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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Tower Lust

Do you have Tower Lust? Not the craving to climb desert towers—lots of us have that. I'm talking about Tower Lust, possibly the first guide to desert climbs.

It's hard to believe now, given the hordes that flock to Moab each spring and fall, but back in the day no guidebook existed to the desert climbing of Indian Creek, Castle Valley, and Canyonlands. Eric Bjornstad's original Desert Rock wasn't published until 1988. (The first edition is listed for $200 at Chessler Books, by the way.) Right around the same time came Ken Trout's mini-guide and stellar topos in Rock & Ice (No. 23, I believe, the same issue that had Charlie Fowler's seminal guide to Colorado ice climbs—that was a keeper! Naturally, I can't find my copy. But I digress...). Before these guides came Tower Lust, a collection of hand-drawn topos assembled sometime around 1986 or 1987 by Taras Skibicky and copied for friends. Taras and his wife, Anne Leibold, were some of the most active and talented desert climbers of the 1980s. I don't know exactly when Taras put together Tower Lust (the most recent topos are dated 1986, and I must have got my copy in 1987), nor do I know if it continued to grow until more formal guidebooks were published and made Taras' work unnecessary. I haven't seen him in ages. My copy of Tower Lust is 29 pages, and most of the great classics are in there: Castleton, Fine Jade, Primrose Dihedrals, North Sixshooter. The guide lists only eight routes at Supercrack Buttress (now there are at least two dozen). It also includes Taras and Anne's striking route on Bridger Jack, Powders of Persuasion, which was temporarily renamed through a typo in the Bjornstad guide and became Ponders of Persuasion.

I feel very lucky to have climbed in the Canyonlands in those days, when information was scarce and every climb seemed like a huge adventure. (And I arrived after the really adventurous era. From the 1960s through the early ’80s, before cams were widely available, climbing sandy, parallel-sided cracks was downright dangerous as well as strenuous and scary.) Less than 20 years ago, chain motels had not taken over Moab; half the storefronts on Main Street were boarded up all winter. It was still rare to encounter another climber at Castleton Tower or Supercrack Buttress. You didn't have to specify which brand of cam you were describing when you said a climb needed six No. 2 cams—Friends were the only units available. Climbing in the desert is still great, but it just isn't the same.

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