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Indian Creek: Cows and Cracks in the Utah Desert

[ 0 ] May 24, 2012 |

Words and photos by Tristan Greszko

As the world turned last week and continued its plodding, headfirst plunge into complete madness (see examples: botched Facebook IPO, Mitt Romney in general, the European debt crisis, abortion protesters in Jackson, etc. etc.), Jason Smith headed east to Colorado after we found a preliminary form of nirvana on two classic desert towers, and I met up with Luke Walker and Jake Kay as we fled south from Moab, deep into the remote desert canyonlands of southeast Utah.  Armed with a vast array of shiny climbing gear, food, water, beer, extra shoelaces, and a f^©&ing helicopter(!), our destination was a place seemingly untouched by the troubles of the outside world, spoken of in hushed tones of reverence and awe by those who visited before us. A little place, my friends, called Indian Creek.

Having never been to The Creek, I didn’t entirely know what to expect.  In pitching the trip to friends who also had not been there, based purely on hearsay and obsessive late nights on Mountain Project, I was calling it the “Valdez of the climbing world,” equating it to skiing in the Chugach – filthy, dirty, never-ending, and profoundly life-changing.  As it turned out, Luke had been to Indian Creek once before, and as our guide, he transformed what would have been a good, decent, nice climbing trip into an entirely different animal, an experience of near-religious proportions.

Now this would normally be the point in a trip report where the writing would devolve into detailing all the epic sickness that went down, but I’m tired of all that talk these days.  I’m not onsighting 5.15b or wingsuiting without a parachute into a pile of endangered pandas, sorry folks.  Basically we climbed on some pretty brown rocks that had an abundance of vertical cracks in various shapes and sizes.  We camped and grilled, drove down dusty dirt roads, and lamented the notable lack of women in the creek while drinking beers and telling stories around the fire. Sometimes it was windy, sometimes it was hot. Once it rained a little.

For me, it was a trip of many firsts that have forever changed me as a climber.  First trad lead at 5.7 on Otto’s Route the week before.  First time climbing cracks, or climbing on sandstone for that matter.  First trad leads at 5.8, 5.9, and 5.10 in Indian Creek.  Hell, I only really starting leading sport routes about a year ago.  Not that I sent anything clean while we were there, but that didn’t matter, because Indian Creek is such a unique, special place.

Photos seem to capture the mood better than I can with words – towering cliffs of rich, red and brown Wingate Sandstone stretching as far as the eye can see, all above a lush, verdant valley dotted with happily mooing cows.  Our campsite was set amongst massive shade trees next to a small creek, perfect in the afternoon breeze; an isolated oasis amidst the greater isolation.  Except for the day we spent on Supercrack Buttress, we only saw two or three other groups of climbers all week.  A remote, peaceful stillness seemed to grip the landscape, especially at dusk while shuffling back to the campsite from wherever we’d been climbing.  It’s one of those utopian places that burrows into your soul and promises to stay with you forever.

And yes, the climbing is amazing.  It chews you up and unceremoniously spits you back on the plate without even the dignity of hiding your chewed-up carcass in a paper napkin.  It makes every part of your body hurt, and ache, and bleed, but it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced.  Always a new, even more incredible crack around every corner.  Size matters here – four-star splitter hands can quickly turn into 45 minutes of agony when you realize your mitts are actually giant, ungainly paws that barely fit in the crack.  Or that your fingers resemble portly Jimmy Deans more than the lithe, supple phalanges needed for 100 feet of ringlocks and finger stacks.  For the sadists out there, offwidths are plentiful, with great names like The Serrator, The Big Baby, and Belly Full of Bad Berries – all are sure to make you grunt and struggle and flop your way to the top, and have so much fun along the way.  Combine all these elements – the endless, amazing climbing, the spectacular setting, the serene desert isolation, the good times with friends – and you’re left with an overall impression of immense, visceral satisfaction.

This trip also marked another first for me, that being the first useful flights of my new Cinestar 8, built by Quadrocopter LLC in Whitefish, Montana.  It’s going to be an indispensable tool for capturing aerial images – I can’t say how excited I am to use it more.  I pushed my novice flight skills to the limit in Indian Creek, and even pushed the limits (along with my nerves) even more back at Fisher Towers.  Jake and Luke capped off the trip with an Ancient Art ascent of their own, and I was 100% sure that the helicopter was going to crash while trying to shoot photos of them on the summit.  Thankfully it didn’t go down, and though it wasn’t what I had in mind, I still got a decent image out of it all (though it’s one that needs enlarging to the size of an RV for proper effect).

Anyway, there are too many stories, too many memories to recount than I have space or energy for, so enough talk about this incredible place.  Here are some images, with a heli shot of Luke on Generic Crack and another heli shot of the guys on Ancient Art near the end.  Highly encourage clicking on the little green arrow to enlarge each photo:

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