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Pale Fire

5.12b, Trad, 600 ft (182 m), 4 pitches, Grade IV,  Avg: 3.7 from 27 votes
FA: FA: Fred Beckey, Jim Galvin, Thom Nephew, Greg Markov, Eric Bjørnstad 1973 FFA: Chip Chace and Charlie Fowler
Utah > Southeast Utah > Island In The Sky > Moses
Access Issue: RAIN, WET ROCK and RAPTOR CLOSURES: The sandstone around Moab is fragile and is very easily damaged when it is wet. Also please ask and be aware of Raptor Closures in areas such as CAT WALL and RESERVOIR WALL in Indian Creek Details


Somewhere I read that if you free the first pitch, you've done Pale Fire, and if you don't free it, you've done the North Face. Whatever.

The first pitch is the business. While the technically hardest moves are below the splitter (.12b/c), the splitter rattly fingers crack is stout and sustained. It's .11d, but it ain't no Indian Creek .11d (meaning, if you struggle on .11d at the Creek, then you'll get your ass whooped on this section). Mostly #1 Friends, .5 and .75 camalots. I wouldn't recommend stopping at the hanging belay, but instead go the next anchor about fifty higher. The whole pitch is about 160 feet.

The second pitch is sustained .10d. Mostly hands and cups. #2 and #3 camalots. After the crack ends, there are some balancy face moves getting to some ancient drilled angles. I wouldn't recommend stopping at the end of the crack, cause you'll have an uncomfortable hanging belay. Work past the couple angles and star drives (can't remember what they are exactly) until you get to the slabby face.

The third pitch has a lot of fixed gear (drilled angles, star drives, and other ancient relics) that go up the slabby face. This pitch is mostly 5.10, with an occasional 5.11- move.

One more easy pitch to the top.

Three double rope raps back down the route.


Standard desert rack up to fist size. Maybe one #4 Camalot and some extra rattly fingers for the first pitch.

Photos [Hide ALL Photos]

Scary bolts on Pale Fire
[Hide Photo] Scary bolts on Pale Fire
Alan Doak comes up P3 of Pale Fire
[Hide Photo] Alan Doak comes up P3 of Pale Fire
Tim Kudo leading Pale Fire.<br>
Nov. 87
[Hide Photo] Tim Kudo leading Pale Fire. Nov. 87
Stefan Griebel on the first pitch of Pale Fire
[Hide Photo] Stefan Griebel on the first pitch of Pale Fire
dear diary..
[Hide Photo] dear diary..

Comments [Hide ALL Comments]

[Hide Comment] Can't say I've done this route, but I rapped it after doing Primrose Dihedrals on the other side and was impressed. What a beautiful looking line! Dec 25, 2003
Joe Forrester
Palo Alto
[Hide Comment] This climb also makes a fantastic easy clean aid climb. I was out there a week and a half ago, and took a friend up on his first aid climb ever and he had a great time. The placements are super straight forward, albeit you are swinging cams. Spectacular. Jun 2, 2006
John J. Glime
Cottonwood Heights, UT
[Hide Comment] This would be a great "Introduction to Big Walls" climb for the potential clean aid climber. It is a steep continuous wall with hanging belays. Not too big, not too small. If you don't freak out, you will reach the top in a day. If you can't climb harder than 5.6, it can be aided at 5.6 C2. 90 percent of the placements are super straight forward, the other ten percent are in the C2 range. Okay, maybe 5 percent. Nov 4, 2007
[Hide Comment] Bailed off of the third (5th guidebook pitch) on an aid ascent due to bad (or missing?) bolts. I was way too scared to free climb above those junk bolts. I was pretty surprised that they held my weight.

If you plan on aiding this route you may want to throw in a stick clip. Other than that the route is spectacular, but would really benefit from a rebolting.
Oct 27, 2009
Sam Feuerborn
[Hide Comment] Seemed like the last moves on the 3rd pitch (we ended just before the short 5.8 runout arete/face climbing) were the hardest technical moves at solid .12. Rest of the climb was super bitchin' Apr 23, 2012
[Hide Comment] May 2014:

Much of the bolt ladder on this route has been replaced with stainless glue-ins courtesy the ASCA. Several original bolts throughout the route were left - but in each and every case these bolts are unnecessary for safely protecting the climbing (they are located next to gear placements). They remain to serve as a reminder of the historical FA. In the case where replacements were performed, the original bolts were pulled and holes reused when possible.

All of this was done with the permission of Fred Beckey and Eric Bjornstad.

The logical, and arguably best, way to free climb this route would be in three pitches, ledge-to-ledge. The first pitch (5.12b, 210') skips the hanging belay (rap station) after the crux and continues to the chains in the alcove. The second pitch (5.11a, 180') continues up the crack and then follows the bolt ladder to the ";shoulder";. The anchor at the shoulder should NOT BE USED for rappelling and is not equipped for such. The final pitch (5.11d, 150') performs the final face crux off the belay and continues up the bolt ladder skipping two separate anchors all the way to the summit.

This route, like many desert towers, has fragile features that could break and render the passage much more difficult if not impossible. Use extreme care! Oct 4, 2013
James Garrett
Salt Lake City, UT
[Hide Comment] The FA of Moses (1972) was via this route by Eric Bjornstad and Fred Beckey. Both were in Moab recently (Memorial wend 2014) and this retrofit and some of the old pulled bolts they had taken turns hand drilling were handed over to them as a gesture of good will. Both were genuinely excited about the interest in Moses and updating the route with new hardware. Eric is 80 this year and Fred (92) made a special trip last week from Seattle to visit him in the Care Center in Moab near the Hospital and Eric always welcomes any visiting climbers to stop by and sign in his register (as always next to so many famous names) and visit! We all talked so much about Moses and the memories for them remain vivid!!

It was a major coup (as Kor and Carter had no idea about the Tower!!) at the time as Lin Ottinger from Moab took them in there with his VW Dune Buggy and then they enlisted the help of 3 other climbers to get all the work and route done over 4 days. These days, the FA is far too often credited to those who come later and free a particular move or climb and end up renaming it. Though this occurred 9 years later after the advent of passive protection and camming units (Friends), I strongly believe that people like Fred and Eric were the real Pioneers on Moses and their work and vision should never be forgotten or erased from climbing history. May 28, 2014
[Hide Comment] Single 70m rope gets you down. Sep 17, 2014
JD Borgeson
Little Rock, AR
[Hide Comment] Just an aside: Pale Fire is the name of a very strange and interesting book by Vladimir Nabokov. The phrase 'pale fire' is a reference to the flames in a crematorium. I always thought this would be a cool route name, glad to see some pioneers beat me to it! Aug 11, 2020