of the West
Chapter 7. Fisher Towers: The most sensational of the early 1960s climbs was the first ascent of the Titan. This was a huge breakthrough. If such a monstrously rotten, enormous, terrifying formation could be scaled, anything was possible. This chapter describes the first ascents of the big Fisher Towers: Titan, Kingfisher, Echo Tower, Cottontail and Oracle.
Huntley Ingalls: The Finger of Fate
Harvey Carter: Kingfisher
Chapter 8. Harvey Carter is a Colorado original; stubborn, strong, a dedicated climber for sixty years. Among the thousands of first ascents he has done are some of the finest routes in the desert. This chapter celebrates his life and achievements.
Chapter 9. The first ascent of Standing Rock. This tower, absurdly skinny and rotten, set a new standard for just what could safely be climbed.
Steve Komito: Standing Rock
Chapter 10. The Go-Go Years. Throught the late 1960s and into the 1970s, a small handful of climbers, Kor, Carter, Fred Beckey, Eric Bjornstad, George Hurley, and few others, had the entire desert to themselves. While the climbing world elsewhere focused on ever-harder free-climbing standards, the desert became a half-forgotten backwater. For those who relished desert first ascents, there was near-unlimited scope for new climbs.
Eric Bjornstad: The Rest of the Story (The Middle Sister)
Chapter 11. Diné and Dash. In 1971, all climbing was banned on the Navajo Nation. Most climbers looked elsewhere, but ever since, the magnificent towers of the reservation have been a very potent attraction to climbers. An examination of the issues involved in climbing on the Navajo Nation, from the early days until the present.
Chapter 12. The Mystery Towers are hard to get to, huge, rottener than the Fisher Towers, invisible from just about anywhere. The summits of these formations are seldom visited, tiny and reserved for the true desert-tower aficionado. In 1969, Bill Forrest and George Hurley took on this challenge. This chapter celebrates the first ascents of these towers, and some of the other wild desert summits reached by these visionary climbers.
George Hurley: The Mystery Towers
Chapter 13. 1970s-1980s. The Fishers—Big Walls of Mud. With, seemingly, all the worthy summits of the Fisher Towers summited, the push was on the develop hard new aid climbs. Harvey Carter was in the forefront of this push. The Sundevil Chimney, Scheherezade, Brer Rabbit all come from this era.
Lou Dawson: Harvey’s Raiders
Chapter 14. Moses. In 1972, Eric Bjornstad and Fred Beckey climbed Moses, an epic tale from the Go-Go years, with multiple visits, fixed ropes, extensive aid, pitons by the score. Just a few years later Ed Webster and Steve Hong climbed Moses free in a few hours, producing an enduring classic desert climb, Primrore Dihedrals, and showing a new direction for desert climbers.
Fred Beckey: The First Ascent of Moses (1972)
Ed Webster: The Desert Prophet (The First Free Ascent of Moses, 1979)
Chapter 15. What Are Friends For? The late 1970s invention of camming units coincided with a growing awareness that that the desert held myriad excellent free climbs in the form of incredibly parallel cracks. Wingate sandstone, particularly around Castleton Tower and Indian Creek, became a huge draw, at first for a few climbers, like Jimmy Dunn, Earl Wiggins, Ed Webster, Jeff Achey, Chip Chace, then later for ever-increasing numbers.
Chapter 16. That One’s Next! With the popularity of the Wingate came a neglect of the traditional multi-pitch and multi-day aid climbs of the Fisher Towers and Mystery Towers. Which eventually made them even more appealing to a few 1990s climbers, among them Rob Slater, Mike O'Donnell and John Sherman.
John Sherman: Tales from the Gripped
Chapter 17. Jim Beyer was the first to bring hard modern aid climbing standards to the Fisher Towers, with a wild collection of dangerous new routes. The challenge was later taken up by other aid climbers.
Jim Beyer: World’s End
Duane Raleigh: The Wasteland
Chapter 18. Behind the Rocks. In the late 1980s, Moab became a focus of development. Kyle Copeland, Charlie Fowler and Ron Olevsky uneartthed many classic new towers. Meanwhile, even more remote areas were explored by adventurers such as Paul Horton, Tim Toula, Bret Ruckman, James Garrett, and Paul Ross.
Alison Sheets: Queen for a Day--the early 1980s era of Charlie Fowler, Kyle Copeland and friends
Tim Toula: Shimá sání do Shí cheii (Grand Gulch Spire): A Cock and Pull Story
Todd Gordon: The Whale’s Tale
Andrew Burr: It’s Over
Chapter 19. Canyonlands National Park is the heart of the Colorado Plateau; "the best part by far" of Utah, according to Edward Abbey. Climbing in the vast wasteland of Canyonlands has progressed (if that's the right word) in different directions to anywhere else.
Strappo Hughes: The Enigmatic Syringe
Dougald MacDonald: The Big Muddy
Chapter 20. Anchors Away: Leaving No Trace on New Canyonlands Ascents: Climbing and ascending new towers and leaving nothing behind.
Chapter 21. Free Radicals Free Climbing the Biggest, Steepest Towers.
Stevie Haston: Sundevil Chimney Free
Greg Child: Excommunication
Ben Bransby: The Finger of Fate
Jason Haas: Free Cottontail
Chapter 22. Loose Cannonville: In our modern world of gym climbing, Google maps and Lady Gaga, it's still possible to find desert adventures. An account of a new climb ascended with equipment and methods little changed from 1939.