by Bruce Bindner
home | topos
& beta | photos | trip
reports | links
Finger of Fate, Titan (IV, 5.9, A2)
Fisher Towers, Utah
The wind, shredding through the notch below us, threatens to tear bushes
and trees out of the ground. We hunker below an overhang at the base of
the gully, just barely out of reach of the curtains of sleet, hail, rain,
and snow slashing down from the black skies. Above, three ropes stretch
up the gully toward a wildly exposed ridge, where we had retreated just
as the storm began shaking the ground. There will be no more climbing for
today. Now our main concern is getting out to the trailhead without dying
of hypothermia. A few small rocks bounce past, as the Titan continues its
eons-long disintegration. Mud trickles down the walls of the gully. We dig
out some munchies, and settle back to watch the show.
It was our third day in the Fisher Towers area of southeastern Utah: April
Sunday had started innocuously enough. After a too-long approach hike with
too much gear, I had climbed up onto the first pitch, casual and certain
that most of it would go free. Four hours later, I had finally come to rest
at the belay (a frightening affair of multiple bolts protruding, exposed
for half their length, from the Cutler sandstone) covered in red dirt, shaking
and sick from adrenal overload, bruised, abraded, and very humbled. This
would not be a cakewalk. Michael Brodesky, my partner in this rather unappealing
venture, had tackled the next pitch with a mixture of fear and determination,
balancing on tenuous placements which threatened to blow apart like land
mines as he weighted them. This steep section had been the crux of the day,
possibly the most difficult part of the route. Evening had found me a short
70 feet higher, drilling a bolt to back up anchors best suited to a museum:
Star-Drivyn "nail-and-sleeve" contraptions, relics of Layton Kor
and the first ascent. Ropes fixed, we descended.
On Monday morning we had aborted our planned alpine start when a weather
check revealed gathering storm clouds. The remainder of the day had been
flawlessly beautiful, as we played frustrated tourists in Moab.
Monday evening we had hiked back out to the base of the Finger of Fate,
our chosen route on the Titan, and bivied, with a 4 am start scheduled to
place us on the summit before noon.
Instead, here we were back down in the mud and rain at the base, with a
mere two additional pitches climbed. Disgusted, we packed the gear and started
the three-mile hike back to the car as the storm slackened, its furious
energy finally spent.
Evening, Day 3:
As the weather continues to clear throughout the remainder of the
day, we decide (over hot wings and suds at Eddie McStiff's Brewery in Moab)
to give the climb one more try. We reach the bivy site just as darkness
falls. Ten minutes later its hailing again. We're starting to think that
Utah doesn't like us.
Day 4, Wednesday: 4:30 a.m.
We're up and moving. (Not necessarily alive at this ungodly hour, but moving
nonetheless.) Michael will ascend the ropes first this morning, as he still
has the next pitch and a half for his assigned leads. After that, it's all
mine. At least the gradually-lightening sky shows some stars, and only a
few scattered clouds on the western horizon.
As Michael starts up the fixed line, I putter around the base, doing final
gear sorting, taking pictures, checking the weather. As I finally start
up the line, the sky is covered with a thin but scary layer of cloud.
Sprint-jug to the top of the gully. We're expecting to get dumped on any
second. Michael leads a short 5.8 chimney through bulging weirdness to a
flat ledge. The wind strengthens, threatens to tear us from the ridge.
"Sure you don't want to lead the A2 seam?"
"Michael, you've been whining about that pitch for days. I wouldn't
want to steal it from you. But I tell you what I'll lead the A2 seam if
you lead the 140-foot pitch up the exposed, overhanging summit arete, that
ends in the 4-inch offwidth. What say?"
Without another word, Michael grabs the rack and moves around the corner
to face his A2 seam.
There's little for me to do now except occasionally pay out a bit of rope,
worry about the weather, and try to stay out of the wind. Eventually "Off
Belay" bounces back to me from Echo Tower, and I begin to jug.
Following Michael's pitch, I am silently thankful that this beast fell to
him. It starts with a terrifying step out right from the ledge, across a
void with a thousand feet of air below, to a decomposing sloping shelf of
mud. A few bolts sprout from the rock, the same terrifying pieces of junk
that have accompanied us throughout this climb. The seam above looks desperate.
Flared, bottomed, boxed-out placements, including an incredible two-cam
placement that looks like it would barely support its own weight. Eventually,
the madness ends on the arete, where more prehistoric bolts lead up to the
Far to the southeast, we can see rain and snow falling in the La Sal Mountains.
At the changeover, I take on the ballast of a minimal rack including a #5
camalot. The overhanging ridge above looks long. I add our complete set
of Offset Friends to the rack. These beasts seem custom made for the bottomed,
flared horrors of the Titan.
No more excuses. "Got me?"
As the clouds thicken overhead, I grab bolts, free and french free my way
up the arete, scarcely noticing the incredible exposure of our position.
Soon I am at the base of the slightly overhanging offwidth penetrating the
Moenkopi cap rock of the Titan. Loose blocks clutter the entrance to the
offwidth. Mindful of Michael cowering below, I locate one last aid placement
to bypass the nightmares and throw an armbar into the maw of the Titan.
Dead end. The crack disappears. Above is a foot-wide ledge, then more climbing.
My last piece is a bit of 1/2" tat around the razor-sharp edge of an
ancient bolt hanger. Desperate for this madness to end, I carefully mantle
onto the ledge, and scrabble the last few feet to the belay.
I fix the rope, call down to Michael, then solo onward toward the summit,
trailing our erstwhile haul line over to the flat, desolate, hauntingly
isolated summit of the Titan.
As Michael arrives, we make a cursory search for a register, then begin
the rappels back through the exposed layers of sediment from an ancient
inland sea, our adventure on the Titan finally drawing to a close.