EMPLOYEE FAVORITES: Andreas Schmidt, Tippin' the Bottle (5.11), San Rafael Swell, UT
Here at Black Diamond, the inspiration to innovate is driven from within. When we’re not at the office, our dedicated crew of employees is out cranking at the crags, putting in miles on the trails and questing around the mountains in search of untracked descents. In this new series of posts on the Black Diamond Journal, we’ll be highlighting some of our employee’s favorite rock and ice climbs, ski descents and trail routes. This month's Employee Favorite comes from Andreas Schmidt, who holds it down in the marketing department as one of our talented graphic designers.
Tippin' The Bottle (5.11), Bottleneck Peak, San Rafael Swell, UT
The San Rafael Swell is a vast expanse of desert wildness that is generally off the radar of most Moab-bound desert climbers. But because of its proximity to Salt Lake City and miles of Wingate sandstone cliffs, it's a favorite for a quick, secluded desert fix. While the Dylan Wall and Pine Creek canyon offer pitches rivaling those of the Creek, countless obscure towers of desert choss await the more adventurous.
My wife, Kasi, and I been cragging in Buckhorn Wash quite a bit and couldn't help noticing Bottleneck Peak, with its classic desert tower silhouette, across the river. Last November, we finally ditched the single-pitch desert cragging mentality and headed up the tower's cone to check out the supposedly classic 3-pitch 5.11 on its north face: Tippin' the Bottle, put up by Mike Pennings and the late Doug Hall in November of 1993, in their typically impeccable style with no fixed gear. Since we couldn't find a trail, we took the straight shot from the road, thrashing up loose scree and sketching through the chossy band of Chinle sandstone that guards most towers. As is usually the case, we discovered a faint trail on the way down that wraps around to the northwest, avoiding this nastiness.
As we reached the base of the route, which follows the largest, cleanest dihedral system on the far left side of the North face, I was filled with trepidation. Unlike most tower routes I had climbed, Tippin' the Bottle lacks fixed anchors, and being fairly obscure, was likely to have a fair share of loose rock. Luckily the first couple pitches that you can see from the ground follow awesome-looking varnished rock, so after Kasi gave me a pep talk about how I usually onsight this kind of shit for breakfast, I was lured up the easy, broken corner that starts the route. Soon, some crazy stemming and laybacking past a flaring 5.11 roof crack got me into the striking "Banana Splitter," a thin, right-arching hand crack that is easier than it looks. Belaying below an overhanging V-slot and corner filled me with further trepidation. Strenuous, bizarre moves out the steep slot got me to the crux of the route, an overhanging, hand-to-fingers corner. Luckily, even though it's way steeper than your average desert corner, it also has some great rests, making it less of an enduro problem than your typical desert 11+. As I topped out this spectacular pitch, I failed to flip my rope out of the crack, and the drag of the rope running against my gear forced a sub-optimal belay below a nice ledge.
The next pitch looked horrendous, but since there are no fixed anchors on this route, the way to go is... up. We assessed the next obstacle: a 10-foot roof split by an offwidth. Even getting up to this obvious challenge was hard. A sandy corner protected by a questionable C3 that blocks the only fingerlock. And the roof, well, once I spelunked up the inside of the crack and got in a good #4 I felt a bit better. A fortuitous handrail hidden inside the crack got me to the lip of the roof, where offwidth liebacking got me into a thankful fist crack. Easier but still wide liebacking led to the final, loose chimney. The beta was that I would want some big cams on this next bit, so I set up an awkward belay and brought Kasi up. The bummer about this maneuver was that Kasi's belay would be right in the firing line of anything I trundled. Re-armed with #3 and #4 Camalots, I DELICATELY picked my way up the overhanging chimney, collecting a few portable holds along the way and making sure that I sent them far enough away from the wall to miss Kasi. Although this section is only 5.9, its loose and overhanging nature made me glad I had the wide gear. Finally we topped out in the sun, and a loose scramble got us up to the summit.
After enjoying the awesome views of the San Rafael river basin, we carefully made our way down to an anchor at the top of the last pitch. The rap route follows the line of the tower's first ascent, first climbed solo by Jim Langdon in 1973. Langdon's anchors are pretty interesting: sawed-off sections of shelving units, secured with sketchy Star-Drive anchors and finished off with some "rap rings" that looks like they were made out of coat hangers. Luckily there is a bomber new bolt backing up each of these interesting museum pieces.
The classic towers of Castle Valley might offer a more sanitized and consistent climbing experience, but if you are looking for an adventuresome, classic tower off the beaten path, check out Bottleneck Peak. The first two pitches are classic, varied desert climbing on great rock. The last pitch is... interesting, challenging and certainly memorable. Overall, the climbing is sustained, superb and will only improve with further traffic. Being in the heart of the amazing San Rafael Swell adds to the ambience and commitment, even though the approach is shorter than most tower climbs.
You can approach the area from the north via Buckhorn Wash, or from I-70, taking ranch exit 129; both approaches are generally manageable in a 2WD vehicle. Park about a mile south of the San Rafael River crossing, where a broad wash leads toward the northeast flank of Bottleneck peak. Hike around the north side of the peak until you can head up a dirt rib, which leads to an area where the Chinle band is smaller and relatively solid. Continue back east to the base of the route, which is easily identified by the distinctive "Banana Splitter" about 50 feet up.
Bring a double set of Camalots and C3's up to a #4, with a few extra finger sizes (1 & 2 C3s, .3 C4). A third #3 and #4 Camalot probably wouldn't go unused on the last pitch if you wanted to string it out. Two 60m ropes.