| Echo Tower: A Return to the Fishers
September 22-23, 2012
~4.2 Miles, ~2000 Gain (2 days)
TH: Fisher Towers Trailhead.
Phantom Sprint done in 6 pitches, 5.9 C2+ IV-V and that's Fisher Tower C2+!
“It is your standard Fisher Tower mange, with mandatory dirt clawing, slot wallowing, and general funkiness-a must for all manic-depressives and others with similar mental disorders.” - Duane Raleigh
I'll admit, this Tower wasn't a joke and it spanked all 3 of us and for me, really showed me how scary and hard Fisher Tower aid climbing can be. Jim Beyer, who we have decided is one sick MoFo, first ascended Phantom Sprint in February of 1986 solo in 19.5 hours. Climbing this route as a first ascent and solo is completely and utterly nuts. Moreover, the idea that this route was climbed free, climbed by Stevie Haston and Laurence Gouault in 1997 at 5.12+, is rather mind boggling.
Good thing we can aid, so we can summit a tower that frees at 5.12! The 21st was a long day since I started in Long Beach, California where I was finishing my bi-annual job training, flew to Denver, packed and made the drive to the Fisher Towers where I met Brian and Noah. Arriving somewhat late, I enjoyed a brew and we dirt-bagged in the parking lot.
Waking up, we sorted our gear and started hiking up the familiar Titan Tower Trail. Hiking up we passed Ancient Art and The Kingfisher en-route to the north side of Echo Tower. Walking to the base of the tower was sobering as it loomed over 500 feet vertically above us. Originally, we anticipated a 1 day ascent since we were able to climb The Kingfisher in under 7 hours car to car. How much harder could Echo be?
Noah with the 35-40 lb aid rack.
I volunteered to take the first pitch which traditionally is 190 feet. I hadn't been aid climbing since The Kingfisher, so my aid movements were a bit slow at first. The first pitch started with a 40 foot 5.4 chimney which would be trivial but with running shoes and a 30-40lb aid rack, it was rather strenuous and I was already breathing hard at the top of the chimney. Right after the chimney, I was confronted with some C2 aid climbing.
Since I haven't done C2 in the fishers, I was less than pleased with some of the placements in the muddy crack with the deck potential being high. My first 2 placements were offset cams which were life savers and after about 20-30 feet of C2 climbing I was rewarded with a wide off-width C1 crack. Normally, the route, being north facing, is in the shade but due to the perfect time of the day, I ended up doing much of this route in the sun which made the climbing hot since it was easily in the 80s. The heat was killing me and the screaming barfies were imminent.
Me leading the first pitch. Just finishing the C2 section. (Photo by Brian)
Nearing the end the end of pitch 1 in the sun. (Photo by Brian)
Being such lovely off-width, I couldn't get higher than 3 steps in my aiders due to the awkwardness and the crack was eating my larger gear fast. We packed 3 #4s and #5s and 2 #6s. Even with some back cleaning, the crack still ate 2 of my 4s and 5s. I reached an intermediate belay station and decided to break the traditional first pitch into two pitches. I fixed a rope for Brian who quickly jugged up to me and started the second pitch; we needed all of the large gear we could collect.
Looking down pitch 1.
The second pitch was continuing muddy OW crack with a C2 finish which Brian did eloquently. As Brian took over the lead, we both joked about the sounds my stomach was making. Noah stayed on the ground and enjoyed watching us wallow up the wall. Brian made great time up and finished pitch 2 where he fixed lines for both Noah and I. Near the top of the second pitch, and between crappy hotel food and the strenuous aid crack climbing, my stomach was not happy and I ended up throwing up. It wasn't much but Brian and Noah were not thrilled.
Brian leading pitch 2. (Photo by Noah)
Noah took the third pitch which looked amazing. A clean C1 crack that angled right then left with a muddy C2+ finish. Due to the time it took us to aid the first 3 pitches, we decided to fix lines and bail. It was unrealistic to finish the tower by dark. Time to drink some beers.
Noah leading pitch 3.
Noah leading pitch 3.
Looking down from the top of pitch 3. (Photo by Noah)
Noah finishing pitch 3.
Waking up much earlier, and without having to carry gear up the trail, we made good time back to the base of Echo where we started our 300 foot jug to the top of pitch 3. Brian took pitch 4 which was the aid crux (debatable). The top of pitch 3 was a lovely hanging belay which wasn't exactly designed for 3 people. Pitch 4 started as a clean (did I really say clean?) C1 crack to a C2+ tension traverse to another hanging belay.
Brian working his way up pitch 4.
Brian starting the tension traverse on pitch 4.
Cleaning that pitch was a bitch. The tension traverse finish was brutal to clean since I basically had to aid climb in reverse the last 3 pieces; I love the puzzle solving of aid climbing. Pitch 5 is where things got extremely interesting. Especially for me.
Noah jugging pitch 4.
Since Echo doesn't see that many ascents, the route beta for Phantom Sprint was hard to decipher. Pitch 5 was supposed to be some C2, mostly C1 with a free 5.9 OW crack. My turn to take the lead since I apparently enjoy off-width climbing. Let me make this clear, I hate OW climbing. How come I got the 5.9 OW pitch?
I started up pitch 5 and was able to get a #3 in a muddy crack. My next obstacle was working over a small roof about 15 feet above the belay station. The aid placements were less then good (C2+) but I was able to place a “bomber” offset nut. It looked good and I proceeded to step up my aider.
Being a small roof, I stepped into my 3rd step and putzed around placing another offset nut. This next nut was not going in well and certainly wasn't going to hold body weight. If I could just get a bit higher, I could get a better offset nut placement. I proceed to step up my aider and as my foot swung under the small roof the side force on the nut blew and that's when I went for one hell of a ride.
“UHHH *&*$,” echoed between The Kingfisher and The Titian as I was now below Noah and Brian. I had taken a 20 foot whipper 400 feet off the ground and the #3 in the muddy crack saved my ass. Unfortunately, I jammed my finger bad. Real bad. On my trip down, I had hit Brian in his hanging belay in the shoulder but he still managed to catch me and I somehow manged to dodge Noah. Thanks for the catch Brian, I owe you a beer.
“This is the crux climbing on the route and gets hard right off the belay. Don't fall - there is a lot to hit.” How ironic, I fall where the route description on Mountain Project suggests I don't fall. Scary. Brain and Noah were in complete shock. I was in no mental condition to jump back up and try to finish the pitch but I didn't want to bail off the tower despite my fall. Since I wasn't going to finish the lead, Brian and Noah debated on bailing or finishing the route. There was no way Brian was going to lead the pitch and I wasn't in any mental state to lead so Noah decided to grow some titanium and took over the lead despite my traumatizing fall.
Re-racking gear, Noah was on his way up the 5th pitch. He was much more careful about his C2+ placements as he worked his way through the roof. After about 10 minutes, I was fairly back to normal and even took over belaying Noah from Brian. I could tell Brian needed a mental break since any move, twitch or non-Sunday school word from Noah made him edgy.
Noah continued up on sustained C2 and made a short tension traverse at a large roof to the 5.9 off-width crack. Brian and I could tell Noah was excited about the OW. I knew I would certainly have been excited. With a sigh of relief, Noah had finished the pitch and the possibility of finishing the tower was becoming a reality.
Jugging pitch 5 looking back at Brian. This is about the same level as my fall. Super exposed.
Ancient Art from my jug on pitch 5.
Brian and I jugged up the pitch and Brian thoroughly enjoyed cleaning the ow crack, poor chap. I think his comments were along the lines of, “That is the worst jugging I have ever done.” The last 2 hanging belays welcome had worn off and the ledge at the top of pitch 5 was a relief. Only one short bolt ladder and a short free finish, and we would be on the summit.
Brian on, “This is the worst Jug I have ever done.”
As odd as this might sound, I wanted to take the final 8 bolt ladder lead. I started up the C0 bolt ladder where the first bolt was an original which I gladly backed up with a screamer. Only 2 of the 8 bolts were questionable. Working the aid was rough with my finger as it was beginning to swell and throb. Finally, I had reached the summit ridge and fixed the rope for Brian and Noah. We were now only 40 horizontal feet from the summit.
Me finishing pitch 6. (Photo by Noah)
Looking down on pitch 6.
Brian finishing the jug on pitch 6.
Once Brian and Noah were up, Noah took the 5.6 R lead to the summit. Carefully making his way towards the summit he did some moves up a step then walked a thin 8 inch wide ledge with extreme exposure on both sides to the summit. He fixed a line for us to use a roped hand-line. At last, we reached the summit and enjoyed the views of Castle Valley, The Titan and The Kingfisher. A tough but well earned summit.
Noah leading the 5.6 step.
Noah on the summit.
Summit ridge. (Photo by Noah)
Brian finishing the tower. (Photo by Noah)
Brian and Noah on the summit.
Summit ridge on Echo. (Photo by Noah)
We returned to the top of pitch 6 and did a short rappel back to the top of pitch 5. Since we were rappelling Iron Chef, we had no idea what to expect for bolts or stations. We started out with a double rope rappel to the first set of anchors for Iron Chef but switched to a single rope rappel for Noah who was last. After 3 more sets of rappels down Iron Chef we reached the base of the Echo Tower where we touched the ground just after sundown. It took us 2 full days to climb this tower. Extremely scary, hard, painful but yet so rewarding.
“The fear is the danger” - Steph Davis
Sunset view on our descent.
Typical Fisher placements. WTF is that chord attached to? Mud? (Photos by Noah, Brian and I)
Pitch 1: Star up a 5.4 chimney for 40 feet to a crack system on the north end of the tower. Aid up the crack C2 then to wide C1 crack to a bolt/piton anchor on a small ledge (90 feet)
Pitch 2: Continue up a wide crack C1 with a muddy C2 finish to a small bolted ledge. (100 feet)
Pitch 3: Money pitch. Follow the crack up, right, then back left to a bolted hanging belay. Starts muddy ends muddy but clean in the middle. C2 in mud C1 in clean crack. (100 feet)
Pitch 4: Climb good clean crack (C1) for about 60 feet then tension traverse in a cobble stone/mud layer (C2+) to a wide crack. Climb up the angling left wide crack which eats up #5s and requires a #6 (C1), lower, then tension traverse to another bolted hanging belay. (90 feet)
Pitch 5: Climb up through a roof then up a muddy crack to a large roof (C2+). Tension traverse right to a 5.9 off width crack. Free climb or French free the ow crack where the last 10 feet are unprotected. Belay at bolts. (90 feet)
Pitch 6: 8 bolt ladder. Bolt 1 and 4 are originals. The first bolt can be backed up with a #6 in a large crack to the left. C0 (50 feet)
Summit: Climb a short 5.6 step and walk 20 feet on a narrow ledge to the summit. (40 feet)
Rappel 1: (1 rope) From the bolts at the top of pitch 6, rappel to the top of pitch 5 (~50 feet).
Rappel 2: (1 rope) Rappel from the top of pitch 5 down the OW crack look climbers right for bolts on Iron Chef. Do NOT do this as 2 ropes as the knot will get eaten by the crack (~80 feet).
Rappel 3: (1-2 ropes) Rappel down Iron Chef and look for bolts hidden under a saucer ledge on a ledge. (~80-110 feet?)
Rappel 4: (2 ropes) Rappel to another bolted anchor at the top of a wide right wall (~170 feet). Make sure the rope is far climbers left for the pull as there is another knot eating crack.
Rappel 5: (2 ropes) Ground Rap (~140 feet)
2 #6, 3 #5, 3 #4, 4 #3, 4 #2, 4 #1, 2 #.75-.4 double set of TCUs, 1 full set of offset cams, 1 set of nuts, 1 set of offset nuts. Fish hook helpful on pitch 4. Screamers and 15+ runners. 2 60 M ropes
Did not use Tri-Cams or ball nuts.
Echo Tower topo.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):