'In Search of Suds'
Written by Ian McAlexander
Thanksgiving 2006 provided a chance to escape civilization and seek adventure on big towers in the solitude of the Canyonlands. Brad had been saving these special towers for the right moment with the right team. Pavel and I convinced him to enlist us anyway and we converged on Moab from Durango , Colorado , Palm Springs , California and SLC, Utah . For these remote formations we also required the right vehicle. We rented a banana-yellow Jeep in Moab and spent the next three days testing it along the White Rim trail. Our first day began at 4:30 AM with the three hour high-clearance approach to our objective. The Washer Woman, with her distinctive arch, and her portentous neighbor Monster Tower, played peek-a-boo with us as we rounded each red peninsula. Spirits were high and the Jeep just couldn't get us there fast enough.
We parked at a small wash and tumbled out of the vehicle like an upended can of mixed nuts. A little gear-sorting revealed that I had left my climbing shoes in Moab, an inauspicious start. This would not have been much of an obstacle on soft Entrada or Cutler sandstone where we mixed free and aid climbing (FrAid technique), but this rock was Wingate and I had free-climbing aspirations. Brad reached into his Magic Box of Gear * (see insert) and pulled out a pair of winter climbing shoes. These had gaiters stitched to them and zipped-up to the knee and were more appropriate for Baffin Island or Fitzroy. Not only were they fashionable, but they kept my calves oh-so toasty warm. Unfortunately, they were snug as bedroom slippers, even with thick wool socks, but they would have to suffice. The hike was easy by desert standards, 30 minutes and low-angle scree. The morning sun would meet us at the base of the route just in time to burn off the desert's morning chill. Ah, perfect timing.
* Notes on the Magic Box of Gear: Brad's climbing partners have developed a Pavlovian anxiety response to seeing Brad elbow-deep in the box. Will he pull out a set of frayed copper micronuts? Will it be Z-pins and a hammer? A delicious beer perchance? Surprise, it's three #5 Camalots! Oh noooooooo…
In Search of Suds begins on the right side of the tower at an obvious crack-system. Pavel banged out the physical 5.10 “good morning” pitch in short order. Brad led the more memorable second pitch, passing the Eye of the Needle, to encounter the first shenanigan of the route. High on the pitch, the hand crack disappears behind a wide detached flake. At the same time, an arching stack of tiered, overhanging roofs push the climber out left. Instead of wrestling the flake we, each in turn, put our backs to the flake and chimneyed off the tiered roofs with ankles hanging in space. This creates an interesting situation. As you squirm upward, the spacious belay ledge is at your back. With no handholds available, there is no easy way to turn around and belly-flop, you just have to keep struggling until you “back-flop” onto the ledge. This generates much hilarity for residents of the belay ledge.
The steep, bouldery, third pitch moves up and right beneath a roof. A perfect hand jam under the roof allows one to really hang it out over the void while placing good gear. Big moves follow (10+, maybe easier) but the pitch quickly eases and fun climbing gains the ridge. The next pitch was an easy, but exposed, traverse of the ridge/bridge to reset the belay beneath the head of the Washer Woman.
The final lead was mine which combined the short but serious 5.9 boulder start with the 10+ (maybe harder) bolted finish. No shit, there I was, precariously perched on thin edges while my heels rose completely out of the spacious climbing shoes. Fortunately, the gaiters cinched about my calves kept my feet from slipping out of them completely. The drilled pin to my left started looking like a foothold but entreaties from Brad and Pavel kept me pure. A hands-free high step onto a poor edge allowed me to snag a crisp crimp just as I started to fade away from the wall. Three simultaneous shouts of “hell yeah!” generated the momentum to send me to the summit, where Pavel and Brad quickly joined me. From our position on the summit we had a great view of the neighboring Monster Tower and started making plans for our triumphant return.
Rappelling is not normally a memorable event although a few roped descents from the past spring to mind: Madam G in The Gunks (required barrel roll off a horizontal tree trunk), Royal Arches in Yosemite (~5 hanging stations in a row), and the first rappel off the Titan in the Fisher Towers (fighting a pendulum off a narrow fin). Well, I'm adding Washer Woman to the list. The second rappel begins from the bridge which distinguishes the Washer Woman from her wash tub, thus creating a huge arch. The rappel chains were located at least 3 feet below the lip, distant enough that Pavel held down my legs while I awkwardly threaded the ropes. The best method for getting onto the anchors was simply to daisy-in and downclimb until fully weighting the station. Then, with brake hand firmly in position, one could easily unclip the daisy chain. The excitement of weighting the anchors was soon eclipsed by lowering into the arch. Twisting in the wind gave a fantastic and unavoidable panorama of the canyon country. The rappel requires passing the anchor station to regain contact with the rock. A 20' easy scramble recovers the lost ground. Pavel and I had some fun by initially not towing Brad into the station and we both wished we had a pointy stick to poke him with (in a loving manner of course). The remainder of the return to the Jeep was uneventful, and we arrived beaming with satisfaction at getting up a great line on a proud tower. There was little room for reflection with the phantasm of Standing Rock before us, but there was plenty of room for nutritious beers.
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