Green River Trip 2009
A story by Rob Pizem
Most of the time when you are preparing for a climbing trip, you are pouring over guide books, looking at photos and talking to everyone that you know about what climbs you should try when you get there. The green river trip that I just returned from was just the opposite. There were no recorded ascents (just rumors), there were no developed areas (just miles of cliff line), and you needed a boat or 4x4 to access everything.
I was on the road during my fall break from teaching with a couple friends to begin a real adventure, which (as usual) Andrew Burr concocted a while back. We were going to canoe down the green river just north of Canyonlands National Park to try to climb the Green River Towers and anything else that looked good.
The first three days were hot and we used the canoes to access a cliff line over the river called the Willow quadrangle. We found two old uranium adits, a bunch of old relic mining equipment, some petrified wood, ripple marks and of course a few gem crack climbs. Andy took photos while we had the pleasure of climbing, cleaning and bolting these new lines. It was great fun using the spotting scope to identify a possible crack climb and then to paddle over, scramble up the talus over the green river to check it out and hopefully get lucky.
Closer to camp, also during those first three days, we headed up to a buttress of stone past yet another old uranium mine that we called the Riverbend Buttress. It yielded four new crack climbs each of which were first climbed by all four of us. The Riverbend Buttress requires plenty of big cams; like 2 number sixes up to 4 number fives and 4 number four cams along with all the smaller cam sizes. I will have to say that my Arcteryx clothing and harness really held up well while I was grinding it out on desert offwidth crack climbing.
After we took care of the plumb lines at Riverbend we decided it was time to load up the canoes and head on down stream to the green river towers. We each knew that we could have stayed and developed new cracks for the rest of the trip but the towers were the real objective. None of us were very skilled at canoeing but after a few minutes of going the wrong direction on the river, we managed to keep the boats pointed downstream and quickly had the towers within view.
They rose from the opposite side of the river into 6 unique and different summits. We had hoped to climb each of them and dreamed of perfect splitters heading to each oddly shaped peak. Once we paddled closer, we found a sand bar to set up camp on and gaze at the new terrain. All that was left was to paddle across the 200 feet of water and hike up the hillside and talus. Since we arrived in the evening, we were able to watch the sunset on the towers and to our surprise we saw a set of anchors and even a bolt glistening in the waning daylight. Someone else had climbed these beautiful towers. That was fine with us; we could leave the drill at camp!
That next morning we filled our packs with all the gear we could and headed up to the towers. Only after chopping a trail through the bushes and trees for a half hour did we get to begin our approach. As we neared the towers, we easily saw that the cracks that looked small and thin from camp turn into offwidth test pieces. We were in for some work up the wide stuff. Nearly every summit was to be obtained only after muscling our way up wide cracks. The end of the trip certainly proved that as my elbow and knees were scabbed and bloody from the past two days on the towers.
Each of the 4 summits that we ascended was hard fought and rewarding. The first tower was a long 200 foot pitch that required a couple of 4, 5, and 6 inch pieces. The next required some hard wear and nailing to get through an aid section on pitch two. After getting some proper protection in the crack, (a few pins) we freed the pitch and climbed crumbly last pitch to the summit high over the river. We could watch the other river users paddle and motor down stream in the early fall heat of the desert.
The last two towers were freed with a lot more offwidth techniques and a never give up attitude. All the while a wind storm came through the valley and destroyed Andy’s tent poles and sent out tent blowing to the rivers edge. That nights wind provided us with a lot of sand on the menu. The final tower had a rack of 2 six inch cams, 4 five inch cams, 4 four inch cams and 2 three inch cams and 2 one inch cams. A monster pitch took us to the saddle of the tower, which was then followed by a second pitch crescent moon shaped chimney with an arête exit to the summit on hollow face holds. As the wind blew and the ground dropped out below us and the sun set, the satisfaction of good friends, good climbing and adventure set in before we had to paddle downstream to the take out. Thanks to my sponsors for making this trip happen: Arcteryx, Scarpa, Camp-USA and Sterling Ropes.