The Tallest Desert Tower Ever and Changing Plans

This last weekend I went to the Fischer Towers in Moab. A climbing club I belong to was going to aid the Titan, the largest desert tower in North America. The route we were working was The Finger of Fate, the longest desert route in the country.

Since I was a kid, I have been fascinated by the looming monstrosities of the Utah desert, their brilliant red hue and unutterable size. Hiking to the Titan was like walking through a field of stone giants. We arrived in the parking lot at night and walked past legendary towers like the Cobra and the King, each looking eerily like their namesake in the light of a full moon. After about an hour of hiking we rounded the corner of a tower called Echo and glimpsed the Titan in all of its size and majesty.

The Titan looks like a massive Greek god. It could very well be holding up the sky itself. From a distance it looks like it is made of solid red rock, but as you get closer you see that the stone is more or less mud crumbling under its own weight. Up close it is a huge, hideous monster of a climb. We were going to aid climb it.

Aid climbing is different from the style of climbing you might imagine. Climbing using your hands and feet is known as free climbing, even if there is a rope involved. Climbing with the help of gear like pitons and ladder-like things called aiders is known as aiding. We were trying to do the Titan clean, meaning we were not going to hammer in any pitons. Instead we were going to use nuts and cams, hang the aiders from those, and climb our way to the top of the 900 ft route.

We slept that night under the clearest sky I have seen in a long time. The massive moon radiated in the sky. It looked like dawn all night. The glow around the moon hung all night like a massive halo above the field of stone beasts. It was sublimely beautiful.  It was also sublimely cold. I didn’t have gear that was even close to warm enough for the situation, and I shivered all night long.

The next morning at 7:00am the climbing began. The club organizer had divided us into pairs and sent us to various pitches on the climb to begin climbing. With the help of a rope ascender we departed and started on the climb. This meant that someone was always above, raining down rocks and dirt like an incessant drizzle. We aided pitch three.

Aiding is a lot like hauling 40 pounds of stuff up a mountain. A seemingly endless strew of gear hangs from your shoulders as you climb. The aiders are effectively seven rung ladders that hang from your waist at all times. Sometimes you use them to stand, but most of the time you just snag them on things. On top of all of the gear that you need to have to climb, the desert is freezing at this time of year, so you also need to bring winter clothes, gloves, hand warmers, food, and water up the mountain with you. By the time I reached the third pitch, maybe 200 ft above the ground, I felt as if I had hauled an aisle from both the grocery and a mountaineering store with me.

We aided the pitch, one of the hardest on the route, and then got caught in a line of climbers that had piled up. There were maybe 10 people above us on the route. Rocks were falling and everything was crowded. Several fixed lines tangled their way up and down the cliff face.

I looked at the mess of gear, rope, and food that ensnared me and wondered how much my life is like this. I had hauled 70 pounds worth of stuff into the desert and taken most of that nearly 400 feet up a desert tower. Had I expected this to be fun?

I suppose I had expected this to be fun. I had taken off work, driven close to 4 hours, then hauled a 70 pound bag along a 2 hour hike so I could do this. Now I was shivering, cold, and bleeding from raw knuckles. My shoulders already had rashes from the rubbing gear.

Though I had planned to stay at the Titan an extra day, I did something that I really didn’t want to do. I lowered down. I took my 70 pound bag, made a 2 hour hike, then started the nearly 4 hour drive home to spend the rest of the weekend with my wife.

I think sometimes in life we start collecting stuff: habits, obligations, hobbies, jobs. We pile them up on our backs, hang them from our shoulders and waits, balance them on our heads. We walk around with them and feel the stress and strain of the weight. Some of the stuff is bad, but I’d say a lot of it is useful and good. It’s just that we take on so much that our lives often become as heavy and tangled as an aid climber’s gear.  Sometimes it doesn’t occur to us that we can put these things down.

A lot of stuff we can just put down. A lot of stuff we can only shed with the help of Jesus. I know that he’s made it possible for me to put down a tangled mess of stuff I thought I would never be rid of.

Sometimes we feel obligated to carry out a plan or fulfill a goal. We planned on doing something, so we’re going to do it. Often we’ll persist in these things long after we discover their not what we want anymore. These things are made for us; we are not made for them. In my mind, there is no shame in changing plans.

Our lives don’t have to be burdened and heavy. They’re meant to be enjoyed. We don’t have to be so committed to a plan or a goal we have for life or the weekend that we wear ourselves out hauling stuff around. Don’t be too proud to make a change. Don’t forget God wants to help.  [fancygallery id='photos-brandon']

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