Attacking the Choss

The Titan

“Well let’s just hit the Titan on the way to Zion,” I state to Brian.

That’s how I sucker others into my awesome plans. I pose them as “not that big of a deal.” While I know they are, my climbing partners actually believe it to be a good idea. Of course, I also have a hard time saying no to climbing trips so I guess convincing me is just as easy. This time though, I had to do no convincing with Brian, we were both game on. This time it was my long time goal of getting to the top off the king of all desert towers, the Titan.

When you wear this, there is something wrong

Let me introduce to you the Titan. It is not friendly. It is almost something that’s in a nightmare for most climbers. It’s big (1,000+ feet tall) and it’s mean. By moonlight, it seems to haunt you in your sleep. It’s unearthly. Nothing in this world is quite like it. It’s scary to touch and it’s scary to place gear in. The Titan is climbed for sure (maybe 1000 ascents ever) but it has an 80% failure rate and there is a reason why, it ain’t granite and the aid rating is deceiving. It’s just C3 right? The Fisher Towers go off of Jim Beyer’s rating system basically. Meaning, the rating’s here are known to be stoudt mainly because of the rock/mud. It changes by ascent! It’s game on here. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Fisher Towers. When the mud calls, you must go.

Climbing the mud up to the tower.

I seem to chase the ultimate choss while others chase the best rock. I have found that the worse rock it is, the less the crowds, and more the adventure! Therefore, I do enjoy choss.

Fisher Towers in the mist

Every time I have been around the Fishers whether Ancient Art, Cobra, or Castleton, the Titan has been on my mind but I’ve heard so many stories about is being so scary. I had heard that from a few people so that’s what I seemed to believe. Everyone I had talked to about it that had got on it bailed due to unreliable protection. “If one piece blows, it all goes man.” I have had this bad image from what other people have stated. One horrible experience for one can be a living dream for another I guess.

Layton Kor got dragged into climbing the Titan by George Hurley and Ingalls. (Sound familiar?) At the base of the route on the first ascent of Finger of Fate, he shouted,” We are all going to die up here!” in a laughing mood. It took them ALL day to go 300 feet. Kor stated if the rock did not improve they were turning around. It was just that bad. That’s saying a lot for Layton Kor as he has done some real loose rock in the Black Canyon! A week later, they returned and finished the route over the next two days. It was featured on National Geographic. Kor really believed it was the best route ever upon reaching the top but he never returned to the Fisher Towers again. That say’s something for the rock there.

Everyone said something different about it and everyone had different ratings for the routes from a pitch being C1 to C3 or 5.8 to 5.10c. That’s a big difference! We brought everything from some pins to lowe balls, hooks, and offsets. We just had no clue what to expect so we brought everything. Talk about a huge rack!

“So your leading the scary pitches right Brian?”

On the drive there, we decided to start the trip right. The Sword of Damocles is a 100 foot tower outside of Grand Junction. It appeared in the classic new Desert Towers coffee table book. I first saw a picture of it a little before that from Paul Ross on the FA. The rock was not rock, it was all mud. This did in fact make the fisher towers look like granite and I think may be the worse rock I have ever climbed on.

“If we do it, I’m pretty sure we’ll be the 3rd ascent,” Brian states to me.

“Sweet man! I’ll lead first!” I quickly chime in.

Brian convinced me to let him lead first. I was sad at first until I stood at the base of this tower that we really were afraid was going to fall over. I usually have taken the first lead so I decided it would be good for him to go first, especially if it’s ssscccarrryyy. My records of asking Brian if I could lead the pitch aren’t good. One of them was a 120 foot runout on 5.8 friction, and another on all pitons sticking out several inches in mud. So I guess it didn’t take much for me to let him have it. I guess it comes down to, who is pissed off at life more?

Brian leading

We parked with a ton of people hiking towards Mt Garfield as we got the ropes out. Everyone really did stare at us but I’m used to getting that look. We grabbed the nine inch nails; tie offs, some biners, and we are off. The hike up was scary. We had to hike up the ridge of mud which seemed to reach 50 degrees with not a fun fall on either side. It was like being on bad snow. That feeling of insecurity stuck with us, as all the top layer of mud was sliding in massive chunks just waiting for use to slide along with it. We switched breaking trail up the mud until a scary down climb brought us to the base.

Brian told me he didn’t see the “fixed” nails. I knew they were there but I could tell Brian had all of sudden went silent, and for a long period of time. I could tell he was really nervous if this was the right or should we call it smart thing to do. I admit, this thing was REALLY loose. He stated he didn’t see the next nail but I stated for him to get up there and find it as it may be covered in mud. I could tell he was mad at asking for the first lead and probably really annoyed of my voice telling him to go for it. “It’s only C2+”

“Dude, as long as it holds your body weight, you’re good to go! Just test each one.”

There are my words of wisdom. I wore goggles and a bandana around my face since there was mud falling on me the whole time Brian was up there. I’m talking about more mud falling then the ice you get crashing down in ice climbing. It was going down my shirt. Brian stated at every piece that it was a bad piece. They were all flexing. By the top few though, we were convinced that they were actually pretty solid! Brian put in a new nail next to one that was sticking out maybe 4 or 5 inches. He had to uncover a couple as well as they were buried. He stated that the whole summit block moved when he grabbed the webbing that was wrapped around it. He got lowered off fast off a lone bolt sticking halfway out. The summit block was the only rock on the whole tower, not much. It’s the only thing holding it up though.

Myself on the summit on the 3rd ascent

I soon went on the sharp end and got to the top. Brian took a couple pictures and I came down. The crazy thing is, Brian and I loved it and had a blast! We went down the sketchy descent feeling very confident about the Titan. It just can’t get much worse then that. Looking back, it was a great thing that we climbed that. Brian and I are also pretty used to really bad rock so this may sound crazy but the Fisher’s were actually pretty solid.

We arrived just at Sunset. I had forgotten just how huge the Titan was. Brian and I laid our sleeping bags out in the parking lot and went to bed excited like little school girls. The weather called for bad wind and perhaps rain in the afternoon. We wanted to blast it in a day but decided to just fix the first 300 feet due to weather.

Parking lot bivy

We woke up early and got the gear together. Really heavy loads were carried to the bottom of the route. The route is out there. You really have to traverse all around the tower to get to it. No crowds around just us on what seems to be Mars. The Titan, the real deal! Adventure awaits us. I get super excited and rack up.

Looking up from the base

I free the first half of the 150 ft pitch and then french free when the moments are right on the second half of the pitch. The rock is really sandy. It went at about 5.10 C2. The C2 part was not super scary but it was exciting for sure. TCU’s in mud are always memorable. As you weight it, it start’s breaking the mud around it. I do a scary mantle and get to the anchor. I fix the rope for Brian and haul the pack. I coil the ropes and get it ready for Brian. I’ve been told this next pitch is the crux. We planned on doing it in one 150 ft pitch but broke it up into two 75 ft. pitches due to gear. While only 75 feet, it’s a memorable one. Brian states how crappy the gear is at the start. I look at it thinking how it’s pretty good since I placed many of those. The top of the pitch was the crux, tri cams in pin scars. These tri cams were scary. He made many marginal placements until he fixed the rope at the anchors. I cleaned it and barely have to touch some of the pieces for them to fall out. The wind was horrendous! Gusts were blowing me like I was on a swing, hanging there. Sand was blowing down the route like crazy. Where are my goggles?


The route in shade

Brian cruxing it

I jug to the crammed anchor. I told Brian to continue the next short pitch and Ill take over from there since it would be straight up crazy to get above Brian. I told Brian the next pitch should be easier, as that’s what I’ve heard. Brian took off expecting some good pieces here and there. He was disappointed. It was all pin scars. Tri cams in pin scars and small TCU’s in mud. In other words, it was solid C3 with just cams and stoppers. We were wishing we had some sawed off angle pitons to hand place and make it less scary. Brian held it together risking a very big scary fall if something blew.


“Dude, I’m going to fall.” Brian shouts to me.

I whisper to myself of how he really shouldn’t. After 3 hours on two short pitches, Brian fixed the rope. I jugged and had no idea this pitch would be the crux! I cleaned one piece where the rock exploded around it when I barely took it out. The wind continued getting stronger and it seemed like it was going to storm anytime. We stopped one pitch behind schedule to fix the ropes to the ground. We left all the gear at the base and made it back to the car. Oh wait, we almost made it to the car until Brian forgot the key’s in the pack back at the base. He went all the way back to get them. I hung around and climbed some minor easy towers. Soon we both made it back to the car.

It’s about to storm! Lets get off!

Driving back to Moab we were confident in our efforts. We were done with the crux right? The weather got crazy and we woke up to snow pissed. Clouds were drifting around the Titan making it look like a misty haunted mansion. Brian and I went to scramble up Elephants Butte in Arches and flew a kite along with a Frisbee. Anything to pass time by! We climbed some single pitch towers and soon a weather window opened. It was time to stop dirt bagging it in Moab and go for it. I had heard from a couple people that the traversing pitch, the next pitch above the fixed ropes, was the crux. It was my lead.

Elephant Butte Summit


Alpine start for desert towers? We got done jugging the ropes a little after sunrise. We had no clue what the rest of the route would be like. I set off for the traverse. This traverse was no 5.6 that it was said to be, even by Eldo or other standards. I soon get to the crux, an overhang with sketchy fixed tri cams. I clip the next one with a screamer, aid it, it flexes, the usual. I then place a #3 in a pin scar above to get above that horribly awkward roof. I test it and it holds. I step up and right when I get towards the top step, the piece pops. I start falling. There are times when falling is fun and there are times when falling is downright scary. When you fall and realize that your falling and how you are not suppose to be falling! The tri cam somehow held and I was back up and thrashed up the flared 5.8ish squeeze chimney with sketchy gear. Fix the rope and rest!

“The” Traverse Pitch

What held the fall! Bomber!

Brian thankfully took the next lead and aided the grungy offwidth. From there I took off around the 3rd class “Duck” traverse. It was more like low fifth class. Brian followed and I was off on the 5.8 chimney that was short and more like 5.6. Super soft! This was the bivy ledge Kor spent the night on along with all the rest that were up here at dark. We took a mental rest break and then I took off for a very scary “jump” over the void to a crimp risking a big pendulum fall. Some 5.8 C2+ aiding took me to the anchors. Finally, I was done leading. One pitch left that was for Brian.

Brian leading the OW

Traverse of the duck

The short next pitch looking back at the duck

Brian jugging

Then the REACHY bolt ladder. I’m talking about 10+ foot gaps between bolts and pins requiring extreme trickery. Brian took off and after a while topped out with extreme rope drag. I followed and found it scary just jugging the pitch. You are totally hanging out there and the pitch traverses a bit at the top. We scrambled to the top together and soon we were standing on top of the Titan!

Mental break

Spectacular stance on arete. No I don’t have 4 feet. Photo just messed up.

Brian on the last pitch

I smoked a cigar and took it all in. A goal that for so long I thought I would never have the balls to commit to. It really wasn’t as bad as it’s said to be but I like this kind of rock. The descent was a little scary but soon we were so stoked to have climbed it.


Brian with the classic shot

We made plans for the next tower and a little over a week later climbed King Fisher tower with Derek which was pretty cruiser for most of it. (5.8 C2) I think both of our goals have turned to climbing all the major towers in the Fishers along with sinking our teeth into the Mystery Towers.

Derek on the exposed pitch of King Fisher

Summit of King Fisher with the Titan in the back drop

Why would you do such a thing?

Perhaps you’ll have to venture to this special place to understand such motives.


A whole lot of screamers

Bolt on top of the Sword

Lizard Rock

Carson’s Tower

North Six Shooter

Lightning Bolt Cracks

About Noah McKelvin

Never skip a day of living life
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3 Responses to Attacking the Choss

  1. Brian says:

    Nice report man! Back to the Fishers soon!!!

  2. keithnoback says:

    Nice, I particularly like the Road Warrior protective clothing. Beware those cigars though – they’ll kill ya!

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