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3 Easy Steps to NOT Climbing Moab's Castleton Tower

Want to get shut down by one of Moab's most iconic towers? Read on.

By: Liam McNally + Save to a List

This past spring I drove from San Francisco to meet friends in Salt Lake City and head down to Moab for a climbing trip we'd had in the books for months. We had two primary climbing objectives for the trip: Ancient Art and Castleton Tower. After knocking out Ancient Art on our first day, we were stoked and ready for Castleton the next morning. Unfortunately, things didn't go quite as smoothly as we'd hoped. Here are the steps we took to failure:

1. Link Up Pitches One and Two without Realizing

We climbed the Kor Ingalls route, which seemed pretty straight forward to us so we really didn't spend a toooon of time doing our homework. Long story short, our leader accidentally linked up the first two pitches all the while thinking he was still on the first pitch. The first pitch is supposed to be a breeze and the second pitch isn't supposed to be all that tough, but a solid 5.8 with some chimney and off-width moves. Because we linked up the first two pitches thinking it was only the first - supposedly very easy - pitch, we were pretty confused at our anchor station. We felt like we had worked substantially harder than we should have on a 5.Fun first pitch. This led us to believe we had gotten off route and perhaps on one of the tougher routes nearby (like Black Sun, 10b). Normally, we wouldn't be too stressed about pushing through a tougher route, but we had some injuries and less experienced trad climbers in our party, so we were hoping to keep things on the mellow side. As we rested at the belay station, we looked to our phones to try and sort out where we were and where we had gone wrong...

2. Count on Mountain Project Photos Mid-Route / Don't Bring the Book

I'm a huge fan of Mountain Project, as are most climbers I know. For the most part, I've had no issues or complaints, but I did run into an unexpected feature on this climb. I downloaded the entire Utah climbing area in the app before the trip, which I thought meant I would have access to all the information even if I didn't have service. Unfortunately, it turns out that is not the case when it comes to images. We were unable to consult the photos that might have helped us realize that we were at the belay station above Pitch 2, which would've put our minds at ease, knowing that the last pitch was indeed a 5.8 and we were on track to finish up in just a couple pitches. We also didn't bring the guide book. Our bad! 

3. Get Spooked by Weather Over the La Sal Mountains

The final piece to the puzzle that led to us bailing was weather. There was rain and thunder on the forecast going into the trip so we knew all along that might be an issue. As we were discussing our best plan of action mid-route, we noticed the light clouds over the La Sal Mountains had very quickly turned dark and the wind had picked up. It seemed like the storm was rolling right over the mountains, heading straight for us. If we had been 100% certain about our route and felt confident we could finish up the next couple pitches quickly and efficiently, we might have pushed our luck and climbed on, but with the potential weather headed our way and the state of confusion (along with aforementioned injuries, etc.), we decided we'd rather be safe than sorry and rapped on down. 

Rapping down, we all felt like we were making the right choice, despite the feelings of disappointment. As soon as we reached the base of the climb, we dug into our guide books and realized where we were when we bailed. Disappointment started turning to regret, as we knew even with bad weather coming, we were over half way up and could've quickly summited before weather reached us. Still, we felt with weather coming we made the right call in the moment. 

The thing is, the weather never came! We hiked all the way back down to the car (an hour or so) and the clouds we thought we so menacing still hung right above the La Sal. We learned a lesson there...weather over the La Sal doesn't mean weather over Castleton anytime soon.

Damn you, Castleton. We'll be back for you next year!


We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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