One of the coolest and scariest climbs I’ve done.
The Titan is one of the tallest free-standing sandstone spires in the United States and even the world. It is certainly the most imposing. It is one of the spooky towers near Moab, Utah, that are collectively known as the Fisher Towers. This is how various guidebooks describe these terrifying totem poles:
“Wild mud curtains. Gnarled and twisted rock knobs. Frighteningly loose grit. Sketchy gear. Air clogged with dust. Welcome to the Fisher Towers, possibly the most challenging area for rock climbing in the desert Southwest. If you get good here, you can go climbing almost anywhere in the world and feel pretty comfortable on any kind of ground, including desperate alpine terrain”(Selected Climbs in the Desert Southwest).
“In all of the Canyonlands, no single grouping of towers is as grand and majestic as the Fishers; but by the same token, no other group of towers is as intimidating or outright dirty as these mud covered giants. Wild summits, fins, gullies, and erosion at work are all elements of the mud experience…. The mud casing makes placements difficult, tie-offs scary, anchors untrustworthy, and belayers miserable” (Classic Desert Climbs).
“To climb here is to submit oneself to several days of abuse, including fear, intimidation, frustration, and an all-encompassing grime. When touched, the dry mud veneer disintegrates to pebbles and grit, filling the air to the point of suffocation” (Canyon Country Climbs).
Sounds like fun, eh? Well, it is. It’s my idea of fun, anyway. I’ve climbed there with friends who swear they will never go back. But I’m obsessed. The Fisher Towers are the perfect epitome, the violent crescendo of everything that I love about climbing. Naturally, I had to climb the biggest of them all, the Titan.
The idea of a trip to do the Titan first hatched in my mind one night in May when I was camping alone out in the West Desert of Utah. I was spending a couple days there putting up new routes on some granite domes. It was nighttime and I had built a roaring fire out of old palettes and firewood. As I stared into the fire, I thought about all of the time I had spent climbing towers near Moab over the winter and spring. I had become obsessed. I wanted to go down to Moab every weekend. If I couldn’t find anyone to go with, I just went by myself. Climbing those hauntingly beautiful routes was deeply satisfying and fulfilling. I wanted to feel that again and I immediately knew what I needed to climb: The Titan. There is a famous classic route on it called The Finger of Fate. But who would I go with? All of my regular climbing partners were either not psyched enough or not skilled enough. And then I thought of Aaron. I’d never climbed with Aaron before but I knew that he was a good climber and was psyched on climbing in the desert. I sent him an email as soon as I got home the next day and he said he was in.
We drove out to Moab on a Monday, leaving Provo at about noon. We got to the Fisher Towers parking lot 4 hours later. We sorted gear and hiked in to the base of the Titan. The plan was to hike in, make sure we knew how to get to the tower, stash our gear at the base, and come back and camp at the trailhead. When we got to the base of the Titan an hour later, we just looked up with our mouths open and didn’t say much. We were each thinking the same thing: Man, that thing is big.
After a few hours of sleep we were up and back on the trail. We started climbing at about 7. Here’s a breakdown of the pitches:
Pitch 1: Aaron led the first pitch. He free climbed as high as he could, passed an intermediate belay, and started aid climbing. Eventually he got to the belay and I followed and cleaned the pitch.
Pitch 2: My turn. I combined the next two pitches to the base of the Finger. This lead took two or three hours and, at C3, was the hardest aid climbing I’d ever done (and the hardest we would encounter on the route). It certainly was scary. Lots and lots of small cams and nuts badly placed in crappy rock. I took two falls on the upper part of the pitch but eventually dispatched it.
Pitch 3: Aaron went right on a scary traverse to some holes with fixed Tricams in them. More scary pieces led up to the belay.
Pitch 4: Some scary (are you noticing a pattern here?) free climbing past some bolts to a nasty offwidth. I French-freed and aided the beast and it was still extremely awkward and hard. With heinous rope drag I went right, around The Duck, to the belay. Aaron and I both sat here for a while, relishing the position (there was a sheer 600 foot drop on either side of the belay). We were both pretty terrified at this point. The climbing was as mentally challenging as it was physically, if not more so. But we hadn’t gone this far to just turn around and go down. So up we went.
Pitch 5: Scary, easy free climbing led to ledge. From the ledge, Aaron went off to the right side of the tower to another aid seam.
Pitch 6: The last pitch. Mostly a bolt ladder, but even it was scary! At this point you’re climbing right on the edge of the tower. And it’s overhanging. And a lot of the bolts are old and funky and sticking half an inch out of the rock. I had to lasso one bolt that was too far away for me, even in my top steps.
From the top of the last pitch, Aaron and I unroped and scrambled to the tippy top of the tower. The view from the top was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever witnessed. The Mystery Towers, Onion Creek, the rest of the Fishers, the Colorado River, Castle Valley; it was all wide open and easily visible beneath us. We spent 20 minutes or so on top and then started the arduous and no less terrifying descent. 5 or 6 rappels got us back to the ground.
Climbing in the desert is a funny thing. The whole time I was climbing I just kept thinking to myself: “Never again am I doing this. This is way too scary, way too hard.” But then the second my feet touched solid ground after the last rappel, Aaron and I were already planning our next adventure (Phantom Sprint, anyone?).
The rest of the day was just as epic. An hour-long hike back to the car was followed by a 4 hour drive home. We got back to Provo at 2 in the morning, amazed that I hadn’t fallen asleep at the wheel and killed us both.