Land of the Earth-born Spirit

FRICTION TOWER

HOME OF THE CRYSTAL FREEWAY

The Crystal Freeway makes up the entire north face of the Friction Tower in Central Vedauwoo. It’s one of the true hidden wonders of the area. It’s a gigantic upturned slab that appears smooth from a distance, but it really isn’t. It’s literally peppered with feldspar crystals of all shapes and sizes. These inclusions are features on many routes, for better or worse. Some impart a high degree of friction to the cracks (somewhat reminiscent of JAWS), and others make steep bolted climbs possible. There are class routes for the aspiring leader, there are testpiece hand cracks, there are demanding bolted lines, and while not on the Freeway proper, there’s one extremely strenuous, overhanging 5.12 that will challenge or punish the best. This is usually a place of solitude where ravens and falcons frequently glide overhead, it’s sunny and warm most of the summer and it’s a great place to spend the day.

DESCENTS: There are 4 sets of fixed anchors as seen on the topo. A pair of 60’s will get you to the ground from the top anchors. If you have one rope, double it and use both rap stations. There is also a downclimb – walk-off on the far left – east side of the face (not for beginners).

How do I get here?

THE CRYSTAL FREEWAY TOPO

red dots = fixed anchors / belay stations
B = belay on gear

1.) Northeast Cutoff 7 (*NOTE; one long pitch, mostly 5.5, take a 60 M rope) Jam up a wide crack until it’s intersected by a right ascending crack about 15 feet above. This is Croissant, #3. Continue up and right about 20 – 25 feet, leave Croissant behind and climb up a crystal embedded face to the upper right ascending crack (see first photo: Stef Dutton on a cruise). Follow this crack until it peters out, passing a large corbel slightly below the crack about half way. Set some pro near the end, traverse the blank area and continue up Bad Saturday for about 10 more feet traverse right into the MIDWAY fixed anchors/belay station. Alternate second pitches: P2 of Bad Saturday, P2 of Kitchen’s Delight (*Photo 2), P2 of Exit Ramp. (FA, Roger Howe and George Day, ’69)

2.) Kitchen’s Delight 7+ P1: About 20 feet right of #1, ascend a wide right leaning fissure that ends at Bad Saturday. Continue up Bad Saturday and traverse right into the MIDWAY fixed anchors/belay station. P2: Go directly right, traversing across a 10′ windy gap to a quality hand crack and enjoy the lofty ascent to the top (see second photo). The crack has teeth, so tape is advised. It also widens near the top, so a couple extra #3 and 3.5 Camalots might be advisable. Belay on gear at 1.) the top of the crack, or 2.) get better gear at the back of a large scooped out depression. The shot is Stef Dutton enjoying the quality jams of pitch 2.

3.) Croissant 6 This is the right arching crack line seen between Routes 1 and 2. It is considered an alternate start to Route 2.

4.) Bad Saturday 8- “Excellent, long enjoyable free climb which needs to be repeated more in the future.” First done in three pitches. First ascent: September 16, 1967, Jim Halfpenny and Bill Grimm. (Halfpenny, ’72) This climb splits the formation from bottom to top. P1: Start up a thin crack to the first horizontal ledge. Traverse left to the overhanging flake, traverse back right and up and into the crack line – be sure to engineer for rope drag! Continue up the crack line (bypassing the fixed anchors/belay station on the right) to an undercut and widened shelf and belay on gear. P2: Take on the off width to the top and belay – either on gear or using the fixed anchors to your right.

NOTE: There are some variants associated with the start of Bad Saturday:

a.) Change of Hand 9+ After the left traverse, go up and over the flake and continue back to the crack. (Piana and Jackson, ’82)

b.) Very Bad Saturday 11b Go straight up the thin crack.

5.) Exit Ramp 11b Find a line of 5 bolts near a water streak about 20′ right of #4. After a committing and testy first pitch, the second pitch (9+) is a cool cruise for 11 leaders. P1: Climb knobby, unprotected face (placing a .75 Camalot in the first horizontal is recommended) to the first bolt, mount the bulge and wander right and up a steepening face until the holds seem to vanish. Pull the lip of the water chute (crux) and continue on easier ground to the fixed anchors. P2: Follow a line of 4 bolts up a shallow, crystal laced trough. Top anchors / rap station. (2 60’s will get you all the way to the ground. NOTE: Take 2 or 3 medium cams to protect the top part of P1.) (Kuestner, ’85)

6.) Orange Christmas 11b A harder version of #5 and the crux comes early! About 40′ right of #5, find a line of bolts near a water streak with some orange lichen. P1: It’s hard going right off the ground and some consider it runout. Move boldly up the bolt line on thin, vertical face until the angle falls off after about 25′. It’s easier going to the base of Flake Out where a belay can be set up on gear. P2: Go right and up a steep crystal field that seems to go on forever – use 4 bolts along the (runout) way. Belay on top anchors. (NOTE: Both pitches combined into one = about 170 feet.) (Piana and Skinner, ’81)

7.) Flake Out 11a Take on the giant left facing dihedral. Approach by Route #6 or by rapping in from above.

8.) This is the second pitch of Orange Christmas, Route #6.

9.) Grunt Layback 9 Just about 20 feet left of Strawberry Jam is a right slanting crack leading up to a prominent right facing dihedral that eventually joins ‘Strawberry’ 140 feet above. You’ll be grunting along the way as this is arduous at the grade. (Peter Koedt and Bob Stevenson, ’66)

10.) Strawberry Jam 8 This is the 5.8 ‘hands’ testpiece at Vedauwoo. Try it, you’ll like it! A friendly word of warning – it’s typical Vedauwoo. Tape up or your hands will look like mashed up strawberries, and long pants are advised. It begins as straight hands for about 40 feet and then it opens up to various degrees of flaring off with from that point on. It can be done as 1 or 2 pitches. If two, belay on gear at an obvious shelf 120′ off the deck. A short ‘off width to face’ finishes off pitch 2 and belay at rap anchors. Want gear beta? Take a full rack, light on wires and assorted stuff and heavy on medium to large cams. Add extra/additional cams in the range of 2.5 to 5 inches. (FA: Ted Cross and Mike Parker, ’68)

11.) Paul Piana has a Need to be Famous 9 He has certainly done it in better style than this. None the less, it’s an interesting gear start to a sport climb (Orange Christmas). Start ‘Grunt’ and take a left at an obvious crack and downsloping shelf about 40 feet. Some prefer to belay here, others protect well. Either way, continue over to the bolts on P2 of Orange Christmas, completing that climb (about 5.8). Use a 60 M rope.

12.) No need to be Famous 10b Starts about 15 feet higher on Grunt than #11. Take a left at an incipient, left-rising crack leading to a bulge. You might get a small wire or Lowe Ball in the crack and continue to the bulge where a small cam can be set (not enough pro for a belay!). Continue to the bolts on P2 of Orange Christmas (somewhat runout here) and complete that climb. Use a 60 M rope. (Skip Harper and Mat Schoeck, ’97)

13.) Grunt and Groan 9 A left-leaning crack line on the main formation just across from (south) the west face of the Gill Spire. Interesting hands and crunch moves. Rap from the top of Mr. Chimp. (Mat Schoeck and Skip Harper, ’97)

14.) Mr. Chimp 12b Not on the Crystal Freeway proper, it’s on the SW face of the Friction Tower, slightly down and around the corner to the south from the Gill Spire. It’s an unusual, overhanging and committing climb starting with a 5.11 finger crack leading to a technical, flared horizontal crack with another 5.11 vertical hand crack to finish. Outrageously sustained and gymnastic. Rap bolts. (Piana and Skinner, ’81)

GB) The Gill Spire 7 Approach from the west side, step across and climb the 12-foot face. (FA: John Gill, D. Lapstead and S. Prince, 7-29-67).

DESCENTS: As seen on the topo depicted by red dots, there are four sets of rap anchors placed on the Crystal Freeway, two in the middle of the formation somewhat paralleling Exit Ramp, #5, and another two somewhat paralleling Strawberry Jam, #10, on the west side of the face. In other words, there are two ways to get down from the top – two raps each. Other guides do not show this. It’s best to use a 60 M rope when climbing here. It will take 2 raps using either set of rap stations with a 50 or 60 M rope. You can just make it to the base from the top using double 60’s from the top middle rap station.

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