Kid Crushers On A Desert Classic

My oldest son, Chente (17), competes in indoor rock climbing. A few weeks ago, while on a mid-winter break, he needed to “take it easy” in anticipation of the Colorado High School State Championship Climbing Competition. I suggested we do something outdoors, since the weather was mild, though not anything too difficult so he could save up his energy for the weekend’s comp. Castleton Tower’s classic first ascent route, the Kor-Ingals seemed like a good choice. It’s only 5.9 and has a southern exposure so might be pleasant in the late winter sun. He agreed and invited another teammate, Josh to join along. Chente has done plenty of outdoor climbing, mostly sport climbing and bouldering, though has joined me on a few multi-pitch climbs in the desert and in the Black Canyon. Josh had less experience; he’d never been on a multi-pitch climb but had done some single-pitch sport and crack climbing. I figured this would be a fun and relatively chill outing for all.

Chill it would be! Though the temperatures were mild and in the low 50s (nice for winter) it was cloudy all day, spit a little drizzle on the approach (not enough to wet the rock) and the winds were much higher than I anticipated. Unsurprisingly, we were the only party on the tower, or in the area for that matter, the entire day. Humorously, the description for this classic route on Mountain Project says “It is of the utmost importance that you bring a gym/sport climber with you to follow you on this route, especially if they are European. Doing this will make this route an even more memorable experience. Trust me. Additionally, do the route in the winter. “ I didn’t think much of that, having been on the route numerous times in the past. I frequently guide it and for those lacking strong fingers, the route is not so bad, mostly consisting of what we often refer to as “blue-collar climbing” (i.e. wide cracks). As for being in winter, yes this day felt much more like winter than we had anticipated. Arriving at the base, the winds picked up and we ended up keeping on our puffy jackets to start the climb. The sun was not shining on us either.

As mentioned, I had guided the route plenty. This was probably the first time I’d been on it and not been guiding. So thrilled to be out on a casual family climb that in my more relaxed preparations, I neglected a key piece of equipment: my harness! I had been in ice climbing mode all winter and realized I did not want to take my ice harness with the screw clippers affixed to it, so took it out of my kit, though failed to replace it with a rock harness. This, I did not discover until at the base of the climb. After the long drive and hearty approach hike, I did not want to disappoint the boys despite the inclement conditions. I knew how to improvise a harness and tie in with rope around my waist. I often teach this skill to guides for when a client forgets theirs. Far from comfortable and lacking in any gear hanging options, they are safe and work. Well, now I had to put my money where my mouth was and do so myself. I knew that climbing would not be so bad. However, rappelling down would be a different story.

The boys seemed somewhat impressed that I could do this and were game to continue, so up we went. Not having any gear loops, I had to put all the protection and additional slings on shoulder slings, something I had done several decades ago (and still do sometimes on alpine climbs) so this was not horrible.

The part about taking a gym climber to enjoy this route was somewhat true as the boys both found the generous off-width and chimney climbing to be more challenging than expected, having been more familiar with technical face climbing and much steeper angles. Despite that, they both enjoyed the climbing (afterward!) All the four pitches have some degree of wide and weird climbing, though the crux involves using small edges on the sandstone on the outside of the crack. I think they felt much more at home with this part. The winds kept up and at times it felt like we were on a Patagonia training climb with it gusting through the deep chimney from the opposite time and whistling like a distant train.

Upon summitting, both were immediately stricken by the breathtaking views and singular beauty there. I love sharing these places and experiences with others and this was no exception. Being able to see this climb through the eyes of someone experiencing it for the first time is the reward that keeps me coming back again and again to these places, even when (in the case of this route) the actual climbing may be mediocre, but the position, scenery and history make it a classic outing. We huddled together in the small summit shelter others had built (presumably to bivouac in) and shared some snacks before starting (what would be for me) an excruciating descent.

No longer able to use the triple coiled bowline that I had tied into, I now just had the simple diaper-style sling harness I had constructed. We did four short rappels down the way we ascended so I could get occasional respite from the sling digging into my waist and legs. Being super windy, I lowered each of them to get the rope ends down to the next station without the risk of them getting blown around onto a flake or out of reach, a technique relatively common in Patagonia for the same reason. In short time we were back at the base, enjoying the remainder of our snacks and (for me) the extreme luxury of being free of the harnesses!

It was far from perfect conditions for climbing that day and I think a lot of folks would have opted to take a rain check for any number of reasons. For Chente and Josh, it was an extremely memorable and rewarding experience. It challenged them in ways that 5.13’s and V10’s don’t and got them to a place of exquisite, sublime beauty. For me it was the same, for different reasons: it reminded me of plenty of suffer-fests I’ve endured in the past to get to some lofty and inaccessible place of beauty, even if most of the suffering was of my own creation! I wouldn’t have traded it for anything!

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Vince Anderson | Rock Climbing Guide | Ice Climbing Guide | Skyward Mountaineering

Vince Anderson

An IFMGA certified rock climbing guide with an adventurous spirit and decades of experience. Vince is known for his alpine expertise and has climbed extensively on Colorado’s big peaks.

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Steven Van Sickle

An IFMGA/AMGA certified rock climbing guide specializing in technical alpine routes and big mountain adventures. Steven loves exploring the high peaks of the San Juans and beyond.

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Buster Jesik

An accomplished climber and certified rock climbing guide, Buster brings knowledge and passion for routes throughout the state, from the Front Range to the Western Slope.

Katie Beringer | Rock Climbing Guide | Ice Climbing Guide | Skyward Mountaineering

Katie Beringer

A passionate rock climber, ice climber, and AMGA certified rock climbing guide, Katie’s enthusiasm is infectious, whether you’re a beginner or pushing your grade.

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