Utah is home to many things: sweltering deserts, beautiful National Parks, winding slot canyons, rivers and lakes, epic trails, snow covered peaks, and bustling towns. All of those things and more drew me to the state when I first visited in 2016, but what beckoned me back in 2018 was one thing and one thing only: the climbing.
Sure, when my friends and I went to Utah in March we had a lot of exciting adventures in mind, but climbing always remained front and center. I mean what can you expect when you pack two rock gym employees and their diehard climbing significant others into a car and send them out west?
We only had 10 days total for the trip and unfortunate spring showers forced us to make a lot of major changes to our master plan, but we still managed to do a few spectacular climbs in Moab.
We kicked things off at Potash Road. This popular spot outside of Moab is the epitome of what Utah’s slogan “Life Elevated” means to me. We pulled into a BLM campsite along Potash Road late at night, and when I woke up in the morning I was shocked to see towering red walls right behind our tent. Sights like that are stronger than a cup of coffee in the morning.
From the campsite we hopped into John’s trusty Subaru and turned onto Potash Road. Within minutes of driving we saw beat up cars and raggedy vans parked on the side of the road and climbers sprawled along the wall.
We managed to find our own pull off and set up camp by the wall. Potash Road is unlike any climbing I’ve ever done before because when you step out of your car you’re stepping onto the crag. The accessibility of it all was such a culture shock, and it further drove home the idea that Utah is the best state in the US. We were truly living life elevated.
We were only able to do one climb due to the popularity of the area, but it was a classic route and a great taste of climbing in Potash.
We were literally climbing and belaying right next to the road. It wasn’t uncommon for cars to slow down and watch us move up the route, honking and waving at us while they snapped pictures.
I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: Potash road was truly unlike any other sport climbing experience I’ve ever had.
Arches National Park
When we finished climbing at Potash Road we jumped back into the car and drove to Arches National Park to scope out the climbing there. Within 15 minutes we were pulling into the park. Fricken Utah, man.
My friends and I weren’t expecting to climb anything at Arches that day but we were pleasantly surprised with how easy it was to get a climbing permit. All we had to do was fill out a form at the visitor center.
Since the more popular tower had a line of people waiting to climb it we opted for the lesser known Bullwinkle Tower. The tower is only 50 feet tall but it sits on top of a large boulder that calls for a strange scramble/hike to get up it. From there the climbing was super easy with a fun chimney section at the end.
Sitting on top of Bullwinkle Tower was way scarier than the climb because we were all perched on wobbly rocks. The view was definitely worth it though.
When we came back to Arches National Park the next day we weren’t messing around. As soon as the sun came up in the morning we were in the car driving to Owl Rock, the most popular tower in the park. When we got to the tower a couple of climbers were on the second pitch, and they finished soon after we made the approach to the tower. When they left it was just the four of us.
Owl Rock is another relatively easy tower, although with my minimal crack experience the second pitch was a bit tricky. The original plan was for John to trad lead all of the pitches and then belay me up so the two of us could hang out at the top before I went down. When I got on the ground Noah would have a turn at climbing the tower and when he got down Brooke would go up.
Once I got up to the top though I didn’t want to come down.
Unlike Bullwinkle Tower, Owl Rock has a large and sturdy ledge at the top. When I finished my climb and was anchored next to John I had an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment that I didn’t feel after Bullwinkle. The landscape of Arches National Park was stretched out before us as if on display, and the only sound was the wind. As I soaked in the sun 100 feet off the ground I felt so peaceful and at ease. Going down simply didn’t seem like an option.
So instead of sitting on the ledge in pairs, we decided to try and fit all four of us on top. And man oh man am I glad we did that. It was incredible hanging out on top of a tower in a National Park with my friends.
I know that’s not the most attractive picture (we were staring straight into the sun, okay?) but I love it so much.
I spent what felt like forever on top of Owl Rock, but by the time all of us were anchored at the top other groups were pulling into the parking lot which meant it was time to come down. When we got to the base of the tower we packed up our things and dedicated the rest of the day to hiking and exploring the park before saying good bye to Moab.
We didn’t know it then, but as we drove farther west that night we were driving away from our only opportunity to climb in Utah; the rain and snow in Zion National Park and St. George forced us to focus on hiking instead of climbing. But that’s okay. The hikes we did were absolutely stunning, and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for a few extra climbs. Besides, I know I’ll be back to Utah one day, and when I return I’ll climb until my fingers bleed.
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