Here we are back where we started at the base of Castleton Tower. I've been having vivid dreams about this climb all night, a mixture of nerves and excitement. The stars are still out as I prepare Jason's coffee, the sweet aroma of juniper trees and fresh coffee fills the air.
I can see two head torches twinkling like the stars in the distance, two people are ahead of us already. We break fast on boiled egg wraps, do our last preparations and set off. It's still first light when we start the steep ascent. My brain isn't quite in functioning mode yet. We all stop a couple of times to peel off layers as our bodies start to warm up. The sun is starting to rise, lighting up the lower part of the tower, the stage is set. The glow of the sun excentuates the redness of the rocks behind us. Each time I look up Castleton Tower looks closer yet we never seem to reach it. After an hour we reach the base of the climb. I feel happy with our time I was expecting it to take at least 1hr 30.
Colin is racked up and on the start of the climb by 8:30am. We are climbing the North Chimney. It already looks difficult to us, only 400ft to go! The first pitch seems like a never ending battle. Lots of chimney climbing on slippery calcite. I have the backpack on with all of our supplies. It's really getting in the way, it's so frustrating. I find this pitch so difficult, which is clearly obvious from my sound affects. When I reach Colin he tells me he wishes he could have recorded my huffing and puffing. At this point I'm seriously considering quitting and seeking safety back on the ground. Worrying that I'm not going to make it to the top. My subconscious is thinking about the crazy rappel that's ahead of me. Remembering Colin tell me that I have to walk myself off of the edge of this 400ft tower. I'm new to rappelling, multi pitch climbing and trad. Castleton is my first tower.
Jason reaches us and tells me I need to control my emotions more, to internalise them. He reassures me I can do it and that I'm a good climber. I take on board what he says but also remind him that this is new to me. I tell them both that maybe I should just go back down and let them get in with it, worried I'm holding them up. They are both having none of that and tell me we are all going to the top.
The second pitch is much kinder. Colin moves through this section faster which fills me with confidence. He builds the anchor and tells us it's safe to climb. As always I set off first and Jason follows closely behind. To help it feel easier for me he has taken the backpack. He talks to me to help me feel calm, I manage to control my breathing and get into the flow of the climb. I really enjoy this pitch. Lots of chimney moves and stemming. I reach Colin smiling and feeling much better than when he left. Still in the back of my mind is the rappel!
Two more pitches until we reach the top. Colin tells us if he can he is going to do them in one, saving time on having to build another anchor. The rope is moving fast, he's cruising. We are so grateful of his experience, he's been teaching us so much.
The first part of this pitch is tough, slippy laybacking on calcite. How Colin has led this I do not know. He's a pro at jamming though so I'm sure he felt pretty secure. I really enjoy this pitch too. As I climb I'm not sure if this is the final one or if we have one more to go. I shout beta down to Jason about the fun traverse I just did. Jamming my back against the roof and shimmying across. Colin is finally in sight, he's telling me he's practically on the top of the tower. I'm so excited. I step out of a slot to the final part of the climb. Sporty face climbing, with flakes and jugs. I've not climbed this style for a while, it feels so good! I reach Colin, he tells me I can untie and walk onto the top. I jump at the chance at a moment to myself on top of this tower. I walk up the final part and stand on what feels like the top of the world! I made it! It feels incredible! I can't wait for Jason to see this! I hear his voice and tell him to hurry!
I sit at the top and wait for him, taking in all of the scenery. Wow! I can see the Priest and Sister Superior. I think back to a podcast that I listened to on our way to Lake Tahoe. A group of friends climbed this together and then a couple within the group got married at the top, so special!
I see a box and realise it's one that we can sign our names in. I'm excited that I finally get to do this. I think back to our time in Vietnam when our friend Thomas soloed up a tower in the middle of Lan Ha Bay. At the top of this tower in the middle of the ocean was a small bottle of whisky and a box to sign your name in to say you completed the climb. Finally I have climbed something that is worthy of this. We all hug and high five each other, totally happy that we have achieved this! We all eat lunch, take obligatory selfies and sort out all of the gear.
The time has come for the dreaded rappel. Colin shows me what I have to do, I feel sick and turn as white as ghost. I'm silent, Jason waves his hand in front of my face to make sure I am listening. Colin decides to make a quick exit, seeing that I'm a little freaked out by it all. I mean who wouldn't be freaked out by having to walk themselves off the edge of a tower. I grip the chains for dear life, having to move them over the edge until I finally feel tension in my safety device. This is frightening!
Once I start to rappel everything is fine. I relax and enjoy the scenery and exposure. I reach Colin at the second rappel station and give him a hug, relieved that I made it. The second rappel takes so long because I tied my third hand too tight. Moving my third is exhausting, I know I can loosen it but I don't feel confident enough at this stage to do that. So I just continue on, using both hands to move my third hand, it seems never ending. Jason comes down much faster than I. We are all totally buzzing. It's not quite over yet, two final parts and then we can relax. The first part is getting back down to our bags and then the hike down.
The walk back seems to take forever, its really slippy too. Colin goes sliding a few times, he's usually a mountain goat so I take extra care. The sun is beaming down on us and there is no escaping it, I really wish I had a cap. Colin is faster than us so we tell him to go ahead and we will meet him back at camp. We arrive back and there waiting for me is a cup of tea, perfect! We all sit and relax and bask in the glory of our achievement, looking up at the glorious tower we just conquered.