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a Rob Slater free climbing a loose, muddy chimney in the Mystery Towers. Slater was a defiant climber accomplishing bold repeat climbs and first ascents of desert towers. He would become the first, and for many years the only, climber to summit all of the Fisher Towers. Climbing Magazine/AAC Library

Rob Slater

There had to be a backlash. A number of desert climbers, including Ron Olevsky, Kyle Copeland, Charlie Fowler, and Alison Sheets, still valued the idea of summits, mystery, and danger. Rob Slater was particularly defiant about going his own way. He invented a new desert climbing game: summiting ALL the towers in one area. Well, perhaps not invented, but he raised what had been a gentlemanly, friendly pursuit, into a competitive, urgent quest. He began with summiting all the Fisher Towers, as described in Bjornstad’s Desert Towers guidebook. In the course of this, he and his various partners discovered that those half-forgotten climbs established by Harvey Carter, long ago, were hazardous, wild, and challenging—exactly the attributes that he craved. (For five months, between Christmas 1992 and May 1993, Rob Slater drove 350 miles from Boulder, CO to Moab, UT every single weekend, bar one.)

From the Fisher Towers, Slater progressed to a program of summiting all of the Navajo Nation towers by stealth, relishing the illicit nature of the climbing. Perhaps he had in mind to climb every tower in Desert Rock? We’ll never know. Slater died in the Himalayas, during a stormbound retreat from the summit of K2. He left few new desert climbs, yet his legacy is of a formidable, tenacious spirit; he was driven to go in directions of his own making, a true desert pioneer.