Book Review: Desert Towers: Fat Cat Summits and Kitty Litter Rock. By Steve Bartlett

Desert Towers: Fat Cat Summits and Kitty Litter Rock

By Steve “Crusher” Bartlett

Sharp End Publishing 2011

352 Pages

Any climber who has set foot in southern Utah can’t help being swept up in the majesty of the place—the endless red rock walls and narrow sandstone towers. Spend enough time in “The Red Planet,” and soon questions arise about our climbing forefathers: What did it take for the first ascent of Castleton Tower? Who discovered Supercrack of the Desert in Indian Creek? What types of climbing gear did they use in the 1950s?

Finding the answers to such questions can be difficult, even with a powerful research tool like the Internet.

That’s why the book “Desert Towers: Fat Cat Summits and Kitty Litter Rock”, written by Steve “Crusher” Bartlett is so groundbreaking. Released in 2010 by Sharp End Publishing, Desert Towers is one the most comprehensive resources about the history of climbing in the Colorado Plateau.

The 352-page coffee-table-style-book walks the reader from the early years of climbing, touching on the petroglyphs, John Otto and Castleton Tower, all the way to the modern years of Indian Creek, Fisher Towers and beyond.

“I really wanted people to get a feel and a flavor of what it was like for these first ascensionists,” says Bartlett, who spent nearly 3 years researching and writing the book. “I wanted to come up with an illustrated narrative that reveals the motivations of people who climb desert towers.”

For the research of the book, he interviewed more than a 100 different climbers, including legends like Harvey Carter, Fred Beckey and Layton Kor. He also consulted multiple guidebooks, old climbing magazines—anything, really, to help him uncover the lost stories of the earliest desert climbers.

But more than just theoretical research, Bartlett went climbing—a lot. An avid climber of more than 30 years, Bartlett has stood atop more than 100 desert towers, including 30 of them first ascents. “Crusher is the authority on the desert,” says climbing legend Huntley Ingalls. “He probably knows more about desert climbing than anyone else.”

Crusher’s firsthand understanding of climbing is obvious throughout the pages of Desert Towers. The book was written with the keen insight of a climber, but the meticulous research of a historian. Not only that, the book includes multiple essays written by the climbers themselves, including Huntley Ingalls, John Sherman and Eric Bjornstad.

But beyond the words, the best part of the book might be the pictures. Most are displayed in color, and many are full page. Some date back to the early 1900s and others include first ascents like Moses or Standing Rock.

Sometimes the historical timeline in Desert Towers is hard to follow at times—the multiple viewpoints and organization get complex. But Bartlett does do a good job of including helpful captions and dates in the margins to help orient the reader.

Over all, the book makes for a compelling read and a great picture peruse.

Halfway through the book, Bartlett includes a story about interviewing Harvey Carter. Rather than just sitting in a coffee shop and talking, Carter insisted they go climbing.

And that’s exactly what this book does. After picking up Desert Towers, one can’t help but be motivated to find the nearest desert tower, and start climbing.

Leave a Reply