The Perfect Kit: Desert Tower Climbing

The Perfect Kit: Desert Tower Climbing


Sunny and warm weather in the western states means its desert season, and as evidenced by the flood of Instagram and Facebook posts swarming my feeds of selfies taken from up high, its also tower climbing season too. Here’s some gear to consider for your next Colorado Plateau tower mission, whether you’re ticking your first or your umpteenth, as you pursue the elite 100 towers list.


Desert towers means desert splitters and multiple cams of one size. Instead of humping the extra weight up that massive talus cone, consider the new Metolius Ultralight Master Cams ($59.95-$64.95). They are 20% lighter than the original Master Cams and they won’t empty your wallet like some of the other cams on the market. Color coded slings and anodized parts on the stem and thumb make finding the right size easy. And, if you’re fretting the soft rock that is characteristic of the desert southwest, the new “shark fin” tooth pattern is designed to provide better holding power.


Rack those lightweight cams on the light and functional C.A.M.P. Air CR harness ($89.95). The latest version of this popular C.A.M.P. harness features ergonomically shaped leg loops and waist belt with perforated EVA foam inside to allow for breathability when things get hot. Four large gear loops will hold plenty of kit, while a rear gear loop will carry a tag line for those long rappels. Easily adjustable buckles are found on both leg loops and the waistband allow you to get the perfect fit as you change layers throughout the day.


Tower climbing often calls for the right balance of lightweight and durability. Most are reluctant to lug that 10+mm top rope workhorse up the approach but may be hesitant to trust a dental floss like 9mm skinny cord when climbing around edges and chimneys. The Sterling Helix ($212.95 for 60 meters non-dry) offers a good balance of lightweight, good handling and durability in its 9.5mm package. Available in a number of variations with three color choices, bicolor or dry options, and in sizes from 50 to 80 meters in length, you can find the rope that best fits your tower mission, and more.


When lead belaying I like having the extra security offered by an assisted braking device in case of rock fall or getting pulled into the wall while catching a big drop. But, you can rappel with two ropes on traditional braking assisted devices, although most that allow for this are typically big and heavy. Enter the Edelrid Mega Jul ($34.95) which gives you the best of both worlds. Feel more secure while lead belaying and then flip it around and rappel on two ropes. And, while I’ve burned through a boat load of devices over the years, the Mega Jul promises to last longer with is stainless steel construction.


Lightweight and well ventilated, the Singing Rock Penta ($89.95) is a great choice for desert tower missions. Comfortable padding a light and simple webbing suspension system makes for worry free wearing all day. Four sleek headlamp attachment clips hold straps firmly in place when needed and then stay out of the way of slings and clothing when not in use. With four colors to choose from, you can have your choice of flashy or bland when protecting your lid.


My wife rolled her eyes when I told her about the new Mammut Multi-Pitch Chalk Bag ($$$). What could possibly be so special about a chalk bag that you’d need one specifically designed for multi-pitch? She can be the biggest gear critic but even she was impressed with this new Mammut concoction which offers a great way to carry your precious white powder along with all of the little necessities for a short tower climb. A bungee on the bottom fits a windbreaker, and a number of zippered pouches provide room for energy bars, a headlamp, and small camera. Climbing with a pack in those claustrophobic chimneys can be a drag and hauling is a burden, but with this product you can carry just what you need.


Hoist your pile of gear to the base of your chosen tower in the Trango Crag Pack ($99), which is vailable in regular and short torso models and two colors per size. The Crag Pack is a simple pack with one big main compartment for that assortment of cams you’ll need for the route. It comes with a number of nice features, including a side pocket for a water bottle, another side pocket with a small ground tarp for keeping your pretty cams out of the sand, and a mesh pocket on the side for guidebook, sunscreen and the like. The lid zippers close and features a zippered pocket for all of the little things you might want with you. Two buckled straps on the side allow a rope to be thrown over the top and cinched tight for a smooth carry. For a guy like me who often packs a lot of gear for a single climbing day, this backpack works like a dream and gets the job done efficiently.

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Years ago I topped out in the dark on a tall tower sans headlamp because I didn’t think the route would take that long. Now I know that while I may be sand bagged by routes just about anywhere, it seems particularly likely on a desert tower. Hence, I love throwing in a headlamp like Petzl’s Tikka R+ ($79.95). With its reactive light technology, it automatically adjusts the power of the beam as you move your head from things closer to those farther away, giving you a brighter light when it’s needed, like if you find yourself wandering off route and have to go looking for the right path. Plus, you can charge it up before your climb with the USB cable so no more scrounging for fresh batteries in the bottom of some rubber bin or the pits of your pack. On top of that, if you really want to get tech savvy, you can program how this light works to make it brighter for more illumination or dimmer to save on battery power. More importantly, this lamp fits comfortably and securely on a helmet or on your head thanks to a sleek and contoured headband.