Struggling up Castleton Tower

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Climbing is something I’ve always wanted to do, but never had a good opportunity to get started. My preferred approach to activities is autodidactic, which for obvious reasons, it’s a little tricky with climbing.

Finally last summer I met someone who was willing to show me the basics – first in the gym, then with me following on easy sport climbs. With the inertia broken, I devoured climbing books over the next few months, practiced like crazy, bought a full trad rack and gym climbed 3-4 days/wk all winter while practicing placing pro on wet cliffs via rappel. I set goals of climbing 5.12 gym, 5.11 sport and 5.10 trad before we started our GDT thru-hike.

It was a steep learning curve but a lot of fun. On my first gym outing, two easy climbs left me sore for two weeks. 5 months later I could climb almost every 5.11 in the gym and ticked off my first gym 5.12 just before my membership expired (but those cruel gym folks downgraded it the next day from 5.12b to 5.11d).

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Starchek (5.9), Pitch 2 of 3

When winter ended, T and I drove our mini camper van to Squamish for a month of climbing. We did some multipitch routes, practiced on a lot of 5.6 – 5.8 climbs, and I managed to complete my goals by sending 5.11 sport and gear routes up to 5.10c. It was satisfying and for a short while I felt like a real climber.

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Flying Circus (5.10a), Squamish

In October I wound up in Moab, Utah while waiting for the forest fires to go out that were blocking our Great Divide Trail hike. I met up with a friend there who was a very strong climber and he invited me to climb the famous Kor-Ingalls route (5.9+) on Castleton Tower (one of North America’s 50 Classic Climbs).


I was excited, but nervous since 4 months of walking had surely wasted away my climbing arms. Back in 2014 on the PCT my arms got so weak I stopped using my trekking poles for a while. Making things harder, this would be my first time climbing on sandstone, and my first time attempting chimneys and off-width.

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The view from a top pitch 2

Long story short, I made it, but just barely. I was wasted at the end of the first chimney pitch, and just barely recovered enough to not embarrass myself on the second. In my defence, carrying the haul bag (water, 70m rope) added a lot of work.

At the crux on the third pitch, I was sure I was done. My approach to climbing has always been to keep trying until I fall, rather than letting go, so I paddled for footing on the slick calcite coated sandstone, while burning way too much energy hanging from a poorly executed chicken arm in the off-width crack.

Somehow I made it a couple feet higher to better holds, but was so spent I remained on the brink of falling. There was a good minute where a fall was imminent, but eventually I rounded a lip and lodged my torso in the crack for an awkward rest.

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The crux is up near the higher climber

I was glad when Nathan got a bit off route on the final pitch and squandered a few minutes sorting that out, because I desperately needed the extra rest even though the final pitch is only 5.7.

Once we were up top it was relieving more than anything. Rappelling over the edge had wild exposure:

I haven’t climbed since, other than one recent and similarly humbling day in the gym, but T and I are going to get back in the groove soon. I’ve got my eye on some uncharted alpine routes and I’ll need to beef up the arms.


  1. You have the build to do some higher grade climbing, Dan. Set your goals for next season, and chase them down. The fact that you’ve met up with some experienced folks is huge, if you want to pursue the discipline. Also, gym is good training, like for any sport, but It’s not like live rock… Cheers!

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