A Cowboy’s Sand Castle

Indian Creek and the Sixshooters

“I don’t know about this man, all the protection is crap, the rock is very bad and friable making protection horrible.” I say as fear sets in.  I don’t quite know if I want to commit to the runout.

“Just do what you think is right, this climb is not worth getting hurt on.” Kurt tells me at the belay.

On lead. Splitter!

I went to Indian Creek with a few friends for a couple days and cragged around. It was actually my first time in the creek. Besides climbing my first route there in horrible style, I thought I did well and got a hang of the splitter style there. It’s truly a wonderful place.

Kurt and I had planned on doing Lightning Bolt Cracks on North Sixshooter peak, a classic desert tower. We had limited time that day so when we could not find the road or anyway to get to the tower we decided on South Sixshooter. I was kind of mad about it as I was really looking forward to it. Our hands were already pretty worn out from the last couple of days so a 5.7 multi pitch climb sounded pretty nice. We found the approach but it was extremely hot so we really just wanted shade. We looked accross the canyon to where the shade was and saw a desert tower that was quite impressive. We wanted to go check it out. I’ve always wanted to climb a virgin desert tower.

We want to climb that! Located near South Sixshooter

I had mixed emotions about it though. I knew we could do it but things like the descent worried me. I didn’t want to leave a cam or two behind but it was something I was willing risk for the experience. The approach took a while and it was one of the more unique desert ones I have done. It was both steep and a little interesting. We both thought we would just get to the base and check it out and descend but we saw a couple beautiful cracks on it. Kurt really wanted to do the middle one. It looked kind of wide so I was not really excited about it so he got the first lead. Kurt went up knocking off chunks of rock off everywhere. The rock would explode into sand with impact. He was stopped for a while when he approached two chockstones holding themselves together very carefully. Not wanting to knock them down we tried our best to grab other sandy holds around. He soon got to a ledge and made an anchor.

Kurt in the OW

“Off belay!” He yelled at me.

Soon I was on belay and climbing. I was not looking forward to the pitch. It looked grungy. The crack started off hands which was really nice but soon it went from that to fists to offwidth fairly fast. Everything was breaking. I got quite a bit of sand in my face. I struggled bad once it turned offwidth. I do okay in offwidth but this one was just akward because it was a tight dihedral which made it almost impossible to get your other hand in there to stack. Soon I made the last little boulder problem after the offwidth and almost fell when a hold broke off. I was so happy to make it to the ledge.

Looking down the OW

“Nice lead man, I don’t know how you led that.” I say as I absolutely did not enjoy that offwidth.

The rock was so soft that while belaying me on that pitch, it cut two inches into the rock, just from rubbing over the edge. It was scary looking at that because the rock kept getting worse and worse and now  it was my lead, I think I had a reason to have a little fear.

The P1 boulder problem atop the pitch. Notice the wear in the rock from just belaying up! Such soft rock

We first figured out our rappel anchor and then looked at the next pitch. It was another offwidth pitch but this time not protectable. We only brought a size up to #4. I placed that five feet above the belay. That would be the last piece for almost the whole pitch. I was not up to that. I backed down and took it out, pretty much thinking we might not get to the top.

looking down on the first rappel. The runout lead

I stood there and looked to the right and saw a line that might go. It would be face climbing with a tiny bit of crack climbing until a traverse into the offwidth was mandatory but there looked like smaller gear there in the upper part of the offwidth. (So I thought)

“What do you think man?” I asked
“I think I’m glad I’m not leading this pitch.” Kurt quickly responded.

You can see P2 clearly on the top half of the tower. It starts by many feet of face climbing and then traverses into a squeeze chimney to the top

I went up and placed a number one in a flake. That would be my last solid piece for almost the whole pitch and I was only about 15 feet above the belay. I had to face climb for a bit and then traverse to the wideness. I climbed up and then climbed down. I knocked on every hold. I just didn’t trust anything but for some reason everything was just good enough that I felt good enough to continue. Big eye’s open as the last piece of pro is 25 feet below.

I’m really controlling my breathing, living in the moment, focusing on just the next move and that’s it. I place a nut in a small seam that was sandy. The rock around it was horrible, not to be trusted. It was just a mental piece. I entered the squeeze chimney and climbed it for a few feet until I placed a #4 in the squeeze between the chockstone and wall. I kept climbing and touched the chockstone and it moved. Another piece I don’t want to fall on. Right before the final exit move to the summit I finally got a bomber #4.

“Dude, that was really scary.” I shout down.

Kurt and I on the summit

I pulled on the summit to find bolts. I was happy to find them as the anchor potential was slim up there but kind of sad we weren’t the first ones up there. I belayed Kurt up and soon he joined me. We both got the right pitches in my opinion. His was the physical crux of the route while mine was the mental crux. We were totally stoked.

The rappels went fairly smoothly. The last rappel was rather interesting, you know, your typical desert rappel, kind of scary. It took a while to get down. We talked and decided on the name and grade. We dubbed it “Cowboy’s Sand Castle (5.10 R)”

It takes getting out of your comfort zone to do things out of the ordinary but it also takes being smart about every part of it. This is where I want to head towards, heading into the unknown. Not just that, there is something about the partnership and trust adventures like these form between one another. Something that will be remembered.

Heading down

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About Noah McKelvin

Never skip a day of living life
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One Response to A Cowboy’s Sand Castle

  1. Tom Pierce says:

    Noah: Very cool report! I’ve sort of drifted into what I call “adventure climbing,” much like your report, stuff with no beta, etc. So I really enjoyed this report, well done!
    -Tom Pierce

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