High on the Outdoors
Joined: 15 Jul 2010
Posts: 1982 | TRs
Location: My van
|Josh Lewis made his way over my direction for the week of March 6-13th for some desert exploring and we had a super fun time climbing some peaks and descending some cool slot canyons. This report depicts our first climb for the trip, so feel free to check back for the rest of the reports that will be posted throughout the next week or so!
Our first objective for the trip was to climb Window Blind Peak, a towering monolith of Navajo sandstone deep in the San Rafael Swell that I've eyed for nearly 8 years. Few people have heard of this peak, let alone have climbed it, but it sits above the San Rafael River about 15 miles north of I-70. The San Rafael Swell is a huge anticline sitting in the heart of Utah where there are no settlements or services of any kind for about a 2500 square mile area. The region is chock full of technical towers to climb and canyons to squeeze down, and the majority of the area is still rarely visited. Dirt roads criss cross the area, many of which are suitable for my stationwagon despite their remoteness simply because of the soft sandstones and shales found in the area. Window Blind Peak itself has a 5.7 route up to the top that is said to be difficult and runout, and not suitable for beginner climbers. This sounded just like the type of climb I love the most so Josh and I, along with my friend Elaine parked along the San Rafael River, driving a short ways east on the Mexican Mountain Road and to a good spot just north of the peak and started the approach across the desert around 10:30am.
Right away, we had to ford across the river, which we found a somewhat shallow spot to do so, however the water was so cloudy we could not see the rocks metely a foot deep. The three of us carefully waded across the frigid water and were on our way. The approach isn't too long, and we began going up a slowly steepening hill towards the peak following a ravine draining to the north of the summit. The route had us walk around the east side of Assembly Hall Peak which sits just across from Window Blind and offers a few more challenging rock climbing routes in the 5.10 and 5.11 range (too hard for us). As we got closer to the peak, there was a section of huge boulders to navigate through that had falled off the lower cliff band that guards most of the lower slopes of the peak, but broken enough to surmount through in spots where valleys have carved down with just class 3 scrambling. Above this initial obstacle the terrain was flat again for a short while, and more shaded which resulted in 1-3 inches of lingering snow to deal with. We could see the technical portion of the climb getting closer and towering above us.
The San Rafael River
Fording the river
Hiking towards the peak
Window Blind Peak
Assembly Hall Peak
A small ravine on the approach
Approaching Window Blind Peak
Elaine happy to be in the desert
Looking across at the upper cliffs draping from Window Blind
Looking up at Window Blind Peak
Some residual snow to deal with
As we neared the base of the final wall leading to the summit, we located the prominent arete separating the east and west arch shaped windows that made up the main features on the north face. We scrambled up some class 4 slabs to a narrow ledge, which we then walked right to reach the base of a deep chimney. This ledge had some ice covering parts of it however, and a vertical 80 foot cliff right below so extreme care was needed to avoid slipping. Once in the chimney, we scrambled up more 4th class terrain up past a chockstone and onto a small cave at the base of a 5.6 left facing dihedral. We decided to rope up here where we had room to congregate and I took off leading the fun handcrack. This short pitch didn't pose and real difficulty and brought me to a big ledge at a tiny notch right at the base of the money pitch. From here I was able to look right up the broad arete with the two windows on either side. I made an anchor and belayed Josh and Elaine up.
I then took off leading the second pitch, which is a full 60 meter length. The pitch started on a 5.4 slab with no pro until I reached a decent sized ledge with a couple small bushes. I walked a few steps right on this ledge looking for the easiest way to continue upwards. A few attempts were made up what looked to be the easiest route, but I stepped back down each time. I then walked right to the crest of the arete a few more steps to the right to see if anything was easier over yonder but only found more rotten rock. So I made a few very delicate moves up and found a pocket to place a nice cam. Above that was a few more very insecure moves along a thin crack and passing immediately left of a small overhang to get through the crux. Thankfully there was good pro in this 20 foot section of the route but I definitely thought it was pretty slabby 5.8 which is always harder for me. Once above that the pitch eased up considerable and was some rambly class 4 to low 5th the rest of the way, and followed a gully up to a large ledge with bolted anchor 60 meters above the belay. I belayed Josh and Elaine up and took a break on the ledge atop pitch 2. Here we cached all the climbing gear and scrambled right, initially climbing a short 4th class slab to the next higher ledge then walked this all the way around the west side and to the south side of the summit block. The remaining scramble took us up a third class gully on the SW side up about 75 feet to a large flat area, then up the west side for the final 35 feet on a rotton featured slab to the summit plateau. A few minutes of easy walking took us to the highest point.
Views were spactacular in all directions. Window Blind Peak is one of the highest peaks in the region and commanded an impressive view. To the east the backside of the San Rafael Reef dominated the horizon with the impressive Wingate cliffs seemingly endless in length. The new south was the more gentle terrain we drove across from I-70 to fet to the area. Flipping through the summit register I saw a few familiar names of friends from Colorado...equally nutty people to myself that seek out the obscure and rarely visited summits of the Coloradfo Plateau. We took our photos and ate some food, but knew we couldn't stay long as it was getting late in the afternoon and we didn't want to get caught out in the dark.
One of the many ledges used on the route
Scrambling to the base of the upper cliffs
Looking up at the east window
Navigating the icy narrow ledge
Looking up the second pitch
Traversing right after the 2nd pitch
Rounding the west ridge
Walking the ledge around to the south side
The flat bench; remaining route heads right
Walking the summit plateau
Elaine enjoys the view
Downclimbing the final rotten slab
Summit register entires
As we descended, we did two double rope rappells which got us all the way down to the very base, below the icy ledge which was awesome because we were not liking the idea of descending that ledge. I had gotten some sand or something stuck in my eye and had a hell of a time getting it out. Once all three of us completed the second rappel we coiled the ropes and started walking down. We made quick work getting down the steeper slopes and as the sun set, we walked the flat terrain back to the San Rafael River. In the final rays of twilight, we forded the river, which was thankfully a bit warmer this time around and got back to the car. We set up camp and quickly went to bed as the temperature quickly dropped. The following morning we took a few nice sunrise photos of the river reflections, and Window Blind Peak and started driving southward towards Chute Canyon, where Elaine would be able to experience her first slot canyon. See the next installment for this story!
Downclimbing to our ropes
Remnant snow above the 2nd pitch
Afternoon glow beginning
Rapelling the long 2nd pitch
Happy for a successful day
Looking back at what we'd climbed
Twilight on Assembly Hall Peak
Last light on Window Blind
Sunrise on Window Blind
San Rafael River
Sunrise on Assembly Hall Peak
Map of the route we took shown below:
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