Wide Cracks and Weird Towers on the Green River
The irrepressible Rob Pizem sent us this trip report from a desert crack-climbing adventure in September along the Green River in Utah.
Most of the time when you prepare for a climbing trip, you pore over guidebooks, look at photos, and talk to everyone you know about what climbs you should try. Our recent Green River trip was just the opposite. There were no recorded ascents (just rumors), no developed areas (just miles of cliff line), and you needed a boat or 4WD to access everything.
As usual, Andrew Burr had concocted this adventure. He, Pete Vintoniv, Orin Salah, and I were going to canoe down the Green River, just north of Canyonlands National Park, and try to climb the Green River Towers and anything else that looked good.
During the first three days of our trip, we used the canoes to access a cliff line across the river where we found two old uranium-mining adits, a bunch of relic equipment, some petrified wood, ripple marks, and of course a few gem crack climbs. Andy took photos while we had the pleasure of climbing, cleaning, and bolting these new lines. It was great fun using the spotting scope to identify a possible crack climb and then paddle over, scramble up the talus to check it out, and hopefully get lucky.
Closer to camp, also during those first three days, we headed up past yet another old uranium mine to a cliff we called the Riverbend Buttress. It yielded four new crack climbs requiring plenty of big cams—like two No. 6’s and up to four No. 5’s and four No. 4 cams, along with all the smaller sizes.
After we took care of the plumb lines at Riverbend, we decided it was time to load up the canoes and head on downstream to the Green River Towers. None of us was very skilled at canoeing, but after a few minutes of going the wrong direction on the river, we managed to keep the boats pointed downstream and quickly had the towers within view.
A row of towers rose above the river, with six different summits. We hoped to climb each of them and dreamed of perfect splitters heading to each oddly shaped peak. Once we paddled closer, we found a sandbar to set up camp. Since we’d arrived in the evening, we were able to watch the sunset on the towers, and to our surprise we saw a set of anchors and even a bolt glistening in the waning daylight. Someone else had climbed these beautiful towers. That was fine with us—we could leave the drill at camp!
The next morning we filled our packs with all the gear we could and headed up to the towers. As we got closer, we saw that the cracks that had looked small and thin from camp were actually offwidth testpieces. We were in for some work up the wide stuff! Each of the four summits that we ascended was hard-earned and rewarding. The first climb was reached by a 200-foot pitch that required a couple of four-, five-, and six-inch pieces. The next required some nailing to get through an aid section on pitch two. After placing a few pins for proper protection, we freed the pitch and climbed a crumbly last pitch to the summit, high over the river, where we watched other river users paddle and motor downstream in the early fall heat of the desert.
The last two towers were freed with a lot more offwidth technique and a never-give-up attitude. Meanwhile, a wind storm came through the valley, destroying the poles on one tent and sending the other to the river’s edge. (That night’s menu would have plenty of sand on it!) Our final tower required a rack of two six-inch cams, four five-inch cams, four four-inch cams and some smaller stuff. A monster pitch took us to a saddle, followed by a second pitch up a crescent-moon-shaped chimney, with arête moves to the summit on hollow face holds. As the wind blew and the sun set, we felt the satisfaction of good friends, good climbing, and good adventure.
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