Washer Woman, In Search of Suds (III, 5.10+ C0 or 5.11-, 5-6P)

November 13-15, 2012

Dirk and I drove a long ways out on the White Rim Trail to climb a wacky, semi-remote tower called Washer Woman (3 hrs of dirt road driving in a high clearance, 4WD truck). The drive was beautiful and the climbing was great and in a spectacular setting. Dirk managed to lead the 5.11- final pitch clean while I yarded on a few bolts to get through. The summit register had some very interesting entries with some famous climbers signing in. Finishing with a rappel through the arch in the tower was a unique way to end a desert climb.

November 13-14 - The Long Drive In

Night skies over the Shafer Canyon campsite. Can you see Orion?
Shafer Canyon campsite.
Sunrise at the Shafer Canyon campsite, looking up the canyon we will be driving through today.
United Nations Tablet (by Dirk Summers)
White Rim Trail views of the Colorado River.
White Rim Trail views of the Colorado River.
Chip & Dale Towers (by Dirk Summers)
White Rim Trail views.
White Rim Trail views of the La Sal Mountains. (by Dirk Summers).
Bighorn sheep on the White Rim Trail. (by Dirk Summers)
Bighorn sheep on the White Rim Trail. (by Dirk Summers)
Miniature Ancient Art.
Chip & Dale towers.
Chip & Dale towers. (by Dirk Summers)

At last, after several hours of slow dirt road driving, we caught our first glimpse of Washer Woman.

Washer Woman seen from the East, along the White Rim Trail. (by Dirk Summers)
Islet in the Sky & Blocktop Tower, seen from the East.
Mesa Arch. (by Dirk Summers)

At least we reached the turn in the road where one parks to approach Washer Woman and Monster Tower. Unfortunately it took us longer than expected to make the drive out here, and the days were very short this time of year, so we decided to relax, hike around, and head up to the tower early the next morning.

Sand Castle Tower, Washer Woman, & Monster Tower seen from the SW.

So after some lounging we headed up a river wash and ridge to the south to get some nice views of the formations. It was nice being back in this area, as I had mountain biked out to this very spot when I was in high school. Although I had no idea what these formations were, looking back through old photos I found that I had indeed photographed Washer Woman some 12 years ago.
As we headed up the ridge, Dirk and admired some of the interesting rock features in the area, like the sandstone imprints of riverbed textures.

Sandstone water imprints. (by Dirk Summers)
Sandstone water imprints.
Sandstone scallops.
Islet in the Sky & Blocktop Tower, seen from the East. (by Dirk Summers)
Sand Castle Tower, Washer Woman, & Monster Tower seen from the West.
Washer Woman seen from the West.

In Search of Suds, the aim for the next day, ascends the thin slanting dark line on the right side of the formation. In fact, one of the pitches goes right trough the tiny triangular arch.
Unfortunately the cold had sapped the remaining battery power from my camera, and I had left my spare back at the car, so I missed out on some of the best shots of the day. Fortunately Dirk also has an eye for photography.

Washer Woman & Monster Tower from the West. (by Dirk Summers)
Washer Woman from the West. (by Dirk Summers)
Monster Tower from the West. I had wanted to take this shot, but my camera was out of batteries. So I'm at least taking credit for the idea :-) (by Dirk Summers)
Sunset silhouette of Islet in the Sky and Blocktop Tower. (by Dirk Summers)

We made it back to the truck just before dark, and enjoyed dinner and beer as the sun set and I played around with taking some night shots.

Sand Castle Tower, Washer Woman, & Monster Tower seen from the SW at evening with the first few stars showing. (30 sec exposure)
Sand Castle Tower, Washer Woman, & Monster Tower seen from the SW at evening with the first few stars showing. (30 sec exposure)
Clouds and tower after sunset, with first stars showing. (30 sec exposure)
Sand Castle Tower, Washer Woman, & Monster Tower seen from the SW under a 30 minute exposure.
Sand Castle Tower, Washer Woman, & Monster Tower seen from the SW under a 30 minute exposure.

November 15 - In Search of Suds

The next morning we were up and ready to go much earlier. With the short days it turned out that we had just enough time to do the approach, climb, and descent before dark.

Shadows of Sand Castle Tower, Washer Woman, & Monster Tower seen from the SW at sunrise. These shadows remind me of the Three Wise Men. (by Dirk Summers)
SW side of Monster Tower on the approach.
Washer Woman from the base.
In Search of Suds from the base. The route ascends this corner all the way to the top.

Pitch 0 is a loose cl. 4-5 pitch that some people rope up for. As it looked loose and it was hard to tell just how tricky it would be, we decided to rope up. I led this pitch, then P1 & P2 as a block, then Dirk led the last 3 pitches to the summit.

Starting approach pitch 0 of "In Search of Suds" (cl. 5). (by Dirk Summers)

Pitch 0 really isn't that bad. The toughest part is the first 40 ft, and a rope would not save you from hitting ledges. After that I didn't have any need to place pro, keeping things easy by traversing far right to Monster Tower and then walking back along the ridge crest to Washer Woman.

Monster Tower N Ridge from the start of "In Search of Suds".

The first pitch is a really fun 5.9+ to 5.10- corner, with one crux being passing a small roof in the beginning.

Leading first 5.9-5.10 section of P1.
Leading the first 5.9-5.10 crux of P1. (by Dirk Summers)
Leading the first 5.9-5.10 crux of P1. (by Dirk Summers)
Leading the first 5.9-5.10 crux of P1. (by Dirk Summers)

The roof went easily, but there was another tougher crux next that I was not expecting. A very sandy OW in a flaring corner! I got up as far as I could with my #5 but just could not make the final reach into the hand crack. I backed down and did a combination of liebacking, stemming, and chimneying farther out.

The second 5.9-5.10 crux of P1 of "In Search of Suds". I had to back down this to re-evaluate my strategy before I could get past this strange corner.

Above the wide, the terrain quickly eased to 5.7 climbing. There are a lot of loose blocks on this section, so the leader should take care to stem and chimney up most of this pitch and NOT grab or stand on the blocks.

Looking down the 5.7 corner and loose blocks of P1.

I set up a belay on a comfy ledge just beneath the mini-arch.

P2 "Eye of the Needle". (by Dirk Summers)

I set off on P2, which requires climbing into the arch, and stemming up it until it is easy to enter the chimney inside of it.

P2 looking down as I am threading the "Eye of the Needle".
P2 5.7 chimney, full of loose chockstones. I did a lot of different techniques to avoid pulling on these, as they would have fallen on Dirk!
P2 entering the 5.7 chimney after passing through the little arch. I'm stemming the arch to avoid the loose chockstones in the chimney. (by Dirk Summers)
P2 looking down the "Eye of the Needle" and onto Dirk as I am in the 5.7 chimney.

The next crack was very strange, but clean and interesting. This steep section gradually transitions into a corner, which widens into an OW, and finishes with a 5.9+ to 5.10- mantle onto the belay ledge.

P2 5.7-5.8 cracks.
Leading the P2 5.7-5.8 cracks, with the 5.9 OW seen above. (by Dirk Summers)
Leading the P2 5.9 OW. (by Dirk Summers)

The OW is a squeeze lower down, so I dealt with this feature by crawling inside to place a large cam, then shimmied back out to lieback the rest, as there is a good edge and good feet features to use.
I finished by perhaps being the first person to do the P2 mantle with my belly facing up! (At least I sure hope I am. It was not pretty). I really didn't like the exposure, lack of feet, and a sandy, flat mantling ledge with nothing to pull on, so I just kept stemming until it got too wide, then I pressed my shoulder into the ledge as I walked my feet up and slid my torso onto the ledge, where I then rolled over and did the beached whale dance to the anchors.

Looking down P2.
Dirk following P2, nearing the 5.9 OW.
Dirk following P2, at the 5.9+ mantle finish. On lead I didn't dare finish this as Dirk is doing (feet are poor for this and the ledge is sandy). Instead I did a full-body stem and mantled onto my back before flipping into 'beached whale' position.
The White Rim seen from atop P2 of "In Search of Suds".

Finally it was Dirk's turn, and not a moment too soon. This beast needed to be unleashed!

P3 seen from P2 belay.
Dirk starting into P3 (5.10+).
Dirk leading P3 (5.10+). Monster Tower is behind.

The pitch takes good gear, and the 5.10+ section is a one-move wonder. However, the move is very awkward, physical, and committing as you transition from the crack to some strange crimping and face climbing around and over a small roof.

Following P3 (5.10+). (by Dirk Summers)
Tower shadows from atop P3.
Airport Tower and the LaSal Mountains seen from atop P3.
The White Rim from atop P3.
P4 tower traverse.

The next pitch was a 4th class scramble along a knife-edge ridge, with a short 5.9 finger crack in a step to overcome at the end.

Following the P4 traverse (cl. 4).
Following the P4 tower traverse. Monster Tower and the White Rim are behind. (by Dirk Summers)
5.9 headwall at the end of P4.
Dirk atop P4 with Monster Tower & the White Rim behind.

The last pitch is the crux of the climb. Depending on who you ask, it is either a very hard 5.10+ (much harder than the other 5.10+ pitch), or a 5.11- face climb protected by some drilled angles and bolts. The first 5.9 bit to reach the first bolt was said to be runout on loose rock.

P5 Washer Woman head (5.11-).

There was some loose rock, but apart from ledges to hit, the section didn't seem 'R' rated as you were never that far out from pro. Dirk made it looks pretty leisurely.

Dirk casually placing pro on P5.
Dirk leading the P5 5.11- face finish.
Dirk leading the P5 5.11- face finish, taking a hands free rest after the difficulties.
Dirk leading the P5 5.11- face finish, happy to have done it clean!

Dirk was psyched to get an onsight for this pitch.

Dirk atop Washer Woman.

Next it was my turn, and I was eager to share those summit views!

Drilled angle seen while following P5.
Following P5 (5.11-). I'm not much of a face climber so I yarded on the bolts. This face was very steep, thin, and slick.
Following the P5 crux. (by Dirk Summers)

On the summit there were a lot of ancient star bolts and an old green ammo box on a leash that contained the summit register.

Dirk giving a thumbs up to the 'ol star bolt atop Washer Woman. Fortunately there are newer bolts for the rappel anchor! (by Dirk Summers).

This trip looked so awesome! I wonder if I can find their account somewhere? It definitely has given me some ideas on how to come back to do some other towers in the area :-)

The summit register was also very fun to look through. There were a lot of interesting entries, including some celebrities and some friends.

Summit Register - The Charlie Fowler Tower Tour map. This looks like a really awesome trip!
Summit Register - The Charlie Fowler Tower Tour signing. This looks like a really awesome trip!
Summit Register - Layton Kor quote.
Summit Register - Charlie Fowler & Steph Davis.
Summit Register - Susan Nott (RIP).
Summit Register - Cam Burns
Summit Register - Interesting cartoon.
Summit Register - Mike Dahlquist.
Summit Register - Gil Wiess (RIP), Wayne Wallace, Mark Westman, Joe Puryear (RIP).
Summit Register - Anyone care to answer this one?
Dirk N' Mark atop the summit of Washer Woman, with Monster Tower behind. (by Dirk Summers)

Of course, the views were incredible as well!

Monster Tower seen from atop Washer Woman.
Dirk after rappel 1. The rappel 2 anchors are very exposed and awkward to access and can be seen below (blue tat).

The first rappel is very exposed and awkward to get to. Basically you have to lower off tat attached to bolts on the ridge to get to a microledge and bolts out on the face. From this semi-hanging anchor one then sets up to rappel the arch.

Rappel 2, Dirk rappelling the arch! (by Dirk Summers)
Rappel 2, arch profile on rappel. (by Dirk Summers)
Rappel 2, rappelling the arch! (by Dirk Summers)

I have done a number of long free hanging rappels, but rappelling an arch feels very different being out in space.

Rappel 2, after rappelling the arch!

From here we had 3 more short rappels to the ground. Don't do it in 2 or else your rope will get stuck. Ours got stuck on 2 of the rappels, and with a bit of climbing back up we managed to free it We also carried out a new 60m rope that was stuck and abandoned on the last rappel.

Rappel 3 anchor.
Dirk freeing the stuck rope on rappel 3.
Washer Woman seen from the West. (by Dirk Summers)

While Washer Woman takes some time to get to, it is a great desert tower in a beautiful setting, containing some very nice climbing! I think I like it more than Castleton Tower. Hopefully next time I can spend more time on the White Rim trail to do a lot more of these towers we saw on the drive in! Maybe Monster Tower next time . . .


External Links: