This week I'm on a winter road trip to the southwestern United States, finding warmth, sun, and good rock. Yesterday, my birthday, was a perfect day for climbing in winter. I headed out to the Utah Hills from St. George with my climbing partners Brian Shelton and Bill Springer to spend the day climbing at the Black and Tan Wall and Kelly's Wall. The hills are in the Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation Area, a unique area with rugged desert mountains, joshua trees, and is habitat for the endangered desert tortoise.
Both cliffs, a quarter of a mile apart, are part of a belt of limestone that stretches across parts of Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. The limestone here is superlative, as best as the stone gets in the United States. You have to travel to France and Spain to find better limestone.
We climbed on east-facing Black and Tan first, although a gusty wind blowing down the wash forced us to wear hats and coats until the day warmed up. While walking the sunny cliff base trying to decide what to climb first, we found steep unclimbed between a couple existing sport climbing routes. The right side looked like a fun climb so Brian set off, drilling four bolts while leading, to establish our first new route, which I named Ole Six Oh. It's a moderate 70-foot climb up sharp-edged limestone with enough distance between the bolts to keep it spicy.
While I climbed it, Bill figured out another route 25 feet to the left. It was steeper and harder so we toproped it first to figure out the moves and bolt placements, then I drilled six bolts while climbing and hanging from a top rope. It turned out to have a boulder-problem 5.10 start to an awkward finish and the same anchors as the first route.
The rest of the day was spent doing a couple more routes at Black and Tan before hiking up a steep side valley to Kelly's Wall. This hidden shady cliff is simply marvelous, with about 25 routes up perfect limestone that's easy on the fingertips. A great desert climbing day...far from the snow and cold of the Colorado Rockies.
Photograph above: Brian Shelton puts up a first ascent on the lead at Black and Tan Wall in southwestern Utah. Photograph © Stewart M. Green