I love being on the road. What I love most about it is that #vanlife means I am not keeping a schedule; I have the capacity for spontaneity, and it’s this spontaneity that turns serendipitous encounters into open-ended adventures. Case in point: a Facebook message from Paul Gagner on a random Thursday in April, inviting me to come climbing (and by that I really mean hump loads and shoot the breeze) with him and his climbing partner Jeremy in the Mystery Towers the following weekend. Here’s the fun part: I don’t know Paul. Well, I do, I ran into him once while soloing the Flatirons in Boulder, and I’ve seen him pop up on my Facebook timeline a few times since. But I really have no idea who he is other than that he likes to put up ridiculously hard, bold aid lines. So of course when he suggests that I come hang out in the Mystery Towers while he and Jeremy scope a new route, I don’t think twice. The instructions are simple: “Bring beer and a big pack.”
In the days leading up to the outing I read up on the Mystery Towers a bit more. The laconic final paragraph of the area’s Mountain Project description maybe should have warned me: Expect mud or dry mud, advanced and innovative aid, including but not limited to: bat hooks, ring angle claws, beaks and peckers, fishhooks, bugaboos, warthogs, ice axe tosses, dwarf tosses, and general lassoing skills. Enjoy! I chuckle as I read through the beta and think to myself those timeless, famous last words: “How bad can it be…”
A few days later I am sitting on one of Eddie the Van's rails at the Fisher Towers Parking lot, a PBR cracked open, monitoring the approaching cloud of dust that marks Paul’s arrival. The campground is full, the weather forecast looks dismal, Jeremy won’t be showing up for at least another 24 hours, and Paul announces that the objective he wants to go after is a formation called Gothic Nightmare; he thinks that there’s new route potential there. For reference, the Mountain Project description of Gothic Nightmare reads …from the south it looks like a long haired hippie who stuck their finger in a light socket and from the west it looks like a bad, bad tower.
Turns out that not only the climbing is dicey; the approach is a bit on the tricky side as well, particularly if you decide to ignore the obvious trail and instead scramble up the decomposing, steep and exposed flanks of the wash that leads into the Mysteries; or if you stubbornly complete a - beer - supply run through flash flood territory in the middle of a rather substantial downpour (thankfully both beer and porter completed the journey mostly unharmed).
In the end, the weekend comes together as a grand adventure with lots of laughter, improbable placements and new friendships - as well as wonderful inspiration for my own aid and big wall ambitions. Lessons learned:
- Caked mud is an actual thing. It can be climbed.
- You can never carry in enough beer. You might assume a supply of two thirty packs for 36hrs is enough for three people, but really - think again.
- If you stash supplies because you keep returning to the same project over and over for a number of months, your cache may get looted in-sesason. If you stash supplies and forget about them, they’ll likely still be there seven (!!) years later… nice work, Jeremy.
- Fireworks are essential equipment any time you’re sleeping on the wall.
- You may think ice axe tosses are a joke; they’re not. If you don’t believe me, get your hands on a copy of Eric Bjornstad’s Desert Rock III and take a look at the beta for Wondermonger VI 5.9R A3 on Atlas. The jury is still out on dwarf tosses.
- Don’t trust any Paul Gagner route that’s said to go at A1+ 5.9+.
- Bounce-testing is so last year. Just ease onto it.
No rock was harmed in the making of this climb, as Paul and Jeremy didn’t like thediscontinuity of features on their potential new lines and instead decided to repeat a 650ft A4 route called Nightmare on Onion Creek. As for myself… I went from the Mysteries straight to Zion to try my hands at a bit of ultra-classic C2 5.7 big wall soloing, decided that bounce-testing was overrated, and promptly went for a massive ride a few hundred feet off the deck that sent me back to Moab with my tail between my legs to rest up for another go at the route. Aid climbers sure know how to have fun!