This is Castleton Tower. Located just west of Moab, UT, it is one of the most striking sandstone towers in the entire Utah desert. The 400ft tower has been on my list for the better part of a year and earlier this week I finally had the chance to send it all the way to the top.

When it comes to climbing, I am primarily driven by aesthetics. The type of climbing found on Castleton leaves much to be desired. Most routes are littered with crumbling sandstone, covered in slick calcite, and full of wide, awkward cracks that all make getting up the wall extra strenuous. But for me, the mediocre climbing is well worth enduring for the sake of being in this landscape.

For something so pleasing to the eyes I knew I wanted to combine the trip into some sort of film project. So I pitched one of my regular clients on a video concept surrounding this tower. They went for it, and for the next month I spent many days putting together the storyboard, working out the schedule, studying the climbing beta & guidebooks, and getting a team together.

The climb itself, for someone like me, is quite an undertaking. I had never done this tower before and I’m not too experienced on this kind of rock. Adding a film project to the whole thing felt hectic from the start. That means hauling camera gear up on the wall, getting into position in a vertical world, managing the schedule, a small crew, and a shot list, all on top of the actual climbing. Despite the whole thing feeling pretty chaotic, I pressed on.

Leading up to the day of the shoot, we ran into several issues. First, we had to reschedule our first shooting date because of weather. That first domino toppled into a long line of variables we had to adjust last-minute. We scrambled to replace part of the crew, and when we couldn’t, I had to adjust the storyboard.

Then came the day of the climb. As we made our approach, the looming feeling that had lingered in the back of my mind for the last month bubbled up to the forefront. I couldn’t ignore the fact that I felt like I bit off way more than I could chew with this whole undertaking. But there was no turning back now. We racked up and started our climb. The climbing was strenuous. The day was hotter than expected. The first 3 pitches sapped 3 hours and most of the energy our small crew of 3 had. By the time we made it to the top, we were over an hour behind schedule and I had almost nothing left in the tank to execute the rest of the shot list. Staying hydrated, eating enough calories, and getting down safely jumped to the top of my priority list.

The original plan was to get off the tower by 2 pm and spend the next 3 hours finishing the shot list on the ground by parking lot. On this day, we got back to the parking lot, completely exhausted, and the sun was minutes away from disappearing behind the horizon. Not ideal. We scrapped together some shots, but the whole time I knew this second part of the shoot was scrapped for the day.

This film project, theoretically, was a dream come true for me. I moved to Utah with the intention of combining adventures like this with my work, so I was extremely grateful that I got a client onboard with the idea and that I got to try something like this out. But it came at a cost. I had put myself under a massive amount of stress for the month leading up to this shoot, trying to get all the details right and iron out all the uncertainty in front of me, but there’s only so much you can plan for something like this before the planning becomes irrelevant and increasingly inefficient.

The whole thing didn’t quite turn out how I had hoped, and I’ll have to adjust the storyboard yet again and wrangle together another day of shooting to get the client what they need. But that’s ok. That’s all solvable. I learned a lot from the experience and I’m so glad I went for it. Now I know what something like this takes. I know better what kind of budget I’ll need to do it right, I know that it would require 2 full days to execute the whole shot list, and I know what I can do differently in my planning and execution for next time.

Even though we didn’t get some of the more important shots on the shot list and I’ve created more work for myself, we did get some amazing reel-worthy footage from the tower. Yes, I was weighed down by stress (and camera gear) the whole day, but I also found a few moments of peace to take in this special realization of a dream of mine.

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