…as for the climbing, it was raw, virgin. To climb in the Capitol Reef area was a dream come true, exploring endless new cliffs and canyons. We were in an out of the way wilderness with the beauty of Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, and Moab, but with none of the crowds. The routes were mostly all first ascents and when I glassed a line and plotted a recon I felt like Fred Becky, Jeff Lowe, or Layton Kor. Then the glory of a first ascent. Finding a new crack line was like finding gold yet the real gold was always in the adventure of the southern Utah high desert: coming face to face with elk, pronghorns, or a desert bighorn, or finding mountain lion tracks. It was the beauty of a moonrise over the Henry Mountains, starry nights, filling your water from a cow trough or camping under a giant overhang with arrowheads and petroglyphs and imagining the hundreds or thousands of Fremont or Anasazi that had sheltered their cooking much like we were….. Yes, the first ascents were unlimited yet the climbing was really secondary to the to the experience of being right there, right then.
–Jimmie Hendricks, Fall 2011
Observations on the Local Scene
It’s a quiet place, pretty clean and safeguarded by a small loyal community. The people and the routes here are mostly at the ‘sweet spot’ convergence between the high forest plateaus and the hot, red desert. You may not see the evidence, but a lot of conscientious bipeds get around out here and enjoy, with very slight impact. Please honor both the landscape and the locals, of all stripes, for finding some kind of mutual understanding and respect in challenging circumstance.
The Observatory is outstanding, literally, a small fin of wingate on the south side of a big amphitheater, with excellent rock and a high density of routes, relatively speaking for the area. It’s also shady and elevated for good warm-season conditions. It is very beautiful and pristine. The view reaches down along the reef, across Boulder Mtn. and over to ‘Poverty Flat’ aka the Town of Torrey. Of course as a climber, the eyes track up the 3-400 foot surrounding walls to a deep blue sky…and assorted heavenly fancies. As a one-time amateur astronomer/physicist, I put the name down in honor of such reconnoitering, figuring it also an amateur scientific outpost of the nearby Castle.
There are outstanding lines here, some still untouched. On the walk in you may look up to a few sets of anchors going up old multi-pitch aid routes that could see a hard first free ascent. A couple of fun boulders too. The big stash though is out along the the fin of wingate, with around seven or eight one pitch medium-hard traditional lines, some summiting along the narrow ridgecrest for a tower-like reward up top. The rock is better than most of its surroundings, but that’s not a resounding endorsement…be prudent, but don’t clean or protect aggressively either. Climbing leaves scars in rock and terrain like this, keep them minuscule so that time and nature can keep apace, refinishing the decor. Counterexamples courtesy of a bloated climber ‘community’ are easy to point out; please find the inspiration to do a bit more than your part.
Most of all, enjoy the magnificence of free movement and exploration in a setting that dreams don’t often match.