Ed Webster: Desert Travels with Climbing Buddy
Ed Webster flying below Castleton Tower near Moab, Utah.
Ed Webster--climber extraordinaire, Everest mountaineer, and prolific first ascensionist--was out here in Colorado from his Maine homestead for the past couple weeks. He gave lectures on his desert and Colorado ascents in Boulder, Golden, and Colorado Springs. Unfortunately, I couldn't attend the Springs talk last week since I was getting over a dizzying case of vertigo (not a good thing if you like high places!).
So over the weekend, Ed and I climbed into my white pickup and headed west to Moab for a blitz two-day trip. Ed did a quick interview with Julie Potsdam, an 83-year-old climber living over there, and we stayed with Karl Kelley, guidebook author and owner of the Desert Bistro, a stellar restaurant that's a tasty leap up from the Moab Diner. Ed was shocked, and actually I was too, by the crazy building going on there as well as the hordes of tourists infesting Moab's sidewalks. That place is changing, and not for the better.
On Saturday afternoon we drove down the River Road from I-70, passing over the new Dewey Bridge, the old burned husk of the classic original dangling from burnt cables over the Colorado River. Back in the '70s Ed reminded me, we saw the Dewey Bridge as the portal to the vast and undiscovered canyon country, a climbing playground that we shared with almost no one else. Not even mountain bikers since the fat-tire two-wheelers hadn't been invented yet.
We stopped at the Fisher Towers and went for a hike in the 97-degree heat, a stiff wind buffeting our hair. Ed wanted to go over to Lizard Rock first. The Lizard rises east of the parking area. At the base of a shallow crack, Ed looked up. "Hey, the bolt I placed in 1984 is still there." He bouldered up the crack ten feet. "I think that's high enough." Ed had done the first ascent of that crack, calling it Leapin' Lizards.
Ed Webster Jamming up Leapin' Lizards at the Fisher Towers, Utah.
We drove over to the Castleton Tower parking area with its designated campsites and information board. Ed remembered it a lot differently when there was simply a few dusty parking spots and you could spread the sleeping bag out anywhere. I took his photograph, arms spread, below the great proud tower. Castleton figured prominently in Ed's illustrious desert climbing career. He made the first free ascent of the West Face, a route I pioneered with Jimmie Dunn and Billy Westbay in 1971; the first free ascent of the North Face, another Jimmie route; and first ascents of Stardust Cowboy, Arrowhead Left, and Black Sun. He also made an early ascent of the nearby Priest.
Back in Colorado Springs, Ed hung out at Jimmie's house, sorting JD's old photos. On Monday evening, the three of us, who Jimmie was calling "The Saints," headed over to the Garden of the Gods to do a few pitches. Here's a shot of Jimmie and Ed in the fading evening light on the sandstone terrace below Cowboy Book Crack.
It's always good to see old friends. It reminds you of who you once were and who you've become, of the story in your book of changes. I've been friends with Edster since 1975, when Jimmie took me over to Cutler Hall at Colorado College. We had been climbing at the Garden and Jim said, "There's this new climber at CC you should meet." We went into his dorm room, but he wasn't there so we looked out the open window. Ed was bouldering up the stone wall of the building to his second-story room. That's how friendships begin....
Ed Webster and Jimmie Dunn below Cowboy Boot Crack at the Garden of the Gods, Colorado.