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Chip Wilson wades through Pitch 2 of Nonplussed on Dust on Crust (A3, 450′, 4 pitches), established with Steve Bartlett on a previously unclimbed mud tower, now named The Colossus of Cannonville, near Kodachrome Basin State Park, Utah. Bartlett said of the route, “I don’t think there was a single free move on it.” [Photo] Steve “Crusher” Bartlett

My wife Fran Bagenal and I spent Christmas of 2005 hiking around Escalante, Utah, and chanced upon an unclimbed tower. Or was it even a tower? The first half was vaguely rock-like: dull pink with crack-like features. Above was an elegantly tapered whiteness, festooned with muddy dribblings, topped with a tricorn hat. The Fisher Towers with do-not-touch fragility. Irresistible.

Knowing I had to climb this–or at least try–Strappo Hughes and I drove there in January 2006. Strappo took the lead and stopped forty feet up. I took over, and after placing four birdbeaks in a row, hit better cracks that led to a ledge 180 feet off the ground. My old Bosch drilled belay bolt holes in the mud too fast; after finishing each hole, I let the drill run for longer in midair, just so Strappo would assume the rock was more solid. Another forty feet up, Strappo declared, “It’s death; we can’t go this way.” We rappelled and left. Before leaving, we hiked out to a nearby cliff where the pastry-rock outcropped against a talus slope. I placed a few pitons. Sure enough, there were calcite seams, flaky, brief, and invisible under the surface crud, but definitely there.

We returned a couple months later to start anew in a different spot, but a hangover kept me ill for three days straight. I refused to take the sharp end, and poor Strappo was not pleased; perhaps he felt that if I had doubts, he should too, so we left and made plans to return in the fall. But by fall, Strappo was ensconced in Connecticut. Sensing my impatience, my wife, Fran, suggested we spend a romantic Thanksgiving in Kodachrome Basin. She could belay and read, while I decide, once and for all, whether I had it in me to climb this silly tower. She managed three days lying in the same pile of dust, being pelted with rocks and ordered to send up more gear–fast. I fixed ropes from two half-inch by 6.5 inch bolts, 200 feet up.

Nonplussed on Dust on Crust (A3, 450′, 4 pitches), The Colossus of Cannonville, near Kodachrome Basin State Park, Utah. The muddy and grainy consistencies of the tower made for a slow ascent; Bartlett estimates that he made about twenty-five feet of progress each day. [Photo] Steve “Crusher” Bartlett

Chip Wilson, who had introduced me to tower climbing twenty years ago, had long since retired from desert towers, but was willing to belay me for the five days it took me to climb just 200 more vertical feet to the summit. We reached the top on March 9 and named the formation The Colossus of Cannonville. The line we dubbed Nonplussed on Dust on Crust (A3, 450′, 4 pitches). I don’t think there was a single free move on it.

Starting the final pitch I encountered not rock, not even short-crust pastry, but sugar. Sugar all the way. It was right then, while I was hacking away in frustration, throwing down wheelbarrow-loads of sand and swearing and whining and telling Chip that maybe this was as far as we could go, that a couple rangers from nearby Kodachrome State Park stopped by with binoculars, to see what we were up to. The next morning, driving through the park en route to the tower, the same rangers greeted us with polite words and blank eyes full of horror. We finished that day. So my thanks go out to Chip and Fran and Strappo, who all helped. And to the Kodachrome State park rangers, who refrained from having us institutionalized.

Please note that this climb is on BLM land, just outside of Kodachrome Basin State Park. All climbing within Kodachrome State Park itself is illegal.