Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Titan: Day One

Years ago, I bailed near the top of the Titan, the tallest of Utah's Fisher Towers, as darkness loomed with a couple of easy pitches still to go on the Finger of Fate route. So, when Steve Levin said he was interested in doing the Sundevil Chimney on the Titan's steep southern prow, I jumped at another chance to tick the tower. It took a couple of weeks for our schedules and the weather to line up, but on Wednesday night we drove out to Moab. It was pouring rain the next morning as we headed out along the River Road, and the Fishers and the Castleton group were looking Patagonian. But all we had to do was fix a pitch or two, and the bottom of the route is so steep we thought it might be dry. Partway through the approach hike, the sky cleared briefly, lighting up the Sundevil route above us, a foreshortened view that makes it look much shorter than its seven pitches and 800 vertical feet. By the time Steve started up the first pitch, it was cloudy and spitting rain again, but we were sheltered from the wind.

The first pitch is the route's crux aid lead, and we were trying to do the climb hammerless, so Steve had some interesting moves off ball nuts, RPs and Aliens in pin scars, plus a few hook moves.The pitch is steep but generally very clean. Even so, it's hard to imagine Stevie Haston free climbing this, as he did in 2002, at 5.13a. And this is one of the route's cleanest pitches. Higher up, the climbing is much grungier, and many of the free moves must require stacking fingers in pin scars. We agreed that while Haston showed enormous skill and tenacity in freeing the climb, it will never be classic as a free climb. It just doesn't look like much fun—definitely not one of those routes that makes me think, "I wish I could climb 5.13 so I could do this!"

As Steve pulled on his big parka for frigid belay duty at the hanging stance, I sorted the rack and checked out the second pitch. After the marathon first lead, we were hoping to move a little quicker, and fortunately the crack opens up and allows easy, clean aid climbing. Nothing tricky here: Step high in the aiders, hand jam or finger stack for balance, reach high and plug a cam or big nut for the next move. Before long I was at the second belay, admiring the assortment of fixed gear and peering around the corner into the muddy chimneys that make up the next two pitches and give the route much of its great character. We fixed the lead rope, swung back to the first belay, and slid down to the ground, happy to have done what we needed on a crappy weather day. It seemed like we had made great progress, but when we walked back from the tower to rejoin the trail we could see that our ropes extended barely a third of the way up the prow. Tomorrow would have to be a big day!

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