Rising free-climbing standards elsewhere slowly seeped back to desert climbing. Jay Smith established 5.12s in Castle Valley on Wingate Sandstone, incorporating thin face moves on calcite crimps and edges between cracks. Then, one or two pure face climbs, protected almost entirely with bolts: Holier Than Thou on the Nuns, and Excommunication on the Priest. These beautiful lines required excellent stone cleaved into fortuitously climbable architecture: rare finds on desert sandstone.

Brit climber Stevie Haston was the first to really push hard, modern free climbing on the worst rock of all: the Cutler Sandstone of the Fisher Towers. Haston was experienced with loose British sea cliffs (several of his first ascents have fallen down!) and a bold attitude. First came a free ascent of Harvey Carter’s Hindu, in Onion Creek, via a 5.12+ boulder problem on what Haston described as “soft gritstone” akin to that found on routes in parts of Millstone Edge, a partly quarried crag in England’s Peak District. A logical next step was a free climb of one of the big Fisher Towers. Phantom Sprint on Echo Tower went free at 5.12. An attempt on the Finger of Fate on the Titan was stopped high on the route by a string of bad, old protection and belay bolts, adequate for gentle aid but liable to fail catastrophically in the event of a fall. Haston turned around and free climbed the Sundevil Chimney, bringing 5.13 climbing to the Fisher Towers. Unrepeated, a decade later, this feat stands as one of the most amazing climbing exploits ever achieved in the desert.

Few have followed in Haston’s footsteps. But, time and again, someone steps up, builds on what has been done and takes it further. Jason Haas, in the last few years, has now freed the Titan (via Finger of Fate), Cottontail (via Westside Story), and Echo Tower (via Phantom Sprint), on his way to achieving his own, personal vision of desert climbing: free-climbing all the big Fisher Towers.