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The Fortress

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The Fortress Rock Climbing 

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Elevation: 8,500'
Location: 32.4318, -110.7985 View Map  Incorrect?
Page Views: 48,938
Administrators: Greg Opland, Luke Bertelsen, JJ Schlick, Kristine Hoffman (sitewide)
Submitted By: Hendrixson on Sep 9, 2002
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Closed to climbing March 15 - June 30 MORE INFO >>>


The Fortress is one of the best and most varied crags on Mount Lemmon. The Southeast Face boasts amazing sport and traditional multi-pitch routes. The Orifice Wall, which is a sharp contrast to the face routes, boasts some of the hardest and steepest routes in the region. The Fortress along with the other summit crags should not be missed.

Be sure to observe the season closure from March 15 to June 30 peregrine falcon nesting.

Getting There 

Drive up Mount Lemmon Highway (Catalina Highway) for approximately 22.5 miles. Turn right on Ski Run Road, immediately prior to entering the town of Summerhaven, and follow this road approximately 4.5 miles. While on Ski Run Road continue through the Ski Valley parking lot where the road narrows and winds up the last section of the mountain. Upon reaching the closed gate of the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter Observatory turn left into a parking lot. A restroom and free camping can be found here. There is no running water.

Hike around fenced-in generators on a narrow trail used by climbers and hikers alike (Photo 1 below). In a couple minutes, at the SkyCenter Observatory sign a fork will be encountered (Photo 2 below). The Fortress can be reached by following either the access road (left) or Meadow Trail (right). The latter is more scenic and less rocky but slightly longer.

If you take the access road, follow the rocky road downhill past both a trail turnoff and a lookout point. The view will open and a metal shed will appear. Near the shed is a spring on the left (downhill) side of the trail. I believe the spring is safe to drink and always running. Continue past the shed and the turn off for Rappel Rock. Hike past the where the Meadow Trail rejoins the access road.

Turn left onto a climber's trail immediately after the green electrical box on your right (Photo 3 below). Hike past the west face of The Murray Wall to the Fortress. The Southeast Face is on your left; the Northwest Face is on your right.

Expect the drive to take 45-60 minutes and the hike to take 20-30 minutes.

Rock Climbing Photo: Fortress Approach Photo 1: Trailhead
Fortress Approach Photo 1: Trailhead

Rock Climbing Photo: Fortress Approach Photo 2: Fork.  The access road ...
Fortress Approach Photo 2: Fork. The access road is on the left; the Meadow Trail is on the right.

Rock Climbing Photo: Fortress Approach Photo 3: Turnoff. The turnoff is...
Fortress Approach Photo 3: Turnoff. The turnoff is just past the electrical box on the left side.

Climbing Season

For the 8 - Summit Crags area.

Weather station 4.5 miles from here

41 Total Climbing Routes

['4 Stars',6],['3 Stars',17],['2 Stars',14],['1 Star',4],['Bomb',0]

Classic Climbing Routes in The Fortress

Mountain Project's determination of the classic, most popular, highest rated climbing routes for The Fortress:
Twice As Nice   5.8- 5b 16 VI- 14 VS 4c     Sport, 2 pitches, 250'   Northwest Face
Fisherman's Elbow   5.8+ 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c     Sport, 3 pitches, 350'   Northwest Face
Steel Crazy   5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a     Sport, 4 pitches, 450'   Southeast Face
The Rupley Route   5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a     Trad, 4 pitches, 450'   Southeast Face
Fort Stress   5.9+ 5c 17 VI 17 E1 5a     Sport, 4 pitches, 400'   Southeast Face
Sir Clipalot   5.11- 6c 22 VIII+ 22 E3 5c     Sport, 3 pitches, 240'   Southeast Face
Unattended Consequences   5.12a 7a+ 25 VIII+ 25 E5 6a     Sport, 65'   Orifice Wall
Gettin' Off The Porch   5.12- 7a+ 25 VIII+ 25 E5 6a     Sport, 55'   Orifice Wall
Disfigured Foreigner   5.12- 7a+ 25 VIII+ 25 E5 6a     Sport, 40'   Orifice Wall
Hard Day at The Orifice   5.12b 7b 26 VIII+ 26 E5 6b     Sport, 1 pitch, 60'   Orifice Wall
Huck Fin   5.12 7b+ 27 VIII+ 26 E6 6b     Sport, 55'   Orifice Wall
Oedipus Complex   5.12 7b+ 27 VIII+ 26 E6 6b     Sport, 40'   Orifice Wall
Disfigured Oedipus   5.12 7b+ 27 VIII+ 26 E6 6b     Sport, 1 pitch, 45'   Orifice Wall
Orifice Politics   5.12b/c 7b+ 27 IX- 27 E6 6b     Sport, 105'   Orifice Wall
Eureka   5.13a 7c+ 29 IX+ 29 E6 6c     Sport, 75'   Orifice Wall
Ape Debate   5.13a 7c+ 29 IX+ 29 E6 6c     Sport, 1 pitch, 110'   Orifice Wall
Heel-A Monster   5.13- 7c+ 29 IX+ 29 E7 6c     Sport, 100'   Orifice Wall
Coup de' tat   5.13a/b 8a 29 IX+ 29 E7 6c     Sport, 100'   Orifice Wall
Granite of the Apes   5.13b 8a 29 IX+ 30 E7 6c     Sport, 90'   Orifice Wall
In Search of Silence   5.13 8a 29 X- 30 E7 6c     Sport, 120'   Orifice Wall
Browse More Rock Climbing Classics in The Fortress

Featured Route For The Fortress
Rock Climbing Photo: Vince Bates figures out the crux for the first tim...

Orifice Politics 5.12b/c 7b+ 27 IX- 27 E6 6b  Arizona : Mount Lemmon (Santa Catalin... : ... : Orifice Wall
This is a line I have looked at since 1996. The first forty feet had been started by Mark Hathaway so I stayed off of it. In 2001 I bolted a hard variation finish in an effort not to ruffle Marks feathers but still allow me to climb this face. Mark worked it some in 2001 but as far as I know that was it. This year Vince called and asked if he could work the route which was pretty nice since almost no work that I know of has been done on it in years. Mark said yes and so Vince and I started ...[more]   Browse More Classics in Arizona

Photos of The Fortress Slideshow Add Photo
Rock Climbing Photo: The Fortress, as seen from the top of a route at M...
The Fortress, as seen from the top of a route at M...
Rock Climbing Photo: Looking down the tunnel you climb through on Inner...
Looking down the tunnel you climb through on Inner...
Rock Climbing Photo: The light at the end of the tunnel on Inner Passag...
The light at the end of the tunnel on Inner Passag...
Rock Climbing Photo: The Fortress
The Fortress

Comments on The Fortress Add Comment
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Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated Jul 18, 2016
By Christian
From: Casa do Cacete
Jul 18, 2007
Instructions for getting off the Fortress:

After topping out, head north into flat and vegetated area. Locate gully between the West Pillar where most of the routes top out and the East Pillar. From the top of the West Pillar, the climbing up onto the East Pillar (where you can walk down from) looks substantially harder than it actually is when you're looking up at it from within the gully.

To get into the gully, downclimb into it by going back south, then east, then north again into the cleft. Head north into the gully about 2/3 of the way until you see a riblike formation of rock on your left. Across from the rib you can see the obvious weakness heading up the East Pillar. There's an initial dynamic move, maybe about 5.8, to get established on the slab, then about 20 feet of easy 5th classing to get out (5.2-5.3?)..

After getting your bearings the first time, you can pretty much head diagonally straight from the top-outs to the downclimb into the gully.

PS there's another option about 15 feet further climber's left, which involves a small traverse left then super juggy holds up and out... (avoids the 5.8 move onto the face climber's right on the first option)..haven't done it but I guess most people think it's easier..
By Braxtron
From: ...
Jul 25, 2008
I say the Orifice wall should be called Hardbody wall and the its next new route called 'Chesthair Turtleneck.'
By Luke Bertelsen
From: Tucson, AZ
Jun 25, 2009
I know there was a lot of action up at the Orifice wall last season. Anyone care to list the routes from right to left as you approach the big ledge? A few of the route descriptions don't really give much info as to where each given route is compared to the other routes.

By 1Eric Rhicard
Oct 14, 2009
Weather up top is fantastic. Perfect temps on the sunny sides and at the Orifice. Get up there Luis
By Joe Kreidel
From: San Antonio, TX
Jul 14, 2010
The routes from right to left:

(First three start along the cable route)

The Brightest Fire 11c
Huck Fin 12
Disfigured Foreigner 12-

(Next three routes are after the cable)

Oedipus Complex 12-
Old red tagged project?
Gettin Off The Porch 12-

(The remaining routes all start down the stepped slab, on the lower tier)

Coup de'tat 13-/Orifice Politics 12c
Hard Day At The Orifice 12b
Eureka 13-
By Hendrixson
From: Tucson, AZ
Sep 4, 2010
Anyone know what route this is? I thought we were on either Twice As Nice or Fisherman's Elbow but neither description matches. Perhaps it is "Nice BBDs" with a third pitch added? The location seems about right anyway.

Descending the west side of the Fortress one encounters two bolted lines. The rightmost of the routes consists of three pitches:

1) The first pitch ascends bright white rock for 80ft until a ledge with anchors is reached. The climbing is ~5.9.

2) The second pitch climbs bulgy, black and green rock. This rock is reminiscent of the rock on the Orifice Wall. The anchors for this pitch are immediately below a ledge. Scars in the rock show that they had been moved a foot or two lower at some point. I am tempted to say the route ended here at one time. The climbing is ~5.10 and 80ft or so.

3) The third pitch crosses two ledges and is significantly easier than the first two pitches. The rock is standard Fortress rock with plenty of good holds. The climbing is ~5.8 and 100ft or so.
By Meghan
From: Sierra Vista, AZ
Oct 17, 2011
Someone has scattered rat poison around the base of The Orifice, presumably to kill the mice that occasionally raid lunches. This is obviously NOT COOL. Whomever did it obviously wasn't thinking about the squirrels, chipmunks, birds, reptiles that eat them, and other people's dogs. We may not like for animals to get into our things, but this is their habitat-- even the mice-- not ours. Not that any rangers would ever know about it, but this would also be a great way to get access to a crag taken away. Everyone there today was on the same page that this is VERY bad form by some fellow climber. Whoever you are, please don't be an embarrassment to our sport or a menace to the environment again.
By Geir
From: Tucson, AZ
Oct 17, 2011
Ah crap. This mess will need to be cleaned up. Thanks for the info Meghan.
By Jon Ruland
From: Tucson, AZ
Jul 6, 2012
speaking of cleaning up a mess (yeah yeah i know it was last year) can we clean up all these routes into separate categories? e.g. orifice wall, fortress south face, etc. right now it's confusing as all hell.
By Red
From: Tacoma, Toyota
Jul 10, 2012
Jon, PM one of these three administrators: Greg Opland, James DeRoussel, JJ Schlick
I'd say James would be your best bet since he created this page.
By JJ Schlick
From: Flagstaff, AZ
Jul 10, 2012
I can help with that. If you guys want to create new "areas" within this one, and tell me which routes go where, I can relocate them to your new areas. PM and let me know.
By JJ Schlick
From: Flagstaff, AZ
Jul 10, 2012
Now that I think about it, it will be more work than I thought. But we just did it for the Winslow Wall, so...
By 1Eric Rhicard
Jul 10, 2012
Of course Jon could just start climbing them all and then like those who have climbed most of them he would not be so confused. Gotta spoon feed these kids everything. You know where Steel Crazy starts so work in either direction from there. It isn't that hard. Better yet ask someone to color code the hangers. Better yet we should chop 3 routes after the first one on the right then 3 more after route 5 and so on. Less routes means less confusion. No No never mind, Think of it as a puzzle Jon or a video game where you actually have to play with your body to win.


If only someone would do a guidebook. Oh wait someone is working on one.

Okay now go back to the first paragraph.
By Steve Pulver
From: Williston, ND
Jul 12, 2012
JJ, the obvious answer here is to promote Rhicard to administrator status and let him organize the entire mountain. (seriously)
By JJ Schlick
From: Flagstaff, AZ
Jul 12, 2012
Hey Steve, I actually proposed the idea of "guest admin" privileges to Andy not so long ago for cases as such. I'll look into it, but Richard would probably need some stronger coffee for such a task...
By Geir
From: Tucson, AZ
Jul 12, 2012
+1 for Eric fixing the area up.
By Joe Kreidel
From: San Antonio, TX
Jul 12, 2012
Isn't Eric already organizing the entire mountain?
By Peter Franzen
General Admin
From: Phoenix, AZ
Sep 16, 2012
Just chiming in here because I'd love to see some organization for this area as well. I was up there yesterday for the first time, and between this site and Squeezing The Lemmon II there was essentially no useful information for The Fortress. We found some cool climbs (a bunch of nice vertical sport climbs at the base of the Right Fortress) but I have no idea what they were.

Putting "dead tree" on a topo is f'ing useless if I can see 15 dead trees from any given place at the base of a wall.
By Geir
From: Tucson, AZ
Sep 17, 2012

The guidebook was printed in 1997. In 2003 there was a huge fire that killed a bunch of trees. I think this area was part of what was burned, hence the multitude of dead trees.

I agree it would be nice if this area were subdivided and reorganized, though. Edit: reorganized on MP, that is.
By Jimbo
Sep 18, 2012
Interesting. First time I went down to the Fortress with STL II I had no trouble figuring out what was what. Sometimes I did actually have to match features on the topo with the actual rock in front of me.
It does seem the ability to read a guide book has diminished in the last ten years. Not sure why that is. Maybe too much info being spoon fed to the masses has decreased the ability and desire to figure stuff out your self.
By Rob Edwards
Aug 11, 2013
Orifice Wall is the best-equipped cliff I've ever seen, with chain draws and confidence-inspiring steel carabiners on almost ever bolt. The routes are a blast, too. Bravo!!!
By jaspur Chafer
From: tucson,az
Jul 18, 2016
Picked up a pas and a biner at the ledge before the guide wire to the orifice today. If it's yours pm me with a description and I'll get it back to you

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