Fisher Towers: Ancient Art
Some billion years ago an igneous intrusion in Western Colorado cut through the bedrock in a violent few moments. The new rock cooled quickly and sat in an Earth furnace for 600 million years baking, baking, baking. The beautiful Granite changed to something and then something else and then something else and then reached the surface, broke off from its friends in some geometric form before ending up in a stream and being molded by the hands of water into cobble. This ancient bit flowed West from its home on the Uncompahgre highlands until it was caught in a bed of fine silt rich in hematite, a chemical that when exposed to Oxygen turns a deep maroon.
For nearly 320 million years this Granitic ancestor lay buried. What metamorphic form it now takes is of interest to geologists perhaps, but to others we call it the touchy 5.10d move in the Stolen Chimney of Ancient Art. Without that one cobble friend the climb may go at as much as 5.11+(?), but alas, our friend has saved us that stress. And although there is a concrete geologic history to the Fisher Towers, I ultimately prefer a more mythological take, the work of some giant ancient child on the shores of an inland sea discovering for the first time the magic of drip castles.
Ancient Art is in some ways perhaps a novelty climb and in other ways a just good rock climb on curious rock. It is inarguably unique. P1 is 5.Easy and about 50' to a massive ledge with no bolts, but with a great pit for a hip belay. P2 is the technical crux where lays our helpful cobble friend who assists in some nice shallow chimney or face moves with opposing forces to another 40', a bolted belay, and another great dirty ledge.
P3 is a longer and wonderful 5.8 chimney of unique rock. There's a bolt somewhere and it ends on a great ledge with bolts that serves as the staging area for the rest of the climb. When we arrived there were two groups in front of us and it took us about an hour (or two?) to continue.
P4 and P5 must be climbed and rapped back to the staging ledge before the next group can proceed. We waited for a while and then moved 30' up to the beginning of the Sidewalk. This is where...exposure. Its disorienting and wild. In old guidebooks there is a vernacular term used as though mountain climbing was some terse Hemingway-esque endeavor - "fine position". Move around the corner and move up to a fine position. Belay from a fine position. Fine position this, fine position that...P5 is certainly a meditation in fine position. It is also a puzzle.
Logistics of the Corkscrew
My solution was to walk across the Sidewalk to the Diving Board and rap it with a 12' cord as tight as possible as far down the Board as possible. This was to prevent the consequence of a huge fall were I to fuck up the Diving Board belly flop. It took me a few tries, but at a mere 5'6" I finally flopped successfully. The move onto the tower is tough for shorter people too. Bolt, bolt, bolt to the big sling. I went in direct to the sling with a tether, untied from my rope, put it through the rings on the sling and tied back in before preceding to the summit, that way Hannah could just lower me off when I wanted down. I got down, walked back (also scary in the event of a slip), then Hannah pulled her end of the rope through until tight and I put her on essentially the most terrifying top-rope on Earth. If she slipped on the Sidewalk, she'd be a bit screwed too. She didn't. It was great. We rapped back down to the big staging ledge unscathed.
TL;DR - Fix a 60m (or 70m) from the staging ledge atop P3 to the anchors, rap to the ground on the single strand, and then have the likely others on the ledge untie it for you.
You can rap this route with a single 60m rope alone straight down the chimney and everyone will hate you, but you can do it. Double 60m's gets you to the ground in one rap if you pop out over the chimney ALL the way to the ground lookers left of the start of the route. An excellent strategy however, being that there are always people on the staging ledge is to just fix a single 60m rope to the anchors, rap the single strand to the ground, and then ask the folks waiting around to untie it for you. That's what we did. It was easy and awesome and collaborative.
The Ancient Arts
Rock climbs are poems, read and written. Like poetry, climbs too have a certain set of aesthetics and qualities about which we can talk - sustained, run-out, exposed, steep, slabby, short, long, dirty, clean, remote - and in many of these aesthetics Ancient Art is distinctly poor. With only two real sustained pitches it is short. The difficulty varies greatly between pitches. It's dirty. It's crowded.
But although it embodies many poor qualities of climbs, it also exemplifies perhaps the most sought out experience in climbing: Exposure. It is almost comically exposed. Photography cannot adequately express it. Exposure is an experience. It is visceral. It is a mental dissonance in real time. It is the inability of our brains to comprehend the massive contrasts in spatial information. Exposure is confusion. It is vertigo and butterflies.
Ancient Art is in some ways a rare reduction of climbing to a single aesthetic. And in that way, if it could ever be said that there are important climbs, Ancient Art is one. It feels pure. It is not a novelty, but rather a study in one particular aesthetic of rock climbs.
Finally, it should also be said that the Fisher Towers in general are simply a fascinating geological experience. They are about as unique as features can be on this planet. Visual experience is a wonderful way of experiencing the beauty and divinity and uniqueness of our common home. We climbers however have the tools and privilege to experience place in more visceral and tactile way. To experience the Fisher Towers by touch is deeply beautiful. The geological, hydrological, meteorological histories that have combined to carve what we now call the Stolen Chimney on Ancient Art are vast. Climbing is erosion. Touching the rock is to inherit and inhabit those narratives here and now. Routes are temporary, and there are few routes in the world that remind us so viscerally of their own transience.