Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Fisher Towers Hike

Ancient Art and Stolen Chimney - Look closely for the climbers!
Before the heat of summer renders it too miserable, I want to try to hike as many of the nearby desert trails as possible. Scout and I were thwarted in our attempt to hike the Negro Bill Canyon trail near Moab back in March and ended up hiking the Poison Spider trail instead. So when I emailed my friend John Sasso to see if he would be interested in taking a hike this past Saturday, I was thinking Negro Bill. But John emailed me back to say there was too much poison ivy along the trail and that he knew about it from painful personal experience. I checked DiscoverMoab.com and came up with two alternatives, Fisher Towers or Corona Arch. Of course, John had already hiked both, and in the case of Fisher Towers, he had actually climbed the Titan tower. I have driven Highway 128, which is the scenic way to Moab from I-70, and passed Fisher Towers many times but never stopped to get a closer look. This would be a good opportunity.

The Cobra, with Ancient Art and Stolen Chimney in the background
Scout and I picked John up at the crack of 9:45 and headed west out of Grand Junction. John had suggested that we get some lunch at the Hogi Yogi in Moab, and I misunderstood him to mean that we would do this after the hike, not before. When I said so, he said that I should stop at one of the truck stops so he could pick up a sandwich, but the closest one was at the Highway 191 exit, which is the non-scenic way to Moab. I had eaten a big breakfast before picking him up, so a nasty truck-stop sandwich was the last thing I wanted. We reached a compromise and drove all the way in to Moab, only to find that the Hogi Yogi, which has been in operation at least since Nan and I started going to Moab in 1992, is now the Cabo Grill. In disappointment, John and I continued south and turned in at a... truck stop. But it turned out to be a truck stop that offered huge custom-made sandwiches, at great prices, while you waited. Who knew?

The Titan - John Sasso bivouacked at the base of the gendarme 'thumb' when he climbed it
We reversed course and took the turn onto Highway 128 at the north edge of town. We passed Negro Bill Canyon, and I was happy we weren't hiking it that day because the parking lot at the trailhead was full and people were parking along the highway. Pedestrians were taking their chances crossing the highway, and I could just imagine what a nightmare the trail would be. We continued until we reached a turn-off for Fisher Valley and Onion Creek, which we quickly discovered was wrong when we reached a stream crossing. I hadn't printed out the directions to the trailhead because I figured John knew where we were going, but he was a little fuzzy on exactly how to get there. Back on the highway, we reached another turn-off just a few hundred yards farther up, and John announced that we were on the right track. We parked in a spot right at the trailhead, and John ate his sandwich in the shade of a juniper tree while Scout and I got organized for the hike.

Scout's ears flying in the wind - Note his summer puppy cut and the Titan sign
It was hang-on-to-your-hat windy, which helped to keep it somewhat cool considering our nearly 1:00 starting time. I heard voices on the wind and looked around to see where they were coming from. I craned my neck and looked straight up to see climbers on a familiar-looking rock formation. I asked John if it was the one from the Citi TV commercial, featuring climbers Katie Brown and Alex Honnold, and he said that of course it was; he had already told me all about it on the drive. That's news to me, I thought, but what a sight! The trail angled around the formation, called Ancient Art, giving us a better perspective of the climbers and the Stolen Chimney route they had climbed to reach the final pitch featured in the TV commercial.

Along the climber's trail below Ancient Art, there were a few dramatic-looking hoodoos. According to John, the one with the thinnest neck is called The Cobra and it has been climbed successfully. To look at it, you would think anyone putting their weight on it would snap the top of it right off.

'Now what?!' - Scout at the top of the Fisher Towers ladder
The trail rounded a windy corner with excellent views of the Titan tower and proceeded onto a narrow ledge below sheer walls of converging sandstone. The trail abruptly ended at a metal ladder leading down several rungs to where the trail began again. There was no way Scout was going to climb down a ladder. John went down to look for an alternative route farther up into the notch formed by the converging walls. A minute later, he popped out on the sandstone above us and said he thought Scout could make it down the way he had come up. Scout and I followed him back to where a five-foot drop led through a narrow slot to the bottom of the ladder. John went down first and I followed, but when I whistled Scout to come, he realized that I intended to hoist him down and he backed out of reach. The more I coaxed him, the farther he backed away. I could have had John climb up and get behind Scout to herd him to me, but we decided against it and turned around instead. Maybe next time.

Trail looping around canyon notch, with Castle Rock and The Rectory in the distance
As we passed Ancient Art again on our return, we heard whooping from other hikers on the trail. One of the climbers had just stood up on the tiny summit, like Katie Brown in the dizzying final moments of the TV commercial. We just missed seeing it, but I felt I already had an idea of what it would be like.

No comments: