Doomed: A Hot, Dry Utah Desert Multi-Sport, Packraft & Bikepacking Expedition
Ambassador and Photographer Steve “Doom” Fassbinder works for Alpacka Rafts, but we don’t know where he finds the time for a 9 to 5. He’s constantly sending us stellar photos of his bikepacking, packrafting and climbing adventures. For his latest trip, he invited fellow ambassadors Scott Adamson and Angela VanWiemeersch to embark on a wild multi-sport adventure in the Utah desert backcountry. It involved numerous first ascents of sandstone towers and granite walls, plus packrafting the San Juan River and bikepacking. All photos in this essay are by Doom.
After reading Steve “Crusher” Bartlett’s book, “Desert Towers: Fat Cat Summits and Kitty Litter Rock,” five years ago, Steve Fassbinder felt that he needed to bikepack out to and then climb the Grand Gulch Spire (also called Shima Sani). A remote towering pillar of rock in the lower Grand Gulch area, it’s typically accessed by a 42-mile float down the San Juan River, but with creative bike, packraft and hiking beta the tower can be reached without the hassles of big boat river trips and the long shuttle involved with such an endeavor. With only one “classic” route, Corso de Gallo (5.11), up the West flank of the tower, it‘s relatively untouched. Fassbinder had made two previous climbing trips to the tower, and had often scoped out the South Face of the tower, but never climbed it. Then after hearing VanWiemeersch interviewed on a climbing podcast, Fassbinder realized they had plenty in common, and knew she would be a perfect companion. Once Adamson got word that the trip was happening, he too jumped at the chance to climb the spire. Finally Fassbinder was ready to ascend the new route on the steep south face of Shima Sani, but first they had to handle the problem of extreme temperatures. Doom is carrying a Summit Pack in the front and a 4400 Porter Pack on the back of his paddle.
Despite the crazy heat, the group pushed forward, biking the first day to the river, where they put in packrafts and began the float. The team reached their camping destination below the spire, just before dark on day one.
The second day, they cleaned their gear and began putting a route up the South side.
Scott Adamson on Grand Gulch Spire (also called Shima Sani).
They finished the climb on day three. However, only Fassbinder and Adamson were able to reach the summit.
With a first ascent under their belts and a nice clean line left behind, the group returned to their bikes via a grueling 10-hour overland slog seeking shelter from the sun at every opportunity provided. An avid mountain biker, Doom incorporates bikepacking into most of his big adventures. This was VanWiemeersch & Adamson’s first full-on bikepacking adventure.
Of the trip, VanWiemeersch said: “I learned by Doom’s carefully constructed lightweight method of fat bike setup and packrafts that many more epic climbing trips are possible this way. We can bypass the restrictions usually involved by vehicle or foot travel.”
By the fifth day of the trip they were bikepacking back out into civilization, thrashed and sick, but extremely proud of the awesome climb that they completed.
“Our bikepack, rafting mission into the grand gulch spire was awesome, but so hot, like highs of 93, 94, 95, 93,” says Steve “Doom” Fassbinder.
According to Angela VanWiemeersch the trip was pretty unique. “I’m used to suffering on a mountain in the snow in negative temps; on this trip I suffered in the desert in 100 plus degree temps instead.”
However, the adventure didn’t end there. The next stop after a beautiful night under the stars in the UltaMid was a secret high altitude crag dubbed “Crag X.” Not much is known about the crag; all Fassbinder was willing to share was that it was located in the Henry Mountain Range. However he did share that there were some amazing splitters that lead to some fantastic high altitude climbing.
The final stop was an obscure cliff face in the middle of nowhere called the Underworld. It’s a tough wall, with routes ranging from 5.10 to 5.12, however the trio was dedicated to getting a few more first ascents. Fassbinder has been developing this area for a while now, and had put up nine FA’s with numerous friends, and with VanWiemeersch and Adamson, he managed to put up three more bringing his total to 12. Adamson lead the charge up a 5.11 that he later named “Japanese Noodle Finger.” Fassbinder was struggling with a toe infection, so after putting up what he called a “mellow warm-up,” they dubbed it “Tenderfoot” in honor of the toe. With multiple first ascents under their belt, the trio returned to civilization.
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