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Davis Free Solos 5.11a on Castleton Tower

The North Face route (5.11a, 3 pitches, 375′), Castleton Tower, Castle Valley, Utah. Steph Davis free soloed this route on May 4, 2008 then BASE jumped from the summit. Davis said she applied a “process” that she discovered free soloing on the Diamond, Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, and that her mental preparation was more important than the physical. [Photo] Chris Alstrin

The culmination of another of Steph Davis’s dreams came on May 4, 2008 when she free soloed the North Face (5.11a, 3 pitches, 375′) of Castleton Tower–perhaps the world’s most renowned desert formation, located in Castle Valley, Utah–then BASE jumped from the top.

Davis said that “each of the three pitches had one cruxy section” on which she didn’t feel entirely comfortable. The challenge of Pitch 1 was exiting a fist crack onto a calcite undercling; Pitch 2 forced a weird, awkward move into a good pod rest; Pitch 3 concerned Davis most: “you’re happily nested inside a chimney, and you have to pull out of it, pasting your feet and having to use steep face holds on a bulge before you get a good jam.”

Of recent note, Davis made the first female ascent and third ascent of Concepcion (ungraded, 220′) in Day Canyon, near Moab, Utah, on April 6 (read the story in the April 22, 2008 NewsWire). And last summer she completed four free solos of the Diamond on Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado (more information is available in Davis’s article “Stripped,” in Issue 23, the October 15, 2007 NewsWire and the January 9, 2008 Weekly Feature).

“I discovered really big breakthroughs about soloing when I was on the Diamond,” Davis said. “I discovered I have a certain approach to free soloing. I enjoy the process of having a dream, discovering how I could achieve it and then planning all the steps I need to take to get to that point. It’s an experience I like to live.” She applied the same approach to Castleton’s North Face, she said.

For years Davis had guided Castleton’s North Chimney, which ascends an easier line left of the North Face. Familiar with the terrain, she has free soloed the North Chimney many times over the past decade. Most times she rappelled the Kor-Ingalls route with 5mm cord; later, when she learned to BASE jump, she leapt off, wind conditions permitting.

Until mid-April of this year, Davis had climbed the North Face only once, many years ago. The idea to free solo the route, although beyond her abilities at the time, planted itself in her head. This spring she felt ready to investigate whether the free solo would be possible. She brought two friends, Sean Leary and Mario Richard, a BASE fanatic, to climb the route a second time. “I had to make the decision, whether [soloing the North Face] was a real thing for me,” she said.

After climbing the North Face a few more times with Richard in April, and jumping from the top, Davis decided she was prepared mentally to take the next step toward her long-term dream. Having watched weather reports closely–perfect wind conditions are necessary for BASE jumping, especially off the relatively short formations around Moab, and jumping off the southwest arete above the Kor-Ingalls often is impossible due to headwinds–Davis woke up on May 4 ready for the climb.

“So many things have to line up before you can feel ready to go,” she said. “That morning I woke up with a cold, and I didn’t feel that well. But I was mentally prepared–that was more important than the physical part.” Davis had no trouble on the climb, despite being under the weather, but she admitted, “it felt a little harder than I wanted it to feel.”

Davis had stashed her parachute rig and a thin tag line (in case winds made the jump impossible) at the top of Castleton a few days before. The weather held, and she took the two-second free fall before releasing her chute and flying the canopy over a talus field down to the parking lot. “It’s so beautiful how connected BASE jumping is to climbing,” she said. “Both communities overlap in the places they go and what they find interesting. Climbing and jumping off Castleton was a great way to combine those two worlds, and to find another way to experience that special place.”

Source: Steph Davis

More information is available on Davis’s blog,