Castleton Tower: Moab's Most Famous Desert Tower

How to Climb Castleton Tower

The North Face of Castleton Tower soars above the broken pedestal of its former twin tower east of Moab in cental Utah. Photograph copyright Stewart M. Green

Elevation: 6,656 feet  (2,015 meters)

Height: 400 feet (120 meters)

Prominence: 6,138 feet (1,871 meters)

Location: Castle Valley, Grand County, Utah.

Coordinates: 44.27060° N  /  71.3047° W

First Ascent: First ascent by Layton Kor and Huntley Ingalls, September 14-15, 1961.

Castleton Tower’s Real Name

Castleton Tower is properly called Castle Rock, its name on the U.S. Geological Survey topographic map and the name commonly used by long-time Moab locals.

Castleton was originally a small town in Castle Valley west of the tower. 

Composed of Wingate Sandstone

Castleton Tower is composed of Wingate sandstone which lies atop a 1,000-foot-high cone of Chinle sandstone.  A thin capstone of erosion-resistant Kayenta sandstone sits on the summit of Castleton.  Wingate sandstone, a common cliff-forming formation in the Utah canyon country, was deposited in a vast sand dune field during the late Triassic Period about 200 million years ago.

White Deposits on Castleton

Deposits of aragonite and calcite form white crystalline deposits on the faces and fractured cracks on Castleton Tower. These deposits originally formed  when the Wingate sandstone that forms the tower was buried deep beneath the earth’s surface. Hot geyser activity, probably related to volcanism in the nearby La Sal Mountains, formed the mineral on fractured underground surfaces. Geologists speculate that this hard outer coating has slowed erosion of Castleton Tower as well as nearby rock features including The Rectory, The Priest and Nuns, and the Convent.

Castleton Tower had Twin Tower

Castleton Tower once had a tall twin tower on the ridge between it and the Rectory to the north. A sandstone pedestal remains on the ridge where the twin tower once stood. Castleton Tower was once joined to Rectory butte by a long narrow butte or a collection of semi-detached pinnacles similar to the Bridger Jack spires on the west end of Indian Creek Canyon to the south.

The twin tower, which probably toppled between 100,000 and 30,000 years ago, appears to have been smaller and lower than Castleton Tower since the base is considerably smaller and the debris field of fallen boulders and blocks indicates a smaller tower. Still, the twin towers must have been an impressive sight.

1956: Ingalls is First Climber to See Tower

Climber and geologist Huntley Ingalls wrote that he was probably “the first climber to note Castleton Tower, Fisher Towers, and North Sixshooter Peak. This was in 1956 while on a gravity survey of the Colorado Plateau with the Geological Survey.”

1961: Kor and Ingalls Make First Ascent

Castleton Tower was first climbed on September 14 and 15, 1961 by Layton Kor and Huntley Ingalls in four pitches up the Kor-Ingalls Route (III 5.9). Ingalls wrote: "I dreamed of climbing them (Castleton Tower and Fisher Towers), but they were beyond reach at that time. After I moved to Boulder in 1959 I tried to interest climbers in these towers, but amazingly I could get no serious response for two years. Finally one day Layton (Kor) simply said, ‘Let’s go look at that tower (Castleton) you keep talking about.’”

Castleton Tower’s Second Ascent

Castleton Tower’s second ascent and first free ascent was by Harvey T. Carter and Cleve McCarthy on May 23, 1962.

They were unable to find the pencil left by Kor and Ingalls and could not sign the summit register. Colorado climber Mark Hesse made the first solo ascent of the route in 1977.

First Routes on Four Main Faces

Castleton Tower has four main faces that are oriented to the four cardinal directions. Here are the main routes that were first established on each of the tower’s four faces:

  • South Face: Kor-Ingalls (III 5.9), the first route on the tower, was climbed by Layton Kor and Huntley Ingalls in 1961. The route climbs up a series of cracks in left-facing corners and dihedrals to the summit.
  • East Face: North Chimney (III 5.8), the second route established on Castleton, was first ascended on April 2, 1970 by Daniel Burgette and Allen Erickson, two Purdue University climbers on spring break. The route ascends hand cracks to a wide gaping chimney up the face, and finishes up the last pitch of the Kor-Ingalls. Jimmie Dunn and Dan Porter made the second ascent in early September, 1971. This was Porter’s first and last rock climb.
  • West Face: West Face (III 5.10+), the third route established on Castleton Tower, was first climbed by Jimmie Dunn, Stewart Green, and Billy Westbay on November 20 and 21, 1971. Earl Wiggins writes in his book Canyon Country Climbs that this was “one of the hardest desert climbs of the era.” The route ascends an obvious off-width crack system directly up the West Face. Ed Webster and Mark Rolofson made the first free ascent in June 1978.
  • North Face: North Face route (III 5.11-) was first climbed by Jimmie Dunn and Doug Snively, with some aid climbing, in March, 1972. Ed Webster and Buck Norden did the first free ascent in 1979 via an alternate first-pitch variation that is usually climbed today.

1962: Castleton Stars in TV Commercial

In 1962, the year after the first ascent of Castleton, the tower starred in a Chevrolet car commercial. Diedre Johnson, a cute Hollywood starlet, and a car were placed atop the tower by helicopter. Read the complete story and watch the commercial at Castleton Tower’s TV Commercial. When Stewart Green and Jimmie Dunn did the sixth ascent of the tower in 1971, many timbers and other artifacts from the commercial’s filming were still on the summit.